“Monet Refuses the Operation” by Lisel Mueller, though unintentionally, reveals an intriguing insight; that mystical rebellion against reason is primarily fueled by physical shortcomings and defects.
In the poem, Claude Monet, the aging artist heading inexorably toward blindness, rejects a doctor’s offer to restore his vision. He extols his present incapacitated state by discarding as purportedly insignificant all that had been previously accessible to him. He rejects artistic principles necessary for conveying a realistic three-dimensional perspective, such as the horizon line and even the entire objective of creating a three-dimensional portrayal.
Moreover, the fictional Monet seeks to abolish “fixed notions of top and bottom” and the essential characteristics of Euclidean regularity, identity, and consistency which ubiquitously dominate actuality. Instead, he, with his link to reality (his sight) severed, reverts to the dazed, bumbling, confused notion of Heraclitean flux, which in itself incapacitates man’s reason, understanding, and cognitive capacity. The absolutes, which he has departed from, he disdainfully dubs “youthful errors.”
But what, in fact, is senescence but a departure from an optimal link with reality? With senescence, the body decays, as do the physical aspects of consciousness. The senses are no longer as keen, nor one’s insights as adaptable to the attainment of fresh, innovative, yet still firmly grounded and objective discoveries, as they had once been. This deterioration in Monet is amplified by the decay of his sight and causes him to lapse from clarity to delusion. The old, blind, sick Monet is fomenting a reaction against youth, health, certainty, and forthrightness.
Descriptions of the habits of the blind in Annie Dillard’s “Seeing” also suggest a direct link between physical incapacity and mystical tendencies. For example, many of the blind, having no knowledge of the appearance of their gestures and exterior to the receptacles of sight, do not groom themselves properly and mar their undertakings by aesthetically awkward movements. Despite their knowledge that a world of the seen and objectively perceptible exists, many nevertheless continue to act in utter disregard of it.
This belief in the irrelevancy of reason is an instance of mysticism. The disease, is, however curable along with its physical symptoms. Once cataract operations are performed on these unfortunate individuals, they reform their habits and begin to distinguish objects instead of viewing random and indeterminate color patches. They become conscientious about their appearances and gradually renounce their former abhorrence of the visual world. A girl who spends her first two weeks of sight in denial, a spillover remnant of mysticism, later on admits the beauty of her new endowment and thereby gains access to a tool of empowerment.
While blindness is a physical defect, mysticism is a defect of the mind. It is not curable automatically, as the fictional Monet’s actively resisting example proves. However, a removal of the physical obstacles between one and the absolute enable an exposure to the world of truth, to which delusional untruth can then be compared. The inclinations of a man’s reason and common sense are evident, and it takes extensive self-deceit to subvert them. Thus, he whose physical state is sound is dependent solely on his volition to cure his mysticism. Will he choose darkness and flux, like the fictional Monet, or light, color, and proportion, like the newly-sighted girl?