A Lack of Vision

In short, whether driven by idealist or materialist presuppositions, contemporary theories of knowledge fail to articulate the impacts of the distinctive arrangements of discursive matter as it flows through both biological bodies and other media.[*]

C.M. Condit, “Race and Genetics from a Modal Materialist Perspective” QJS 94:4 November 2008

I got news today that my sister-in-law has completely lost her sight in her left eye. There is no word whether it is permanent or reversible; it is tremendously difficult for poor people to get straight answers about health care in this country. A cancer survivor, she is being shuffled from clinic to clinic as her vision progressively gets worse. It is a blow to me, because she and my brother are the main allies I have in caring for my mother as her condition worsens.. The hospice system is quick to offer counselors, but slow to assist her in day-to-day issues like washing up. My sister-in-law has been helping to take up that slack. Her problems add complexity to an already mind-numbingly complex scene.

It used to be simpler. When my father died, I was on the way to finishing my Master’s degree. I thought about taking a pause before moving on, but my mother thought it would be best if I kept moving on. Moving on comes natural to me. When things are going by, I am in my element—I have never been one to just sit and stare. It seemed best to keep my mom company from a distance. From the day my father died forward, I called my mother almost every day. I can see from the physical traces now that this was an important part of her life. She kept little lists, stashed just about everywhere—the few days I missed calling were noted with distress, as if it were the most significant thing in her day. Mom felt like keeping track of things, keeping her mind working, would save her from Alzheimer’s. She was dreadfully afraid of losing her mind; it kills me now to think that what she is going through is her worst nightmare.

Those calls were important to me too. I miss them dreadfully, but the person on the other end of the line isn’t really my mother anymore. Her body is still here, but she is gone. I’d call if I thought it helped. It doesn’t.

Well over a decade ago, my father wanted me to get interested in the stock market. He volunteered at one point to bankroll me in a modest portfolio. I refused; I elected to go back to school instead. He was no financial genius by conventional measure. He took a few thousand dollars that an aunt had ironed into an ironing board and turned it into six figures, while adding up his figures longhand. He was uncomfortable with things like calculators, though he would have my mom check his figures sometimes. I refused, not because of any great abhorrence to money, but because I knew that he was tired and felt like he was close to death. He wanted me to know how to handle things so I could take care of my mother. I felt as if taking up this task would accelerate his death. When he died, I took over. The financial security of my extended family depends on my abilities. I am horribly well-versed in all of the particulars of our current economic crisis. It tends to ruin most dinner conversations.

I’ve always been uncomfortable as a materialist. Though economic theories work in many spheres, they have had little importance in my life. Musicians often tried to solicit work from me (as a photographer) with the promise that my investment in them would pay off somehow when they became famous. It never worked for me. I photographed the artists I liked, and the few times I deviated from that simple rule I got burned in one way or the other. Most people didn’t get that it wasn’t a particularly ideological distinction—it simply meant that I stuck to what I was comfortable with. I’ve always felt like I did my best work that way. Just the slightest suggestion of creative work as “investment” sends chills down my spine.

My father was never comfortable with the label “investor.” He thought investing was gambling. Sometimes you get lucky. If you don’t, it’s only paper. I think writing works much the same way.

A loss of vision is my greatest fear. My heart is now lost in thoughts of my sister-in-law. I’ll be on the road in December, and I hope that it can help me get my heart back.

*The complexity of Condit’s argument baffles me a bit at this point– I am unable to separate the “physical” mode from the “biological” one.