Academic journal article Sign Language Studies

Deaf Cultural Production in Twentieth-Century Madrid

Academic journal article Sign Language Studies

Deaf Cultural Production in Twentieth-Century Madrid

Article excerpt

De repente, la brisa

deja posa al huracán

y las manos vertiginosas

transmiten un dolor.

Cuán dolorosa puede ser la búsqueda,

la búsqueda de una Identidad;

De la Identidad del sordo . . .

[Suddenly the breeze

Gives way to the hurricane

And the dizzying hands

Transmit a pain.

How painful the search can be,

The search for an Identity;

For a Deaf Identity . . .]

Osvaldo Palladino, "Identidad"

WITH THE RECOGNITION OF signed languages (e.g., Spanish Sign Language [LSE] and Catalan Sign Language [LSC]) as the natural languages of deaf people in Spain soon approaching, there is both cause for celebration and the need to reflect on what has been and will continue to be a difficult road.1 During the fall of 2005 the Council of Ministers in Spain approved a bill that would recognize sign language, as well as its acquisition, knowledge, and use by a predominantly Deaf community.2 In this article, rather than pursue the legislative ramifications of this process, I instead look into the recent cultural formation of this community in order to understand to what degree a group Deaf identity existed around the end of the twentieth century. As a Spanishspeaking researcher in the humanities, with a modicum of fluency in ASL and an interest in the larger issues of cultural production in the Hispanic world, I have been primarily interested in deaf culture in Spain with regard to poetry and film.

The initial research I present here cannot hope to do justice to the mountainous collection of visual poetry and film housed in the archives of the Confederacion Nacional de Sordos de Espana (CNSE; National Confederation of Spanish Deaf Persons) in Madrid, a collection that I believe is a crucial segment of the cultural history of the Spanish Deaf communities.3 That being so, my investigation into the state of Deaf culture through the Spanish-language writings disseminated by the important journal Faro del Silencio and those housed in the collections of both the CNSE and the Biblioteca Nacional (BN) provides a unique snapshot of the formation of Deaf identity in Spain as perceived there by Spanish linguists and deaf people themselves.4 This snapshot indicates that the very question of a communal Deaf identity has never been an easy one. Moreover, at the same time that deaf people have had to grapple with being misunderstood and overpowered by a hearing majority, conflicting ideas have arisen of what a Deaf identity might look like-even inside the ranks of deaf people themselves.

After first discussing the vital place of Spain in the world history of deaf people, I briefly look at Deaf cultural production in the realms of film, theater, visual poetry, and written Spanish poetry as it has appeared in the Faro del Silendo, which is published in Madrid and directed to a Spanish-reading public interested in questions of deafness and community.5 At a moment when Spain rightly deserves attention for the priority it has placed upon questions of deafness, a look into the recent and more distant history of deaf people encourages us to pay closer attention to how questions of Deaf identity have been dealt with in the past. Sign language legislation is certainly a watershed event for deaf people in Spain, yet it must be merely the beginning of the road instead of its end.

It should come as no surprise that one of the claims to legitimacy that any cultural minority must make within the discourse of a hegemonic and normativizing state is to the possession of literature. Moreover, this battle is important given a deaf population whose cultural production (which is passed down from generation to generation) occurs most frequently in the visual modality. Still more significantly, the existence of Deaf literature must be contrasted with sign language literature. On the one hand I document the existence of Deaf literature and culture in late twentieth-century Madrid, which was focused on a Deaf experience but largely dominated by the norms of the hearing culture. …

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