Several years ago, I stumbled upon a YouTube thread where a deaf woman in her twenties was signing/discussing…. I don’t know. I don’t sign. There were no subtitles. Whatever she was passionately putting out into the world was not for me.
It was a bit of a revelation, because I think of everything being for me. It might be dull or miss the mark, but doesn’t everyone put media out there for the widest possible audience? Why else YouTube?
Not. For. Me. As in, the woman did not care or think about me at all; she had another audience and I did not matter.
The video was fascinating, though. Silent, except for the sound of hands slapping while signing, and the occasional grunt or exhausted breath. I was forced to focus on facial expressions, the punctuation of gestures and to appreciate the pauses.
Our class is reading J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone as part of a unit on “Magic in the Industrial Age.” Why, we ask, is magic so appealing as more and more of our world is automated? We look at England’s Industrial Revolution and then Harry Potter. Why, for example, do they still use quills? But they take a train, wear sneakers and mix other modern things with the ancient? Rowling has tapped into something.
If you have not been listening to the Imaginary Worlds podcast, I highly recommend it. This episode on Magical Thinking go me thinking about the limits of magic, and why it appeals to us. After our study of the Enlightenment, the different takes on magic made sense.
Seeking a fresh look at technology, and how it can “seem like magic”, I came onto Aneta Brodski’s “The Magic of Technology”. She is deaf, but technology has changed how she is able to interact with the world. Check it out (WordPress no longer seems to embed video, or I’m doing something wrong–click the link above).
My suggestion: Turn off the sound. Jump to about the 28 second mark (where she begins) and let the words at the bottom clue students in on what she is saying. I find the beatnick music and translator’s voice off putting (in that it is a bit cliche), but it’s also important to let Brodski tell her poem as she intended it–in sign.
Of course, it might be condescending to take the audio away–I don’t know. Check out this PBS documentary about Brodski to help you decide (there is a discussion on the topic). And, just to give you something else to throw at your students, check out this documentary, Sound and Fury, about implants and what it means to the deaf community–my students are always riveted and love discussion what “normal” is (a phrase we overuse and take for granted) and what choice they would want their parents to make for them (or they’d make for their child).
Perhaps, ask your students which performance they find most compelling to THEM. I stress THEM because poetry is about the audience–the reader–and the poet creates, not mere access, but magic.
Check it out.