Deaf geographies, and other worlds.

In the ‘inbetween’

I’ve just started reading ‘deaf subjects – between identities and places‘ by Brenda Jo Brueggemann. So far, up to p.16.

However, something that she writes towards the beginning (I should have guessed really from the title) has struck me, and reminds me of something that I wrote when I came back from France…

She talks about the d/Deaf distinction… and the fact that what’s really interesting, is not so much the core positions of either ‘deaf’ or ‘Deaf’… they are relatively easy to describe. What she’s interested in is the in-between position that is hard to define either way.

This is something that I had to struggle with in the PhD, and ended up coming up with DEAF as a self-defining referent that brings the understandings of that in-between place to the mainstream page… However, it’s something that I also struggled with when trying to understand the archives I was using, and the organisations that I was working with.

At the time I wrote (forgive me, it’s long)

” When I was in France doing my research, I spent a lot of time with a particular Religious Congregation who were responsible for about 25% of France’s Deaf education in the late 19th century. Initially wary, they were eventually persuaded to allow me into their private archives and let me take notes and copies of some of their information. I spent about three months with them.

The reason for their wariness was the more recent century in France which has seen religious congregations in general attacked for their role in Deaf education first by the secular state, then by the Deaf community, then by Deaf people with allies in secular education, now by historians of Deaf education… It took a long time to reassure them that I would be careful to represent their information fairly.

However, having just spent the last month re-writing the final substantive chapter for the PhD, I find that if there is one body of people who are to blame for Oralism’s final victory over the Deaf community (in France at least), it is the religious congregations. Acting out of a mixture of resistance to the late 19th century laicisation of education and and a desperate desire not to allow their Deaf pupils to fall into the hands of the ‘demonic state’, they knowingly disempowered the Deaf community to silence them, and deliberately derailed the Deaf community and the republican state’s last real attempt to take Deaf education back out of their hands at the congress of 1900.

And here’s the problem… The congregation that I spent time with are quite different from the congregation that I find in the record… genuine people who are critically aware of the errors of their congregation’s past and (now that they’ve grown up in a largely secular France) aware of how their past is seen as in error. Those whom I got to know best, in particular, would be appalled to see some of the historical evidence that I’ve got of the actions of their congregation at the time in question. However, there is no way to escape what actually happened…

Sure, I can couch it in historical terms… “the era in question”, “motivations of the time”, that kind of thing. But at the end of the day, it’s still going to read as if they were the ones who made the Deaf community in France wait some 100 years for recognition – because that’s what happened!

So, how do you deal with this? Well, I guess one way is to be ruthlessly transparent. I don’t want to hurt people, but if they did it, it’s important that they put their hands up and accept it… Likewise, I don’t think the actions of their predecessors are necessarily those of the congregation now… and that has to be acknowledged too.

But all this tends to do is fix the events of the past in an unchanging, irredeemable form with no recourse to evolution… it’s tantamout to blaming modern Germany for the actions of the Nazis. This is something of the situation in France, where blame and recrimination doesn’t allow those who have changed to demonstrate it, resolve it, forgive it, resolve not to do it again, repair it, move on…

So I wonder if the best way to go about it is altogether more costly… Towards the end of my stay with them, one of the members of the congregation expressed the desire to engage with my research and explore what I had found… explain why they did what they did… and work out what they thought about it now…

So, perhaps this is the way to do it, leave history as a book that is knowingly left open… Uncomfortable perhaps, but a far better solution…”

I found a solution to this in ‘DEAF’… I think it’s that same costly space that Brueggemann is trying to reach and inhabit…


This entry was posted on April 23, 2010 by in DEAF.
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