Brueggemann: Lend Me Your Ear: “On (Almost) Passing” Interlude 1


“On paper she didn’t sound deaf . . .” (98). 

Brenda Jo Brueggemann’s “On (Almost) Passing” is a revealing account of one woman’s journey of growth and reflection, as she embraces the many truths of her life that are illustrated through the use of mirror images of herself.  It is amazing to see how she negotiates her existence between the d/Deaf and h/Hearing worlds while navigating through varying degrees of silence.  Still it is important to note that when we think of mirrors, they throw back the “seen” physical representation.  But Brueggemann’s mirrors are in her ears and are influenced by her judgments, moods, intelligence, and realities.  This multi-level “self-evaluation” causes her to see the impossible demands of “passing,” or in her case, “almost passing.”


As a “hard-of-hearing- individual, she does not completely fit into the d/Deaf world and is isolated in the h/Hearing world, forced to rely on her husband and other hearing supporters.  By “passing” as a hearing individual, she was able to maintain a “likeness” of a hearing person, while not recognizing your own needs.  This attempt to belong was not so successful when trying to “pass” as a d/Deaf person.  Full membership into the d/Deaf community, and many others, require “successful” individuals to fully accept themselves and embrace their realities that are a reflection of individual passages.


I was most impressed that she likened her “almost passing” journey to “coming out,” “literate passing.” “. . . this place as the art and act of rhetoric,” “books are easier to control,” and “doing literacy.”  Brueggemann’s self-evaluations included not only the physical, but encompassed her negotiations with language and its usage.  Through her writing, and to a lesser degree talking, she was able to shape her roles in the h/Hear and d/Deaf communities.  As a way of passing, she found safety in talking because she did not have to listen, thereby holding off external judgments.  Writing allowed her created a closed environment of her choosing, where she had total control, absent of negative external factors.  She found safety in two arenas in which h/Hearing individuals may view as opposite spectrums:  safety in talking and silence.  Still, as a hard-of-hearing individual, for Brueggemann, both talking and silence provided the same reinforcement.  The h/Hear community would most likely argue that both cannot exist in the same space and product the same outcome.  Is this not an excellent example of the usage of rhetorical strategies and how one navigates personal encounters?


Brueggemann said that her talents of being a storyteller, writer, and talker allowed her to “pass” as being a member of the h/Hearing community and a member of the “The Deaf Way.” She notes that the creation of narratives, within the two cultures, has different approaches.  The “Deaf Way” narrative formation is shaped through the experience and user’s language abilities to recreate that experience.  On the other hand, the experience drives the narrative for the h/Hearing world, which is less dependent on the individual’s communication skills or the listeners.  Such passage navigations lead one to understand the “Gallaudet Meanness” and the lack of understanding from those who are not d/Deaf, as related by the desperate mother’s explanation of her daughter’s behavior in the chapter.  Brueggemann said, “When I get to feeling this way—trapped, nailed, stuck in between overwhelming options—I tend to get frantic, nervously energized, even mean. And my will to pass, to get through and beyond at all cost, kicks in ferociously” (93).   She finds strength in her circumstances and uses her strengths of writing to navigate her way.


“Writing is my passageway; writing is my pass; through writing, I pass” (99).


What are the rhetorical implications of the “Gallaudet Meanness?”


Can one say that from a hearing individual’s questioning Brueggemann’s “accent” or “nationality” was a way of normalizing the “otherness” of difference that may be displayed through d/Deafness?



2 Responses to Brueggemann: Lend Me Your Ear: “On (Almost) Passing” Interlude 1

  1. Eileen E. Schell says:

    I like that she scrutinizes her desire to pass and yet points to all the ways in which being at Gallaudet troubled that “passing” and forced her to confront the worlds she occupies h/Hearing and d/Deaf. I see, too, that she is interested in the students who don’t quite fit either world and are caught between the worlds–some more than others. The “interludes” themselves are spaces in the book where she is talking about the “in-betweenness” of the worlds and her negotiation of them. As I read through, I kept thinking about the ways in which “passing” gets used to describe getting by or getting through specific cultural contexts where you won’t be in power by acting as if you are part of the “empowered” or dominant group–a queer person passing as straight, an AFrican Amerian passing as a white person, a d/Deaf person passing as h/Hearing. I wonder what different valences each situation brings ?

  2. legries says:

    Thanks for this great summary, Reva! I was also interested to read about the rhetorical strategies Brueggeman uses to “navigate” her personal encounters. Bourne, too, had to navigate his personal encounters by acting rhetorically in order to be heard. What I really admire about Brueggemann is how self-reflexive she is and how aware she is of the rhetorical strategies she uses in her daily encounters. She is so self aware that she is able to theorize through her self-awareness. And because she is self-aware, her rhetoric is linked to the body, or as Zosha might say, Brueggeman really embodies rhetoric. In Louise’s class, we read an article by Dana Harrington who points out how disconnected contemporary rhetorical practices are from the body. Brueggeman and Bourne both illustrate that only privileged bodies can disconnect rhetoric from the body; people with disabilities and other deviations from the social norm cannot disconnect. Even though Brueggemann says “writing is her passageway,” in her daily life, it seems her embodied rhetoric acts as a passageway in and of itself.

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