Wednesday, October 27, 2010
The lazy eye
I was born with a "lazy eye" which causes me to have inaccurate sterescopic vision, double vision, and sometimes no stereoscopic vision at all when my eyes are tired. I have never seen a straight line in my life. I look at a doorway, for instance, and see overlapping images that are constantly shifting. When I think about it, I find it amazing that I can negotiate moving from room to room, or doing anything for that matter, without constantly bumping into things. But, since I've seen this way all my life, I've learned to compensate without my even knowing it. I did have serious problems learning to drive, and I do feel nervous at the edges of land, or on bridges, but that is certainly reasonable, given that I don't know exactly where the edge of anything is.
I've always found it surprising that I am a good draughtsman. The fact that I could tattoo at all seemed implausible. But it made sense to me, for I had an obsession with what I called "the perfect line" for decades. I spent countless hours life drawing, trying to find the edges, never interested in light and shadow. To capture a form in the the fewest possible lines, and have that line be sure and strong - oh! - what a pleasure and a challenge it was.
Now I find out that some Harvard neurobiologists are investigating a link that they believe exists between having poor depth perception due to strabismus (that "lazy eye") and having a facility for the visual arts. Rembrandt, Gustav Klimt, Chuck Close, Robert Rauschenberg, Marc Chagall, Edward Hopper, Man Ray, N.C. and Andrew Wyeth, Roy Lichtenstein, Frank Stella, and Willem De Kooning all had "ocular misalignment".
I did think my obsession with line drawing was some sort of overcompensation for my "eye problem." I also believed I might see the world in a flatter way than was normal, and though I can't say what "normal" looks like exactly, it seemed rather natural to portray reality on a flat plane. Now, I read that the ability to translate reality onto the flat plane may be facilitated by having this visual "impairment." I'm fascinated. I'm also rather excited, for I've always thought that my eyesight played a role in how I saw the world, not only visually, but in other ways, and I find it gratifying in some way that science is looking into a piece of this.
When I was very young, my eyesight made me think about just what reality was. Seeing two of everything, and having it overlap and move about, I was fascinated with the problem of knowing which image was the real one. I had to know, of course, in order to move about in the world. These days, I do not labor over which image is the "real one", but I clearly remember struggling with it, and those struggles caused me to question the notion that there was but one reality, or that anything was clearly fixed in space. However, if I judged wrong, there would be consequences.
Very young, I saw knowing what is "real" and where it was as some sort of construct, or agreement. Dogs and cats see the world differently than we do, and goodness, bees see it in a very different way, but we all are looking at the same thing. We are not all bumping into each other (for the most part), and that is truly extraordinary.
Today, I feel rather grateful that I was born with a lazy eye. I've always felt it gave me a different perspective and got me thinking about some interesting concepts at a young age, and so there's always been some gratitude, but now I feel like I'm in some great company. How marvelous!
Image note: Man Ray photographed by Carl Van Vechten, 1880-1964
There's another photograph of him where it's clearer that his eyes are not aligned, but I can see it here somewhat. One can't tell with me, unless I've just awoken or am quite sleepy. When I was a kid, before I went to eye training school (yep - there's such a thing, or was once), it was quite noticeable.
Addendum: I have mistakenly called strabismus a "lazy eye", which turns out to wrong. I haven't read anything about this subject since I was quite young, and seem to have been harboring a common misconception. I also have amblyopia upon occasion, which is when the brain does not "acknowledge" information from a healthy eye. When my strabismus was quite pronounced, I did have amblyopia, and did not see double most of the time. This was before the eye training, which was an attempt to correct my "funny looking" left eye. It did not work entirely, and it appeared that when the information my brain received was accurate enough, it started to take notice, thus producing the constantly shifting double vision. I remember thinking I preferred a single image, and wished I had not had eye training. It also took up two years of my life and caused a constant headache. Why I didn't have the more common surgery is a mystery.