This week at TAL: Stefan Sunandan Honisch, “Deaf-Blindness and the Avid Musical Touch of Helen Keller”

The Avid Listener is back!

This week we bring you a beautiful essay by Stefan Sunandan Honisch about Hellen Keller and music. In this essay, Honisch unpacks a new concept he has called avid touch. As a central, organizing question, Honisch asks: “what might it mean to cultivate an avid touch in our own musical activities?” Here’s a teaser:

“On April 24, 1916, the tenor Enrico Caruso sang Vois ma misère hélas! Vois ma détresse from Camille Saint Saëns’ opera Samson et Dalila in a private performance for Helen Keller. Keller experienced the music by touching Caruso’s vocal apparatus as he performed, reportedly telling the singer afterwards,“Though I cannot see your face, I can feel the pathos of your song.”

Contemporaneous newspaper reports make much of the fact that Keller’s fingers did what her ears could not, thereby rendering her touch as silent. An equally noticeable tendency in the press reception of Caruso and Keller’s musical encounter is skepticism. Commentators doubted that Keller could experience music in the ways she herself claimed, waving away the sensations she described as figments of a deceptive touch…”

But her touch was not “deceptive,” as Honisch shows. There’s a complex play here between the emotional and physical aspects of “feeling.” To see how Honisch develops this argument, read the entire essay here.

Avid readers of our blog may see connections here between avid touch and two major themes of our blog: disability studies and listening to / experiencing music (in a word: musicking). Here are some related essays:

The Avid Listener: Listen. Write. Discuss. Repeat.

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