Signs, Text, Truth: Constructions of Deafness
by Dr Hannah Smith (now: Anglin-Jaffe)
Abstract PhD Thesis Dr Hannah Smith (now: Anglin-Jaffe)
Congratulations to CIRCL PhD student Hannah Smith (now: Anglin-Jaffe) for completing her PhD and viva on 16-03-2006 with her thesis on ‘Signs, Text, Truth: Constructions of Deafness’. Supervisor: Professor Karin Lesnik-Oberstein. Viva External examiner: Dr Tess Cosslett, Lancaster University, Internal examiner: Dr John Holmes.
Abstract of thesis
This thesis takes as its starting point the belief that deafness is a construction as well as an identity. My aim is to break open monolithic constructions of deafness that essentialise deafness, in literature, criticism and educational texts. I begin by comparing the medical and cultural models of deafness and the constructions of ”deaf” and ”Deaf” and I argue that deafness and d/Deaf people are produced as ”other” in relation to hearingness. I follow Jacques Derrida’s Of Grammatology in my critique of Jonathon Ree’s philosophical history of deafness I See a Voice and I use Derridean theory to question oppositions in the criticism between Sign and writing. I critique Elisabeth Gitter’s treatment of ”deaf-mute” heroines in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and this leads me to question notions of history and representation, in which I make use of Harlan Lane’s When the Mind Hears and Michel Foucault’s Madness and Civilisation.
In looking at the relationships between deafness and literature I explore the sensation fiction of the nineteenth century, particularly Wilkie Collins’s Hide and Seek. I also analyse the critical treatment of the famous nineteenth century deaf-blind women, Laura Bridgman and Helen Keller, as well as the d/Deaf biblical scholar John Kitto. In these close readings I am concerned with notions of silence and the voice, particularly in relation to freedom and representation. I engage with the problem of the real and authenticity and I argue that the construction of deafness is produced through assumptions about language and what it means to be human. I end by arguing that in order to move towards greater equality hierarchical divisions between voice and Sign and between ability and disability must be deconstructed.
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