From Interdependence to Cyborgs

From the Davis article the strongest points seemed to be near the end of the article. “Impairment is the rule, and normalcy is the fantasy. Dependency is the reality, and independence grandiose thinking.” Disability amplifies the point that none of us are really independent and that we exist by leaning on one another and are indeed very much connected. What follows is the “notion of expanding the protected class to the entire population; a commitment to removing barriers and creating access for all.” This is a move to a serious opening up of the pathways of compassion and understanding, though this undertaking would need keen eyes in order to see and then remove the hindering barriers. People, disability or not, have a certain level of pride about them, and don’t want to be viewed as complainers, and hence might not want to stand up for their rights in some situations. It’s up to everyone to take action against, and remove, the various barriers and injustices that are being acted upon us all, though obviously this is easier said than done.

In the Identity Politics chapter the use of Susan Sontag was most relevant to my application of Beckett’s Molloy. “The rebellious forces of the body and the physical nature of disease represent a reality untouched by metaphor, Sontag insists, and ‘that reality has to be explained’.” I feel like Molloy is a great example of a disabled reality being portrayed, and hence explained. By Beckett going inside the mind of a very disabled subject and painting the picture as such, the reader is taken off their hinges and placed in a jarringly disabled position. This position opens the door to an experience whereby the reader is allowed to sympathize with disability and find it utterly human, as its reality is explained.

McRuver’s idea of disability being haunted, at first glance, might seem absurd. But isn’t the disabled subject haunted by the various mechanisms that have put him or her in their place? Most people with disabilities are not born as such and rather experience the world around them as it morphs into a world which has them at a disadvantage. Experiencing these social constructs and the power that they exercise over the disabled person is tragic in nature. As a result the disabled person is haunted by the world, a world that can change for the worse and subject them to pain whose locus is everywhere and nowhere.

Donna Haraway’s article was surprisingly on point, given that it was written in 1983 and written with technology and science in mind. Her explorations in the realm of genetic engineering were worth being re-awakened to. “Genetic engineering implies the end of pain, the end of ‘mistakes’ at the origin the birth of only perfect children (and only perfect commodities) in a utopia of complete self possession.” This conception of genetic engineering leaves me cold. If anything mistakes and imperfections are the essence of life. This type of genetic engineering might be one in which the faculties of our imagination are shut down as we enter an entirely new way of being. Yet Haraway embraces the cyborg existence, and urges us to do the same.

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Modernity Proliferated

During my undergrad one of my professors said: “I don’t believe in post-modernism. That makes me eccentric.” The latter of these two sentences he stated with a sort of wry humour. At the time I took it to heart, as I was caught up in reading mostly modernist texts and felt like they spoke to me. Charting the individual’s trials, whether through personal epiphanies, emancipations or tragedies, I felt as though modernist novels were in more direct connection with the reader. While novels like Gravity’s Rainbow seem to blow up the text, making the story so complex that it’s nearly impossible to follow. And I could relate with my prof’s eccentricity in that I didn’t think the essence of modernism, its focal points of investigation, were ever resolved. I felt as though any post-modernist thought I’d come across was just an extension of it with no clear break that would make tacking on ‘post’ seem erroneous. It seems as though the difference between the two is just a matter of complexity of perspective, a movement from the one to the many, mainly fragmenting a subjectivity into parts to found everywhere instead of rooted within.

From the section on the psychoanalytic intervention in Corker and Shakespeare I was mostly drawn to the description of Lacan’s thought. The idea that “All self-knowledge is fractured and fragile – put another way, experience lies – as the individual subject is caught between imaginary traps of narcissistic mirroring and symbolic dislocations of language.” I felt like this quote spoke almost directly to me and painted a picture that is quite accurate to day to day living and the ways in which we are limited in our interactions. But maybe I’m not quite as pessimistic as Lacan, and don’t see it as a trap, but rather as a description of a current condition, a venue. There is still much communication that can take place in this sphere, and though I’m no optimist, I don’t think it’s all treading water but rather that we can find avenues and new terrain.

I think the above relates to Butler’s use of Nietzsche. She quotes him near the beginning of her article:

“the entire history of a ‘thing;’ an organ, a custom can be a continuous sign-chain of ever new interpretations and adaptations whose causes do not even have to be related to one another, but on the contrary, in some cases succeed and alternate with one another in a purely chance fashion.”

This speaks to the complexity of the post-modern condition, in that there are many potential off-shoots for discovery and exchange, much of which can be the focal point of sexuality and gender with regard to identity formation. Identity is tricky, in that it exists in time and is as fluid as performance is capable. “[T]he subject as a self-identical entity is no more.” This quote harkens back to the transition between modernity and post-modernism. And just as identity is no longer self-identical, the term ‘queer’ is subjugated to an array of interpretations and remains fluid in time, however some groups may appear to have a strong hold on it for the moment.

Susan Bardo’s article on eating disorders was eye opening in that once again I hadn’t thought of this area as a disability. The article was extremely interesting in that it displayed the power of culture and things like media to do harm. Eating disorders seem to be divided into two camps, those that think its cause is medical and those that think its cause is cultural. It really seems, based on reading the article and my own account of things that this is really a cultural phenomenon. But I still wonder why it is that women are highly prone and not men? Are the scales so unevenly tipped in regard to body image and the pressures to look a certain ‘slim’ way for women that they are driven to starve themselves? It’s hard for me to relate to this on a level beyond the article as I am a male, but still, I also feel some amount of pressure to get myself in shape and watch what I eat. I’m reminded of my older sister who seems obsessed with eating healthy and exercising. But as a result she is healthy, so we can’t fault her for that, right?

The Tremain article was great, and I’m beginning to enjoy my forays into Foucault more and more. I like the application of Foucault to disability. I like how with Foucault power operates from many sides. The take on normality was illuminating, “’the great complex idea of normality’ has become the means through which to identify subjects and make them identify themselves in ways that make them governable.” Here I thought about my own issues with normality and my own resistance turned passivity in the face of such institutions of power. Now having long since come out the other end I still wonder what I might have turned into if I had eluded the prescription and not been so governable? Near the end of the article I was pleased to find, “That the discursive object called impairment is claimed to be the embodiment of natural deficit, or lack, furthermore obscures the fact that the constitutive power relations which define and circumscribe it have already delimited the dimensions of its reification.” This relates to the process of diagnosis, in a way, and the power of the mechanisms in play in such an ordeal. There are pockets of people in society that have the right to decide who is impaired and who is not, and from there the chips seem to fall where they may.

Beckett Primer

I haven’t been able to get very far with secondary sources. While the sources I’m looking for might not be very applicable to others as I think many them will be related to Samuel Beckett as much as related to disability studies. That said, the text I really want to read is a chapter in Ato Quayson’s book entitled Aesthetic Nervousness, though I haven’t been able to get my hands on it yet. I have it on recall.

I’m mainly thinking, and working on, my presentation for this coming Wednesday. I’m trying to select the best passages out of the opening chapter of Molloy. This opening chapter is one of my all-time favourite pieces of writing, and I hope that it will be what I focus on for my paper. It’s just over 90 pages long and is two paragraphs. The first paragraph is less than a page, while the second is about 90 pages. I find this interesting because it is as though the chapter itself is disabled, disabled in its disproportion. The writing style is stream-of-consciousness, but not the kind that leaves the reader perplexed and wondering what’s going on. It’s actually quite coherent. I will read some selections of it in class and hope to open up a discussion on disability and normalcy whose nuances maybe have not been discussed yet. I’m particularly interested in ideas of normalcy and nature, as Beckett writes in Molloy, “There is a little of everything, apparently, in nature, and freaks are common.” (p. 14)

Beckett, Samuel. Molloy. Trans. Patrick Bowles and Samuel Beckett. New York. Grove Press. 1955. Print.

Mid-way Reflection

Thus far in the course I think one of the central concerns is the establishment of a proper definition for disability. The point of view that I think is most appropriate is disability defined as anyone who cannot partake in his or her social environment fully. Still, this definition leaves much grey area, for how would a person qualify the fullness of their participation in their social environment? Nevertheless, in most instances this definition should suffice. I think where things get tricky is with mental illnesses, or as in the past, what used to be categorized as idiocy and feeblemindedness. The treatments for these illnesses have drastically improved over the last century, not to mention the improved humaneness that surrounds such treatment. But with each illness comes a stigma, and the stigma is there as such because some common kernels of truth are enacted by those having such illnesses. The approaches taken by performance artists like Bob Flanagan are brash, aggressive, and direct, while being amusing and thought provoking, making a point. However, I wonder whether or not they just push forward the idea that people labeled as disabled are just angry people out for revenge on the able-bodied world. I guess no matter your position, too tame or too effacing, someone is bound to be offended. So this existent chasm between the able-bodied and disabled bodied, has much room for interpretation. I think it important to address this chasm the best way each one of us can, whether it be with intelligence, emotion, humour etc. so as to create better dialogue between all parties involved. Everybody deserves a position from which to live with dignity.

A Question of Nature

There is a section of Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s Phenomenology of Perception entitled Other Selves and the Human World that begins: “I am thrown into a nature…” (p. 403) I bring this up because ever since I read it I’ve been wondering and trying to bring myself forward, closer to nature. But at times this is a puzzling expedition, for what really is nature? This led me to Nancy Ordover’s explanation of the impetus behind eugenicists, who “believed that in the “civilized” world, natural selection had all but ceased and could no longer move forward without hands-on human intervention.” (p. 10) I find this quite trying. It makes the point that the eugenicists were consciously trying to dip their hand in and construe the natural; one might even say playing God. This comes round again to the very question that I’ve been concerning myself with lately, which is: what is nature, or, what is natural? Apparently it took close to a century before most everyone outside of Hitler’s regime could at least agree what wasn’t natural. But again, where and how do we draw our lines. For the people from the times of eugenics it took an extremely violent world war to come to grips with this lesson of taking too much of nature into our own hands. Yet I can empathize with these times, they didn’t know any better, they didn’t know their own power and the damage that could be done. Or at least I hope they didn’t. Meanwhile, nowadays, each one of us plays the eugenicist in our own way through our day to day existence. Discrimination is really just the dirty word for taste, and we’re all free on one level or another to play immigration officer for our own domain’s taste, though this is not to discount the weight of circumstance and the unexpected. Maybe this is where nature comes in, with circumstance and the unexpected. I feel like nature leaves room, it isn’t so constricting and thought out to the T. It’s where coincidences happen. And there is much more of a mystery to it. Attempting to manipulate this mystery seems to be where eugenics rears its head.  

Questions: where do things like the desire and the subconscious fit into nature? or are they themselves nature?

Evolving Environment

An idea that came up in a couple of the articles was that disability is contextual, and that the environment, and its ability to adapt toward those needs of people with disability is where the inhumanity lies. This begs the question of where we draw the lines of accommodation. There is a certain amount of effort just to get around town for even the able-bodied person, so to what ends are we as a society going to try and make it more and more convenient for those with disabilities. This could be an ever evolving task, forever trying to nip whichever inconveniences arise in the butt. The main thing should be that people with disabilities are included in this process of environmental evolution. But where do we draw the line between disability and ability and to what ends to certain barriers need to be converted to conveniences. The interpretation of this fine line is not that easy, and may not come natural to those in charge of such decisions without the help of those who are disabled. To a person in a wheelchair certain environmental barriers may be obvious, and as the environment changes they may continually locate new barriers, things that weren’t thought of upon the initial design. It’s difficult to design and build new environments with a minority group (that is themselves evolving) in mind, though you’d have to say that progress is being made. What I’m saying is that this is going to be an infinitely ongoing challenge, one that never gets entirely fixed or swept under the rug. People with disabilities, just like people with able bodies, experience levels of discomfort and discrimination in their environment. I’m not trying to downplay the those people with disabilities and whatever beefs they may have with their environment and its accessibility, but only wish to point out that no one person’s interplay with their environment is seamless. It becomes important to incorporate the people with disabilities consciousness into these decision making processes to the point where their point of view is fully ingrained with those with able bodies. However, both of these perspectives are ever changing so there will continue to be barriers along the way, for both groups.

Question: much of the talk seemed to be around those with physical disabilities and the barriers they face. Where does a person with a mental illness like schizophrenia fit into this argument, and how are we as a society fit to make accommodations for them?

Ability in Disability

When you actually think about it, and when you read the articles that we have just read, it seems quite clear that a great deal of literature includes the disabled. Many of the books I’ve read in the past, one’s I was drawn to, reflect this skew. However, I never really thought of Beckett’s Molloy to be about disability until now. The psychological illnesses never seemed to be about disability. I mainly thought of disability having to do with the physical, someone in a wheelchair. One of the reasons I never thought of psychological illnesses as being disabilities is because I saw them much more as abilities. The way Molloy is written with such sleek minimalism, offering a dual insight into both humour and tragedy. I always thought of literature where the psychology was disturbed or bent to be much more interesting and wanted to emulate such weirdness. Knut Hamsun’s books Hunger and Mysteries offer striking psychological portrayals of characters on the edge, if not completely consumed my madness. These are interesting novels. But why is literature drawn to these characters. Is it because in literature we must examine the fringe, or is this a kind of glorification of the underdog, the outsider. Personally I see the appeal, and have been drawn in as a result, aspiring to be as such. The draw has to be related to a sort of creativity that these characters gain access to. It is as though their disability is portrayed as ability, a tool or skew by which they are able to extract and gain access to some of life’s greater substance, to see through the lines the institutions around us bear upon us. Disability is a complex matter, and though it’s been portrayed many a time over, excellently, by world-class artists, it still remains a dangerous reservoir for ideas and perspectives to be taken up.

My concern is with the process by which psychological disabilities are diagnosed and treated. As well, I have an interest with regard to the tragic-insight that is often gained by those labeled as disabled.