by Stephen Kuusisto
Dial Press, 1998
Review by Christian Perring, Ph.D. on Jun 16th 2002
Stephen Kuusisto is legally blind,
and for nearly all his life he has had severe visual impairments. He is a gifted writer, so his memoir of his life
is a pleasure to read. He was born in
New Hampshire in 1955, and much of his childhood was devoted to making up for
his disability. He read books, rode his
bicycle, and watched TV. His mother
insisted that he learn to type. His
mother wants him to live like other children as much as possible. His family was not ready to face up to the
fact that Kuusisto had real problems with his vision, and even if they had
been, it is not so clear that they would have been able to do much to help
There are no books about blind children or how to
bring them up, no associations of parents or support materials, at least not in
rural New Hampshire. Instead there are
assumptions: Blindness is a profound misfortune, a calamity really, for
ordinary life cant accommodate it. (p.
Knowing that blindness is stigmatized, against the advice of
officials, his parents enroll him in a public school rather than an institution
for the blind. For many years, Kuusisto
took very much the same attitude as his parents. It was decades before he agreed to carry a white cane as he
walked around towns and cities.
closing ones eyes does not explain to the sighted how life is on the planet of
the blind. Kuusistos prose helps the
reader to get some idea of what it is like to lack sight.
I believe that in every
persons imagination there are landscapes.
The world is gray and marine blue, then a clump of brown shingled houses
stands revealed by rays of sun, appearing now as bisonshaggy and still. These are the places learned by rote, their
multiple effects of color made stranger by fast-moving clouds. The unknown is worse, an epic terrain that,
in the minds eye, could prevent a blind person from leaving home. (p. 63)
Easier to understand is Kuusistos relief and joy
when he finally gets a guide dog, Corky; Corky transforms his whole experience
of mobility and safety, and of course, they form a powerful emotional
bond. But, as he always knew, it means
that he is instantly identifiable as a blind person, and walking with a guide
dog changes how people interact with him and talk about him in his
earshot. But after decades of living at
a disadvantage and even putting himself in danger of physical injury, Kuusisto
learns to live with the stigma associated with blindness. Strangely, it is at this stage of his life
that he feels a need to turn to religion and seek comfort in faith.
Planet of the Blind is a
graceful work about a life of blindness, and is well worth reading.
© 2002 Christian Perring. First Serial Rights.
Christian Perring, Ph.D., is
Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College, Long Island. He is
editor of Metapsychology Online Review. His main research is on
philosophical issues in psychiatry. He is especially interested in exploring
how philosophers can play a greater role in public life, and he is keen to help
foster communication between philosophers, mental health professionals, and the