Journal; Date: Sunday, June 25, 2006; Page: E9
An honest man's journey into darkness
by Eamon McGrath
I admit that I have an overwhelming fear of going blind. Everything that I hold
dear in life -- reading, writing, artistic communication -- I owe in some way
to my sense of sight. Vancouver writer Ryan Knighton, who teaches literature
and creative writing at Capilano College, shared similar sentiments, I'm sure,
as his worst fears became reality. On his 18th birthday, Knighton was diagnosed
with retinitis pigmentosa, a degenerative and irreversible condition which leads
to total blindness. The darkness gathers but Knighton is unaffected in his ability
to comment, with pinpoint accuracy, on the surrounding world and his environment.
Cockeyed is Knighton's memoir, and it serves as a confident and effective confessional.
Knighton has achieved an act of unprecedented artistic integrity: he has managed
to create a story out of his own life without pretentiousness or egotism.
The big picture here is that Knighton uses his own blindness, and
his descent into his "abyss," as a metaphor for growing
up, and it's not coincidental that his vision worsens as he matures.
Once he receives his diagnosis of diminishing sight, he embarks on
the paradoxical journey of attempting to make sense of a world when
it is -- quite literally -- turning to black around him.
It's interesting, most notably because everybody actually feels this way at some
point in their lives; as humans, we are faced with this natural paradox, in that
the world becomes more and more confusing as we are supposedly expected to make
more sense of it. For Knighton, these feelings of discontent and alienation have
actually manifested themselves in a distinct and tangible experience.
Cockeyed provides us with an unprecedented insight into this experience; you
leave the story feeling as though you truly have shared in Knighton's experiences,
and you marvel at his courage, and his ability to overcome such complex circumstances.
It's quite powerful stuff. It's addictive, as well. Knighton also litters his
book with landmark observations on his parallel musical and literary journeys.
In pondering contemporary culture, he ranges from punk music and mosh pits to
the finer points of shopping for a couch at Ikea. The book seems to be therapeutic
for the author, as Knighton crafts absurdly comic situations out of the sadness
of his own experiences.
Knighton seems to cull inspiration and influence from almost every side of the
artistic and cultural spectrum, while simultaneously filtering it through a sieve
of his own experiences and artistic vision.
Eamon McGrath is a freelance reviewer.
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