Cockeyed: A Memoir

Knighton, Ryan

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Annotated by:
Schilling, Carol
  • Date of entry: Mar-31-2008
  • Last revised: Nov-21-2009


Ryan Knighton writes in his irreverent memoir that his sometimes comical, sometimes dangerous clumsiness—he smashed his father’s car into a boulder and nearly backed a forklift over a co-worker—registered on others as an unfortunate character trait, the carelessness of a distracted teenager. On Knighton’s eighteenth birthday, a doctor offered another explanation: retinitis pigmentosa. The diagnosis of a degenerative eye disease that causes night blindness and tunnel vision before progressing to complete blindness rescued his moral standing. This rescue and the diagnosis seemed to increase rather than moderate his youthful drive for independence along with his search for strategies to make his disability less conspicuous. He tested his independence by attending Simon Fraser University and sharing an apartment with a deaf student, and he discovered that the chaos and flowing alcohol of the local punk rock clubs made him indistinguishable from other stumbling revelers. The clubs became a place where “blindness worked” (50).

Knighton's title Cockeyed: A Memoir captures and prepares readers for his humorous, never self-protective narrative stance and approach to making blindness work. Although he sustains his irreverence as the narrative unfolds, Knighton also makes tamer concessions to his diminishing vision, such as leaning to use the distinguishing white cane that offers "artificial sight" and a "rickety kind of freedom" (68, 154). He later reconsiders his headlong pursuit of independence when he meets his sighted partner Tracy. With her he discovers an "alarming and rewarding" dependent relationship, in which his disability enables an "intimacy few are given" (183). He also quietly reflects on the meaning of blindness after a family tragedy places his disability in a larger context. Here Knighton coaxes his readers to understand blindness as both an individual and a shared incapacity. The death of a loved one, he writes, blinds us from ever seeing him again. "Seeing," moreover, "is itself touched with elegy. . . The world we see is always gone" (181).


One achievement of Knighton’s memoir is that the episodes he narrates in thirteen chapters, during which he matures into his thirties, interrogate his behavior as a person learning to live with a disability, while asking readers to question their own relationship to disability. He recounts the ironic insult two would-be muggers inflict when they suddenly halt their attempted crime and apologize for attacking a blind man. He describes a woman who, in contrast to Tracy, crushes her husband with overly solicitous help. He tries to pass as a sighted person to avoid prejudice while teaching English in a South Korean school. He alerts readers to ways that he can “vanish” into language when he can’t recognize himself as the “you” in a speaker’s sentence (221). Equally disorienting are instructions to go “over there.”

In this and other ways, Knighton's book challenges readers to appreciate the distinctiveness of his way of being a person in the world without separating him from ordinary, shared human experiences. Although Knighton says little about encounters with medical practice beyond mentioning his diagnosis, his memoir merits inclusion in clinical education, where the experiences of patients with disabilities are scarcely visible.


Public Affairs of the Perseus Book Group

Place Published

New York



Page Count