Graduate Forum: Excesses of the Eye and Histories of Pedagogy

This is the fourth in a series of commentaries in our Graduate Forum on Pathways in Intellectual History, which is running this summer. The first piece was by Andrew Klumpp, the second by Cynthia Houng, and the third by Robert Greene II.

This fourth piece is by guest contributor Gloria Yu.

Whether a man is wise can be gathered from his eyes. So thought the Anglican bishop Joseph Hall in his 1608 two-volume collection of character sketches, Characters of Vertues and Vices. The wise man, Hall advised, “is eager to learn or to recognize everything but especially to know his strengths and weaknesses…His eyes never stay together, instead one stays at home and gazes upon himself and the other is directed towards the world…and whatever new things there are to see in it” (quoted in Whitmer, The Halle Orphanage, 77). The wise man’s eyes are the entry points of both self-knowledge and worldly knowledge, and their divergent gaze betrays his catholic curiosity (fig. 1).


Figure 1. Joseph Hall might find the eyes, more than the books, to be the prominent ‘accessory’ in Bronzino’s Portrait of a Young Man with a Book (1530s). While the left eye is directed outward, ‘towards the world’, the gaze of the right eye (our left) seems unfocused on what is directly before it. It is not a look that invites sustained eye contact with the viewer; rather, an apparent disinterestedness suggests that the man’s attention is elsewhere. The aimless stare is a marker of a gaze turned inward. Image courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

The eye plays a central role in two recent snapshots from the history of Western pedagogy that find it productive to ground the historical construction of norms for knowing in educational contexts. Kelly Joan Whitmer’s The Halle Orphanage as Scientific Community: Observation, Eclecticism, and Pietism in the Early Enlightenment (Chicago, 2015) examines the scientific ethos that permeated and vitalized the premier experimental Pietist educational enterprise of the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Orit Halpern’s Beautiful Data: A History of Vision and Reason since 1945 (Duke, 2015) offers a genealogy of contemporary obsessions with “data visualization,” their ontological and epistemological consequences, and the pedagogies that spurred them. Both works centralize the eye as the object of training and discipline. Both accounts trace the pedagogical principles behind the ways in which seeing must be learned, extending the functions of the visual apparatus beyond the role of passive reception into an active mode of evaluating and constructing. Seeing, in these histories, is imbued with cognitive powers so as to be near congruent with knowing itself. Considering these two works together prepares us to use the recurring motif of the trained eye as an opportunity for gauging future directions for histories of pedagogy.

Whitmer informs us that descriptions like the one above of the ‘character of the wise man’ were regularly incorporated into the curriculum at the Halle Orphanage’s schools for the purpose of training a particular way of seeing. The Orphanage’s founder, August Hermann Francke, believed these character sketches could “awaken” in children a love of virtue so that they might emulate the figures depicted. The end goal was the cultivation of an “inner eye,” or “the eye in people,” which Francke equated with prudent knowledge [Klugheit] and pious desires. Indeed, a pedagogy of seeing permeated Francke’s administration of the Orphanage. The training of the inner eye was based on the honing of an array of observational practices that engaged senses beyond just the visual. On one level, visual aids such as scientific instruments (e.g. the camera obscura, air pumps), wooden models, and color-coded maps cultivated tactile, spatial, and relational knowledge. In Francke’s correspondence with the mathematician Ehrenfried Walther von Tschirnhaus, the microscope figures as a particularly apt tool for lessons in seeing since it enhanced understanding of the configuration of parts and wholes while also providing the opportunity to reflect on the faculty of seeing itself. Through observing how minute changes in light transformed one’s image of an object, one could discern the possibilities and limits of human perception. On another level, visual aids, like the models of the geocentric and heliocentric heavenly spheres specially commissioned for the Orphanage, enhanced cognition and yielded spiritual benefits by teaching students how to behold incompatible representations of the world and to reconcile them. The Orphanage taught a manner of “seeing all at once,” wherein the eye was considered a “conciliatory medium” that could aid in transcending interconfessional disagreements.

For Whitmer, seeing and the eye operate as metaphors for perception, understanding, and cognition writ large, at times even as the privileged site for accessing divine truths. Notable is her use of the singular. If it is through seeing in a broad sense (materially, affectively, cognitively) that we encounter the world and acquire knowledge of it, it is the eye that mediates this encounter. From the ancient origins of the evil eye, to Avicenna’s comparison of the eye to a mirror, to the early modern possibility that a wrong stare could compel an accusation of witchcraft, the eye—and not only in the Western tradition—has perhaps always been overdetermined. Its activity always transcends the physiological processes behind mere visual perception. It was after all in tempting Eve to take from the tree of knowledge that the serpent said, “For God knows that in the day you eat of it, your eyes will be opened” (Genesis 3:5).


Orit Halpern, Beautiful Data: A History of Vision and Reason Since 1945 (Durham: Duke University Press, 2015).

“Vision,” as Halpern notes, “is thus a term that multiples—visualization, visuality, visibilities” (24). Dexterity in handling the conceptual differences of this plurality allows Halpern to explain how, since the end of World War II, we have come to bestow such a capacious range of talents to our ocular organs. In the context of increasing computational and data scientific approaches in information management, architecture and design, and the cognitive sciences, Halpern argues, vision has taken on a highly technicized form, meditated by screens, data sets, and algorithms that fundamentally expand the epistemological prowess of perception. In particular, postwar cybernetics and design and urban planning curricula had a hand in transforming the ontology of vision. Cybernetics’s preoccupation with prediction, control, and crisis management foregrounded information storage and retrieval and, thus, transformed the eye into a filter and translator of sorts, selecting relevant information for storage within a constant flow based on algorithms for pattern recognition. Whereas the eye at the Halle Orphanage dwelled on contradictory images, the eye of twentieth-century cybernetics constantly made choices.

The works of these authors suggest the advantages of approaching questions central to intellectual history—concerning the transmission, unity, and cultural impact of ideas—from the perspective of histories of pedagogies. Analyzing pedagogy allows Halpern to trace how philosophical ideas were transformed into teachable principles and how a certain paradigm of vision was promulgated through the materiality of our media environments. In her narrative, industrial designers, drawing from cybernetics, developed an “education of vision” grounded in “algorithmic seeing” (93). Here, vision mimicked the activity of a pattern generator: rather than representing the world, this ‘new’ vision captured the multitude of ways something could possibly be seen. Vision was about scale and quantity, about producing as many representations and recombinations of the visual field as possible. No longer could any pedestrian see the world; one had to learn through credentialed training to be considered an “expert” in vision (94). The screen-filled “smart” city of Songdo, South Korea is an embodiment of this paradigm, where older ways of seeing lose out to a vision continually registering and ordering human and environmental metrics toward the goal of “perfect management and logistical organization of populations, services, and resources” (2, see fig. 2).


Figure 2. The “smart” city Songdo, South Korea in the Incheon Free Economic Zone features “computers and sensors placed in every building and along roads to evaluate and adjust energy consumption.” Photo and description courtesy of Condé Nast Traveler.

Furthermore, histories of pedagogy, whether central to a project (as in Whitmer’s case) or part of a larger investigation measuring the scale of cultural transformation (as in Halpern’s), can answer questions that animate the intersection of history of knowledge, history of science, and historical epistemology. These fields have offered a robust vocabulary for interrogating the historical contingency of observation and objectivity; the historical, social, and cultural criteria for knowledge; and the methodological goals and tactics involved in fortifying scientific persona. Beside the fact that pedagogy is a science and set of practices specifically concerned with communicating knowledge, Whitmer and Halpern show that, in addition to articulating what it means to learn in certain moments and institutional contexts, pedagogical theories can contain latent or overt temporalities, subjectivities, and modes of vision that deepen our understanding of what in the past has made knowledge count as knowledge.

Yet, histories of pedagogies have even more fruits to bear. If earlier histories focused on matriculation rates, student body demographics, and the longevity of institutions, these two works prove future research capable of taking on the relationship between science and religion, the convergence and divergence of intellectual traditions, the crests and troughs in the history of humanism, and episodes in the centuries long contemplation of what it means to be human. Future research would follow precedent histories of pedagogy, not least the scholarship of our discussant, in treating sensitively the gaps between ideals of education and their execution, the slips between the social and political aims of education and their imperfect applications (Anthony Grafton and Lisa Jardine, From Humanism to the Humanities: Education and the Liberal Arts in Fifteenth- and Sixteenth-Century Europe). That pedagogy is a tradition embedded in text, reliant on practices, and crucial to the scaffolding of intellectual traditions places the excavation of its pasts well within the purview of intellectual historians.

One last note on the eye. Mention of training the eye calls to mind the familiar narrative that forms of discipline often get inscribed on bodies. While this may be true, that there are multiple histories of pedagogy suggests the probability that we are trained in numerous contexts, at different times in our lives, and in potentially incompatible ways in how to see and how to know. It is possible, then, to become at once wise and childish, to become discerning in one way and docile in another. As to whether we are overwhelmingly determined by systems of power and whether there are multiple systems at play, I answer with an optimistic agnosticism that leaves open the question of the place of freedom. I rely on the vagueness of the term freedom here to underscore that the day-to-day exercises in learning may fail to yield desired results or, even when they do, may be useful in ways other than intended. For the researcher willing to question the Foucaultian schema that binds discipline with docility, the histories of pedagogy—of pedagogies with a range of reaches, in quiet pockets of Europe or in grander governmental programs—can be treated as an approach capable of accommodating histories of discipline that remains sensitive to the rough trajectories of learning. If the Panopticon’s surveilling gaze, both omnipresent and invisible, inspires the self-policing of behavior, how does the prisoner see when he looks back?


Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon

Gloria Yu is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of California, Berkeley. Her research focuses on the history of psychology and the concept of the will in nineteenth-century Europe. She thanks David Delano, Elena Kempf, and Thomas White for their incisive comments on earlier drafts.

You Should Learn Descriptive Bibliography

By editor Erin Schreiner

This summer, I spent a week at Rare Book School at the University of Virginia doing something new and I loved it. I was a newcomer to a group of Lab Instructors guiding students through a weeklong intensive course, the Introduction to the Principles of Descriptive Bibliography, otherwise known as Des Bib boot camp.  Through the course of the week, students spend a solid six-to-eight hours each day in lectures, curated museums of printing, typography, and paper, and in something of a trial by fire: homework and “lab” sessions. In the last two students go to battle with books, writing collational formulas and statements of signing and pagination that describe, in a language codified by Fredson Bowers, the book’s structure. In the lab periods, students sit down with an instructor to see if the descriptions they wrote actually represent the book at hand.

It’s this last bit that’s the trickiest part of learning to write coherent, accurate, and concise bibliographical descriptions, because in order to describe a book you’ve got to understand why it looks the way it does now, how and when it got to be that way, and the questions to ask and the sources to consult to figure all that stuff out. Determining book format – folio? quarto? octavo? duodecimo? 32mo or 24mo? – requires not just an understanding of what those words mean, but also a substantial knowledge of historical printing, papermaking, and binding techniques. In other words, competent bibliographical description depends upon competent bibliographical analysis, and students learn to do both in this course at Rare Book School. It’s a lot to teach, but students catch on fast and many have a lot of fun with it.

Most students in this course fall into three categories: rare book curators, library catalogers, and booksellers. Academics, typically historians of English literature, have also been a fixture in the course and in years past their numbers have grown, particularly thanks to Rare Book School’s Mellon Fellowship Program. Curators and booksellers must know how to read and write descriptions because their reputations, their livelihood, and the collections they help to build depend on it. The value of a book depends upon whether or not it is complete, and the place it holds within that text’s publication history. The edition, issue, or state of a specific copy of a text impacts its monetary and scholarly value, and parties on both ends of the transaction must carefully examine the book at hand in order to know precisely what is on offer. Catalogers, too, must learn to read and write descriptions so that they can accurately represent the book in their institution’s collection to the reading public consulting its catalog.

51ru7s8cail-_sx334_bo1204203200_For curators, catalogers, and booksellers, the need to read and write detailed, Bowers-style bibliographical descriptions brings them to Charlottesville for the week. And this, in part, explains why fewer academics (even academics who work in bibliographically oriented areas of study like the history of books and reading) typically take the course: reading and writing Bowers-style formulas is not an essential skill for their scholarship. But after a week of living and breathing the Rare Book School curriculum – which relies heavily on Bowers’ Principles of Bibliographical Description and Philip Gaskell’s A New Introduction to Bibliography – I want to urge academics to consider how learning the basics of descriptive bibliography can benefit your work as scholars and teachers.

At Rare Book School, students learn to write collations for what’s known as the ideal copy of the text, which Bowers defines as “a book which is complete in all its leaves as it ultimately left the printer’s shop in perfect condition and in the complete state that he considered to represent the final and most perfect state of it.” (Principles, 13) Perhaps the stickiest wicket in all of bibliography, ideal copy addresses what G. Thomas Tanselle describes as “a central truth that affects everything a bibliographer does… the fact that books are not meant to be unique items and are normally printed in runs of what purport [my emphasis] to be duplicates.”


Studying a forme of type on the bed of a Vandercook Press at Rare Book School.

But bookmakers and book buyers have many marvellous ways of interfering with the consistent reproduction and distribution of a text. In the print shop proofreaders stop the press to correct errors they’ve discovered during production, pieces of type break or fall out of place, and pressworkers lose focus and sheets are mislaid on the press. In the bindery, gatherings might be bound out of order, sheets from one book can be bound into another, or all together left out by accident. Readers, of course, do all kinds of things to their books – they tear leaves out and add leaves in, bind one book with a text to which it is completely unrelated as far as publication is concerned, and leave inked notes about the text or anything else in the margins and on blank pages. Analytical bibliography is the practice of discovering and diagnosing these kinds of issues; descriptive bibliography is the practice of synthesizing analytical observations and recording them accurately from copy to copy and across an edition.


When thinking like a descriptive bibliographer, one must consider such changes with respect to their impact on ideal copy, and with every book in hand one asks, “what do other copies look like and how many can I get my hands on?” This develops an essential scholarly habit of mind, specifically one in which the concept of ideal copy as it relates to a specific edition drives the very close examination and analysis of that text in multiple copies. By comparing a book in multiple copies and making sense of what one finds, the scholar bibliographer establishes a well researched and materially based context for their research. Understood in these terms, intellectual historians and historians of books and reading in particular can turn to analytical and descriptive bibliography to uncover the material context that defines a historical reader’s experience of a text on the micro- and macro- levels. This is particularly true when one’s use of descriptive bibliography incorporates the theoretical and practical approaches of scholars like Don McKenzie. His “Printers of the Mind” and Bibliography and the Sociology of Texts cleared a new path for the discipline by articulating some of the pitfalls of the method when used exclusively, without the kinds of archival and secondary sources that book historians rely upon to establish historical context for their reading of a text. A printer’s relationship with an author or bookseller, for example, might impact the printed text, and that relationship might be revealed in the author’s letters or booksellers ledgers. A careful analysis of bibliographical clues will aim to uncover such details, and an accurate bibliographical description will record those facts alongside a description of the printed traces of those contextual details with precision.

Close readers will have noticed that I’ve often used the word accurate in reference to description. An accurate description might seem like obvious necessity for the scholar bibliographer, but it is not often easily achieved. As a teacher of descriptive bibliography, I aim to provide students with the tools they need to make well reasoned decisions about what they know they can say about a book at hand, and how to communicate conjecture. At the copy specific level, this type of description is a useful tool for scholars as they study a text in multiple copies because it is helpful to have a tool handy for consistent notetaking about the books you see in far-flung libraries. But more broadly, it’s also a useful tool for teaching students how to build a strong argument (or recognize a weak one) using material and textual evidence, which in part depends upon one’s ability to recognize what one does not or cannot know.

When I talk to my students about writing collational formulas, I tell them that they are writing a condensed argument about the way this book is, and they can explain how that happened in longer form areas of their descriptions. In our lab sessions, we bounce from book to collation and back to book to see how the two match-up, studying the evidence and understanding what it can lead us to conclude – or not – about that object. And while we look to Bowers for guidance on how to write all this stuff out clearly and concisely, learning descriptive bibliography is not an exercise in slavish adherence to the rules of a system of notation devised by a scholar of Elizabethan drama, nor is it an applicable only to books of the handpress period. Learning descriptive bibliography is about learning to look at as many instantiations of a text as possible, and knowing how to identify, synthesize, and interpret the material evidence presented in each copy.

Those of you who have followed my writing for JHI Blog will know that I’m not particularly interested in handpress era books. I started collecting Whole Earth Catalogs some years ago because I found The Last Updated Whole Earth Catalog in a bookshop and read the “How to Make a Whole Earth Catalog” section as a guide to the bibliographical analysis of 20th century counter-culture books. I applied what I learned there to all kinds of twentieth-century printed matter I encounter in my personal and professional life. Without a background in descriptive bibliography, I wouldn’t have read it that way, or started seeing so much in a set of books that I was naturally curious about. Studying bibliography taught me to see more and more clearly, and I’m not the only one. There might be a whole new set of questions under your nose, just waiting for your to learn how to see them. As we tell our students in Des Bib, start reading Gaskell and see what you’ve been missing.

Karl Philipp Moritz and Oralism

By guest contributor Paul Babinski

In 1783 Karl Philipp Moritz went to Berlin’s Charité hospital looking for a human guinea pig. What we know of the deaf teenager he brought home, Karl Friedrich Mertens, comes from two accounts Moritz published in his journal of experiential psychology, the Magazin zur Erfahrungsseelenkunde. The encounter is only a footnote, if that, in the history of deaf pedagogy, but it is a fascinating window onto the experience of the late Enlightenment German thinker as he grappled with disability and the humanity of the disabled at a moment when their supposed limitations were being enshrined in the hierarchies of cold, pseudo-scientific certainty.

Moritz is remembered today for his autobiographical novel, Anton Reiser, whose intense, often brutal psychological self-observation Moritz had cultivated with a circle of collaborators in the pages of the Magazin zur Erfahrungsseelenkunde. Moritz took in Mertens to see for himself about a debate that had sprung up in European journals. Was it better to teach deaf students to speak or to use signs? This split between so-called oralist and manualist methods remains today a contentious topic. The controversy reached the European stage in 1779, when Joseph II founded the Taubstummeninstitut (Deaf and Dumb Institute) in Vienna.

Joseph II had been inspired by the Parisian Abbé de l’Épée who took in deaf street children and taught them using “methodical signs,” the pre-cursor of modern sign language, which the Abbé had developed by combining grammatical elements with the signs already in use among his students. He believed that his work would uncover a natural universal language—a kind of silent lingua franca for transnational communication. When the Abbé claimed that a young boy in his care was in fact the abandoned son of a French noble, the Count of Solar, the ensuing scandal raised awareness of the Abbé’s methods. The Affaire Solar, which provided material for a popular play decades later and several films in our own time, distilled the dawning awareness that the Abbé’s project reclaimed the basic humanity of a marginalized group whose station in life was the sign not of a natural order, but of past wrongdoing committed against them.

The increased attention also ensnared him in one debate after another, as various pedagogues came out of the woodwork with competing theories. With the adoption of the Abbé’s methods in Vienna, the young director of Leipzig’s school for the deaf, Samuel Heinicke, took up the German oralist counter-offensive. Heinicke’s methods were cobbled together from a variety of earlier published sources, most significantly the work of Johann Konrad Ammann, whose 1692 Surdus loquens outlined a method for teaching the deaf to speak. Building on Ammann, Heinicke developed a method of training vocal production by mapping it onto a scale of flavors, and he used what he called a “Sprachmaschine,” an anatomical model of the speaking organs, in instruction. These he kept “secret,” refusing to divulge the details of his methods without a substantial cash reward.

Holding useful knowledge ransom did not endear him to the republic of letters – nor did the excessive discipline with which Heinicke was rumored to handle the students in his care – but Heinicke’s ideas nevertheless convinced many of his German contemporaries. He argued forcefully against the use of signs, going so far as to group the Abbé’s methods alongside the cruel surgeries and electric shocks that doctors and charlatans inflicted on deaf children to “cure” their silence. More significantly, Heinicke presented the hodgepodge of ideas he had culled from earlier works in the tantalizing and novel garb of cognitive psychology. The deaf, he argued, simply think differently.

To illustrate his point, he compared the child learning to speak to the apprentice typesetter, who must know not only the letters, but their place in the type case and the feel of the nick with which the individual letters are oriented on the composing stick. Heinicke invites us to follow the beginning apprentice’s thought as it follows the awkward movement of his hand from the copy, to the type, to the nick, letter by letter. With experience, however, this process becomes automatic, and the typesetter’s attention can rest solely on the text itself. So is it with concept formation, Heinicke argues. Like the typesetter’s station, sound and speech provide the sensual basis upon which the basic workings of thought are mastered, and it is to these sensations that visual signs in turn refer. Without this spoken referent, the written sign appears jumbled and unintelligible or, if ever grasped, is unable to take root in memory. Without a foundation in these basic, embodied cognitive processes, deaf children would remain forever grounded in the immediate and the material, and never graduate to abstract thought. Heinicke spoke often of Denkarten (ways of thinking). There was, he explained, a speaking Denkart and a “deaf-mute” Denkart, and the latter was fundamentally inferior, like the thinking of a child.

Moritz and his collaborators were intrigued by these ideas, even if Moritz seemed hesitant to embrace Heinicke and his less-than-stellar reputation. In his journal, he staged the oralist-manualist debate that Heinicke had picked with the Abbé, printing excerpts from their letters, and later published Friedrich Nicolai’s critical account of his visit to a public examination at the Vienna Taubstummeninstitut, whose director had trained with the Abbé, as well as observations on deaf individuals from other contributors.

Magazin für Erfahrungsseelenkunde

Magazin zur Erfahrungsseelenkunde (1786)

However, it is the account of his cohabitation with Mertens, the boy he took in from the Charité, that is perhaps the strangest, and most fascinating, monument to Moritz’s experiments in deaf pedagogy. Moritz at first wanted to teach the boy to speak, like Heinicke advocated. The first of his two entries in the Magazin für Erfahrungsseelenkunde follows his efforts to teach Mertens to produce individual sounds. He describes in detail how quickly his pupil picked up the basics, mimicking the way Moritz moved his mouth and intuitively grasping that he should imitate his teacher’s hand movements with his tongue. “After four weeks,” Moritz reports, “he could already bring forth various two-syllable words, such as flower, paper, etc., as people who have seen him at my place know.”

In the meantime, unexpected lines of communication sprung up between the two. It struck Mertens, as he watched Moritz and a friend reading together from the same book, that he’d seen the two before when he was living “wild on the street” and rowing boats to make a little money. Moritz and his companion had read like that once as he rowed for them. The boy energetically told the others through gestures and signs, and Moritz wondered at the vividness with which Mertens could recall the event. The deaf, he noticed, had perfectly good memories.

Soon the oralist instruction fell away and, in the second installment, Moritz simply observed the young boy for those qualities of mind that Heinicke claimed were inaccessible to the deaf “way of thinking.” How were his judgement and imagination? Did he understand the abstract concepts of Christianity? When, unprompted, Mertens covered the portals of their house with crosses on Walpurgisnacht – April 30th, when the witches fly to the Blocksberg to have their sabbath – Moritz noted that he could think calendrically. To find out whether or not he considered suicide a sin, Moritz held a knife to his breast and made like he would plunge it in. Mertens explained through gestures that if he did so the devil would take him and stomp him to bits. Another time, Moritz lay in bed like someone dying as a way of asking Mertens what would happen to him after death. We can only imagine what Mertens thought of his new roommate, the strange intellectual with his theatrical scenarios meant to probe the boy’s inner state.

Piece by piece, Moritz located the inventory of conceptual thought in Mertens and dispelled Heinicke’s myth of the inferior “deaf-mute’s way of thinking.” What he found instead was something all too human, a complicated personality, hurt, resentful, often vain, and at times consumed by anger. It was, I think, with an empathetic look to Mertens that Moritz later said of a deaf boy in his novel Andreas Hartknopf that “envy and self-interest had taken root so deeply within him that he begrudged the flower sunshine or the flock camped beneath a tree the shade.”

In fact, the line that separated Moritz from his deaf pupil was a more familiar one: between Enlightened rationality and small-minded prejudice and superstition. Berlin’s Jewish intellectuals, like Moses Mendelssohn, Salomon Maimon, and Marcus Herz, counted among Moritz’s friends and collaborators, and the fiercely anti-Semitic Mertens disapproved of Moritz’s Jewish visitors. At one point, “he formed with his fingers the figure of two horns on his head, and pointed to the fire burning in the oven, expressing through pantomime that the devil would lead the Jews to hell.” The boy chided Moritz for not going often enough to church (though he never went himself), was convinced Moritz withheld money that the state had supposedly given him for Mertens’ care, and seemed unsure if his host could even be counted among the saved. He was quick to hold a grudge. Threatening those whom he felt had wronged him with divine retribution, he evoked in gesture the lightning with which God would smite his enemies. If the Affaire Solar narrated the realization of the marginalized deaf child’s humanity with a grand scale and hopeful optimism fit for the popular stage, Moritz’s case study was its gritty, realist counterpart.

In an essay containing his theoretical conclusions on the subject, Moritz does not entirely do away with Heinicke’s link between the use of signs and cognitive limitation, but he implicitly rejects the oralist method. He compares the arbitrariness of spoken words, a “light tool for thought,” with the often unwieldy gestures that he fears can never truly break free from the objects they signify. Nevertheless, he advises that we constantly strive to simplify these signs, “with which the deaf-mute seeks to order in his mind the world around him.” It is hard not to see echoes of his depiction of Mertens when Moritz cautions that otherwise, “[the surrounding world] would seize hold of him, and represent itself more within him than he himself can conceive of the world.”

Paul Babinski is a PhD student in German at Princeton University. He is writing his dissertation on early modern German orientalism.

Further Reading:

Joachim Gessinger, Auge und Ohr: Studien zur Erforschung der Sprache am Menschen: 1700-1850 (Berlin: de Gruter, 1994).

Jonathan Ree, I See a Voice: Deafness, Language and the Senses – A Philosophical History (New York: Holt, 1999).