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My Sense of Silence

My Sense of Silence: Memoirs of a Childhood with Deafness

Lennard J. Davis
Copyright Date: 2000
Pages: 176
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  • Book Info
    My Sense of Silence
    Book Description:

    Lennard J. Davis grew up as the hearing child of deaf parents. In this candid, affecting, and often funny memoir, he recalls the joys and confusions of this special world, especially his complex and sometimes difficult relationships with his working-class Jewish immigrant parents. Gracefully slipping through memory, regret, longing, and redemption, My Sense of Silence is an eloquent remembrance of human ties and human failings.

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09094-3
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Preface
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. 1 The Grain of Sounds
    (pp. 1-15)

    When I lay in bed at night, I did not experience what most children feel: that sense of security and comfort, of being in the lap and bosom of the family. Instead, I lay terrified and cold. I had to listen for every sound, because my parents could not hear any danger. Even were I to call them from my bed, they could not hear me. I was alone, small, and helpless.

    An early memory, so early I cannot be sure it was in fact my own, is of hearing my parents making love next to me in the dark....

  5. 2 Language and the Word of My Father
    (pp. 16-32)

    Coming into spoken language was all too easy for me. That world, at least, was all mine. Most children live in an imaginative space where they can say or do anything. I had that space in the daily world, at least in terms of language. Face to face, I belonged to my parents’ world and the world of sign language. But with the face averted, the world was my own. The public world of speech was my private idiom.

    Facing toward me, my father could be imposing, frightening. Facing away from me, he was inconsequential, the butt of many of...

  6. 3 The Two Mothers
    (pp. 33-61)

    My mother died when I was twenty-three and living in Paris. I had a maid’s room on the top floor of a comfortable apartment building just off the Boulevard Montparnasse. I was studying with some famous French thinkers: Roland Barthes, Michel Foucault, Jacques Lacan, Claude Lévi-Strauss. It was a heady experience.

    I had barely said good-bye to my mother after returning to New York from Central America by way of California. I recall kissing her in September 1972 as I left for the airport for my big year in France. It was heartfelt farewell, although I did not then know...

  7. 4 Brother’s Keeper
    (pp. 62-72)

    My brother, Gerald, was an only child for ten years. Of that era I know very little. There are family stories, and there is the cat-o’-nine-tails that stood in the corner of the closet. It was always a symbol of the past—of the time before me, the era of Hammurabi’s Code. Our parents had bought a whip to use on my brother because he had what they and his teachers deemed a behavior problem. In reality, he was hyperactive, aggressive with other children, and generally unsocialized. They did not have these descriptors, so they just called him “bad.” They...

  8. 5 Honeymoon with Mom
    (pp. 73-83)

    My remembered sexual life began together with my remembered entry to death. And all of that began with my ocean voyage to England when I was just about to turn eight years old. I thought of this trip as my honeymoon, because only my mother and I were going to visit her family in London and Birmingham. My father had to work. My brother was going off to be a counselor in summer camp.

    I remember the thrill of anticipation that came with knowing I was leaving my humdrum existence in the Bronx. I, a small boy from Tremont Avenue,...

  9. 6 Schooling
    (pp. 84-105)

    School was where I was most at home. Paradoxically, my home was like a waiting room, where I sat bored and slightly anxious over what was to come. My parents taught me survival skills. My father taught me to defy expectations by persevering. Race-walking was, for him, a way of excelling in a world that, at that time, did not allow deaf people to excel. My mother, on the other hand, taught me to lie low. She was an expert at simple existence: if she had to make a pot roast, she would make a pot roast. She existed purely...

  10. 7 Adolescence
    (pp. 106-129)

    Distinct moments of experience preceded my actual teen years. I have two balanced memories related to a dawning vision of my family’s social class. The first is a dim recollection of a boat ride up the Hudson River. My father worked in the garment district for a manufacturer of ladies’ coats and suits. (I had only a faint idea of what his work was.) His workshop organized a weekend cruise for the workers’ families. I suppose the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union set up the trip, since his employer was not likely that generous. The boat was rather large, like...

  11. 8 College and Other Awakenings
    (pp. 130-144)

    More than any other single experience, college led me to realize the strengths and limitations of my upbringing. My feelings about being poor, from a “bad” neighborhood, and from a Deaf family had all been fairly inchoate; likewise my feelings of resentment and any dawnings of political consciousness. My parents were good working-class folks who accepted their social position as they accepted their deafness. They bought into the dominant ideology and decided it was more practical to salt their food than rue their portion. I believed I was savvier, cooler, and more down-to-earth than any rich kid—not that I’d...

  12. Epilogue
    (pp. 145-159)

    Decades have passed since that flight to Europe. I am now a professor of literature and cultural studies at Binghamton University, a part of the State University of New York. Bella Mirabella is my wife of twenty years (and friend of longer). Our son, Carlo, is now nineteen, about the age I had reached when I boarded that plane. Our daughter, Francesca, is sixteen.

    How many of my life’s achievements have resulted from my having working-class Deaf parents, and how much has been accomplished despite that circumstance? Hard to say. I have written a number of books and articles, and...

  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 160-164)