1. Lean Wolf's Complaint

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An example of gestural/visual language as developed by linguistically diverse American Indian groups during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. But similar sign languages may in fact be older and pre-date the dispersals set in motion by the European invasions. Like signing practices elsewhere, including the grammatically complete and independent languages among the deaf, they put in question the purely phonic foundations of even the most radical contemporary poetics. Attempts to bring gestural language into poetry and performance art include signing works by Aaron Williamson, Joseph Castronovo, and Flying Words (Peter Cook and Kenny Lerner). Among ethnopoetic analogues — for those who would care to check them out — are Hindu and Tantric mudras, Australian Aborigine sign languages, Sicilian hand language, fan and sleeve movements in traditional Asian theater, and pantomimic traditions everywhere: a topology of human gesture languages that would enrich our sense of poetry and poetics, should we set our minds to it.

Addendum. (1) Says Iron Hawk, a Sioux Chief, as quoted back in 1885 in William P. Clark’s Indian Sign Language: "The whites have had the power given them by the Great Spirit to read and write, and convey information in that way. He gave us the power to talk with our hands and arms, to send information with the mirror, blanket and pony far away, and when we meet with Indians who have a different language from ours, we can talk to them in signs."

(2) "The hand’s gestures run everywhere through language, in their most perfect purity precisely when man speaks by being silent." (Martin Heidegger)

Source. Garrick Mallery, Sign Language Among the North American Indians, Bureau of American Ethnology, 1st Annual Report, 1880.

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