The Persistence of Vision (short story)
"The Persistence of Vision" is a science fiction novella by American writer John Varley. It won both the Hugo and Nebula awards in 1979. It was included in the anthology of the same name and in the The John Varley Reader.
A keen drifter describes the dismal political state of the world following a general collapse. He comes upon a commune of people who are blind, deaf, and mute. Much of the story details the culture and personal habits of the people. As their main cultural activity the commune uses different levels of touch-based communication on a regular basis, perhaps 3-4 times a week, in group sessions. These occur after work done during the days. Through these sensory communication encounters the protagonist develops strong bonds with several of the members.
The commune members emphasize mutual understanding to overcome their physical limitations. Their rich use of unspoken/unseen tactile language is used to establish intense clarity about others, a depth of clarity unobtainable using the senses of hearing and vision conventionally. Sex is part of their communication language.
Varley carefully steers clear of representing the blind/deaf commune as a Utopia; they have financial problems, crop failures, criminal justice enigmas, etc. Nevertheless, the commune is clearly free of most of the evils pervading the rest of society. The supposition is this is owed to the unusual high level of communication and sensitivity toward each people achieved on a regular basis. The novella progresses to suggest a higher level of interpersonal clarity and communication is achievable without conventional seeing and hearing; that, being blind and deaf offers unforeseen advantages in interpersonal and even spiritual clarity. The story raises the question, "Is being blind and deaf a handicap, or is it a blessing?" The reader is left to judge.
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