“I Hear You”: The Address of the Elephant in Letter on the Blind, For the Use of Those Who See
By, David Regan
In my paper I direct my gaze at animal images in telecommunications company Telus’ advertising campaigns, in paintings by Leonardo da Vinci, Hans Holbein, and Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, and in a film by Javier Téllez. I set out seeking membership in a group defined by Jacques Derrida: “those men and women who admit to taking upon themselves the address that an animal addresses them”; I want my reader to see me “seen seen by the animal.” Things do not go as planned, however: I arrive instead at an apprehension of what is problematic in such sight-centric language.
My reading of Javier Téllez’s 2007 Letter on the Blind, For the Use of Those Who See is at the center of my paper. In this film, Téllez sets out to critique the fable of the blind men and the elephant. He, too, stages an encounter between six blind humans and one elephant, Beulah, but in his film, “The Blind” move from figures to particular individuals possessed of subjective experiences of an ableist world. The elephant, on the other hand, remains a figure; Téllez totally misses the intersections between the subjective experiences of Beulah (property of All Creatures Great and Small animal agency) and the humans who encounter her. Nevertheless, the humans in his film begin to articulate both a way of being with other animals that does not depend on intersecting gazes and an anti-ableist, anti-speciesist critical stance.
My paper moves, then, from the fables proffered by Telus to the fable critiqued by Téllez, from the sight-centric encounter with other animals found in “The Animal That Therefore I Am” to a mode of being-with other animals that might be centered on sounds, or scents, or textures, or tastes, on sharing space, on hanging out.
David Regan is currently on a one-year leave from teaching English at William Lyon Mackenzie Collegiate Institute in Toronto. He is using this year to complete an MA in the Cultural Studies and Critical Theory program at McMaster University, which will culminate in a major research paper tentatively titled “Many Fractures, Heterogeneities: Disability Studies, Animal Studies, and The Work of Sunaura Taylor.” His review of Don LePan’s novel Animals, “Of Mongrels and Men,” helped prompt LePan to revise his work prior to its U.S. publication. David hangs out in Hamilton for the moment, with four cats and one human.