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Against the Pollution of the I: On the Gifts of Blindness, the Power of Poetry, and the Urgency of Awareness

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Despite being blinded as a child, Jacques Lusseyran went on to help form a key unit of the French Resistance — and survive the Nazis’ Buchenwald concentration camp. He wrote about these experiences in his inspiring memoir, And There Was Light. In this remarkable collection of essays, Lusseyran writes of how blindness enabled him to discover aspects of the world that he wou Despite being blinded as a child, Jacques Lusseyran went on to help form a key unit of the French Resistance — and survive the Nazis’ Buchenwald concentration camp. He wrote about these experiences in his inspiring memoir, And There Was Light. In this remarkable collection of essays, Lusseyran writes of how blindness enabled him to discover aspects of the world that he would not otherwise have known. In “Poetry in Buchenwald,” he describes the unexpected nourishment he and his fellow prisoners found in poetry. In “What One Sees Without Eyes” he describes a divine inner light available to all. Just as Lusseyran transcended his most difficult experiences, his writings give triumphant voice to the human ability to see beyond sight and act with unexpected heroism.


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Despite being blinded as a child, Jacques Lusseyran went on to help form a key unit of the French Resistance — and survive the Nazis’ Buchenwald concentration camp. He wrote about these experiences in his inspiring memoir, And There Was Light. In this remarkable collection of essays, Lusseyran writes of how blindness enabled him to discover aspects of the world that he wou Despite being blinded as a child, Jacques Lusseyran went on to help form a key unit of the French Resistance — and survive the Nazis’ Buchenwald concentration camp. He wrote about these experiences in his inspiring memoir, And There Was Light. In this remarkable collection of essays, Lusseyran writes of how blindness enabled him to discover aspects of the world that he would not otherwise have known. In “Poetry in Buchenwald,” he describes the unexpected nourishment he and his fellow prisoners found in poetry. In “What One Sees Without Eyes” he describes a divine inner light available to all. Just as Lusseyran transcended his most difficult experiences, his writings give triumphant voice to the human ability to see beyond sight and act with unexpected heroism.

30 review for Against the Pollution of the I: On the Gifts of Blindness, the Power of Poetry, and the Urgency of Awareness

  1. 4 out of 5

    William2

    W.S. Merwin recommended this book at Poets House in NYC some years ago. The first essays are about how blindness became a strength for this man, Jacques Lusseyran, who as a teenager became a leader in the French Resistance. That’s right, a blind teenage leader of the French Resistance. It’s about his spiritual journey. About how he came to see “the light” more in his blindness than ever when he was sighted. He was eventually betrayed and sent to Buchenwald by the Gestapo. There are three essays W.S. Merwin recommended this book at Poets House in NYC some years ago. The first essays are about how blindness became a strength for this man, Jacques Lusseyran, who as a teenager became a leader in the French Resistance. That’s right, a blind teenage leader of the French Resistance. It’s about his spiritual journey. About how he came to see “the light” more in his blindness than ever when he was sighted. He was eventually betrayed and sent to Buchenwald by the Gestapo. There are three essays about his time there. Two, “Jeremy” and “Poetry in Buchenwald” discuss survival inside, mental survival. Though he denies it, he is in the end something of a mystic. He doesn’t talk at all about organized religion, he does go on a good deal about God. I think his is really a freestyle spirituality. He believes that because of his ability to “see” an inner light that he is capable of moments of omniscience, which he actually terms “all-knowingness.” During these bouts of seeing he can, say, discern a landscape, or a streetscape with moving cars, an orchard, distant mountains, what have you. I will admit to often not knowing quite what he is talking about, but this only exercises the reader’s imagination all the more. In another age he might have been called a prophet. Some of Lusseyran’s lines: “Seeing is not the work of the eyes alone.” and “The seeing do not believe in the blind.” and “Because of my blindness, I had developed a new faculty. Strictly speaking, all men have it, but almost all forget to use it. That faculty was attention.” This last quote reminded me a lot of Buddhism and its goal of helping one stay in the present moment. It struck me as very Buddhist actually, for what it’s worth. Then there’s “It is essential to keep reminding oneself that it is always the soul which dies first—even if it’s departure goes unnoticed—and it always carries the body along with it. [In Buchenwald] it was the soul which first had to be nourished.”

  2. 4 out of 5

    Betsy Robinson

    I edited this one, so no fair, I know. But amazing, amazing stuff. You will be changed and inspired.

  3. 5 out of 5

    David

    I've heard, and own the 'And then there was light' book, but decided to read this book first. I enjoyed this book because it was interesting how a blind person, at least one, sees life. I think he believes he is luckier than we are that do have sight. He makes the point that sight, or seeing, does not require eyes. Does it take a set of physical eyes to see God, to know of His creation - to see right from wrong, to know the difference between the light and darkness? I agree that we don't. If you I've heard, and own the 'And then there was light' book, but decided to read this book first. I enjoyed this book because it was interesting how a blind person, at least one, sees life. I think he believes he is luckier than we are that do have sight. He makes the point that sight, or seeing, does not require eyes. Does it take a set of physical eyes to see God, to know of His creation - to see right from wrong, to know the difference between the light and darkness? I agree that we don't. If you don't read any other chapter, read the one on the Pollution of the I. The I is fragile, and in my own words like a the flame of a candle - it can be extinguished quite easily. All is joy if one tries to maintain its flame throughout your life. It is strange how relevant his words are today regarding the brainwashing of society. I've seen it, but only now understand what impact it can have on me. The last chapter that covers poetry, read while in the concentration camp, revealed a side of the human condition I hope to never need to experience. Words nourish the soul and breathe life where it is barely alive. The closest I've come to reading poetry is Kahil Gabran, The Prophet. I still can't imagine that poetry could sustain people in such dyer circumstances. My overall opinion of the book is that it is worth the time to read. I am not a writer by any stretch of the imagination, so commenting on his writing style? no comment. It seemed to me as I read this book he was writing with this heart and not his mind. His stories inspire, and there are some pieces of the book that are well worth remembering. I would recommend this book to those who believe that the bright lights, technology, marketing, and television is really a tool to take us further away from the true flame of our lives - the I.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Sue Maxwell

    Remarkable and insightful from a most unusual man whose life was distinct in so many ways. Both of these books are beautiful and uplifting and very real. Sue Maxwell

  5. 4 out of 5

    Paula

    I was completely blown away by the stories in this book. My two favorites were (1) Jeremy; and (2) Poetry in Buchenwald. Like another reviewer on Amazon, I too read "Jeremy" over and over again. It is perfect and one of the most amazing pieces of writing I've ever encountered (naturally it's a translation from the French). I think one can google and read the whole story online. Some quotes from "Jeremy" - "I met him in January 1944, in the midst of the war, in Germany, when I was in a concentration I was completely blown away by the stories in this book. My two favorites were (1) Jeremy; and (2) Poetry in Buchenwald. Like another reviewer on Amazon, I too read "Jeremy" over and over again. It is perfect and one of the most amazing pieces of writing I've ever encountered (naturally it's a translation from the French). I think one can google and read the whole story online. Some quotes from "Jeremy" - "I met him in January 1944, in the midst of the war, in Germany, when I was in a concentration camp at age nineteen. He was one of the six thousand French who arrived in Buchenwald between the 22nd and 26th of January. But he was unlike any other.... "Jeremy's tale was that of a welder from a particular part of the world, a village in France. He loved to tell it with broad smiles. He told it very simply, as any tradesman talks about his trade. And here and there one could just barely glimpse a second forge standing there, a forge of the spirit." "It was not curiosity which moved me toward him. I needed him as a man who is dying of thirst needs water. Like all important things, this was elemental. "I see Jeremy walking through our barracks. A space formed itself among us. He stopped somewhere and, all at once, men pressed in tighter, yet still leaving him a little place in their midst. This was a completely instinctive movement which one cannot explain simply by respect. We drew back rather as one steps back to leave a place for one who is working. "You must picture that we were more than a thousand men in this barracks, a thousand where four hundred would have been uncomfortable. Imagine that we were all afraid, profoundly and immediately. Do not think of us as individuals, but as a protoplasmic mass. In fact, we were glued to one another. The only movements we made were pushing, clutching, pulling apart, twisting. Now you will better understand the marvel (so as not to say "miracle") of this small distance, this circle of space with which Jeremy remained surrounded. "He was not frightening, he was not austere, he was not even eloquent. But he was there, and that was tangible. You felt it as you feel a hand on the shoulder, a hand which summons, which brings you back to yourself when you were about to disappear." "Each time he appeared, the air became breathable: I got a breath of life smack in the, face. This was perhaps not a miracle, but it was at least a very great act, and one of which he alone was capable. Jeremy’s walk across the quad was that: a breathing. In my memory I can follow distinctly the path of light and clarity which he made through the crowd."| ______________ Such great writing! FYI, the other prisoners called Jeremy "Socrates." I haven't quoted some of the most amazing paragraphs. ______________ Then there's Poetry in Buchenwald which was revelatory. Lusseyran writes, "Poetry chased men out of their ordinary refuges, which are places full of dangers. These bad refuges were memories of the time of freedom, personal histories. Poetry made a new place, a clearing..." He begins to recite poems to his friends imprisoned with him in Buchenwald, to prove the point to them that "poetry is not 'literature.' " They are shocked at his saying this, so he starts reciting, to prove his point - that poetry is NOT [mere] literature. As Lusseyran recites, prisoners whom he doesn't even know move toward him as if parched, for water, and gather 'round. They do not speak the language in which he recites; they speak no language he knows; but they, as a mass crowd, recite every line after him. They know this is not normal language but rather, a language of the spirit. As it turned out, Lusseyran, after seeing this great need, makes poetry reciting (from prisoners' memories) a frequent "thing." The prisoners discover (I found this REALLY interesting) that certain poets -- those who were self-pitying -- flopped in Buchenwald. What they had created turned out not to be poetry. Poetry has to FEED the spirit. Buchenwald was the perfect proving ground. The only author IMHO to equal Lusseyran is Varlam Shalamov ("Graphite" and "Kolyma Tales" are Shalamov's short stories of the Soviet Gulag). Shalamov is a poet, which means that his PROSE is transcendent (translated by John Glad). I spoke to a Russian Jew in Framingham, MA at the pool, and we discovered a mutual love for Shalamov. He told me that he "floated on air" for three days after he discovered him. He ribbed me about the fact he got to read him in THE ORIGINAL RUSSIAN! Ha ha! I was so envious! We had a good chuckle over that and were united by how much we loved that man. These are my favorite Shalamov stories: 'Sententious' - 'Prosthetic Appliances' - 'Dry Rations' - Don't miss them!

  6. 5 out of 5

    Deb

    Loved some essays more than others. The same lovely writing style as his memoir. Quick read.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Tristy at New World Library

    Endorsements: “Exalts the soul in ways that are universal, breathtaking, and marvelous.” — Spirituality and Health “[Lusseyran’s] writing has a mythical power capable of transforming those who contact it. This is gritty, spiritual writing at its best.” — Larry Dossey, MD, author of Healing Words “These posthumously collected essays remind us anew that eyes are merely a concentration of the human talent to see with the body and that each of us contains all beings, as the old teachers said.” — Roshi Rob Endorsements: “Exalts the soul in ways that are universal, breathtaking, and marvelous.” — Spirituality and Health “[Lusseyran’s] writing has a mythical power capable of transforming those who contact it. This is gritty, spiritual writing at its best.” — Larry Dossey, MD, author of Healing Words “These posthumously collected essays remind us anew that eyes are merely a concentration of the human talent to see with the body and that each of us contains all beings, as the old teachers said.” — Roshi Robert Aitken, author of Taking the Path of Zen

  8. 5 out of 5

    Laura

    This book is rather repetitive and poorly written at times. That aside, it is an inspiring and incredible story by a man who became blind at the age of 8 and learned to perceive the light around him more acutely than most seeing people can. He started his own resistance group during World War II and survived a concentration camp. Most importantly, it is his story of knowing and living with both the physical world and the invisible world behind it.

  9. 4 out of 5

    David Leroy

    Great follow up book to his first, and was published after his death. This book contains speeches and papers from Jacques.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Joyce Anderson

  11. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth

  12. 5 out of 5

    Aruna

  13. 4 out of 5

    Yannick Le Goff

  14. 5 out of 5

    Megan

  15. 5 out of 5

    Ann Van

  16. 4 out of 5

    ila hendricks

  17. 4 out of 5

    Meg

  18. 5 out of 5

    Natalia

  19. 4 out of 5

    Michael Anderer

  20. 5 out of 5

    Sydney Goggins

  21. 4 out of 5

    Tim

  22. 5 out of 5

    Bethany B.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Lisa

  24. 4 out of 5

    Gary Anderson

  25. 4 out of 5

    Barbara

  26. 5 out of 5

    Anki

  27. 5 out of 5

    Jeremy

  28. 5 out of 5

    SM Lofton

  29. 5 out of 5

    Teri Ayres

  30. 4 out of 5

    Sierra

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