Pieter Bruegel, 'The Parable of the Blind' (1568)

On Gert Hofmann’s The Parable of the Blind

From Nicole Rudick (The New Yorker):

“[Gert Hofmann’s] slim comic novel “Der Blindensturz,” first published in Germany in 1985, and translated into English by Christopher Middleton, in 1989, as “The Parable of the Blind,” reads like the culmination of this work. It is told solely through dialogue and sets the reader adrift amid unreliable accounts. Reissued this month, with a new afterword by the author’s son, the poet and translator Michael Hofmann, “Parable” offers sly, strikingly contemporary commentary on the precariousness of language and facts, and, in particular, on the need to negotiate unstable ground—literally, but also socially and politically—afresh each day.

“The Parable of the Blind” gives narrative form to Pieter Bruegel’s eponymous 1568 painting, in which six blind men have begun to tumble, like dominoes, into a ditch, illustrating the old maxim concerning the dangers of the blind leading the blind, which Jesus relates in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. Hofmann’s ekphrasis imagines a day in the life of Bruegel’s sightless subjects as they make their way from a barn to the artist’s house, to be painted—a short trip that nevertheless takes half the novel to complete. Left on their own, they get lost on the village green, run into a fence, wander into a brook, are attacked by a dog; along the way, they chatter about what blinded them, about getting lost, about the fact that they’re going to be painted but don’t know why. Bruegel’s painting is notable for its level of detail: each of his figures possesses a recognizable ophthalmologic affliction. Hofmann’s treatment of the characters is more abstract. They speak as a single entity, and the novel is told mainly in the first-person plural, though occasionally individual men are pulled out of the collective “we” and shown to be individuals with names and distinct histories. They are then folded back into the group, like a medieval version of Jamie Madrox, the Multiple Man.”

Source: A Parable for the Distance Between Language and Truth | The New Yorker

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