Hellen Keller The Fraud?
June 17, 2003 1:58 PM   Subscribe

Helen Keller: A Living Lie? A fascinating New Yorker piece by Cynthia Ozick that explores Helen Keller's writing career and all the questions of authenticity it raises. She was charged with being a "fraud, a puppet, a plagiarist" and she was defended by the likes of Mark Twain and Alexander Graham Bell. Ozick ultimately asks the question: "Do we know only what we see, or do we see what we somehow already know?"
posted by adrober (14 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Helen Keller Jokes never stop being funny.
posted by padraigin at 2:36 PM on June 17, 2003

I highly recommend this article. Fascinating, and, without being cheesy, inspiring in the best sense of the word.

[Keller] disposed of her critics with a dazzling apothegm—“The bulk of the world’s knowledge is an imaginary construction”—and went on to contend that history itself “is but a mode of imagining, of making us see civilizations that no longer appear upon the earth.”
posted by jokeefe at 2:49 PM on June 17, 2003

It was a good article. Nice find, adrober.
posted by dejah420 at 2:51 PM on June 17, 2003

It really was a good article.

I didn't realize until I read one of the biographies mentioned in this article, that HK had gone on numerous vaudeville tours to support herself. Can you imagine?
posted by padraigin at 3:03 PM on June 17, 2003

who do you think wrote those jokes, padraigin. :-)
posted by quonsar at 3:06 PM on June 17, 2003

Bummed that I didn't think of that one myself. But thrilled to play straight man to you, quonsar.
posted by padraigin at 3:46 PM on June 17, 2003

I read the New Yorker article, and so was struck today by this article, which perhaps helps to explain how Keller became so literate and eloquent:

Brains of the Blind Adapt

In a new study that advances the understanding of the brain's visual cortex, Israeli researchers explain that because blind people don't need to interpret visual images, the visual cortex in their brains processes verbal information instead.

The study focused on people blind from birth, unlike Keller, but it would seem that the same would hold true for someone blinded at a very early age like she was.
posted by Artifice_Eternity at 4:05 PM on June 17, 2003

Keller's life is actually quite fascinating--I highly recommend the Dorothy Herrmann biography. Keller was absolutely not a saint, and often fought against the restrictions those surrounding her placed upon her--sometimes successfully, sometimes not. I often wonder how much of the modern conception of handicapped people as somehow better than non-handicapped people is derived from Keller--in terms of the public presentation of handicapped people as braver, nobler, stronger in spirit than others, whether they are or not.
posted by eilatan at 7:22 PM on June 17, 2003

that's a good list there padraigin, but it's missing my favorite one:

why couldn't hellen keller drive?

because she was a WOMAN!
posted by joedan at 3:45 AM on June 18, 2003

Coincidentally I was looking at some Keller links earlier this month. Does the case of Helen Keller prove that the higher human mind is innate?: John McCrone debunking the story of Keller's sudden awakening to communication at age 6. Also, often-forgotten background: that Keller was a radical socialist and suffragist who helped found the American Civil Liberties Union. The Truth about Helen Keller discusses how children's books in particular gloss over her political activism in favour of a vague triumph-over-adversity story.
posted by raygirvan at 4:09 AM on June 18, 2003

adrober, great article. a good friend of mine recently played helen keller's mother in "the miracle worker," and i was not all that thrilled about seeing it. i mean, we all know the story, have seen the movie, blah blah blah. what suprised me was how the fascinating and engrossing the story of annie & helen still is.

one part of the play that really struck me is when annie is reading something by one of her old teachers (can't remember the name, probably the director of the perkins institute). he was writing about a deaf/blind student saying that if a "normal" woman was buried alive, the people of the town would stop at nothing to try and dig out her physical body and save her. therefore, shouldn't they try to do the same with a soul?
posted by witchstone at 7:08 AM on June 18, 2003

That's a great article. One of the many losses in the 9/11 WTC attack was the Helen Keller Archive.
posted by maurice at 7:57 AM on June 18, 2003

Thanks for the revealing article, adrober. I had no idea that Helen Keller was briefly married to William S. Burroughs!
posted by dgaicun at 9:08 AM on June 18, 2003

The American Foundation for the Blind has a wonderful collection of photographs of and relating to Helen Keller. I find many of the images to be quite moving. Thanks for the excellent link, adrober.
posted by Songdog at 11:54 AM on June 18, 2003

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