Anthropology | Photography


“Emerging from an unknown body, enthralling images, and lacerating silences, The Blind Man is written with the force of literature. Desjarlais’s fierce masterpiece reawakens anthropology’s sense of wonder with the affective, spectral nature of worldly encounters. A transformational book.”—João Biehl, Princeton University

The Blind Man: A Phantasmography examines the complicated forces of perception, imagination, and phantasms of encounter in the contemporary world. In considering photographs he took while he was traveling in France, anthropologist and writer Robert Desjarlais reflects on a few pictures that show the features of a man, apparently blind, who begs for money at a religious site in Paris. He begins to imagine what this man’s life is like and how he perceives the world around him.

Written in journal form, the book narrates Desjarlais’s pursuit of the man portrayed in the photographs. He travels to Paris and tries to meet with him. Eventually, Desjarlais becomes unsure as to what he sees, hears, or remembers. Through these interpretive dilemmas he senses the complexities of perception, where all is multiple, shifting, spectral, a surge of phantasms in which the actual and the imagined are endlessly blurred and intertwined. His own vision is affected in a troubling way.

Robert Desjarlais is an award-winning anthropologist and writer teaching at Sarah Lawrence College.



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