Blind Spot

Teju Cole

I was especially curious about this book after reading Known and Strange Things as the last essay there is also called “Blind Spot.” That one is about Teju Cole’s sudden loss of vision while he was attending an artists’ residency. This book version doesn’t seem directly related right away, as it contains around 150 of photographs from his travels around the world accompanied by vignettes. But Cole doesn’t just connect this book to the previous essay, but rather all of his works, calling them “a quartet about the limits of vision.” Now I’m curious to go back to his first book Open City with that perspective.

In this book, the images by themselves would be moderately interesting on their own, but as Cole wants to impress on the reader, there is more to each of them that what you immediately see. While sometimes the accompanying vignettes reveal further context for what’s happening in and around the frame or how the photograph was captured, in many cases the connection between the two is more tangential. That’s where the book deepens, drawing connections to art and literature and politics; the balance of the photos and text start to elevate each other.

Blind Spot incorporates a lot of the peripatetic themes that show up in Cole’s writing, with each vignette named for the locale of the accompanying image, even when the vignette itself may not be obviously tied to that place. It’s not an entirely cohesive book in concept, especially since I didn’t realize there was a map at the back of the book until I got to the end, so at first I kept looking up place names that I didn’t recognize, unaware there was a cartographic legend that I could have referred to quickly. The progression became mesmerizing once I stopped worrying about where each image was taken, and I wound up reading most of the book in one sitting, which is best since I was more likely to pick up on the internal references and recurring motifs. I read a borrowed copy of this but feel like it would be a book worth owning for repeated perusals.