A lovely piece on the old “Illness as Metaphor” theme — among other things, it criticizes a kind of narrative prosthesis and the whole “social pathology” rhetoric. “And the body is not miraculous or brave, even though it does so many things you think it shouldn’t be able to. And the body is not just like yours even though there are overlaps in desire and function. Sameness is not a prerequisite for solidarity. And you should care about it even if you have made conscious attempts to ignore our bodies, to look away, to avoid hospitals and the smell of home care. And you shouldn’t need an apology because the body is not wrong.”
All three parts of David Mitchell and Sharon Snyder’s mid-90s documentary Vital Signs: Crip Culture Talks Back are now on youtube! I think this might be useful to those of you writing about mobilizing anger as an alternative to pity. Some content warnings: 1) There’s a scene where protesters appropriate a religious symbol — a student once told me that offended him. 2) There’s a couple of monologues by a naked Irish woman. 3) Because of the time and the location (an academic conference), the participants are overwhelmingly white, college-educated, and visibly disabled. There are more recent documentaries with more diversity.
Hey, I mentioned to the 3002 class on 12 Sept. that Foucault was relevant to the idea of finding the historical roots of things we might otherwise think universal or natural or divinely ordained. Here’s some background — in his 1977 introduction to the English translation of Foucault’s very first book, Mental Illness and Psychology, Hubert Dreyfus writes
The best way to see that things might be otherwise is to see that they once
were and in some areas of life still are otherwise, and to see as well how
we developed our present narrow view. Thus, following Nietzsche, Foucault sees his work as a genealogy, written to help us derealize, and so move beyond, the suffocating understanding of reality that has gradually emerged in the history of the West. Foucault does not think, any more than Nietzsche did, that such genealogy will provide an instant cure, enabling the genealogist to step outside himself and his culture. Historical therapy nonetheless loosens the grip of our current understanding of reality by letting us see how we got where we are and the cost of our current understanding. Without stepping out of history or seeking a philosophical grounding for objective truth-claims, genealogy can show us the accidental status of our sense of who we are, and it can sensitize us to practices still alive in our culture that have not been taken up onto the reigning understanding of being.
Foucault’s early interest in the relation of madness and medicine never left
him. Indeed, one can think of later Foucault as practicing genealogical therapy on the madness of modernity. He is trying to historicize, and so help dissolve, the closed, normalized view we have of ourselves as hermeneutic subjects in order to ready us for the possibility of a new interpretation of the human self that could take up currently marginalized practices, thus opening up our world rather than shutting it down.
What I find interesting is how that was Really Radical in U.S. philosophy and history at that time. It was hard to conceive of a philosopher challenging things that “everybody knew” had always been that way — the idea of looking for and undermining commonplace assumptions about cultures was utterly foreign in many academic settings.
I’m devoting this post to blogs by autistic writers. Some write chiefly about autism, some about a wider range of disabilities. Contrary to the stereotype of autistic people as robotic and literal, many of these writers use sarcasm and irony to express their frustration with injustice and disrespect and erasure and dishonesty.
Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg’s Disability and Representation is worthwhile for the links in the right-hand column alone. But she has many good posts about . . . well, disability and representation. Some of them controversial, as when she criticized a Guinness commercial.
Melanie Yergeau is a young autistic professor in Michigan who analyzes things.
Ibby Grace of Tiny Grace Notes is an autistic Christian educator whose posts offer a good mix of the personal and the more general.
Amanda Baggs has all kinds of disabilities and does great analyses of power. She has a separate blog for cat pictures. If you scroll down far enough, you’ll see references to her struggle when hospitalized recently to persuade medical personnel that yes, she really did want a life-saving procedure and did not think she’d be happier dead. There’s also a great “Why Institutions are Bad” post somewhere in her archive.
Julia Bascom has some passionate pieces about being oppressed and then finding a community with which to resist. Also criticizes Glee fans.
Lydia Brown is a Georgetown student trying to make that elite school notice
disability. She gets impatient with Pity-and-Tragedy rhetoric about autistic people.
I ran across this account of an accessfail at a major (perhaps the major) science fiction convention. The author, Rose Lemberg, raises important questions of recognition and dignity. I found the comments even more valuable, though — in particular, there’s a point where a convention organizer gets defensive, blaming the disabled attendee for not being better at finding accommodation, and others say, no, no, there’s really something wrong. Blogger and editor Patrick Nielsen Hayden sums up the difference between accommodation and access, although he doesn’t think the con did a good job with either one: “The point of disabled access is so that disabled people can, as best as we can manage, interact with their fellow human beings with as few obstacles as possible and with as little advance preparation as possible, rather than having to make elaborate plans in advance which then can’t be deviated from. Obviously, given how the world works, and given the limitations of already-built facilities, we can’t do a perfect job of this no matter how dedicated we are. But it’s hardly absurd to suppose that Worldcon might notice in advance that a program participant is visibly disabled — when they register, when they check in at the programming desk, or any of a number of obvious checkpoints — and ask if they have special needs that can be met . . . “
Cheryl Gottlieb’s Finding My Way also takes personal experiences, good and bad, and fits them into the big picture. She’s a different gender, size, nationality, and age than Dave HIngsburger though.
Ben Mattlin’s Adventures in Modern Life mostly discusses news and media. It’s a good way to keep up with issues.
Mike Ervin of Smart-Ass Cripple is a muscular dystrophy poster child turned activist. Witty commentaries.
Scott Rains’s Rolling Rains Report is devoted to reporting on access (and the lack thereof) in travel and tourism. Don’t miss his pieces on Delta Airlines.
Leaving Evidence contains beautiful but infrequent essays and speeches by the young Asian-American queer disability activist Mia Mingus. Her concept of “Access Intimacy” is invaluable.
When we were discussing s.e. smith’s work last week, I spoke of the damage done by accusations of fakery against disabled people. So I thought it important to acknowledge that, although there may not be an epidemic of disability fraud, such a thing does happen. Here’s the clip in which Illinois Rep. Tammy Duckworth gives what-for to a guy who’s been abusing disabled veteran preferences to get government contracts. Dunno if I endorse every word she says in it; but it’s powerful stuff; and the grifter deserved to hear it.
Beth Haller’s Media Dis&Dat mostly aggregates news stories.
Dave Hingsburger’s Rolling Around in My Head tells mostly first-person stories with a point to them. Some are happy stories and some are about injustices and indignities.
Wheelchair Dancer. What it says.
Stephen Kuusisto. Blind poet, teacher, and activist.
Haddayr Copley-Woods has MS and an autistic son. Note the great radio commentaries.
LeRoy Moore’s POOR Magazine. Focused (but not exclusively) on people of color; often features performers in Moore’s Krip-Hop Nation project.
One of you requested that I link Ta-Nehisi Coates’s blog post arguing that white people should be willing to talk about the word “nigger” and not use childish euphemisms or periphrasis when the topic comes up, ’cause black people can tell the difference between when you’re using the word and when you’re mentioning it. Myself, I like the argument and would not shy away from the word if it were necessary, say, to read a passage from Huckleberry Finn aloud. But, as I said, I’d want to make sure my auditors trusted me to be decent about it and not to quote the word just for kicks.
The first Chris Rock video there is relevant to the issue: Rock talks about the different settings in which white people feel comfortable using the word and makes some good public/private distinctions. The second Rock video is just for fun. And hey, what does Coates mean by “I’d sooner call the coroner than call my Pops ‘Billy'”?
Here’s Nicola Griffith’s “Writing from the Body,” a great discussion of attitudes toward human bodies and their history. Griffith is an outspoken mystery and science fiction writer from the UK, not a professional scholar; so her history of ideas has its limits — there are, for example, some religious traditions that are kinder to the body than those she mentions. But the piece works beautifully as a critique of the belief that our bodies are nothing but a hindrance, somehow distinct from our real selves, and we should ideally just give them up and spend our lives frolicking in cyberspace rather than concerning ourselves with their fates in the material world (If the narrow text or the bright yellow border impair your reading, it’s worth cutting and pasting onto a document and reading it then. Lively writing).