The idea of blindness is expressed both by Colonel Joll’s sunglasses and the barbarian girl’s damaged eyes. In the case of Colonel Joll, his sunglasses ironically suggest his willingness to put blinders up to the truth—the reality of the Empire’s corruption and the harmlessness of the nomadic people. Though he claims to seek the truth and to have special abilities in obtaining it, his use of torture largely manufactures the responses of his interrogation victims such that they ultimately agree with his own hypotheses and preconceptions. Joll is, therefore, fundamentally blind to the truth, and willfully so.
In the case of the barbarian girl, whose (partial) blindness was caused by Joll’s torture tactics, her lack of sight actually illuminates the truth of the magistrate’s somewhat perverted way of relating to her. The opacity of her eyes—eyes which cannot fully take the magistrate in—reflect back to the magistrate his own desire, the truth of his own sexuality. Unable to recognize and register it, the girl’s blindness makes the magistrate aware of part of his sexuality which heretofore has gone undiscovered: the fact that it stems wholly from within him, but is itself an eerily foreign, monstrous force that controls him. The girl’s blindness therefore reveals the magistrate’s own blindness.
Blindness and Joll’s Sunglasses Quotes in Waiting for the Barbarians
“I have hitherto liked to think that she cannot fail to see me as a man in the grip of a passion, however perverted and obscure that passion may be, that in the bated silences which make up so much of our intercourse she cannot but feel my gaze pressing in upon her with the weight of a body. I prefer not to dwell on the possibility that what a barbarian upbringing teaches a girl may be not to accommodate a man’s every whim, including the whim of neglect, but to see sexual passion, whether in horse or goat or man or woman, as a simple fact of life with the clearest of means and the clearest of ends; so that the confused actions of an aging foreigner who picks her up off the streets and installs her in his apartment so that he can now kiss her feet, now browbeat her, now anoint her with exotic oils, now ignore her, now sleep in her arms all night, now moodily sleep apart, may seem nothing but evidences of impotence, indecisiveness, alienation from his own desires.”
“ . . . it has not escaped me that in bed in the dark the marks her torturers have left upon her, the twisted feet, the half-blind eyes, are easily forgotten. Is it then the case that it is the woman I want, that my pleasure in her is spoiled until these marks on her are erased and she is restored to herself; or is it the case (I am not stupid, let me say these things) that it is the marks on her which drew me to her but which, to my disappointment, I find, do not go deep enough? Too much or too little: is it she I want or the traces of a history her body bears?”
“Nevertheless, I should never have allowed the gates of the town to be opened to people who assert that there are higher considerations than those of decency. They exposed her father to her naked and made him quiver with pain; they hurt her and he could not stop them (on a day I spent occupied with the ledgers in my office). Thereafter she was no longer fully human, sister to all of us. Certain sympathies died, certain movements of the heart became no longer possible to her. I, too, if I live long enough in this cell with its ghosts not only of the father and the daughter but of the man who even by lamplight did not remove the black discs from his eyes and the subordinate whose work it was to keep the brazier fed, will be touched with the contagion and turned into a creature that believes in nothing.”