helen keller listened and submitted

i have posted about consentual submission, but in watching “the taming of the shrew” the moment of submission is so ambiguous. there is force in it, but loving force. it made me think of helen keller, deafblind author, activist and lecturer (and friends with alexander graham bell and others) and her teacher anne sullivan. when someone makes the choice to submit, it is often because of the realization that something can be gained by submitting. and in helen keller’s autobiography she describes the moment anne sullivan’s teaching was revealed to her as such. and so she submitted to the new universe she was awakened to.

anne sullivan would walk helen to the pump every single day, maybe twice, three times. helen rages, she thrashes, she weeps, she bites and screams in that moaning wildness of deafblind darkness. and anne marks the character for “water” into her hand again and again. spells “water.” it makes no sense. the idea of words, the idea of spelling, they can’t be conveyed. you can’t explain the correspondence of symbols, because there is no language to speak with. i have a friend, amanda, who does this work of communication with deafblind kids. such a miracle.

one day helen is thrashing, bashing, making her mess. and anne forces her jerking, scratching hand under the pump in the yard. “water.” she writes “water.” with anger, with the intention to teach, with love. she writes it again and again. helen understands. she gets it all the sudden! and weeps and weeps for being broken. broken open to the world of the word. and then wants to know the word for everything–pipe and grass and brick and all the things around her that all the sudden have a path back to the world, a breaking through the darkness. helen pulls herself out of the darkness.

and she couldn’t do it without submitting. but she wouldn’t submit until she could understand why–why would she submit if this wrestling at the waterpump was just to assert dominance, just to make anne feel high and mighty? but if it is loving, if it is done with the intention to teach, to open someone up to the world around them, then helen is listening. and hearing the resounding tones of the universe around her, in technicolour and language.


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