November 18, 2012

Hellen Keller's critics present her as a scapegoat

George's "Mr. Burke, Meet Helen Keller" discusses how our construction of reality is mediated through identification with symbols, largely those communicated linguistically. "What is our 'reality' for today ... but all this clutter of symbols about the past combined with whatever things we know mainly through maps, magazines, newspapers, and the like about the present?" (George 345) The idea that texts guide much of our conceptualization about the world supports Helen Keller's opposition to critics of her rhetoric who claim that Keller could not possibly understand the reality experienced by persons with the senses of sight and sound due to her lack of immediate experience of these senses. The idea that Keller's experience (representative of all deaf-blind persons) is mediated whereas everyone else's experience is direct is a misconception. "All experience is mediated to some extent"; so the fact that all of Keller's knowledge about the world came to her linguistically should not discredit her words (George 345).

Keller's account of an event, such as the war in the Middle East or a hurricane on the other side of the country, is just as accurate and credible as an account by anyone else who did not witness the event with their immediate senses. Most people's perceptions of these events are based on knowledge gained from news reports and articles about it. But are we to tell them they do not have grounds to discuss such matters, because they did not see it with their own two eyes? We recognize that they are secondary sources of information, but they are sources of information nonetheless.

The criticisms of Keller's words position her as a scapegoat, the alienated "them" to the unified "us"of visually and auditory-capable persons. Her experiences must not be as valuable as ours, because that would diminish the significance our most highly valued senses. By contrasting her experience with ours, we gain a sense of superiority and power over those who do not possess such valuable assets. The moral value of acceptance and tolerance of difference is compromised on this unifying principle of value. In such a rhetoric of alienation, like that used by Adolf Hitler to persuade his audience that the Jews were to blame for Germany's problems, "speakers argue that they and their audiences are better than some 'others'" (Smith 286). By persuading an audience that Keller's accounts are not as legitimate as the accounts of others, critics are perpetuating the prejudice against disabled persons and affectively silencing an 'Othered' group of people.

1 comment:

Zach van Dijk said...

I absolutely agree with your conception of Keller's identity; her experiences ,while largely linguistic, should not be discredited for their form. While there is an alteration of immediacy in her experience, this by no means lessens her ability to comprehend through language. Personally I feel as though the experience of the blind is often more profound because of their lack of visual bias (blind individuals can asses situations based on the nature of the language that describes them, rather than experiencing visual bias).

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