Juxtaposing deafness in society

Is the word ‘deaf’ a label? How does it denote a person? Today, in this post-structural age, labels are everything. We use labels everyday, speak in labels, and we encounter labels everywhere. Sometimes we use labels for convenience, as shorthand for complicated concepts. Other times labels are used in technical vocabulary, to marginalize error. So, we identify ourselves with labels. Hence, the word “deaf” is a label that connotes a particular characteristic of a person. The dictionary explicitly signifies a person who is not physically able to hear, and that definition is derived from the norm of a society of peers who can. The identification of a person as deaf is a discursive product, because it is relevant only within a set of classification that is established by a particular discourse of deafness.

In the Norma Groce’s book Everyone Here Spoke Sign Language, a description of an independent community isolated on the small island Martha’s Vineyard, which was rife with a genetic predisposition to hearing loss, serves as an example where “deafness” was not a label of disability. Disability in this sense doesn’t necessarily result from a handicap, but rather is manifested through a society that devalues and segregates people who deviate from the physical norms. Consequently, any label that connotes disability is a socioeconomic passport for institutionalization.

However, this marginalization as a disability is a negative concept and does not satisfactorily answer the question – what is ‘deafness?’ Is there an alternative, more positive, definition?

One possible candidate is a social explanation, which is a departure from biological or existential explanations. As a label, deafness functions as a discursive formation that is socially constructed by discourse. The phrase ‘social construct’ is a celebrated description those radical freethinkers use to question the ideological beliefs of a modernist (that reality is a homogeneous entity, that knowledge is the sole result of a pure, sincere will to truth, and the meaning of anything is disinterestedly given).

Discursive formations are derivatives of discourse, which is the semiotic structuring of all social phenomena as codes and rules. This is practiced by a unity of discourse, by consensual agreement. Discourse defines identity and describes what characteristics are possible for a person. A discursive formation constitutes its object and generates knowledge about these objects. That means our knowledge is discursively determined, and the world is constituted in this way by discourse. However, nobody writes a discursive formation. There are no authors of discursive formations because they are constituted by archives, or anonymous collections of text.

These archives is the sustained recording of the history of the individual, and in doing so, the person has a place, a name, a number, a task, a credit history, etc., and never stray from the steady observation of authorities. This constant observation of behavior leads to a certain discipline: the person behaves as if they were under sustained surveillance. In the deaf person’s situation, especially in the USA, his life is observed, recorded, and probed under a microscope by a collaborative and cooperative effort of specialists (deaf teachers, guidance officers, speech language pathologists, interpreters or notetakers, and audiologists): a continuum of psychological profiles, aptitude test placements, audiograms, educational performance, objectives and other documented efforts.

The increasingly complex and technical serialization of the disabled person is an ongoing process of a biographical production. The biographical sketch of the individual, chronicled to a greater detail than ever, results in the ‘real,’ tangible and physical snapshot of the self! Panopticism is a disciplined, rational, detailed and bureaucratic surveillance, which signifies how behavior is directed by the machinery of society- an ‘automatization’ and ‘disindividualization’ of power.

The individual actively construct their social world, as opposed to having it imposed upon them. Therefore, it seems that the concept of deafness does not necessarily signify a disability, but is contingent upon what context the individual chooses to define himself. If labels are constructs, and language is the limit of thought, then I am nothing more than a social construct, that ‘deaf guy.’ However, I do not identify myself as a deaf person because of my existential nature as a free human being. To act otherwise would be bad faith.

(Originally published by the 49er, the CSULB newspaper, February 6, 2003)

The tragic fate of Tragedy…

A Beautiful Tragedy by Carbine

Recently I’ve thought about how tragedy has been minimized in modern culture if not totally eliminated. If tragedy is supposed to be the aesthetic experience par excellence, the most divine product, then its slow fade to black is worth investigating. It is a given that the greatest of literary geniuses of the modern era consistently fail to produce a contemporary account of tragedy, and the reasons are legion. Continue reading The tragic fate of Tragedy…

The irony of the Enlightenment

A Philosopher Lecturing on the Orrery, by Joseph Wright of Derby

The irony of the Enlightenment: Immanuel Kant, the late 18th century thinker, was indisputably the greatest philosopher of Enlightenment. But it is also interesting to note that his critical philosophy project resulted in a devastating blow to the foundation of Enlightenment itself- our trust in reason. The faculty of reason is essentially an impulse for the unconditioned condition, and constantly urges our understanding on. Kant made it clear that man will never know the true nature of reality, and is limited to mere appearances. Despite being championed as the great icon of Enlightenment, with his transcendentalism he set the ball rolling down the mountain of truth and shattered the ideals of the gilded age at the bottom, in the gulch of the 20th century.

We are picking among the remnants for whatever remains salvageable. The consequences of such absurd praise of reason or rationalism in Enlightenment resulted in two great wars in the 20th century, which were committed at the source of naturalistic humanism. Reason and rationalism, secular reasoning especially never achieved its vast promise of transforming a superstitious culture into a rational utopia. At least some of us realize that within this massive failure, liberation is never of the human, but always and only in a negatory manner: from the human. Where does that leave us? The ghost of a lost innocence haunts the age in the form of postmodernist reflections.

The Trivialization of modern philosophy, part II

A. J. Ayer, when charged with trivialization of philosophy, claimed that the distinction between “about language” and “about the world” is not sharp, for the world is basically our description of the world in our system of concepts. Therefore the investigation of language is the investigation of the structure of the world as experienced by human beings. Continue reading The Trivialization of modern philosophy, part II

The Trivialization of modern philosophy

I have compiled a brief essay on linguistic analysis and its trivialization of philosophy. The first part will look at the historical precedent of linguistic analysis and the methodology of the program, and its limitations. In the next part I will focus on Wittgenstein, on whether the structure of the world is necessarily the structure of our language, and other related aspects. Continue reading The Trivialization of modern philosophy

genealogy of modern art

Bords d'une rivière by Cezanne
Bords d’une rivière by Cezanne

Modern art emerged during the end of realism or the crisis of representation (Cezanne, Cubism, Dadaism, Surrealism). Realism is defined as the mirror theory of knowledge where the mind is a mirror of reality and objects that exist independently of the mind are represented (reproduced by a concept/work of art) adequately, accurately and true. Continue reading genealogy of modern art

The mythology of Gnosticism


The Ancient of Days by William Blake
The Ancient of Days by William Blake

Among the early Christians in the second century AD, a number of rival churches emerged and developed their theologies. One of the groups called themselves the gnostikoi – the Knowing Ones – people who turned from philosophy to mythology in order to placate their sense of anxiety, a feeling of alienation from the divine. Continue reading The mythology of Gnosticism

Hayden White and History


Hayden White is renown for publishing two books that has changed the discipline of history forever: Metahistory: the Historical Imagination in Nineteenth-Century Europe and The Content of the Form which boils down to the demonstration how the claim of a precise distinction between history (the narrative form which describes what happened in history) and the philosophy of history (the schema that legitimizes the narrative) is naught but a methodological blunder. Continue reading Hayden White and History

Reconstructing philosophy

This blog is a summary of Rorty’s salient points in his essay, The Historiography of Philosophy.

There are several ways to reconstruct the writings of philosophers: the rational, the historical, and the holistic. The paradigmatic examples are, respectively; P. F. Strawson of Kant, John Dunn‘s of Locke, and Heidegger’s Question of Being. Continue reading Reconstructing philosophy