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Chapter 7 Islay: The Deaf American Novel ! THE CARNIVALESQUE quality of Deaf American literature is not limited to productions and presentations in ASL. It also can be found in text-based stories, poems, and plays published in English. In these texts, Deaf writers may reveal their roots in ASL by highlighting the visual—focusing more on the shapes and movements of things than on sounds—even as they rely on the written form of an aural language, English. More important, they deliberately draw on not just two languages but two cultures, two worlds. In this interplay they capture the spirit of carnival in ways both subtle and overt. For example, a Deaf American writing in English about the sunrise might focus on the scene’s visual glory. The writer would detail the shining orb peeping over the horizon, then its blazing rays of light awakening the denizens of the air who, swooping and gliding, welcome in the new day. Missing or getting only a passing mention would be the environmental sounds likely to accompany the breaking of day: birdcalls, train whistles, and doors opening and closing. Yet despite all this visual detail so crucial in ASL and 121 975 Gup DAL Chap 07 7/17/00 7:47 PM Page 121 Deaf culture, the author’s vehicle is the written form of an aural language, English. The first and possibly the only novel by a Deaf American to focus on Deaf culture is Islay (1986) by Douglas Bullard.1 The book therefore provides a fascinating case in point; it is a commingling of two different rhetorical traditions: mainstream literature and ASL literature. Bullard had acquired a good command of English before he became deaf, and he learned ASL in his four years at Gallaudet University during the 1960s. As an avid reader, he was familiar with the mainstream literary tradition; as a Gallaudet student , he was exposed to the vernacular or storytelling tradition in ASL. In Islay these two traditions jostle and play off one other. The novel (the first in a planned but unfinished trilogy) was published to great fanfare. The Interplay of ASL and English One formidable challenge facing a novelist wishing to fully portray Deaf culture is how to convey a visual-kinetic language that has no written form in a way that distinguishes it from both English speech and TTY (teletypewriter) text in English. In the foreword to Bullard’s novel, Dr. Dennis Cokely explains that as a spoken language with a “linear disposition,” English is not suited to describing visually perceived material, such as dialogue in ASL, in a visualkinetic language (ix–x). To some extent, Bullard surmounts this obstacle by using distinctive syntax and font styles. Bullard transcribes ASL discourse in italics in a glossed English that is neither truly English nor ASL. For instance, the protagonist, Lyson Sulla, says of the desire for a homeland, You know that Laurent Clerc had same dream. Himself greatest deaf in history, started Golden Age for deaf there France. Then brought sign here America; almost started new Golden Age for us deaf, but hearing oralism frustrated him, broke up deaf cooperation and almost destroyed Sign Language . That why Clerc liked idea for deaf gathering into one state where deaf itself normal! (6–7) 122 Islay: The Deaf American Novel 975 Gup DAL Chap 07 7/17/00 7:47 PM Page 122 Many Deaf Americans, who take much pride in using a visual vernacular and believe that no written approximation can do it justice, may have disliked this approach; there is little sense here of facile hands and mobile facial expressions. However, it serves its immediate purpose. Bullard similarly relies on typography to convey TTY text, which is set in big, bold capital letters that fairly leap off the page at the reader. When Sulla uses a TTY to phone his wife from Islay, for example, the conversation is rendered like this: [Sulla] sat down on the chair and prepared to dial the telephone . . . . The lamp flickered with just one ring before Mary started typing. Lyson never failed to marvel at the green letters streaming across the display board of the teletype-writer. MARY HERE GA. HI. LYSON HERE ISLAY HOTEL ROOM 628. HOW ARE YOU Q GA LYSON WHY YOU CALL ME Q GA STOP MAD AT ME PLEASE— SORRY CANT HELP IT WORRY AND WAIT AND WAIT FOR HOURS GA. FORGIVE ME BUT CANT HELP VERY BUSY DAY. VISITED THE GOVERNOR AND THEN HAD IMPORTANT...


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