Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Socio-Visual Agnosia

"Freud’s image of stolen eyes haunts me: The circular looping of belated recognition and regret seems a shared impairment, a kind of socio-visual agnosia.

I made up that term, “socio-visual agnosia.” There is an actual neurological condition called visual agnosia. The patient in Oliver Sacks’ famous essay “The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat” suffered from it. It’s not a really a vision problem at all, but a neural disorder of perception that produces an inability to recognize objects or faces, or to identify a thing by its shape. So I’m taking a bit of a liberty here, deploying it as a metaphor for our collective hermeneutic disorder. Consider the man who mistook his gun for a Taser.
Robert Bates is the 73-year-old insurance agent whose longtime friend, Stanley Glanz, is the sheriff of Tulsa County, Oklahoma. Bates has paid for vacations for the top brass, as well as equipment for the police department. It seemed only polite to invite him along to test those goodies out. So when an unarmed black man named Eric Harris tried to make a run for it during a thoroughly bungled sting, Robert Bates—thrill-seeking insurance agent, volunteer hanger-on—reached for his Taser and pulled out his gun.
It was an accident, he said. According to the libretto, he was then supposed to sing about it being the worst day of his life. But Bates broke the rhythm of the score by describing it as the second-worst thing that had happened in his life, after suffering cancer. “I’m sorry,” he was recorded saying as he stood over the dying Harris. It was not the worst day of his life."

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