Deaf Subjects

Deaf Subjects: Between Identities and Places

Brenda Jo Brueggemann
Copyright Date: 2009
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    Deaf Subjects
    Book Description:

    In this probing exploration of what it means to be deaf, Brenda Brueggemann goes beyond any simple notion of identity politics to explore the very nature of identity itself. Looking at a variety of cultural texts, she brings her fascination with borders and between-places to expose and enrich our understanding of how deafness embodies itself in the world, in the visual, and in language.Taking on the creation of the modern deaf subject, Brueggemann ranges from the intersections of gender and deafness in the work of photographers Mary and Frances Allen at the turn of the last century, to the state of the field of Deaf Studies at the beginning of our new century. She explores the power and potential of American Sign Language - wedged, as she sees it, between letter-bound language and visual ways of learning - and argues for a rhetorical approach and digital future for ASL literature.The narration of deaf lives through writing becomes a pivot around which to imagine how digital media and documentary can be used to convey deaf life stories. Finally, she expands our notion of diversity within the deaf identity itself, takes on the complex relationship between deaf and hearing people, and offers compelling illustrations of the intertwined, and sometimes knotted, nature of individual and collective identities within Deaf culture.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-3900-6
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Introduction: The Deaf Subject Places Herself
    (pp. 1-8)

    The deaf subject, the subject of “deafness,” is of interest—without cease and with considerable controversy of late. Lately, the deaf subject is also anxious. She is anxious about her identity, anxious about her place, anxious too about her anxiety. Attempting to cope with her anxiety, she tries to remember what some philosophers and great authors have told her about her subjectivity, her anxiety, and the placing and questioning of her very identity. Wittgenstein whispers to her (and she reads his lips) that “the subject does not belong to the world; rather, it is a limit of the world” (70,...

  5. 1 Between: A Commonplace Book for the Modern Deaf Subject
    (pp. 9-24)

    For some time now, I have been imagining a theory of “betweenity,” especially as it exists in Deaf culture, identity, and language. And because I teach a great deal in the larger umbrella of “Disability Studies” these days, I’ve also been thinking about the expansion of that deaf-betweenity to “disability” in a larger sense.¹ (Of course, I’ve also been thinking about the way that deafness itself occupies an interesting “betweenity” in relationship to disability identity.) In any case—whether deaf, disabled, or between—I’m finding that I’m generally more interested in the hot dog than the bun, the cream filling...

  6. 2 American Sign Language and the Academy: The Little Language That Could
    (pp. 25-37)

    Once upon a time, and not so very long ago, American Sign Language (ASL) was barely known to the Modern Language Association (MLA), an organization of more than 300,000 members in one hundred countries whose “members have worked to strengthen the study and teaching of language and literature.”¹ Until 1997, in fact, ASL was listed in only the definitiveMLA International Bibliographyunder “invented” languages—followed directly by the Klingon language ofStar Trekfame. In 1997, the MLA formed the Committee on Disability Issues in the Profession (CDI). Spurred on by some members of the MLA’s newly formed CDI...

  7. 3 Approaching American Sign Language Literature: Rhetorically and Digitally
    (pp. 38-71)

    Let me start with a bold claim: currently, one of the most significant problems we have when we try to study American Sign Language (ASL) literature is linguistics. The study of ASL has, especially in the past two decades, been all but consumed by and with linguistics, sociolinguistics, and the cognitive-scientific measures of American and other sign language systems. A quick search through theMLA International Bibliographyreveals 696 pieces of research on American Sign Language recorded there.¹ But, of these 696, only 20 also cross-reference with the subject/search term “literature.” Only twenty articles on ASLliterature, I repeat, are...

  8. 4 Narrating Deaf Lives: Placing Deaf Autobiography, Biography, and Documentary
    (pp. 72-97)

    Both Jan-Kåre Breivik (Deaf Identities in the Making) and I (Lend Me Your Ear;Literacy and Deaf People)have recently suggested that deaf lives and “writing” placed together, particularly in relation to their own life stories, have not been common or even probably condoned. Breivik summarizes the risks, reward, and resources deaf people face when narrating a deaf life via writing—using a language often not their “own” or not entirely comfortable or successful for them—and points out that deaf people are often “engaged in identification processes where the stakes are high. To succeed in their identification endeavors, they...

  9. 5 Deaf Eyes: The Allen Sisters’ Pictorial Photography, 1885–1920
    (pp. 98-116)

    “The Misses Allen,” they were most often called—personally, by those who knew them in Deerfield, Massachusetts, and also professionally, by those critics who wrote about their photography at the time.¹ And although their names do appear singly in relationship to a few of their photographs, more often than not they appear as a unit, Mary (Figure 5.1) and Frances (Figure 5.2) Allen together: The Misses Allen. For nearly fifty years, they were companions in art, work, communication, and everyday life.

    In this essay, I work from five different contexts. And, although I move through these contexts one by one,...

  10. 6 Posting Mabel
    (pp. 117-140)

    I confess, I have found my way to you through your husband, Alexander Graham Bell.¹ I suspect I am not the only one who met or wrote you through this channel. Your presence first appeared to me in a poem I once wrote to “Alec” himself. The poem began like this:

    Call to A. G. Bell

    Got some quarters

    so I call you up on the telephone


    but only your wife and mother are home,

    so no one answers.

    You are out charting and graphing

    marriages and progeny

    of the deaf,

    while only your wife and mother


  11. 7 Economics, Euthanasia, Eugenics: Rhetorical Commonplaces of Disability in the Nazi T-4 Program
    (pp. 141-162)

    In the summer of 2004, I packed my rusty and rudimentary German skills and went back to the Fatherland,mein Vaterland. There, I joined twenty other scholars from Germany, Canada, and the United States—and from fields as diverse as medieval history, pediatric medicine, cultural anthropology, physical and occupational therapy, bioethics, social work, cultural studies, performance studies, women’s studies, creative writing, sociology, and school and counseling psychology—in a four-week-long institute sponsored by the Einstein Forum at the University of Potsdam, a city just southwest of Berlin that was, during the Cold War years, part of East Germany and a...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 163-178)
  13. Works Cited
    (pp. 179-190)
  14. Index
    (pp. 191-202)
  15. About the Author
    (pp. 203-203)