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DISABILITY-RESEARCH  October 1999

DISABILITY-RESEARCH October 1999

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Subject:

Re: Davis/Corker debate

From:

Lennard Davis <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

[log in to unmask]

Date:

Sun, 24 Oct 1999 13:55:22 -0400

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (140 lines)

Hi Mairian,

I'll begin with another attempt at levity:  Here's a vaguely dis. joke:

A Frenchman, a German and a Jew
>>are lost in the desert, wandering for hours.
>> 
>> The Frenchman says, "I'm tired. I'm thirsty. I must
>> have wine."
>> The German says, "I'm tired. I'm thirsty. I must
>> have beer."
>> The Jew says, "I'm tired. I'm thirsty. I must have
>> diabetes."


OK, on that note...let's proceed.  

First, on the de-contextualized quotation.  I made the point in the opening
of Enforcing Normalcy: People commonly have seen disability as an
either/or...either you are disabled or you are not.  I then spent the
entire book trying to disprove that generally held notion.  You took the
line "either you are disabled or you are not" and said that I "suggested"
this as a viable statement.  This is like taking the statement "Many Nazis
thought all Jews should be killed" and saying Davis suggests that "all Jews
should be killed."  I don't know how to make this clearer.  Perhaps at
least my point will be clear to other folks on this list.  And since you
performed this act of decontextualized quotation in your book "Deaf and
Disabled" I still await a public apology for what can only be seen as a
serious and damaging distortion of the basic point of my book.  



You wrote:  "I find what you write inconsistent and
>sometimes contradictory..."  In my defense, I cite Walt Whitman..."Do I
contradict myself? Very well, I contradict myself.  I am large.  I contain
multitudes."  Since I find much of what you've written to me in this debate
to fit into the inconsistent and contradictory mode, I assume we can both
subscribe to Whitman's philosophy.

You wrote: >Lennard, you consistently confuse inclusion and leadership.
I've said it so >often that I'm exhausted with saying it - I am not trying
to exclude
>non-disabled people from participation in disability studies. I am trying
>to ensure that the agendas of disability studies are set by disabled people
>however in exactly the same way that various feminist agendas are set by
>women. Non-disabled leadership distorts our arguments and plays into those
>of our oppressors."

I'm sorry to exhaust you with the necessity of repeating yourself.
Perhaps, though, you yourself are not being clear.  If you so neatly define
a distinction between leaders and followers, or leadership and
what...subalterns? sub-leaders? non-leaders?, then you've created a fairly
ludicrous if not disempowering divide.  So what can I tell my students?
Yes, go ahead and work in this field.  And yes, you can write articles but
don't make them very good because that could cause you to have some
influence.  Write books but hope they don't gain any influence, and if they
do, withdraw them quickly.  Publish with unknown presses to increase the
likelihood that anyone will read your book and cite it. Join SDS, but don't
express influential opinions that others might follow.  Never allow
yourself to be nominated for any leadership position.  If you think this
scenario is a distortion, then I suggest you tell us how leaders become
leaders what we should do to stop this from happening when the person is
defined as "non-disabled."  

You have mentioned the case of feminists who wish to guarantee leadership
of women in that movement.  I am not persuaded by that argument precisely
because "woman" was a fairly rigid category as defined by essentialist
practices.  People like Judith Butler have raised questions about that
rigid and binaristic divide.  But disability is actually unlike those
earlier identity categories...even different from class and sexual
preference.  We do not honor the gift that disability gives us to resist
the worst abuses of identity politics  (while respecting and remembering
the progressive things accomplished by identity politics...which I would
never deny), if we insist that dis. is the same as everything else.
Rather, everything else begins to look a lot more interesting and complex
through a disability perspective.

 


As for the issue of Deafness and deafness.  I agree with you on the
excellence of the Owen Wrigley's book and Brenda Breuggeman's book.  We
need more books like those.
The problem here is that this list is incredibly underrepresented with Deaf
people.  Are there any on this list who are sign-language users?  You then
have come to represent and "explain" the politics of D/deafness to the rest
of list.  You need to come clean on a couple of points.  First, you need to
explain that your opinions are fairly eccentric (in the sense of being out
of the center) of mainstream Deaf activism.  Therefore, you cannot
correctly convey the opinions of the majority of Deaf, activist sign
language users.  Your subject position, as I understand it, is formed by
being a non-native signer.  In addition, you are not profoundly deaf.  I
may be wrong on this.  

Given the above, you've formed a position that is anti-Deaf (BD) as it is
defined by many influential Deaf writers, thinkers, and activists.  

Further, and here is where disability identity becomes so interesting to
me, I am in some sense "more Deaf" than you are...even though I'm hearing.
This would be the case because I grew up in Deaf family, speaking sign
language, being part of the Deaf World and Deaf Club culture.  My friends
and their parents, in that context, were all like me.  So who is Deaf?  Me
or you?  (By the way, given what I've said, I don't see how you can claim
that I favor the medical model...I'm not defining Deaf as a function of
audition, elsewise I couldn't claim to be "Deaf."  And also, let's be
straight here, no one on this list favors the medical model, so let's not
hurl that accusation at anyone seriously committed to disability politics.

Obviously, I don't think it is necessary to make the kind of distinctions
above.  But if you are getting into notions of who is and who is not
disabled, you have to realize that the sword cuts both ways.  You could be
excluded (and I gather you have and don't like it) from being thought of as
"Deaf."  Why turn the tables on others?

As I said earlier, I think many in the Deaf community (defined by language
not auditory capacity) are ableist.  So I agree with you about the problems
created by that set of exclusions.  But I also think (based for example on
the virtual absence of Deaf people on this list, beloning to SDS, etc.)
that the disability community is ableist.  I'm not saying this is an act of
commission but rather of ommission.  But its very similar to groups without
many minorities who say "Gee, we encourage minorities to apply. We don't
understand why they haven't."

Well, I'm sure you are completely exhausted by now.


Best,

Lennard J. Davis
Professor and Graduate Director
Department of English
Binghamton University
Binghamton, NY 13902
607-777-2770   Fax: 607-777-2408




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