--serve as superintendent of a school for the Deaf and the Blind, found and edit magazines, become a nun, be thrown in jail for not responding to commands from police, be wrongfully instiutionalized, be sterlized against their will, sue a company for stealing their invention--
--and marry. Not just marry, but marrying each other, two #DeafBlind people vowing to face a distantist world together. Multiple DB-DB couples during the time #HelenKeller tried but failed to elope with a hearing-sighted man. She was brave to do so, but others were still braver.
It's hard to stop listing #DeafBlind doings. Be found guilty of treason by a show trial! Flee the Hapsburgs' secret police! Or humler tasks, such as patiently saving money from making brooms to buy a house. But my point remains: #HelenKeller was not a wonder.
So it is a strange business indeed, #HelenKeller being removed from all that #DeafBlind life to be placed on a colossal pedestal in the middle of the desert. This has no bearing on or relation to actual history. At all. This is a miracle of whitewashing.
Here's the thing: #HelenKeller occupies, inappropriately, so much space that diverse #DeafBlind stories are not the only ones being obscured. Stories from other communities lie buried under this expanse that bears her name.
This means that I think we need to do a lot of #HelenKeller removal, yes, but not that the space freed up should be given only to #DeafBlind voices and figures, no. We are a tiny community. We are not important in that way. We don't need that kind of space.
More and better #DeafBlind representation ironically means LESS space than what #HelenKeller currently takes up. But mainstream society is terrified by what will be revealed when this last comforting myth is removed. This last unabashed fantasy.
Another effect of using #HelenKeller as an eraser is people say, "Well, that was back then" or "She would have loved this if she knew about it or had this back then." The assumption is that "back then" was very different for #DeafBlind people, certainly worse, than today. Wrong.
The reality is that little has changed. If anything, crucial aspects of life were better for #DeafBlind people in the nineteenth century than it is today. There are only a few truly epochal shifts in history, and in between such turns, things are more enduring than you'd think.
Not the only way to regard "history," no, but helpful for our discussion just now is Edmund Morgan's note that "American history" goes up to 1800 and that everything after 1800 "is just current affairs." What was set in motion by 1800 has endured, frighteningly so.
Using Morgan's formulation, the "historical period" for the #ASL #Deaf community in the U.S. goes up to about 1864, after which basically nothing can be said to be new. Almost everything that is ASL Deaf now was already there, on a certain level.
Well, the #DeafBlind historical period in the U.S. goes up to the year 1901, by which point much of what would endure was already established or in motion: the ideologies, cycles, infrastructural dynamics, and so on. A lot of repetition after that point.
#HelenKeller herself was not at all a new or extraordinary type of #DeafBlind person. When she did become famous, people who knew what they were talking about were puzzled, because there were many DeafBlind people with comparable talents. Why her?
Annie Sullivan, when she got a taste of glory on a new scale, was tempted to trade #HelenKeller in for another, more brilliant #DeafBlind student. Alexander Graham Bell, famous for being Helen's friend, declared a boy from Canada the brightest student in all of North America.
While the "Who was the first or greatest or best?" game is silly, for our purposes it's important to understand that #HelenKeller was not the first #DeafBlind person to do anything she is praised for "achieving." We are talking about erasure here. A false narrative.
One of my projects is an anthology of #DeafBlind literature. One rule in making my selections is to avoid repetition; I look for in the next writer something new or a twist on a trope. #HelenKeller stumped me: nothing new. Previous writers had covered it. What to do?
Take #HelenKeller's first book, "Optimism." Well, the German #DeafBlind philosopher Hieronymus Lorm's earlier work "Groundless Optimism" is much more interesting. Lorm also wrote about medical abuse, which she discussed fifty years after Lorm in "Midstream."
Or #HelenKeller's pacifism? Well, there is an awesome #DeafBlind Quaker, born sixty years before Keller, whose essays are part of the tradition I write in. Keller is part of that, too. But why should the other lie in a forgotten grave while yet another movie is made about Keller?
It's so easy to take #HelenKeller down--you feel sorry for her, or feel that you must be being mean because the claims made for her are so fragile, crumbling instantly to the touch. But, truly, within #DeafBlind history or literature she is not what you'd call "significant."
Since #helenKeller is no wonder, we are left with one reason she's thought of as special: ableism. No hearing-sighted woman writer or activist has gotten this level of inflation and sustained mythologizing. Her closest abled counterparts are now obscure or semi-obscure.
To make matters worse, the revisionist accounts of #HelenKeller that seek to correct what "The Miracle Worker" projects are extremely ableist in their turn. Supposedly better readings from disability studies still perpetuate the same basic false narrative.

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More from @johnleeclark

21 Oct
Another historical misunderstanding surrounding #HelenKeller is that she is this one-of-a-kind wonder, the first or only #DeafBlind person to do or be this and that, someone you cannot compare anyone with. The relentless erasure of other DeafBlind stories creates this illusion.
In the public consciousness, related to #DeafBlind history, #HelenKeller is a statue in the middle of a desert, with Laura Bridgman off to the distance. In reality, she was one of many DeafBlind people crawling all over the place, doing similar things.
A #DeafBlind man graduated from university five years before #HelenKeller famously became the "first" DeafBlind person to do so. She wanted very much to be married but couldn't swing it, while DeafBlind folks had already been marrying and having families for over a century.
Read 6 tweets
20 Oct
"The miracle at the water pump" is one of the most misunderstood moments in history. What happened was not a breakthrough for #HelenKeller in learning language. There was already a word for water. But it wasn't English. What Helen learned to do was to perform a stunt.
Annie was attempting the equivalent of forcing #HelenKeller to utter a pentasyllabic word, such as "accommodation" or "laboratory" or "representative," whenever she wanted water. If you're thirsty, say "ideology" or "specificiation" or "liability." It was difficult.
Annie: What is this?

Helen: Manufacturer.

Annie: Good girl! Here, have a cup of cold sweet personality.

Read 4 tweets

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