The Spectacle of Spectacles: A Response to Perec’s “On Spectacles”

Posted by @ 2:25 pm on June 15th, 2010


In fifth grade, a little girl whose name I don’t remember called me tacky—and I was, good god back then I was the oddest confluence of patterns and colors, bowed skirts with striped t’s, without a hint of the irony hipsters today sport—and so my older brother took me shopping. I didn’t need glasses back then, but he needed a new pair so we stopped at a little spectacle boutique, and I tried on the cutest pair of specs, equipped with rounded tortoise-shell frames, practically wire thin, that hooked around the ears. Back in 1992, I wished my vision would go awry, just so I could look intelligent and stylish. Keep in mind my distorted sense of fashion, which I have yet to shake.

Three years later, I needed glasses, my vision had completely deteriorated, though I hadn’t noticed, except that I began falling down arbitrarily, a habit that’s stretched my ankles beyond repair, and to this day, I fulfill a prophecy of falling down annually. It’s embarrassing and painful and debilitating. But when it came time to get those glasses I’d wanted so badly before, it was sister who took me, and although she’s quite fashionable, I ended up with the most hideous glasses—to large, disc-shaped, odd colors—or at least I thought they were and never wore them, such is a story of first glasses.

In high school, late high school, I got my first pair of square plastic frames, tortoise-shell, and despite my very flat bridge, I found the right pair and style. Now, when I was seventeen, I don’t remember square frames as being “hip.” None of my friends had them, preferring instead oval wire frames, usually colored, but this past January, I gave a reading in Amherst, and I stopped in a coffee shop to do “work” (and meet the very cool Jedidiah Berry), and I looked around. Hot damn, there were twelve people there, including me, ten of which had on square plastic glasses (the other two didn’t wear them), eight people had silver Mac Book Pros (two had black Mac Books), I counted three people reading Foucault and five people with Moleskines displayed in some way. And I think back to &Now or AWP, somehow glasses becoming the sign of intelligensia and creativity, commodified, like Apple products, easy, and I’ve fallen for the trick.


In Georges Perec’s “On Spectacles,” he says:

There would be a lot to say about the way people live with their glasses, about the way they turn into gestures, habits, and codes the deficiency, the fuzziness which one day obliged them to correct the inadequacies of their eyes by the use of these portable prostheses. One day they found they had a pair of glasses, and a whole series of gestures became theirs, began to become part of their everyday lives, and to mark them out as clearly as the way they spoke, the way they folded their napkins or read their newspapers. (113)

My glasses have become a part of my personality. The thickness of the frames hides my face and expression. Without them, I feel confused and disoriented. When I am severe in point-making, I take them off, gesture with them, even though it means I can’t see a thing. In bed, reading, I take them off, or else they push painfully against the bridge of my nose. I’ve walked into the shower with my glasses on only once.


My glasses collection: (a) black curved but rectangular plastic frames-these are old, with an expired prescription, but I prefer them most; (b) burgundy square plastic frames with turquoise lining-these don’t fit on my face, they slide down my nose and are useless but stylish; (c) pink translucent square frames-my aunt in Vietnam picked these out because they are “fresh” and “fun.” I almost never wear them; (d) red plastic arms and top, no bottom, square lens. My partner calls them “Sarah Palin” glasses, which means I don’t wear them, my aunt in Vietnam picked them out, declaring they’d make me look “adult,” they commanded respect; (e) wire blue oval frames; (f) black square plastic with tinted lens, but they’re utterly useless because they’re just tinted. They don’t block out the sunlight; (g) contacts.


I tried using contacts for a while. After a decade and a half of wearing glasses, my face looks dumb without them, literally, there’s a darkness around my eyes, under them, and my face is confused. They’re only useful when I go running, and even then, my hands gesture up, to push up my glasses, which aren’t there.


How did people manage before glasses existed?… The only possible answer is: people managed without, which is to say, in the present context, that they screwed up their eyes, pored over things, and got their noses wet when they drank their soup. Perhaps they drank infusions of hawkweed, so named because it was good for hawk’s eyes, but that’s hardly likely (110).

Writers and glasses:


I know a number of people—writers—who don’t need glasses but wear unprescribed glasses anyways. This is silly, I think, much more posturing than is needed.


As spectacles are supposed to give the wearer a sterner look, some people take them off as a sign of warmth… rubbing your forehead with your glasses, or chewing on the ends of the arms are signs of deep thought (115).

I am taken more seriously when wearing my glasses. With them on, I am always in “deep thought.” Or at least, that’s what I want you to think. Or at least, I’m performing my role, acting according to the part.

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