Increasingly, I am interested in (and infinitely frustrated with) the overcoming narrative of disability—the idea that someone must overcome the disability that “holds them back” in order to achieve “success” as a normative body. Though only briefly mentioned in her larger webtext, I am drawn to Brueggemann’s articulation of the “coming over” narrative: “a narrative of the deaf girl learning how to make connections between herself and others (her audiences) by turning what might have been construed as a loss (her deaf mispronunciation) into performative gains.”
Here, the narrative is flipped. The vertical movement from disabled to “normal” is reimagined as a horizontal movement from disabled to perhaps differently or dis/abled. Integral to this movement is Brueggeman’s articulation of betweenity.
Betweenity refers to the toggling between different parts and selves. For Brueggeman, this toggling occurs between deaf and hearing, personal and academic. To be between is to be relational to (an)Other. Here, Brueggeman calls on Bamberg and “relational positioning,” wherein narratives are constructed based on how the narrator positions herself in relation to “others” in a literacy narrative. This is an interesting moment in the text because Brueggeman moves toward a reflection on how to position her literate self in a way that’s accessible to “other” people who the literacy narratives affect (something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately).
Brueggeman doesn’t position herself in relation to a hearing audience in order to pass. Instead, she highlights the benefits of deafness (eg. increased awareness of how to communicate and the three-dimensional aspect of language that ASL offers) in relation to normative literate practices, arguing that hearing and captioning are themselves literate practices.
This reimagining of the dominant overcoming narrative is also mediated by Yergeau in “aut(hored)ism,” though not in these terms. Yergeau navigates the dual identities of being neurodivergent (autistic) and neurotypical (non-autistic), visible and invisible. Interestingly, she makes connections to Lanham’s classical conception of looking at vs. looking through to emphasize this (in)visibility. Essentially, Lanham argues that when we encounter a new technology, or interface, we look at it. When we become accustomed to it, however, we start to look through the technology itself (to the content) until it changes or breaks down. There’s a connection, then, to disability, and the way we don’t look at bodies until they somehow “break down” or don’t meet our social expectations in some way.
Yergeau argues that the normalization (the looking through) of neurodiversity renders it transparent or invisible. In this way, normalizing neurological differences is a move similar to that of overcoming. When we overcome, we are normalized. Like Brueggeman, Yergeau doesn’t advocate for overcoming but rather “coming over” through performance: “I perform autism as often as I perform normalcy.” This supports Yergeau’s larger argument about how people (and bodies) are authored in particular ways and lends itself to discussions of embodied performance.
In particular, these webtexts are interesting for considering the performance of a literate self. Both rely on different types of digital literacy narratives in order to construct themselves as in-between (Brueggeman) or dual (Yergeau) beings with non-normative literate practices. And, tying back to overcoming narratives, both spark interesting discussions of the repercussions of passing (& “overcoming”) and offer non-normative understandings of what it means to perform, rather than to normalize or erase, disability.
These texts also raise a number of questions: How do technologies mediate or fracture our sense of identity? How can we more inclusively understand literate practices?
How do we (productively) start to re-write the overcoming narrative?
Brueggemann, Brenda Jo. “Articulating Betweenity: Literacy, Language, Identity, and Technology in the Deaf/Hard-of-Hearing Collection.” Stories That Speak to Us: Exhibits from the Digital Archive of Literacy Narratives. Ed. H. Lewis Ulman, Scott Lloyd DeWitt, & Cynthia L. Selfe. Logan, UT: Computers and Composition Digital Press, 2012.
Yergeau, Melanie. “aut(hored)ism.” Computers and Composition Online. Spring 2009.