David Lodge: Deaf Sentence (forthcoming book)
David Lodge was an author I came across in the early 1990s, when I was a student at the University of Birmingham. He was once a lecturer there, and my flatmate who studied English, happened to have one of his books which I took an interest in. Subsequently became one of my favourite authors, especially for his sense of humour and ability to see irony. I met Lodge at the Hay Festival a couple of years ago (where the above picture was taken).
This is part of what I wrote afterwards:
Lodge is actually hard of hearing, and was conscious of not being able to pick up the questions from the audience. He stated that he would need to get them repeated, but turns out that the audio system was good enough for him to hear. He actually commented, "My wife would like one of these at home", to which he got a response from the audience. [snip]
Lodge being hard of hearing was evident at the book signing, his confidence in interacting with the punters was obvious. [As a good strategy] Everyone had to write the names on paper, what they wanted to appear signed inside their book. He then left communication to his wife, who made small talk. I so wanted to bypass this and communicate with him myself, but I abided by their set etiquette. Mrs Lodge asked where I was from, and being a small town with an added remote factor I was surprised she recognised it. This didn't stop my frustration as to what I was seeing re communication, and I so wanted to communicate direct. Perhaps I will take a line of thosewhoseearsarebroken along next time, to join me.
To get to the point of this post, David Lodge has a forthcoming book called Deaf Sentence (published 1 May). When stumbled across this a few months ago, I was stopped in my tracks. Its title was enough of a give away, and I already I anticipated a certain perspective for a deafened person.
Whilst Lodge is free to write whatever he wanted, I have to admit the thought went through my head "What if he stops being one of my favourite authors, because he won't be able to find any humour in this?!" However, I gritted my teeth and diligently I added the book to my wish list, and to wait for it to be launched.
My own awareness of having a hearing problem was more gradual. I was in my late forties, teaching full-time in the English department at Birmingham University and finding it more and more difficult to hear what students were saying in tutorials and seminars. At first I blamed the students for mumbling and murmuring – which many do, of course, out of diffidence or fear of seeming overassertive to their peers – but I had coped well enough in the past.
As a side note - through the eyes of an alumnus - his references to the university is a slightly uncanny. Lodge's fiction can be surreal; his descriptions of a fictional based campus etc, façades of which leaves me screaming, 'That's Birmingham!' However, whilst I had own issues as a deaf person with the same university, my context was different. Sure I had major issues over access (the funding wasn't as it was today, and pre-DDA days); I went through the start of a deaf to Deaf transition. It was the place I learnt to sign, the place I was at when I got assessed for a CI (yes really!) and went through every long drawn out emotion imaginable then rejected it, the place where I started to meet hearing people on different terms, and I had a whole identity crisis in the process. To think I'd only gone there to study law!
Lodge's article whilst honest in its approach for his experience, and not something I would want to take away; however, its somewhat frustrating. You almost want to go and tell him, "Just be deaf! Don't try and exist as a pretend hearie, it really isn't worth it!" Go get speech to text, instead of grapping with playing by hearing rules, with their headphones and so forth, then failing. Because trying to be a pseudo hearie now, is a set up for failure. For a deafened person, one might describe it as a hearie (identity wise) trapped in a deaf body. Yet you almost want to shout, "You need to develop such an attitude towards all hearies including the inner one; you still have things to do, places to see!" There's way too much talent there.
He goes onto expand on what he perceives to be the impact of being deafened on a novelist's life:
However, deafness restricts and thins out the supply of new ideas and experience on which the novelist depends to create his fictions. That former nun’s life story might have been priceless “material” and I regret its loss. I miss opportunities to eavesdrop on humanly revealing conversations on buses and in shops and to keep up with new idioms, coinages and catch-phrases that give flavour and authenticity to dialogue in a novel of contemporary life.
And then further elaborates that, "I have found some relief in writing a novel about it [being deaf]".
I respect as a deafened person he will grieve the loss of his hearing, however one cannot help see a sadness in his undertones. For an author that I hold affection for (from his writing), inside you are almost want to introduce him to positive vibes that can happen from being around deaf people. The amount of good Lodge could do in his position is infinite. His use of 'deafies' in his lingo struck a note, and found myself smiling inwardly. Rock on!
Lodge ends his article, "But I won’t be having a launch party" which saddens me the most. Invite a room full of deafies, you could have a ball.
UPDATE: The Observer (Guardian) has an interview, which gives more away about the book's plot, and draws similarities or difference between personal experience and a fictional character:
So how does Desmond's deafness compare to Lodge's? If this were Deaf Sentence, Lodge would shout: 'How does Desmond's wetness come to be shown?' But in fact, he just frowns, and says: 'It's a heightened and altered version of my experience. Actually, while I was writing the book, my hearing wasn't as bad as I thought it was. My hearing aid had given out. So in some ways, I had a slightly gloomier view of my deafness when I wrote it. Though I shall get to his stage, of course.' But still, though he once complained that deafness was treated in fiction, as in life, as a comic disability rather than a tragic one, such as blindness, he decided to make his novel funny rather than sad.
UPDATE 2: The Progress Educational Trust, who recently organised a debate in Cardiff on ‘Debating Deafness And Embryo Selection: Are We Undermining Reproductive Confidence In The Deaf Community?’ (link points to a transcript), is currently auctioning a copy of a signed Lodge book on eBay.
The Times: Deaf Sentence by David Lodge