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Signing the Body Poetic

Signing the Body Poetic: Essays on American Sign Language Literature

H-Dirksen L. Bauman
Jennifer L. Nelson
Heidi M. Rose
With a Foreword by William C. Stokoe
a Preface by W.J.T. Mitchell
Copyright Date: 2006
Edition: 1
Pages: 292
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/j.ctt1ppqdb
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  • Book Info
    Signing the Body Poetic
    Book Description:

    This unique collection of essays, accompanied by a pioneering DVD, at last brings a dazzling view of the literary, social, and performative aspects of American Sign Language to a wide audience. The book presents the work of a renowned and diverse group of deaf, hard-of-hearing, and hearing scholars who examine original ASL poetry, narrative, and drama. The DVD showcases the poems and narratives under discussion in their original form, providing access to them for hearing non-signers for the first time. Together, the book and DVD provide new insight into the history, culture, and creative achievements of the deaf community while expanding the scope of the visual and performing arts, literary criticism, and comparative literature.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93591-4
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-VI)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. VII-X)
  3. CONTENTS OF THE DVD
    (pp. XI-XII)
  4. FOREWORD
    (pp. XIII-XIV)
    William C. Stokoe

    When in 1960 it became clear that American Sign Language (ASL) is indeed a language, something more than a language emerged from underground. A language does not just provide a community of users with a way to communicate; it preserves their memories, encapsulates their hopes and desires, and safeguards their values—all the more so when its use involves art. A people’s language and culture are inseparable, so this volume exploring ASL literature is doubly welcome.

    It brings to the public eye some of the cherished gems of ASL literature, but it does more: it shows how inseparable are a...

  5. PREFACE: UTOPIAN GESTURES
    (pp. XV-XXIV)
    W. J. T. MITCHELL
  6. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. XXV-XXVI)
  7. USERS’ GUIDE
    (pp. XXVII-XXVIII)
  8. ONE Introduction
    (pp. 1-18)
    H-DIRKSEN L. BAUMAN, JENNIFER L. NELSON and HEIDI M. ROSE

    Before you embark on this volume of essays on American Sign Language (ASL) literature, we invite you to see it in its natural habitat, the body-turned-text. Rather than read this pageaboutsign literature, insert your DVD, sit back, and “read” this short poem, “Let There Be Light” (clip 1.2).

    We begin with this poem because it is a type of creation myth of sign literature. The signing persona is a sign poet at the origins of this new field of human creativity. Within the first fifteen seconds, the poem embodies the fundamental thrust of this book: a remapping of...

  9. PART ONE FRAMING ASL LITERATURE

    • TWO Face-to-Face Tradition in the American Deaf Community: Dynamics of the Teller, the Tale, and the Audience
      (pp. 21-50)
      BEN BAHAN

      The brief DVD clip with which this chapter begins (clip 2.1), showing a duo performance of a “song” whose signs are arranged to a rhythmical cadence, is only one short moment in a long history of storytelling and performance in the American Deaf community. As long as Deaf people have congregated in schools, clubs, and homes, they have passed down cultural patterns, values, and beliefs in the DEAF WORLD¹ from one generation to the next in something very much like an oral tradition. According to Goody (1992), “[T]he oral tradition consists of everything handed down (and ipso facto created) through...

    • THREE The Camera as Printing Press: How Film Has Influenced ASL Literature
      (pp. 51-70)
      CHRISTOPHER B. KRENTZ

      When George W. Veditz, the president of the National Association of the Deaf (NAD), initiated a campaign to preserve sign language in 1913, he turned to a new medium to achieve this goal: film. “There is but one known means of passing on the language: through the use of moving picture films,” he said.¹ Veditz pointed to an important truth: before the advent of film technology, people had no effective way to record American Sign Language (ASL). One certainly could not represent ASL through writing. As the Deaf author John Burnet put it in 1835: “To attempt to describe a...

    • FOUR Deaf American Theater
      (pp. 71-92)
      CYNTHIA PETERS

      In 1993,Institution Bluesenjoyed full houses during its two-day run at a Deaf community theater in Washington, D.C.¹ The three-hour play about the imminent closing of a state residential school struck very close to home, for at the time increasing numbers of schools for deaf children were shutting down across the nation. Outside the Deaf family, these schools are the primary breeding ground of Deaf culture, and thus their closure is tantamount to gutting the Deaf community. Theatergoers were immediately drawn into this dramatic production; indeed, as the lights dimmed and actors/protesters entered from the back, marched down the...

  10. PART TWO THE EMBODIED TEXT:: “WRITING” AND VISION IN ASL LITERATURE

    • FIVE Getting out of Line: Toward a Visual and Cinematic Poetics of ASL
      (pp. 95-117)
      H-DIRKSEN L. BAUMAN

      While this original use of the wordlinemore directly relates to the modern-daylinenandlinseed oilthan to poetry, its spirit is woven deeply into the notion of poetic lines—those metrical threads of words whose length and character lend poems their particular texture and design. As strings of phonemes, syllables, and words, lines form the fiber of verse, often seen as the very ontological stuff of poetictextiles. Given the fundamental role of lineation to poetics, questions concerning the line in American Sign Language (ASL) poetry are inevitable and revealing. Is there even such a thing as...

    • SIX Textual Bodies, Bodily Texts
      (pp. 118-129)
      JENNIFER L. NELSON

      As one who participates in and supports Deaf culture in the face of a dominant hearing culture largely constructed—and also limited—by speech, I present an anecdote that relates to traditional ideas of identity, normality, language, and ultimately, literature. One summer, when I was a college student and a resident assistant in one of the dorms at the George Washington University (to the surprise of many hearing people who thought it impossible for a deaf person to do a job like that), I was checking the IDs of people coming in and out, and I was talking with a...

    • SEVEN The Poet in the Poem in the Performance: The Relation of Body, Self, and Text in ASL Literature
      (pp. 130-146)
      HEIDI M. ROSE

      Suppose that I put pen to paper and write a poem. In the process of writing, my inner voice speaks the words, and my hand puts those words on paper. What is the relationship between the words on the page and the body who wrote them? The self created in those words does not—cannot—sound or look like me; no matter how implicitly my sense of self may be embedded in the poem, it is necessarily a noncorporeal “me,” divorced from my voice and body. When someone reads my poem, whose actual inner voice speaks the words? The reader’s,...

    • EIGHT ASL Literature Comes of Age: Creative “Writing” in the Classroom
      (pp. 147-166)
      LIZ WOLTER

      Philosophies of deaf education vary throughout the United States, but a growing number of programs assert both the validity of American Sign Language (ASL) as the first language of many deaf children and the corresponding value of incorporating ASL in the classroom. While teachers’ signing may vary from ASL to PSE to sign-supported speech,¹ the result still permits students to use, and learn about, their first language in the classroom environment. Yet there is a catch: often ASL or various sign systems are employed in the classroom primarily as a means to teach English; the dominant model of language instruction...

  11. PART THREE THE POLITICAL TEXT:: PERFORMANCE AND IDENTITY IN ASL LITERATURE

    • NINE “If there are Greek epics, there should be Deaf epics”: How Protest Became Poetry
      (pp. 169-194)
      KRISTEN C. HARMON

      For many hearing Americans, March 6–13, 1988, is known as “The Week the World Heard Gallaudet.” Prior to that week, three qualified candidates were considered for the presidency of Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C.; two of the three were Deaf and used sign language. Several alumni and student leaders gathered to organize a call for a Deaf president. When Elizabeth Zinser, the hearing, nonsigning candidate, was named the new president, angry and disappointed students and alumni staged a protest and shut down the campus.

      The story of the student revolution quickly became an international story, and Ted Koppel invited...

    • TEN Visual Screaming: Willy Conley’s Deaf Theater and Charlie Chaplin’s Silent Cinema
      (pp. 195-215)
      CAROL L. ROBINSON

      Avisual screamis the visible gesture of a person, an animal, or a thing (such as a combination of images) making a loud screeching sound, without the sound accompaniment. A visual scream is an extreme form of silent shouting, an alarm given by the sender that is usually intended to jolt the receiver into attention toward something fearful, anxious, desperate, erotic, or hilarious.

      A study of visual screaming in two different media demonstrates how a gesture can be transformed through time, culture, and matter. It also demonstrates the semiotic relationships between speech culture, sign culture, and cinematic culture. Willy...

    • ELEVEN Hearing Things: The Scandal of Speech in Deaf Performance
      (pp. 216-234)
      MICHAEL DAVIDSON

      In the film version (1986) of Mark Medoff’s playChildren of a Lesser God(1980), James (William Hurt) is a speech instructor at a school for the deaf who believes that his students must be educated into oral culture by being taught to lip-read and speak. He falls in love with Sarah (Marlee Matlin), who is Deaf but who refuses to participate in his pedagogical project. She signs throughout the film, insisting on her right to remain silent, until one climactic scene when, under James’s badgering, she suddenly screeches out a stream of speech. It is a powerful scene because...

  12. AFTERWORD
    (pp. 235-240)
    CAROL A. PADDEN

    This is a remarkable collection of essays about American Sign Language (ASL) literature, made more so by the fact that the history of this kind of analysis is so recent. As the authors have detailed so well in this volume, there are many reasons to group poetry, storytelling, and other kinds of signed performance together as a body of literature; they share a certain aesthetic of celebration of the signed form, and collectively they touch on many of the same themes.

    The transition to what I call self-conscious sign language performance was rapid. When the National Theatre of the Deaf...

  13. APPENDIX A: Time Line of ASL Literature Development
    (pp. 241-252)
  14. APPENDIX B: ASL Video References
    (pp. 253-254)
  15. CONTRIBUTORS
    (pp. 255-256)
  16. INDEX
    (pp. 257-264)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 265-265)