Gert Hofmann- The Parable of the Blind (1985)


A long time ago–though not so long ago that people were very much different from how they are today–six blind men lived in a barn.  These blind men were travelers; the barn was a temporary residence, as was Pede-Sainte-Anne, the village in which it stood.  They lived in this particular barn because a great painter was going to paint them in a picture.  The six blind men did not know why anyone would want to paint them, but the painter had promised to feed them if they agreed, and besides they had never been painted before, nor knew anyone who had.  Someone told the six blind men that they would be painted stumbling and falling and screaming, but could not say if they should practice ahead of time.  

The day of the painting, the six blind men were led to breakfast. After they had eaten, a boy took them behind a barn to defecate only it was not behind a barn at all but on the village green!  Distrustful of their devious guide, the six blind men decided to find the painters house on their own.  Their designated leader was the eldest of the six (this they deduced because he had the fewest teeth), a man called Ripolus.  On good days Ripolus could distinguish if the sun was shining even without feeling it’s warmth.  For hours they wandered in many directions, and stumbled and hurt themselves, until at last they arrived at the painter’s house. They were greeted by the painters’ maid and the painters’ gardener, who positioned them in view of the painters’ window.  They were told to join hands and stumble, one after the other, off a bridge into a watery ditch.  This they must do over and over again until the painter had captured the most relevant details. It was also important, they were told, to scream.  

For hours, the six blind men screamed and stumbled and fell into the ditch, and become very cold and tired, until the gardener had to lift them from the ditch so that they could fall into it again. The six blind men asked the painter why he wanted to paint them, but the painter said that their question was too big for him to answer.  At last the painter was satisfied with his work, and told the six blind men he did not need them anymore.  Thus dismissed, the blind men again wandered for hours in many directions, until they were returned to their barn.

It is from these events that you see this painting before you, this most magnificent rendering of Matthew the Disciples’ words “Leave them; they are blind guides of the blind. If a blind man leads a blind man, both will fall into a pit.”

Excerpt (Accompanied by : Bach’s Cello Suite #1 in G, by Kevin MacLeod)

So you want to paint them screaming? the good friend says–not to us but in the other direction.

Yes, screaming, the painter says.

And at the window he explains to his good friend that, ever since he was a child, he’s been hoping to portray convincingly one day the human scream, and with a picture like that to make all the other pictures he’d painted forgettable. (Also all the pictures painted by other people.) Into this concluding and ultimate picture he’d like to put everything he had to say about the world, but so far he hadn’t been able to paint a picture like that.

And the scream, what’s the scream? (the friend asks)

Well, the scream is naturally the terror, the cause of which, I willingly confess, the painter says, I haven’t till now looked for patiently enough–and he starts to walk again. But he wants to look for it. And when he wants to paint the scream, he also wants to paint the terror, what can be seen of the terror.  The way, for instance, the mouth changes when it screams, yes, that interests him.  He’s fascinated by the arch of the mouth cavity, the position of the teeth, the condition of the gums, the shaping of the lips, the colorings, the discolorings of the palate.  On the other hand, admittedly, he’d like to have painted a smile sometime, but hadn’t been able to do that, either…

And why does he stress the terror so much, at the expense of everything else?

Terror? Ah, does he really do that? He doesn’t feel it that way at all.  What people call terror is the element he lives in.  Certainly he doesn’t want to give people a fright, far from it, and he doesn’t make too much of it, either, he simply brings together what people, not wanting to think about what’s terrible, fail to see.  On the other hand the friend is right.  He too sometimes wonders, while painting: In what house, in what room, among what people, for heaven’s sake, would your picture be in the right place, be at least endurable? Because at that moment he can’t imagine such a place, such a wall, for the pictures he paints, must paint. Then he asks how things are in Ghent, in the southern provinces.

Slaughter, the good friend says.

And the slaughter in Liege?

Still going on.

You see? the painter says, and probably he puts his hands over his ears, wanting not to hear the details of the slaughter.

So should we scream now? we ask, and we’re probably on the bridge.

Yes, the maid says, scream now.

Aah, we scream, ooh and eeh and no, and no, don’t, and slowly we get into the swing of it, becoming more independent and noisy. And we hear how the screams escape from us and float around us, and, after they’ve settled over us (our shoulders, our heads) and have enveloped us for long enough, spread out across the country and settle over the neighborhood. Of course, this doesn’t stop the world, but it does seem to be listening.


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