Dear Unsighted,

Playboy, December 1998, Volume XLV, No. 12, Braille Edition, Part 1 of 4 Parts


It's an easy joke to make, amusing contradiction, the Braille Playboy, holding it and trying to make a point about the book qua book: that the codex form isn't always as we think, that different books must serve different needs. Magazines, okay, not books, and there's the question of how to represent the airbrushed female flesh that defines the magazine (that flesh—itself a simulation, standin for real bodies we might once have believed we'd touch as we touched our own—is not included in Braille translation, only the articles and other text). So, stripped of whatever sex it had, I hold it here, and holding, see (a joke) the appeal of books in Braille, light like puffy paint printed on puffed rice, not the dense untextured pages that the slighted sighted use. Holding an artifact like this I know what I am missing: dreams of passing light, the feathered breath of paper, comprehension through touch, unceasing darkness that I don't know is darkness.

Those girls in those puffy-painted shirts: I don't want to say they haunt my dreams (they don't, or not exactly—the 80s style returned without my knowing so recent days in malls are arrested by reminders of the past), but I wonder what light it might have made in my life to run my hands down their shirts, faces, pretending I was blind.

I get that writing this this way won't reach you either; I'm not just a chump for irony. Better would be translating it to Braille, etching it in skin with a needle tip so you could feel it swelling up all along my book—my back I mean, these things with spines get entwined in brain; these corpuses are so easily conflated when we lose ourselves in books—in time. When did I wonder what it would be like to live in a sightless world? When did I try it for a couple hours? Dilettante, blindfolded, idiot trying to learn a world by wading in it, then I felt a fool, forgot it until just now.

So far I am untattooed, not just because of wussiness but for lack of an idea good enough to sear on flesh. I've got a commitment problem, and I'm not just talking about the increasingly unhinged activity of lonely, isolated relatives who collect delusions and cocoon themselves in snowy climes. Something must be done. Nothing can be done. That's called living, homes. The only thing I've ever thought enough to ink on me would be an image of an arm, and on that arm, a tattoo of an arm, until you could no longer see it in the density, but then the thought: too cute to be worth the pain? Too self-reflexive? Or else as many digits of Pi as I can remember and stand. My wife's name. A heart, not the simplified kind but the bulbous ugly blood nexus that makes us go.

I've considered signing in to Shelley Jackson's Skin, a 2095-word story in progress "published exclusively in tattoos" according to her FAQ. Check its progress here. Weird to offer up a link that might as well be down or gone or disappeared by the time this meets your eyes or hands or ears or heart, but it's the most honest way to direct your attention there. Like ass-crack abutting lower back stamp reading "irony." What if I committed a URL to skin, a gateway to the cluttered paradise we thought the Internet would be. In WilliamGibsonWorld we'd all have dataports by now to allow the net to penetrate us physically.

I've been watching 1990s movies about the future of the world: virtuality, immersivity, and verisimilitude; then we felt that we could lose ourselves in bits. Now it seems a little quaint. We ain't got that far that fast, and the meat we walk around in continues to exert quite a bit of force: bodily desire, revulsion, the sunburn peel, hunger for Doritos, a memorable scent like sandalwood: these things are hard to shake. We'll never shake them, shackles. Even writing them I think of them. I suspect it'll be the same for books: if there's something in the artifact that connects to us and what is written there, then they're not / we're not just ghosts in shells, waiting to shed ourselves and become something else.

 

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