Deaf geographies, and other worlds.

Banquets des Sourds-Muets: 4

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A few things that I can begin to bring out within the text:

SL as a universal Language (p7)

This deserves far more than a simple paragraph, but there’s certainly a question around the extent to which de l’Epée’s altruistic motivation for teaching deaf children was (at least in part) supplemented by a philosophical investigation into the universality of sign language. Certainly this was one of the underlying aims of his ‘methodical signs’, and of his public demonstrations – which were explicitly formatted to show how DEAF people’s use of sign language marked them as somehow unsullied by the modern world and how SL served as an ideographical mediator between spoken/written languages.

This is something that Sicard took up in his demonstrations with a different slant, emphasising the importance (self-justifyingly perhaps) of experts in overcome the ‘exotic’ and ‘erotic’ physical difficulties of deaf education (Outram 1995) and the reification of a ‘truth’ (Shapin 1994) of DEAF people’s evolution from a sensationist tabula-rasa; without knowledge or access to knowledge, to valid contributing members of society (see Aicardi 2009).

From the point of view of the Banquets, however, there’s little of this… Sign language is exotic, certainly, but not exoticised to demonstrate a primitive ‘otherness’ (Eco 1995)… more to demonstrate that there is something completely unique about it that wipes away assumptions of what a communicative ‘normal’ might be… SL comes from God, the author tells us… and so don’t you dare consider it less worthy than spoken language… in fact – look at what it achieved for the DEAF community…

Note too… that although the age of de l’Epée perhaps signifies the point at which there is the establishment of a body of experts knowledgeable about deaf people. And the point at which they validate their knowledges by submission to the approbation of hearing-world academic societies (Roche 1978, McClellan 2003), the author is clear that the thing that they are knowledgeable about was actually born within the DEAF community… and so something that they can never claim to own, or have discovered…

Regeneration (p7)

This is another concept that I can’t really cover properly here, particularly as it’s not a concept that (as far as I know) has been particularly well covered in English… but it strikes me that there is a play here between the very strong idea of Régénérer [regeneration] as it was performed by the French Revolution; the complete restoration of policy, politics, philosophy, physicality, morality in a way that allowed those who were disenfranchised to be drawn into the body of valid humanity… (see Ozouf)… the abject failure of this philosophy with regards to the French DEAF community (see Gulliver 2009)… and the unsuspected, unseen success of regeneration, simply by allowing deaf people to sign… The author of this chapter is, in effect, suggesting that where everything else proposed by the hearing world failed, deaf people became human through SL…


Aicardi, C. (2009) ‘The analytic spirit and the Paris institution for the Deaf-Mutes,
1760-1830’, History of Science 47(2), pp. 175-221.

Eco, U. (1995) The Search for the Perfect Language. London : Fontana Press.

Gulliver, M (2009) DEAF space, a history: The production of DEAF spaces
Emergent, Autonomous, Located and Disabled in 18th and 19th
century France. PhD. University of Bristol. UK.

McClellan, J. E. (2003) ‘Learned Societies’, in Kors, A. (ed.) Encyclopedia of the
Enlightenment, Second tome. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp.

Outram, D. (1995) The Enlightenment. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Ozouf, M. (1984) L’école de la France. Paris: Gallimard.

Roche, D. (1978) Le siècle des lumières en provence: Académies et académiciens
provinciaux, 1680 – 1789. 2 vols. Paris: Mouton.

Shapin, S. (1994) A Social History of Truth: Civility and Science in Seventeenth-
Century England. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.


This entry was posted on November 17, 2010 by in DEAF history, Publication and tagged , , .
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