Deaf and near deaf people such as myself operate in a world that I think was best captured by classical Chinese painters. Their pictures have no middle distance: we see figures in the fore ground, and we see mountains in the far ground, but what we see in the middle is left to the imagination and must be perceived: the middle distances are empty. So it is with the imagined and perceived sounds the deaf and near deaf hear.
A case in point is a recent rainy, dreary week I spent doing a job of work in Washington DC. A colleague approached me and, shaking rain off an umbrella, observed, "Particularly nasty weather!"
I met the banality of her statement with a bit of trepidation and some incredulity. What I heard her say was "Tickle your ass with a feather?" Obviously, I was in a place in the middle distance where I was seeing and hearing selectively and quite apparently tenuously.
The wonderful--albeit eccentric--English writer Henry Green (Pack Your Bag, Nothing, Doting, and Concluding) was also deaf. His hearing loss was of the type that prevented him from hearing articles of speech (a, an, the, etc). Consequently, it occurred to Green to write a novel (Living, 1928) where articles are largely absent. This is what a typical paragraph looks like:
"Then the clocks in that town all over town struck 3 and the bells in churches there ringing started a rushing sound of bells like the wings tearing under the roof of the sky, so these bells rang. But the women stood, reached up children drooping from the sky, sharp boned, these women wailed and their noise rose and the noise of bells ringing."
However sharp the images or spare the writing, it isn't much fun to read, is it? Fortunately, Green recognized that post-modernism has been a mostly useless and time-costly detour to literature. "Living was an interesting experiment," he said, "But it got all mixed up with what James Joyce was doing, and one Joyce was enough. Yet," he continued with some bemusement, "it is what I hear."
St. Augustine defined evil as the absence of good. "A hole in the ground is the absence of earth and it may be filled. So it is that the evil person or thing can be filled with good." Luckily, the deaf can read what they can't hear, and deaf writers can experiment with hearing and with the absence of hearing and fill that absence with good, or evil. The writer can even, God like, leave out the articles.
There is a lot of conversation among writers and academics about how words (sounds) get out of the brain and onto paper. Most agree that it begins with an image "...a man and a duck walk into a bar and..." but how the sound of that image is struck before plot and characterization ensue "...and the duck says, "I'll have a Bud Light and a bowl of quackers, and my friend..." is the marker between what is fundamentally muscular in literature and what is fundamentally literary air. It is the absence of sound in the novels of the much lauded and rarely read Henry James that makes him duller than a spatula while the aural richness of Marcel Proust and James Lee Burke keeps us coming back for more.
I'm sure most deaf people would jump at the chance to hear, and I sometimes wish I could hear better than I do. Deafness can be socially isolating and sometimes embarrassing. For instance, a customer came into the shop yesterday and asked for a copy of Gutman's Revels of an Ass. I couldn't locate it and in fact had never heard of either Gutman or his book--the reasons being that what she wanted was Whitman's Leaves of Grass.
Yet, somewhere in the middle distance where I can hear fine, there is a man or a woman named Gutman who has written what may be a splendid book titled Revels of an Ass that I can't wait to read. Who could pass up a book with a title like that?