restricted access The Deaf Mute Howls
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The DeafM~fe f-Iowls by Alberf Ballin EDITORS' PREFACE This excerpt from The DeafMute Howls tells us more about the deaf experience than almost anything written before it. Its chief value, beyond having been written by a deaf man, is that it reveals to use the rage that many deaf people feel against a world that is so constantly unfair. Ballin, to be sure, did not suffer as did the fictional characters Gerasim and Gargan (in Mumu and "The Deaf Mute"), who were totally isolated, but he did suffer from a special kind of frustration: he was in the hearing world, but he was not of it. The rage of Ballin's frustration appears especially in regard to oralism and signs, for it is, of course, through a certain degree of oral training that deaf people are able to get by in the hearing world. Ballin lived in the hearing world, that is, he was able to make it, but there is in this biography a thinly veiled resentment, a seething rage almost , because of the extraordinary difficulties he had to undergo for the sake of making it. He loved and hated his hearing friends at the same time. Nowhere is Ballin's poignant ambivalence more apparent than when he talks about Alexander Graham Bell. His feelings toward Bell were obviously strong, but it is hard to tell ifhe loathed or loved him. At first we hear Ballin talking of Bell (whom he had met in Europe) in this way: "there never existed a more gracious, more affable, more funloving or jollier fellow on this sorry old globe than Dr. Bell." But after a few pages, we find this diatribe against the oralists, which, of course, included Bell: 267 • From DeafAuthors· To be fair and just I must concede a high motive and perfect honesty of purpose to SOME of the oralists. But insofar as results are concerned one may as well concede the same to Tomas Torquemada of the infamous inquisition, or to the witch hunters, and burners of heretics. So deep-rooted is the prejudice against the sign-language among some classes, that it approaches a form of persecution. Until his death, Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the telephone, headed the oralists. Because of his great fame, wealth, and his having been a teacher of the deafin his youth, he was able to exert a powerful influence in spreading the propaganda of the oral method. As a matter offact, had Mr. Bell not invented the telephone and won fame and wealth, his views on the subject would have had no more force and weight than a goose feather in a tornado, for among eminent, experienced educators of the deaf he was considered a mere tyro in this field of education. This is a fairly strongly-worded indictment of Bell. Yet Ballin spent a lot of time with Bell, became almost a member ofthe family, and used to engage in banter about the relative merits of sign and lip reading. Ballin must have been flattered to be valued so highly by Bell, and he obviously liked the man, but inside there burned a flame, and it comes out at times, as in this excerpt: He spent a considerable part of his wealth and time on his favorite theory concerning the deaf. It was his hobby. Still, his expenditures and energies were, I believe, sadly misspent. In fact they have brought misery to the ones he loved and wanted most to help. Ballin can't quite make up his mind to love or hate Bell, just as he had been unable to do with the hard of hearing friend in school. In fact, in all of this excerpt we find ambivalence , a suggestion of great pent-up feelings that don't know how to get out. The rage appears, but a sense of duty quickly comes to the fore, and Ballin qualifies his rage. Ballin was clearly mad at the world-as well he might be. 268 • The Deaf Mute Howls • Ballin is the first deaf person to really speak out among the characters and authors in this book. Figuratively speaking , I see Ballin as the suppressed Gerasim, Gargan, Sophy, Camille, even the suppressed Terry, our deaf author who did not really speak of deafness, all these suppressed characters representing the suppressed deafpeople ofthe world finally finding their voice, but that voice (The Deaf Mute Howls), in the person ofBallin, stumbles a little, contradicts itself, can't quite...