in between

[Articulating Betweenity]

Developing Deaf Theory

in between

Lennard Davis: CODA Biculturalism link to Lennard Davis DALN Record

My (collaborative) work on seeding the DALN’s “Deaf/Hard-of-Hearing” collection,[3] and in constructing this exhibit text, is yet another articulation of “Why I Mind.” But I am not, of course, alone or original in “minding deafness” from both an experiential and a theoretical lens.  Literary and cultural critic Lennard Davis has also minded, and minded well, the potential for marking and making something of one’s “deaf” life into theory, mediated identity, and transformational knowledge.[4] In the 3-minute clip here from Davis’ larger DALN narrative, he tells the story of discovering that he is a “CODA” (Child of Deaf Adults)—an identity discovery and relational positioning made well into his adulthood—and then encountering other CODAs at a convention in Dallas, Texas.  At this conversionary CODA convention is where he first finds that he is “bicultural” and undergoes both a personal and professional “transformation” as he considers ways to “mediate” his personal experience into “deafness as an academic field.”  Toggling between deaf and hearing worlds, as a CODA, Davis articulates the development of “deaf theory” as he borrows on the model of “what Edward Said did for the Palestinians.” 

Davis’ toggling and framing—as a “bicultural” subject places between deaf and hearing identities and between personal and professional/academic identities—works to map betweenity into a theoretical construct.  In finding a relational way between his deaf and hearing identities, between his parent’s language (ASL) and his own (academic English), and between experiences that document that “he hadn’t left this thing [growing up with deaf parents] behind at all,” Davis also gestures toward and voices some of the larger discourse in both Deaf Studies and Disability Studies about passing.

Passing is a rich, complex, relational concept in the DALN/Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing collection; it is a construct tightly bound to identity and literacy for most deaf lives.


[3] Throughout the Fall of 2008, I worked with my colleagues Cynthia Selfe and H. Lewis Ulman to interview the original 10 subjects for the DHH collection in the DALN.  In fact, these 10 interviews were in many ways the original “seed” for the entire DALN and they proved to be rich “training grounds” for thinking about such important narrative-gathering issues as:  bridging vast differences in language and experience (between the interviewer and interviewee); making use of (multiple forms of) “interpretation” in the videotaped interviews; gaining the initial trust of subjects who have already too often been placed as relational “others.”

[4] Lennard Davis is an interdisciplinary scholar and public intellectual whose interests and work spans many areas: novels; modernism; disability studies; politics; and “biocultures.”