The modality of language that is (manifested through) sign language makes visible a range of assumptions (and concomitant ironies) of cultural traditions long normalized. The constant requirement for cohort regeneration of Deaf culture, both unconstrained and unassisted by cross-generational ties, is a difference between Deaf and Hearing cultures. Both the temporal and spatial aspects of a cognitive framework that is "natively" Deaf are also embodied in the linguistic modality by which this culture is carried. Sign languages deploy spatiality in visually based grammar and syntax that are unavailable to sound-based languages. Certain aspects of these cultures cannot be adequately conveyed through this (a written English) textual vehicle, a vehicle bound to the modality and to the ontology of sound.
But what is Deaf culture? And, more to the point, why is this a question of political significance? This question would be simple if, and only if, we were willing to settle for pat narratives about what Deaf people do together, in what distinct ways they go about it, and what the experiences of "silence in a world of sound" must be like. But this view builds from generally accepted notions: a damaged body, the experience of a lack, and a subculture that is, at best, a delimited subset of broader cultures. These assumptions, both dominant and dominating, are critically challenged here--not that such delimited subcultures or damaged denizens are not to be found, but rather that when they are found they are better understood as products of Hearing practices than as evidence of a nature "essential" to the Deaf. Chapter 1 introduces the spectrum of contrasting views that either deny or valorize deafness. The answer to "What is the political significance of Deaf culture?" depends greatly upon the presumptions of those asking the question.
Return to book and ordering information