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What Can A Body Do?

Sharaai's picture

With Christine Sun Kim’s visit to our class, her silly but thoughtful activity, and our visit to the “What Can a Body Do?” exhibit at Haverford, the idea of silence and sound in respect to members of the Deaf community, ASL and those that can hear have continuously popped into my head. I have always found myself intrigued by signing and how beautifully it flows and how much can be said in simple signs. Along with signing come the facial expressions that make up most of the grammar in ASL and the sounds made during conversation. But when it comes to those that hear, silence is often something we fear; a part of our life that we choose to push away but crave at other moments. Ideas of sound and silence are both topics that link themselves with her visit and our class as a whole.

Being able to experience Kim’s art first hand and welcoming her into our classroom, I couldn’t help but feel like connecting it all to our class’ conversations about silence or our approaches to silence. I feel like they are similar journeys. Not to say that our journey is anything compared to hers  but that we have also been struggling to figure out where we belong in an environment filled with silence and what that means for us as a whole class and individually. As Kim said to us and as it says in the “What Can A Body Do?”  gallery pamphlet, her art is her own way of taking “ownership” of sound. As we have been constantly discussing, silence is an element that we may have not directly considered or consciously considered.

Looking back to our initial week of classes together, our activities with silence have varied in so many different ways. Specifically, our first activity of simply sitting in silence was an experience we all took in as a unique experience. When thinking about myself, I attempted to figure out where I belonged in that space, where I could place myself that I felt I belonged. When I couldn’t find a comfortable place, I resorted to placing myself in a past event that ignited the same feelings of longingness and displacement, a terrible factory job that I worked over the summer.

When thinking about the part of her journey that Kim shared with us and the videos on her website, I clearly remember her saying that she wasn’t sure where her own voice belonged in a hearing world. She wasn’t sure whether she was even allowed to make sound, “[she] was never at ease nor in complete control of sounds she made.” With this quote in mind, her art begins to make more sense. If one were to look at it without knowing the reasoning behind it, one may take her art as unimpressionable or “nothing new” but when you apply her ideas of ownership and voice to them, they begin to make more sense.

If one were to come into our classroom and witness our silent activities, one may not see the substance or reasoning behind them. One may think that our wandering around English House or our mirroring activities are part of a theater course but with the lens of silence, we are able to use our activities to contemplate our place in silence. We have grown to own the silences that come from these activities and that occur in the classroom environment. Personally, I had a hard time seeing the positive side of silence, whether it was in the silence, in literature or anywhere else.

In Deaf In America: Voice from a Culture, Carol Padden and Tom Humphries speak about the meaning of sound in the Deaf community and what it means for members and those looking in from the outside. They say that “to hearing people the metaphor of silence portrays what they believe to be the dark side of Deaf people…” (91) but to me, silence can be a dark side for those that hear. Silence is an element of sound that some cannot deal with or handle.  

When engaging in our silent activities, the parallels between our reactions and the importance of facial expressions in ASL become obvious. When we engage in activities that require face to face interaction with our classmates, we often express ourselves through our faces of bodies. We let friends know if we think it is a silly activity and we can read others to see how they are taking it. In ASL, your face expresses so much. It is your grammar and shows the intention behind your words. It lets the listener know if you are asking a question or stating a fact. While in my ASL courses, I felt silly when my professor emphasized movement of our eyebrows but when Kim got rid of this possibility in our class activity, I felt stifled. If we were to express ourselves without using our eyebrows, a lot would be lost.

In the midst of our journey with silence, our class has been able to see the brighter side of silence. Though I know everyone isn’t on the same page when it comes to their relationship with silence, I feel that we are making progress. The culture of our classroom has evolved as the semester has progressed like Kim’s journey with sound has progressed through her journey.


Works Cited

Cachia, Amanda. What Can A Body Do? Haverford: Cantor Fitzgerald Gallery, 2012. Print.

Padden, Carol, and Tom Humphries. "The Meaning Of Sound." Deaf in America: Voices from a Culture. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1988. 91-109. Print.




Anne Dalke's picture

On Fearing Silence

This paper has an interesting relationship to your two earlier ones, I think. In the first, a moment to break the silence, you told a story of purposeful silencing that eventually made your opinion  "stronger," giving it "more of an impact on your family" when you finally did speak; this was really about the importance of timing. The second paper, like the first, had an important temporal dimension, but waiting to speak went further in its description of the possible positive (what you call "bigger") dimensions of silence, when understood as an act of active listening--"not just waiting to speak but listening to understand and digest." In this paper you gesture towards this history--"I had a hard time seeing the positive side of silence...silence can be a dark side for those that hear," "an element that some cannot deal with or handle."  In your own attempts to handle this dimension, you draw a parallel to Christine Sun Kim's deciding that she is "allowed to make sound," even as she is never @ "at ease nor in complete control of sounds she made.”

I think you could push this parallel further. It's not just that "our class [and you, in particular?] has been able to see the brighter side of silence," and have thus "grown to own the silences," but that we have begun to acknowledge (I hope? I think?) our fear (as you say, explicitly, "silence is often something we fear"). Just as Christine--unable to control the sounds she makes--has taken ownership of sound, unlearning the "etiquette" that silenced her, so we have begun to explore our fears of what might happen (hey! what might NOT happen!) if we are silent--including perhaps what Mark Lord calls the  "ultimate silence--the refusal of the universe to answer our deepest questions." Can we face up to those fears, as Christine is facing hers in another dimension?

I expect you'll enjoy your classmates' mediations on Christine's visit; see couldntthinkofanoriginalname's upholding the norms,  Sarah's Silence as Discipline, and Dan's Frustration with the Word