This doctoral project in creative writing investigates deaf identity. In The Art of Being Deaf, the author explores her deaf identity through memoir. In the accompanying critical essay, Hearsay, she examines how other people tell stories of deafness and deaf people’s lives. The memoir and critical essay draw on disability studies, deaf studies, sociology, literature, literary studies and auto/biographies, combined with the author’s personal experiences of, and insights into, deafness and ‘being deaf.’
In Hearsay, the author examines representations of deafness in fiction and life writing by both deaf and hearing writers. She argues that literature is both a rich resource and a blunt instrument in conveying the complexities of identity, in particular, the elusive deaf identity. Despite the diversity of deaf characters in fiction, and memoirs of and by deaf people, most historic and contemporary stories of deafness appear to be burdened with grief. Their underlying premise is usually that deafness is something to be overcome, lest you be defeated by it. The exceptions prove the rule. However, a close reading of some of the diverse, competing representations of deafness and deaf people’s lives allows the reader to variously witness, immerse themselves in, and navigate their way through those experiences of deafness. The author concludes that she herself is as much a product of a particular time—the second half of the twentieth century and the first quarter of the twenty-first century, with all their upheavals and advances in technology and global politics—as she is of her parents’ hopes and her own individual efforts as a deaf woman.
In The Art of Being Deaf, the author explores the impact of her deafness on her life; and seeks to better understand her deaf self in relation to her family, friendships, education, work, and love. She resists the memoir trends of triumphalism, conversion, and trauma because she considers that these trends offer only a limited understanding of the complexity of people’s lives. She views these trends with suspicion because of their undertows of pity, ‘freak’ voyeurism, and ‘There but for the grace of God go I’. Using memory work and mindful about the multiple ‘identity’ perspectives that emerge in memoir, the author unfolds her personal story as narrator and subject, child and adult. She shows the layered complexities of her life, and illustrates that other things arrest her attention more vigorously than her deafness. It is not just a ‘deaf life,’ it is a busy life with the same concerns as any other person. In this way, the author frames her own memoir of deafness away from the conventional trope of the triumph of individual effort towards a notional understanding that several complex, and sometimes competing, influences shape deaf lives.