Sunday, December 30, 2012

Idea Garage Sale: Living for Sign

Posting in haste because I wasted too much time this morning, so just the stub.

Just finished A Disability History of the United States, by Kim E. Nielsen. Social histories from non-mainstream points of view are always treasurehouses, and this one's no exception. But I'll settle for a single paragraph today, from p. 134:

Sarah Uhlberg later reminisced to her son about how she savored the community she found at New York City's Lexington School for the Deaf in the early 1920s, where she lived during the weekdays. "When the lights were turned out...we went to the bathroom, where a light was always on, and we talked till our eyes refused to stay open. We loved to talk to one another in our language. We lived for sign, and the ability to communicate with one another was like the water of life, our oasis of language and meaning, in the midst of the huge expanse of desert silence and incomprehension that was the greater hearing world." Every Friday evening she left this linguistic oasis and rose the subway to her family home, sitting beside her father while they sat without communicating -- for he knew no sign language.

The "problem novel" is out of favor, for good reason; but this is not the seed of a problem novel, even though the protagonist is deaf. (One of the good reasons the problem novel is out of favor being, that defining deafness, or disease, or divorce in the family solely as "problems" makes for neither good therapy nor good fiction.) This is the seed of a good solid novel with a deaf protagonist, whose family and friends, in good hands, can function both as three-dimensional characters and as metaphors for failure to communicate among generations.

And I have fifteen minutes to proofread this, change clothes, and leave, so you're on your own. But you don't need me to walk you through this one!

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