11

I was reading this question and it made me suddenly remember another story I read in a book somewhere in the 90s to the early 2000s. Rather than being about a sighted man showing up in a community of the blind, this involved a hearing man (for some reason, I want to say he was either a reporter or an encyclopaedia salesman) showing up in a community for the deaf. They were socially isolated, the result of the government or society trying to eliminate hereditary deafness. I don't remember if the theme was of eugenics or simply that deaf people were kept from meaningfully interacting with society. While there, the protagonist notices that the children (all of whom are deaf) spend time standing in fields, holding hands, and swaying to music he can't hear. He comes to realize that, by being completely isolated from sound, the community hears something more fundamental to the universe, and the story ends with the community using this to move to another world, possibly a higher plane of existence.

One of the odd details that I remember was a member of the community communicating that when they started out, they were preyed upon by men who assumed they would be easy targets due to their deafness, and that they had both trained to defend themselves and also kept a number of guard dogs on the premises.

  • 2
    Sounds like the episode of Stargate: Atlantis where Mitchell accidentally stumbles into a community preparing for Ascension – Valorum Mar 13 '17 at 12:15
  • @Valorum: Yeah, but it predates it, I'm pretty sure. – FuzzyBoots Mar 13 '17 at 12:17
17

This is John Varley's The Persistence of Vision where the original founders of the community of Keller are blind, deaf, and mute as a result of an outbreak of German Measles. Their children are not hereditarily disabled, but it is suggested by the end that they may choose to eliminate their senses of sight and hearing.

A keen drifter describes the dismal political state of the world following a general collapse. He comes upon a commune of people who are blind, deaf, and mute. Much of the story details the culture and personal habits of the people. As their main cultural activity the commune uses different levels of touch-based communication on a regular basis, perhaps 3-4 times a week, in group sessions. These occur after work done during the days. Through these sensory communication encounters the protagonist develops strong bonds with several of the members.

The commune members emphasize mutual understanding to overcome their physical limitations. Their rich use of unspoken/unseen tactile language is used to establish intense clarity about others, a depth of clarity unobtainable using the senses of hearing and vision conventionally. Sex is part of their communication language.

Varley carefully steers clear of representing the blind/deaf commune as a Utopia; they have financial problems, crop failures, criminal justice enigmas, etc. Nevertheless, the commune is clearly free of most of the evils pervading the rest of society. The supposition is this is owed to the unusual high level of communication and sensitivity toward each people achieved on a regular basis. The novella progresses to suggest a higher level of interpersonal clarity and communication is achievable without conventional seeing and hearing; that, being blind and deaf offers unforeseen advantages in interpersonal and even spiritual clarity. The story raises the question, "Is being blind and deaf a handicap, or is it a blessing?" The reader is left to judge.

I found an audiobook version of the story. It ends with the drifter returning to the commune of Keller, which is largely deserted, and he is told by one of the remaining residents that "they're gone", that they have "***ed" and that it "was glorious". She then gifts him with deafness and blindness so that he might learn to also "live in the lovely quiet and dark".

  • I'm going to locate a copy of the story to verify – FuzzyBoots Mar 13 '17 at 13:19
  • More discussion of the story (but no additional matching details) at speculiction.blogspot.com/2013/10/… – FuzzyBoots Mar 13 '17 at 13:21
  • 1
    FWIW, I read this recently and it was exactly the story I thought of when reading your description, including IIRC them keeping dogs for self-defense. – starpilotsix Mar 13 '17 at 14:09
  • That's definitely it. – Organic Marble Mar 13 '17 at 14:57
  • I just reread the story. Definitely the one. Still very good and very weird. – FuzzyBoots May 16 '17 at 14:50

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