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Ableist rhetoric How We Know, Value, and See Disability
James L. Cherney
The Pennsylvania State University Press University Park, Pennsylvania
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Names: Cherney, James L., 1968– author. Title: Ableist rhetoric : how we know, value, and see disability / James L. Cherney. Other titles: RSA series in transdisciplinary rhetoric. Description: University Park, Pennsylvania : The Pennsylvania State University Press,  | Series: The RSA series in transdisciplinary rhetoric | Includes bibliographical references and index. Summary: “Examines the rhetorical practices that generate and sustain discrimination against disabled people. Demonstrates how ableist values, knowledge, and ways of seeing pervade Western culture and influence social institutions such as law, sport, and religion”—Provided by publisher. Identifiers: LCCN 2019024280 | ISBN 9780271084688 (cloth) Subjects: LCSH: Discrimination against people with disabilities. | Rhetoric. Classification: LCC HV1568.C47 2019 | DDC 305.9/08—dc23 LC record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2019024280 (https://lccn.loc.gov/2019024280) Copyright © 2019 James L. Cherney All rights reserved Printed in the United States of America Published by The Pennsylvania State University Press, University Park, PA 16802-1003 The Pennsylvania State University Press is a member of the Association of University Presses. It is the policy of The Pennsylvania State University Press to use acid-free paper. Publications on uncoated stock satisfy the minimum requirements of American National Standard for Information Sciences—Permanence of Paper for Printed Library Material, ANSI Z39.48-1992.
To Chris, Ellie, and Max Your sacrifices, attention, trust, and love are the most valuable things I have ever been given. This is for you. You made it possible.
1 / The Rhetorical Dimensions of Ableism 2 / Fearing Disability and the Possession Narrative 3 / Ableism and the Cochlear Implant Debate 4 / Sport as Ableist Institution 5 / A Rhetorical Model of Disability Notes Bibliography Index
Chapters 1 and 3 are derived, in part, from “The Rhetoric of Ableism,” Disability Studies Quarterly 31, no. 3 (2011), https://doi.org/10.18061/dsq.v31i3.1665 (https://doi.org/10.18061/dsq.v31i3.1665). Chapter 3, “Ableism and the Cochlear Implant Controversy,” is derived, in part, from “Deaf Culture and the Cochlear Implant Debate: Cyborg Politics and the Identity of People with Disabilities,” Argumentation and Advocacy 36, no. 1 (1999): 22–34, available online: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/00028533.1999.11951635 (https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/00028533.1999.11951635). Chapter 4 is derived, in part, from “Sport, (Dis)ability, and Public Controversy: Ableist Rhetoric and Casey Martin v. PGA Tour, Inc.,” in Case Studies in Sport Communication, ed. Robert S. Brown and Daniel J. O’Rourke III (Westport, Conn.: Praeger Publishers, 2003), 81–104. This research was supported by a 2012–13 University Research Grant from Wayne State University.
1 The Rhetorical Dimensions of Ableism
This book resides at the intersection of one of the oldest academic disciplines and one of the newest: rhetoric and disability studies. Both of these disciplines maintain an active presence in the contemporary universities of Western culture. Although much maligned at least since its documented origins in 600 BCE, rhetoric has endured, adapted, and developed such subdisciplines as public address (the study of important speeches and other forms of public discourse) and rhetorical criticism (the application of rhetorical theory to analyze and critique texts and communication events). Rhetorical theory also informs scholars from a variety of other disciplines, including composition, critical/cultural studies, and performance studies. In the latter part of the twentieth century, a “linguistic turn” reinvigorated the discipline in both the humanities and, to a lesser extent, the sciences.1 As a result, rhetoric has spread so widely within academia that some argue it has overextended itself, essentially taking an “architectonic” or “big rhetoric” stance, meaning that it claims to underlie all forms of human experience including music, mathematics, science, and religion.2 Since the 1960s, much of the debate over “big rhetoric” in the United States has explored the ways that it shapes how people know (“rhetoric as epistemic”), what people value and believe (“ideological rhetoric”), and how people see (“visual rhetoric”). Rhetorical scholars have certainly explored a good deal more than these concepts, but these three have each been the focus of extensive discussion, and each helped shift the overall trajectory of the discipline in this early part of the twenty-first century. In comparison, disability studies is a fairly young discipline that developed in the last quarter of the twentieth century. Disability studies scholars cover a wide variety of topics, but generally they all interrogate the idea that disability is primarily a medical condition requiring treatment with the goal of curing the disabled individual. We call this perspective the “medical model” of disability, as it describes the approach that most doctors and health-care practitioners have adopted for centuries when engaging disability as an empirical and physical phenomenon. The medical model views disability as a problem, and it locates that problem in the bodies of disabled people.3 Interrogating the medical model does not mean that disability studies opposes the practice of medicine or rejects medical treatment. Instead, it means that disability studies questions the medical model’s assumptions about bodies and then points out its failure to account for the personal, social, and cultural dimensions of living with a disability. Disability studies also objects to any approach that researches the lives of disabled people “only in their
particularity . . . as deviation from the norm in order to increase the knowledge about and stature of the norm.”4 For much of the history of Western culture, disability has been known as something to be avoided and not as something to be understood. Disability studies seeks to rectify that. I am not the first to explore the intersection where these two disciplines meet, but I approach it in a relatively new direction to reach the destination I call the rhetoric of ableism.5 While I develop a more nuanced definition of the term later in this chapter, ableism refers generally to discrimination and oppression based on ability and is analogous to racism and sexism. Rhetoricians have long been interested in the ways that the predominantly white, male, middle-class center oppresses and marginalizes subaltern groups and over time has expanded its attention from the classic triad of sex, race, and class to such issues as sexual orientation, age, and disability. At roughly the same time that rhetoricians began to examine disability, scholars in disability studies applied rhetorical theory in their analyses of laws, social institutions, political movements, popular culture, medical practices, literature, and film. As rhetoric began to establish a foothold in disability studies,6 another area of disability studies arose with a focus on ableism.7 My work takes the next step by employing rhetorical theory to study ableism. This journey toward this particular intersection of rhetoric and disability studies moves along and sometimes across the pathways taken by other scholars. Specifically studying ableism instead of disability diverges from the most common route. While the two concepts clearly relate to one another, my work shows how explicitly engaging the former can detail insights that examining the latter can overlook. Disability studies has focused generally on the immediate concerns of disabled people and the results of ableism, often accepting disability-based discrimination’s existence as a preexisting institutional problem. Simi Linton explains that to gain recognition and establish disability studies as an academic discipline, scholars have had to prove that “disabled people occupy a subordinate position in critical social and economic domains, that disabled people are a significant constituency, and that our histories and legacies have been distorted.” As scholars complete this stage of the discipline’s development, Linton argues that it is now “incumbent on people across the disciplines to study the . . . knowledge base within which that social positioning is deemed rational and morally sound.”8 I craft this project along the lines she proposes. Scholars in disability studies explore the impact of ableism in social oppression, marginalization, and discrimination against disabled people. By exposing the inequities and injustices these cause, their work challenges the historical view of disability as physical incapacities that medical science ought to cure and provides perspectives that place disability in a more positive light. This goal unites the various branches of the field. Tobin Siebers, a leading disability studies scholar, wrote that “undoubtedly the central purpose of disability studies is to reverse the negative connotations of disability.”9 The many works associated with this field include histories of disability and the political struggles for disability
rights, studies of texts about and images of disabilities, and critiques of legal structures that both perpetuate and attempt to combat this discrimination. By emphasizing ableism instead of disability, I tap into these social and cultural practices in a way that complements disability studies research. Focusing on the basic mechanisms and logics of discrimination directs my attention to the already well-established research of other forms of bigotry and intolerance and brings this work into the conversation. Moreover, by emphasizing rhetoric instead of other approaches, I benefit from the extensive scholarship by rhetoricians who explore how words, language, and texts construct political identities, hierarchies, and power. By examining ableist rhetoric in detail, I provide evidence that its central ideas have spread so extensively throughout Western culture that it operates in contexts well removed from disability, which helps explain why ableism is powerful and difficult to confront. While investigating ableism differs from exploring disability, I emphasize that my project aims to complement rather than challenge disability studies. I concur with Fiona Kumari Campbell that “a move towards studies in ableism must not spell a separation with disability studies, rather the focus on ableism is meant to reconfigure a disability studies perspective and extend it.”10 The developing study of ableism furthers the project of removing the negative connotations of disability by calling attention to the larger ideological problem behind the multitude of ways that society discriminates against and disadvantages disabled people. Ableism studies shifts focus away from the “individual patterns” behind specific discriminatory acts to investigate the “social situations or cultural representations that influence those patterns.”11 Ableism studies enhances disability studies much as analyses of racism and sexism have extended such disciplines as ethnic studies and women’s studies. Exploring ableism rather than disability turns the discussion toward a new set of questions. While much of the literature in disability studies asks the important question “What can we do about how society treats disability?” I ask the question “What makes this an ableist culture?” Enculturation arises from somewhere. From where did contemporary Western culture acquire and develop ableist ideals? I also ask the parallel question “How is this an ableist culture?” For ableist thinking to operate, its assumptions must be accepted by society at large, and these must be brought into use to engage specific situations and controversies. Where do the main premises of ableist thinking appear in our discourse, and what do we do with them? My work shows that since the earliest recorded appearances of ableism in Western culture, rhetoric has been the vehicle driving it. Considering ableism from a rhetorical perspective and examining it through related critical theories allows rhetorical analysis to work toward answers to these questions. My research also differs from the conventional approach of rhetorical scholarship because instead of directing my attention to one or another vector of rhetoric, I explore how three key types—epistemic,
ideological, and visual—work together. To allow in-depth analysis, scholars typically focus attention on one kind of rhetoric in their case studies. Research engaging epistemic rhetoric might explore how particular ways of studying something dictate how it becomes known, as when using mathematical models in economics implies that motives for human behavior function as absolute imperatives. Analyses of ideological rhetoric generally reveal the significance of values and hierarchies of worth that surround discursive practices, such as by showing how shifts in the meaning of the word “equality” throughout the history of the United States relate to the status of subordinate groups. Studies of visual rhetoric seek to understand the operation of image-laden artifacts, including when iconic photographs function as important sites of collective memory in a culture. This vital work provides extensive benefits for rhetorical analysis, and without it I would have little basis for my own approach of bringing different types together. By synchronizing epistemic, ideological, and visual rhetorics around the singular concept of ableism, I clarify what these “different” rhetorics share. My study of ableism provides a case study of how they influence and depend upon each other while illuminating different paths through which ableism operates. In sum, a rhetorical approach to ableism uniquely explains how it works, spreads across time, and plays a role in everyday life, while showing how this process simultaneously operates through epistemic, ideological, and visual rhetorics.
Two Key Terms While his wife and three other children were at church on October 23, 1993, Robert Latimer of Saskatchewan carried his sleeping twelve-year-old daughter Tracy from her bed to his pickup truck and piped carbon monoxide into the cab until she died.12 He then returned her body to her bed. When the Royal Canadian Mounted Police investigated the next day, Latimer initially claimed she had died in her sleep but quickly confessed to having planned and committed the murder. In November of the next year, he was found guilty of second-degree murder but acquitted of first-degree (premeditated) murder. He was subsequently released on bail pending his appeal. On February 6, 1997, the Canadian Supreme Court ordered a retrial on the basis of jury tampering but refused to acquit Latimer entirely, holding that his confession was admissible and legally obtained. On November 5, 1997, Latimer’s second trial concluded when a jury again found him guilty of second-degree murder. Under Canadian law, the conviction carries a minimum sentence of life with the possibility of parole after ten years. Although instructed by trial court judge Ted Noble not to do so, the jury recommended that he be eligible for parole after just one year. The court released Latimer on his own recognizance pending an attempt by his lawyer to seek intervention from the Canadian federal government. On December 1, 1997, in a decision that surprised many legal experts, Judge Noble refused
to impose the mandatory ten-year prison term on Latimer, instead sentencing him to serve one year in a provincial jail and a second year confined to his farm in Wilkie, Saskatchewan. Noble granted the rare constitutional exemption by finding that the mandatory sentence would in this case be cruel and unusual punishment. Thus described, the story of Robert Latimer makes little sense. Such a light sentence and preferential treatment for a man who confesses to murdering his daughter seems bizarre. But the story changes dramatically and begins to become comprehensible once a single element is added: Tracy Latimer was disabled. She had cerebral palsy since birth. She could not walk, talk, or feed herself, and she weighed less than forty pounds at the time of her death. She had undergone a number of operations, and, according to her family, had lived in pain most of her life. Once added to the story, Tracy Latimer’s disability alters the interpretive framework used to understand the narrative, and ableist rhetoric shapes the significance of the event. Latimer’s crime becomes rearticulated as “mercy killing,” “euthanasia,” or “compassionate homicide.” His claim that he had only wanted what was best for his daughter, and that his act was one of love, becomes comprehendible. Judge Noble’s statement that “the evidence establishes Mr. Latimer was motivated solely by his love and compassion for Tracy and the need—at least in his mind—that she should not suffer any more pain” appears more reasonable in this context.13 This reevaluation of the story of Robert Latimer is made possible by the ableist thinking deeply entrenched in society. Western culture continues a tradition that values the lives of disabled people less than it values the lives of able-bodied human beings. The single detail of Ms. Latimer’s disability changes the story not simply because readers interpret disability as a negative characteristic, but because they presume they can understand the total value of her life through it. She becomes a function of her disability, a synecdoche that signals an ableist orientation. The story teaches very little about Tracy Latimer’s condition, her quality of life, or even what her future might have held. Readers learn only that she was disabled, she had a condition that has a medical diagnosis, she lacked skills associated with everyday living, she had a small body, and her family believed she experienced a lot of pain. In our ableist culture, those signifiers of disability come with so much ideological baggage that they change the entire paradigm through which people understand the narrative. Were her disability considered simply another element of the story, whose relevance and significance needed to be considered carefully before they could be understood, such a shift would not be possible. Learning that Ms. Latimer had a disability would probably reveal an area that needs further investigation, but it could not stand alone as an explanation for what happened any more than would learning that she was black, lesbian, or impoverished. But within an ableist culture, the mere mention of disability can lead us to see the situation differently, and to interpret the events surrounding the end of her life through a whole new
ideological system. The epistemology, ideology, and vision all change: people know Tracy Latimer differently, evaluate her life differently, and picture her differently. Readers make assumptions about her quality of life that reflect little more than prejudices about disability. Because they believe they would not want to live in her shoes, they put themselves in her father’s. To understand ableism I analyze the change in orientation that occurs once Ms. Latimer’s condition is revealed, by discerning the assumptions that begin to operate as the rhetorical framework through which her story is understood. Disability is a loaded term, weighted down with tools and supplies sufficient for the task of making difference. In ableist culture it is one thing to kill your own child, but an entirely different thing to kill your own disabled child. Such baggage begs to be unpacked. I seek to unload the term “disability” by casting attention on ableism itself and on the rhetorical mechanisms through which it operates. Scholars define these terms—ableism and rhetoric—in a wide variety of ways, and since they form the matrix of this project, I next explain how I use them in this study. I do not argue that my way of defining these and the critical terms that make up the definitions should be preferred or are in any way more correct than alternatives. I specify my ways of understanding ableism and rhetoric to clarify my own approach and to position it among the work of other disability studies scholars and rhetoricians. Ableism Scholars define ableism, like any complex concept, in different ways that allow them to conduct the work of their particular projects. The result is a range of ideas about what we mean by the term. As Campbell notes, “There is little consensus as to what practices and behaviours constitute ableism.”14 But the various definitions of ableism found in the literature do not weaken the term’s primary value, because they all link ableism to the negative connotations that provide the word with its primary political, social, and rhetorical power. Disability studies and ableism studies share the goal of convincing people that ableism has a destructive, unethical, and intolerable connotation, which furthers the project of transforming disability into a positive term describing a common facet of human life and a valuable component of human diversity. However scholars define ableism, we agree on its fundamental nature as a critical problem that needs to be understood and addressed. Moreover, a variety of different definitions motivates and enables in-depth examination of the idea from distinct perspectives and lines of analysis. By defining ableism in even subtly different ways, scholars can more precisely shape their perspectives employed in their research, which produces more opportunity for discussing with and learning from each other. By extension, multiple definitions may even enhance the word’s impact because different perspectives of ableism will identify more places where it can and should be challenged. The definition I offer should not be the only one people invent,
understand, and employ. I choose it because it focuses on the rhetorically constructed roots of ableism as the core justifications for the attitudes and practices of discrimination against disabled people. I define ableism specifically as an orientation that considers physical deviation from a presupposed norm as a lack. I see it as a system of discrimination that rhetorically invents and employs the idea of a “normal body” and treats physical deviance from that norm as lacking something that all other nondisabled people share. Ableism involves ways of knowing, valuing, and seeing the so-called “abnormal” body as inferior. By extension, ableist discrimination places the “normal” body at the top of an ideological hierarchy, isolates any deviant body as the oppressed Other, and protects this arrangement by denying its presence while promoting practices based upon it. While ableism most clearly targets “severely” disabled people, it also tends to exclude people with any disability perceived as a relevant element of a situation. Although I developed my definition years before I encountered the one used by Campbell, our concepts of ableism are remarkably similar. Campbell defines it as “a network of beliefs, processes and practices that produces a particular kind of self and body (the corporeal standard) that is projected as the perfect, species-typical and therefore essential and fully human. Disability is then cast as a diminished state of being human.”15 Campbell and I share the point of view that the core of ableism is an idealized norm that defines what it means to be human, that those who do not fit that norm are disabled, and that the disabled are cast as lacking something they are supposed to have. In my work, I extend this concept of “lack” to explore how ableist rhetoric promotes discrimination against people who have extraordinary abilities in much the same way that it oppresses people perceived as disabled. The ableist tendency to discriminate, at varying degrees, against any body deemed abnormal affords the opportunity to examine any deviation from the norm as subject to ableist oppression. The normalized identity of the able body at the center of ableist thinking sees only itself as pure. Although society traditionally associates only disability with lack, I view any body lacking the form of the “normal” body as deviant—even those bodies that exceed the form in some “extraordinary” or even “superhuman” way. A body exhibiting parts, skills, or abilities not shared by the majority of its population may be called a freak or a sport, but it too will be treated differently from the normal body, much like the body lacking parts, skills, or abilities shared by the majority of the population. A radically different body that has unconventional skills may be discriminated against, oppressed, and isolated. Medical science may seek to cure and correct it, children can be taught to be shocked or repulsed by it, many will pity the person “forced to live” in it, and social institutions can isolate and constrain it.16 In the ableist mindset, having only one arm or having three pose the same problem. Put simply, any body that lacks the ability to be normal is abnormal and can thereby be subjected to ableist discrimination. As H. G. Wells made clear in
his famous story “The Country of the Blind,” society decides what is normal and seeks to correct that which is not, even when that deviance is the ability to see.17 I find it difficult to understate the predominance of ableism in Western culture. Ableism has become so culturally pervasive that we rarely encounter the word. Siebers notes that although some time has passed since disability activists and scholars “proposed the term ableism to name this prejudice,” it has not been accepted in general usage, and its use “elicits scowls and smirks, even in progressive society.”18 Disability has and continues to be interpreted, understood, and evaluated in a complex web of predominantly negative associations, but much of the time people do not consider this as discrimination because the strands of its web are largely invisible. Our culture is so used to its presence that many fail to recognize it until getting entangled in it by becoming disabled.19 Consider the example of stairs. Stairs are overwhelmingly accepted as a useful device that allows the efficient construction of multilevel houses and buildings. Growing up in an ableist culture, I thought little of stairs, or even saw them as elegant architectural devices—especially those grand marble masterpieces that elevate buildings of state, like the steps of the U.S. Capitol. But I now read stairs as a discriminatory apparatus—as if they were tagged with a “For Walkies Only” sign that only those looking for ableist practices can see—that makes their inevitable presence around government buildings a notso-subtle statement about who has and deserves access to our most important public spaces. As Siebers explains, “In a society of wheelchair users, stairs would be nonexistent, and the fact that they are everywhere in our society seems an indication only that most of our architects are able-bodied people who think unseriously about access.”20 The devices have become so ingrained in cultural assumptions about architecture that thinking of stairs as tools of oppression will strike many as ludicrous. But disability studies scholars view such ubiquitous things as stairs as the very origins of what society considers to be “disability.” They point out that someone who cannot climb stairs only becomes disabled after stairs are invented and become widely used. Once stairs are common and society constructs itself around their presence, the person who cannot gain access through them is excluded from certain areas and activities. In this way, someone is not disabled by their inability to use stairs; rather, society’s reliance on stairs as architectural devices disables the non–stair user. The availability of ramps and other devices that might be used instead of stairs means that the choice to build stairs reflects social assumptions about whom buildings should be built for, and who belongs in them. Until society sees ableist discrimination as a culturally generated and re-inforced system, people generally view disability itself as the problem. In effect, ableism becomes a problem only for disabled people, similar to the way racism is often treated as a problem only for people of color. Instead of seeing the absence of ramps as a problem faced by society as a whole because it undermines opportunities for interaction, commerce, and community, stairs are seen as a problem only for those who cannot walk. The
shift between these two perspectives requires a relatively small but profound movement, because it brings to light the operation of a system almost always overlooked. Just as studies of whiteness have revealed the invisibility of institutional and subtle racism, I seek to engage the problem of ableism by exposing the ideological foundations, assumptions, and thinking that perpetuate its existence.21 I do this by focusing on its rhetoric. Rhetoric Rhetoric is the second word at the center of my project. The range of ways that scholars have defined this word in their work varies greatly, and its ancient roots and disparate uses make it a much broader term than the much newer “ableism.” As above, I find this a useful state for scholarship, and I reiterate that I do not seek to discipline other scholars who wish to approach the concepts from different angles.22 My approach to rhetoric focuses on the way that it explains how a thing becomes meaningful—that is, how society comes to understand, evaluate, and perceive something—and I ground my application of the term in two concepts: ideology and warrants. Stuart Hall defined ideology as “the mental frameworks—the languages, the concepts, categories, imagery of thought, and systems of representation—which different classes and social groups deploy in order to make sense of, define, figure out and render intelligible the way society works.”23 This theory of ideology “helps us to analyse how a particular set of ideas comes to dominate the social thinking of a historical block . . . and maintain its dominance and leadership over society as a whole.” I find ideology thus described especially useful for explaining the hierarchies of dominance and subordination through which society organizes itself. As Hall writes, ideology “has especially to do with the concepts and the languages of practical thought which stabilize a particular form of power and domination; or which reconcile and accommodate the mass of the people to their subordinate place in the social formation.”24 Hall’s articulation of ideology provides an excellent basis for understanding ableism, which dominates the thinking of our society as a whole and operates as a discourse of power. Furthermore, ableism becomes most visible as a mental framework transmitted through rhetorical devices, including language, imagery, and systems of representation. In this sense, I propose to identify the primary rhetoric that generates an ableist response and sustains ableist culture. Every way of thinking about something—every perspective, value system, paradigm, and ideology— has its basis somewhere. We are not born thinking of things one way or the other, and we are taught to understand the world as we do. In other words, we learn meaning—it does not arise naturally from objects or relationships. In Hall’s words, “there is no one, final, absolute meaning—no ultimate signified, only the endlessly sliding chain of signification.”25 The rhetorician Kenneth Burke made the point in more dramatic terms: “Stimuli do not possess an absolute meaning. Even a set of signs indicating the likelihood of death by torture has another meaning in the orientation of a comfort-loving
skeptic than it would for the ascetic whose world-view promised eternal reward for martyrdom. Any given situation derives its character from the entire framework of interpretation by which we judge it.”26 If we consider ableism a framework of interpretation, we can identify its dimensions by examining the linguistic codes and rhetorical assumptions that govern interpretation. As Burke put it, “We discern situational patterns by means of the particular vocabulary of the cultural group into which we are born. Our minds, as linguistic products, are composed of concepts (verbally molded) which select certain relationships as meaningful.” From this perspective, meaning exists primarily as a function of language rather than a natural or necessary consequent of material objects or bodies. Indeed, as Burke concludes, “different frameworks of interpretation will lead to different conclusions as to what reality is.”27 I identify my work as an examination of ideology and rhetoric to situate it in the context of these and similar arguments. Whatever the factual—or material, or empirical, or scientific—status of disability, the main subject of importance in my project is its meaning. To engage that meaning, I work toward two interrelated goals: first, to identify the rhetorical practices and systems that continue to teach us and our children to see disability and the disabled from an ableist perspective, and, second, to provide a foundation for crafting ways to challenge ableism so that society might know, value, and see disability differently. By recognizing how certain ideas create ableist hegemony and systems that privilege ablebodied people, I locate a space where rhetorical pressure could contest this reified and institutionalized orientation. Identifying ableist rhetoric renders it visible and exposes it to a variety of responses. My application of rhetorical theory adopts what Stephen Toulmin called “warrants” as the aspect of rhetoric that locates and explains how interpretation works.28 Warrants are the assumed rules of interpretation called and recalled into practice by texts that rely on them to produce comprehension. Toulmin focused on the warrant as an element of an argument, where it connects the grounds of a position with the claim being made. Here “argument” refers to an assertion that someone offers as a statement of fact, assignment of value, and/or proposal to adopt a specific course of action. Someone who makes a claim (“Socrates is mortal”) grounds that position in data or information (“Socrates is human”), and the warrant is the reasoning that validates the connection between the two (“All humans are mortal”). In other words, warrants operate in the space between the message sent and the message received by forming the logic that connects things and concepts. But when I use it, I expand the theory of the warrant to include more than what it does in the context of a claim or message; I use it to explain what happens anytime someone makes sense of something. My concept of warrants rests on the assumption that audiences and readers always interpret information (broadly construed to include narratives, observations, data, displays, etc.) whenever assigning meaning or comprehending something. I use “comprehension” as a relative term, because an audience finds its interpretation to be a source of comprehension even if others view this interpretation
as flawed or inaccurate. Everyone seeking to comprehend something—such as an audience watching a performance, students reading a book, or people seeking to understand a perplexing encounter— constructs an interpretive framework from preexisting opinions, values, and views and applies these as warrants to determine what that thing means. In this sense of rhetorical action, something being understood becomes a text, and here I do not limit “text” to things that are spoken, written, or otherwise understood as a message. Literally anything that can be perceived or conceived can work as text, whether coded as a message or not. At least at the level of the warrant, interpretation works the same way when people make sense of what someone else communicates to them as it does when people assign value to what they encounter or think about. As identified in the first of its five classic canons, rhetoric practices “invention,” which means that it begins by collecting and weaving together arguments, ideas, and information to create a rhetorical stance.29 If we view rhetoric as ways of encouraging audiences to adopt a way of thinking about something (e.g., “viruses are alive,” “censorship is immoral,” or “social media should be regulated by the government”), then rhetoric works as an explanation for how meaning comes into being and circulates throughout a culture. But since rhetorical analysis generally examines the role of communication in perpetuating social views, it often uses the metaphor of spoken or written (i.e., linguistic) expression as a way of discerning and critiquing the messages involved. In the example above, the stairs “speak” a view of disability that becomes as clear as if they displayed a sign saying “For Walkies Only.” When an audience adopts an interpretive framework, it orients itself, rendering the text sensible from a particular perspective. When taking a point of view, an audience learns the warrants and replicates the perspective when it applies it to situations, issues, and objects beyond the immediate text. Thus, by interpreting a specific text, the audience shapes the general ways it encounters the world around it. Burke clarified the connection between the way an audience positions itself vis-à-vis the text and the way that audience views the world by using a single term—“orientation”—to describe both.30 When the ways of orienting and interpreting implicit in these warrants become widely used and familiar, they evolve into the normal, accepted, and expected assumptions available as cultural resources. As audiences generate additional texts by relying on and replicating the warrants, their reasoning comes to be expected as “common sense”—typically unquestioned foundations for practical ways of thinking in a culture. Gaining this status, warrants become generalized and escape the boundaries of a specific context and grow into ideas frequently used to interpret other texts. Every time a warrant slips from one immediate context to another, it becomes more reified—made more concrete and real—eventually producing interpretations that few ever question. Audiences employ them in all kinds of situations, but they tend to rely on them especially when encountering something they do not initially understand or when meaning seems unstable. When encountering ambiguity, an interpreter can render a
meaning more reasonable by adopting familiar and accepted warrants, whose generalizability appears to provide stability by suggesting commonality. A new and perplexing situation becomes less so when people orient themselves to it through readily accessible and well-established ways of thinking. As the meaning of the disabled body becomes more contested and destabilized, it is more likely to require the audience to interpret its meaning through the comfortably familiar and widely accepted ableist warrants. Thus, as disability studies challenges traditional ways of making sense of disability, reliance on these ableist ways of thinking may even become more common and their political power can be amplified. To resolve this dilemma, I work to expose the interpretive frameworks generating ableism to allow alternative meanings of disability to develop without being simultaneously undermined by the rearticulation of ableist warrants. Until the widespread rationale of ableism becomes evident and suspect, it can disrupt the project of encouraging people to rethink how to understand the disabled body. Generalizing warrants also reveals how they infiltrate and eventually saturate a variety of types of rhetoric. As noted earlier, a linguistic turn in academia led to the development of different ways of thinking about rhetoric. Three of these that have elicited substantial debate are epistemic rhetoric, ideological rhetoric, and visual rhetoric. The question of rhetoric as epistemic courted controversy over the ways that and extent to which words shape reality; the concern over ideological rhetoric centered on rhetoric’s place along the traditional divide between (false) ideology and materiality; and visual rhetoric moved rhetoricians’ gazes from discourse to images. For these to develop into mature lines of inquiry, scholars focused on these individually and in depth, which can encourage thinking of these as isolated and relatively separate rhetorical practices and theories. While many if not most rhetorical scholars treat the epistemic, ideological, and visual as overlapping if not congruent categories, researching them separately tends to suggest that they work in fundamentally different ways. Because the rhetoric of ableism offers an opportunity to theorize the action of the same warrants applied generally across all three dimensions, studying it can work in the opposite direction and reveal essential characteristics they share. In other words, the ableist rhetoric I explore does not fit nicely into any of these categories, and it exhibits epistemic, ideological, and visual characteristics. Ableism is epistemic rhetoric: it is a way of knowing and locating disabled and normal bodies and the realities associated with them. Ableism is also ideological rhetoric: it is a way of thinking about and evaluating disability. Ableism is finally visual rhetoric: it is a way of seeing and envisioning disability and disabled people. While at times I may focus on one of these facets more than the others, each of these related senses of rhetoric are at work in all of the texts examined here. This provides an opportunity to explore relationships between these different types of rhetoric, and examining generalized warrants reveals how the epistemic, ideological, and visual are like facets on a single jewel that can never be separated. Examining the operation of ableism—as the
machinery through which disability is known, evaluated, and observed—suggests an approach to the study of rhetoric, ideology, and culture as a whole that could be used to address many systems of discrimination. Engaging these three rhetorics in the same project also suggests why legislative measures and other steps toward reducing ableism have struggled to accomplish this end. I contend that contemporary attempts to move away from ableism remain limited because they do not confront these three dimensions simultaneously. The epistemic, ideological, and visual components of ableist rhetoric entwine ways of knowing, evaluating, and seeing to create a powerful web that resists change unless all three strands are addressed at the same time. Leaving one or two of the strands untouched allows those to reinscribe ableist modes of interpretation. For example, it is not enough to simply envision the disabled body differently if one continues to evaluate and think about it in the same way. Similarly, changing how society evaluates disabled people but continuing to look with horror upon disability as the inevitable demise of bodies does little to alter ableist culture. Finally, knowing disability as a natural condition does not challenge ableism if people continue to evaluate and view the disabled as they do now. This requires a whole new way of seeing, valuing, and knowing the meaning of disability. When ableist warrants remain accepted ways of thinking in the culture, they limit the capacity of antidiscrimination measures. Because they shape the direction of such discursive activities as public debate by policymakers and judicial decisions in legal cases, ableist reasoning operates as the framework of interpretation through which many disability related policies are developed, understood, and put into action. It is fairly easy to establish that disabled people in most contemporary societies live in poor conditions. In the United States, unemployment, discriminatory victimization, objectification as subjects of pity, and limited opportunities for participation in public life are extremely common problems faced by the disabled. Simply put, people considered able-bodied enjoy greater status and opportunities than people considered disabled. In the United States, legislation such as the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) attempted to address these inequities. But after this act became law, the situation faced by most disabled people improved very slowly and in some cases worsened. While the law ensured that many accessible facilities replaced physical barriers to public life, such institutional changes did not translate into a better life for disabled people. For example, in the decade following passage of the ADA, unemployment among disabled people increased.31 Part of the problem appeared to be flaws in the ADA itself, which had led to a number of Supreme Court cases that limited the presumed scope of the law and worked to protect employers from lawsuits. But even after the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 (PL 110–325) sought “to restore the intent and protections” of the ADA by removing these flaws, the economic status of the disabled remains far from equal. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that in 2018 only 19.1 percent of
disabled persons were employed, compared with 65.9 percent of the able-bodied population.32 I do not suggest that legislative efforts like these are pointless, but these results suggest we should consider how widespread ableism can undermine the success of any policy measure that fails to address the root causes of this discrimination. At the very least, recognizing the widespread presence of ableist rhetoric rejects the idea that discrimination against the disabled can be easily dismissed as an architectural problem that can be resolved through appropriate legislation and policies. In this sense, calling attention to ableist rhetoric is a “radical” step, incorporating both the political connotation and classical denotation of this word derived from the Latin for “root.” Recognizing ableism reaches toward and rips at the roots of common sense, reasonable thinking, and rational decision making. Many have sought to recondition ableist thinkers, reeducate ableist students, reengineer ableist structures, and retrofit ableist buildings within the context of our current moral, political, and legal systems. Many have questioned ableist excesses, especially when these become apparent in moments of crisis, and reformers have worked to curb these overt acts of discrimination. But in the context of an ableist culture, their efforts often become moderate steps designed to resolve an immediate problem rather than attacks on the core problem of ableism. This approach can even protect the roots of ableism, allowing it to grow and survive. Until the roots of ableism are exposed, the only approaches available to those who would combat ableism are partial measures. Even as our civilization has made much progress in its egalitarian search for equality, society remains firmly attached to ableist ideals. These warrants have become natural, accepted, even necessary aspects of understanding disability. In our culture, ableism is physically architectural as we traditionally build our houses, buildings, and public spaces with ableist assumptions about their users. It is also metaphorically architectural. Our most powerful social institutions— medicine, religion, sport, and government—have been built around concepts of normal and ideal bodies, the importance of physical power, and the need for individuals to have well-developed abilities so they can contribute to collective actions for the common good. As I demonstrate at length in chapters 2 through 4, those who lack these qualities are regularly excluded from public activities and spaces. Recognizing such fundamental ideas as ableist thinking is a radical move, but it is the only way to challenge ableism at its roots. Engaging the rhetoric of generalized commonsensical reasoning grounded in the foundations of a culture is also difficult because it tends to be invisible against the backdrop of what almost everyone knows and accepts. This creates a conceptual problem: to identify ableism we need to make sense of ideas that have become so accepted they can limit our own perspectives. To render ableism visible requires a new way of seeing, and we must develop that orientation while examining things that we can only fully recognize as ableist once that view is developed. Recognizing ableism requires a shift in
orientation, a perceptual gestalt framed by the term “ableism” itself. We are required to step outside of the rhetorical ground bounded by ableist assumptions in order to recognize ableism as a destructive and dangerous perspective. This makes it hard to convince others of ableism’s presence and pervasiveness. The same texts that scream ableism to those perceiving it are usually read innocently or naively by those who interpret them unthinkingly through an ableist viewpoint. Simply calling attention to the relevant warrants does not in itself demonstrate their discriminatory nature, so proving the presence of ableist reasoning requires that one already accept these ideas as ableist. Within ableist culture, ableism is a natural, necessary, and ultimately moral perspective required for the normal functioning of civilization— and it can be very hard to escape its limitations. In rhetorical terms, this invisibility problem denotes a rhetoric that denies its own rhetoricity. Researchers have addressed this issue in areas like the rhetorics of science and judicial philosophy. Michael Calvin McGee and John R. Lyne used the term “antirhetoric” to describe the “cool, comfortably neutral technical reason (associated in the public mind with computing machines and sterile laboratories)” that scientists since Plato have sought to perfect.33 As McGee and Lyne make clear, antirhetorics are still a form of rhetoric, whose “appeal to objective knowledge and its accompanying denunciation of rhetoric is one of the most effective rhetorical strategies.”34 Similarly, in their study of the Law and Economics movement, Edward M. Panetta and Marouf Hasian Jr. defined “anti-rhetoric” as “any foundational quest for truth that privileges itself as the only or primary ‘rational,’ ‘objective,’ and ‘neutral’ means of acquiring epistemic knowledge.”35 Practitioners of antirhetorics deny their own rhetoricity so as to appear value-neutral, mere conduits of the truth, who, by being above the sticky political world of rhetoric, are not tainted with its excesses. But ableist rhetoric does not even need to make claims denying its own rhetoricity. It is so accepted that it does not require a defense, and it speaks without being given voice. It literally goes without saying, which is a rather remarkable thing for a rhetoric to do. Its silent pervasiveness becomes just part of the accepted ways of knowing, evaluating, and seeing. It becomes part of the generalized and accepted commonsensical orientations that a culture encourages people to adopt as conventions. It provides the warrants that audiences turn to when interpreting something as a text, especially when encountering one that does not fit nicely with the familiar things they encounter every day. Exposing it as rhetoric creates space for moving away from ableist culture, but until the culture at large accepts this, it will continue to provide the interpretive framework through which accessible structures and antidiscrimination laws are developed and deployed. In summary, the meaning of disability arises out of the application of ableist warrants when readers, viewers, and/or hearers interpret something as a text in order to comprehend it. These rhetorical warrants are part of a coherent system (what Hall labels “ideology”), and they become the given and accepted
ways of reading and interpreting texts in ableist culture. Repeated use of these warrants over extended periods of time establishes them as elementary knowledge and common sense, which reifies them as invisible, taken-for-granted truths taught by texts that require particular ways of knowing, valuing, and seeing. This rhetoric becomes the mechanism that transmits an ableist orientation from one generation to the next, and the warrants grow into the deeply buried roots of ableist culture. As these warrants generate the commonsensical assumptions that inform cultural understanding, they have the potential to displace and render meaningless the various attempts to alter perception through laws, positive images of disability, or memorable political slogans. However, once recognized, the warrants’ rhetorical action suggests how they can be changed. As rhetoric, they remain places of invention, which means they also provide a place for articulating new ways of interpreting. Or, to sum this up in another way, in ableist culture one need not be told to think differently about Tracy Latimer’s death. It is enough to simply identify the condition of her body, and that cues a reinterpretation of the narrative to one that rearticulates what readers should know as the critical facts, shifts the evaluation of Robert Latimer’s act, and reimagines his daughter as a disabled child instead of simply a child. One thinks differently about her not because people rewrite the entire story, but because her disability changes everything. Ableist culture has whispered the rest of the story in our ears since we were born. But once we know these whispers as ableist rhetoric, Tracy Latimer cannot be so easily understood merely by learning that she had cerebral palsy. Instead, introducing this element into the narrative simply generates new questions. Why was she in such pain? Was the Latimer family not aware of drugs and therapies that could have alleviated it? If they were aware, what ideas or material limitations stopped them from obtaining and providing them? How can pain—a quality that is nearly universal in the human experience—become so horrific that it can justify putting someone to death? Why was her quality of life so poor? What could have been done in her home, community, and society to improve it? To what extent did ableist assumptions lead to her father’s apparent belief that causing her death was the only appropriate solution? The critical position developed in this project raises these and similar questions to problematize the Latimer narrative, making it incomprehensible instead of acceptable.
The Three Warrants In this book I investigate three rhetorical warrants of ableist culture that I identify by the essential relationships they express: deviance is evil, normal is natural, and body is able. Deviance is evil refers to the religiously based interpretation of deviant bodies as punishment for sin or as marked by demonic possession. While we may attempt to consign such views to an ignorant past, I will show how they live
on in the contemporary traditions of criminalizing deviance and in the genre of stories about possession. Normal is natural refers to the practice of naturalizing “normal” behavior, viewing the “normal body” as a natural construct, and regarding any deviation from the norm as “freaks of nature” or violations of “natural law.” Unlike deviance is evil, this norm remains so viable today that most readers today will not question its reasonability. Body is able refers to the continuing practice of equivocating ability with skill, and the assumptions made about the capacity of a body once it is labeled “disabled.” This last warrant seems so commonsensical that many will reject my critique of it as absurd. These three guidelines shape the interpretation of the disabled body as unholy, unnatural, and unable. This results in an extremely negative orientation toward being or becoming disabled, and from this perspective arise the discriminatory attitudes and activities associated with an ableist culture. Although I firmly believe that other rhetorical warrants play a role in ableist culture, I seek to expose a substantial part of the rhetoric of ableism by examining each of these in more depth, tracing their history, demonstrating their transmission, and showing how they play a role in the contemporary status of disability. As a rhetorical critic, I demonstrate the operation of these warrants by examining texts that orient audiences by having them adopt these principles. For each warrant, I analyze a historical text that I expect very few readers will know and a contemporary text that most will recognize and some will know quite well. I chose the specific contemporary pieces in part because of their ready accessibility and popularity, and also because of their presence in powerful cultural institutions. Deviance is evil, the focus of chapter 2, appears in the possession narrative, most dramatically expressed in the iconic book and film The Exorcist (1973), which has crafted a genre that continues to appear in pop culture. This warrant arises in the institution of religion and the spiritual, metaphysical, and supernatural ideas that ableist culture connects to images of disabled and disfigured bodies. Normal is natural, explored in chapter 3, plays a significant role in debate over whether the cochlear implant should be used in children born deaf, especially in the image of the cyborg found in that controversy. This warrant appears in the institution of government, where laws and policies are shaped by what most perceive as natural ways of acting that society must encourage. Body is able, the subject of chapter 4, repeatedly arises in the relationship of disability and sport, particularly as engaged in the U.S. federal case over whether Casey Martin should use a cart while golfing on the Professional Golf Association Tour and Oscar Pistorius’s international case to use his prosthetic legs and compete in the able-bodied Olympics. The cultural institution of sport, whose rhetorical functions have only recently gained substantial attention by scholars, has an explicit relationship with how bodies are understood, valued, and seen.36 I chose the historical texts I critique for a more complex set of reasons. By closely reading these texts as moments in the ideological development of Western culture, I locate early iterations of the three warrants. I do not try to draw an unbroken line connecting these texts to the present, nor do I claim that
these are the primary texts that historically produced ableism. I am also unconcerned with the issue of cause, and the related concerns of intent, blame, or responsibility. My analyses move beyond what might be considered the authorial intent of those who crafted these texts. Instead, I chose these texts by adopting a premise articulated well by Michel Foucault: “What counts in the things said by men is not so much what they may have thought or the extent to which these things represent their thoughts, as that which systematizes them from the outset, thus making them thereafter endlessly accessible to new discourses and open to the task of transforming them.”37 The texts I chose present the warrants I expose as systems of interpretation relied upon to make sense of a confounding situation, yet their interpretations are no longer considered valid. Thus, they reveal the warrants in a way that encourages people to reassess the viability of this ableist rhetoric, suggesting places where society might radically revise how disability comes to be understood. To this end I analyze three historical works: Cotton Mather’s published sermon Memorable Providences, Aristotle’s treatise Generation of Animals, and Alexander Graham Bell’s study Memoir Upon the Formation of a Deaf Variety of the Human Race. They are by no means the only texts that espouse and rely on the ableist warrants that I wish to examine. Indeed, if my thesis holds any water at all, they merely float on the surface. But each shared the following characteristics that I believe make them particularly useful for this project. First, each of these documents was important in its own time, and the documents spanned Western history from the early records of the Ancient Greek period until the early modern era in nineteenthcentury America. Aristotle’s work played a central role in the development of his program of natural science and is recognized as the first significant text in teratology (the study of monsters). Many historians contend that both Mather’s popular sermon and his subsequent role in the event encouraged the hysterical chaos of the Salem Witch Trials. Bell’s elaborate argument to the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) in 1883 correlates with influential changes in conventional practices for educating deaf students and helped lay the foundation for the eugenics movement that began that same year with Sir Francis Galton’s coining of the term. Second, all three share an explicit scientific and rational ethos. Aristotle would become the influential father of natural science, Mather was known as a member of the intellectual elite for having graduated from Harvard at age fifteen and for writing extensively in the idiom of empirical research, and the noted inventor Bell used statistical data and scientific language to construct a paper presented to and published by the leading scientific organization in America at the time. This ethos is important because science occupies a powerful position in Western culture, and is often simplistically understood as the objective, unbiased, and systematic pursuit of the truth. As discussed above, science rhetorically denies its own rhetoricity. It accomplishes this by relying on and perpetuating already accepted warrants that
few question, which means their interpretive schemes do not taint the text’s scientific “objective” ethos. In other words, the comfortable presence of the warrants amidst these texts’ claims to scientific objectivity implies the degree to which ableism has been accepted as commonsensical, valid, and true ways of understanding the world. Furthermore, the presence of these warrants in privileged scientific texts tends to validate them. As Robert Garland observes: “Modern science has often served merely to reinforce our cultural presuppositions.”38 Third, consistent with this scientific ethos, each of these works exhibits a strong degree of certainty, a zeal for its argument, and a complete lack of doubt as to its conclusions. These authors express complete confidence in their claims. The works become a simple exercise of copiously providing proof, as if the audience will have no choice but to agree once merely presented with the evidence. What these authors choose as proof clearly identifies the rhetorical warrants on which they rely to craft their argument. Without these warrants, their proof ceases to support their positions. In effect, these authors’ conviction denotes a firm belief in the clarity and appropriateness of their way of knowing, valuing, and seeing; it indicates unconditional adoption of ableist thinking. Public acceptance of these texts therefore testifies to the widespread acceptance of ableist rhetoric. Today we should easily consider the zealous certainty voiced about the scientific validity of these works as mistaken allegiance, for our current scientific views discredit all of their essential claims. Aristotle’s explanation of procreation, Mather’s defense of demonic possession, and Bell’s rationale for eugenics all fundamentally conflict with contemporary scientific doctrine. Even a layperson would recognize that these texts are filled with archaic interpretations of human bodies and biology. Perhaps seeds of ableism’s deconstruction can be sown by recognizing the strong acceptance of its warrants among bodies of knowledge completely disavowed by modern society. Finally, in each of these instances, the impact of ableist rhetoric becomes rather visible and easy to reject. While you may have trouble identifying contemporary culture as oppressively ableist, you will have little difficulty finding these moments troubling. The events surrounding these texts are consigned to remain in the past because they present dark periods from which people wish to distance themselves. The Salem Witch Trials, the proverbial (and exaggerated) practice of infanticide by exposure, and the eugenics movement are all things that society as a whole now condemns. Linking these moments to ableist rhetoric, and revealing that same rhetoric in contemporary texts and practices, tends to show that the oppression of back then continues now. The science may have changed, the hate may not be so vocal, and the penalties may not be so inhumane, but the warrants that guided interpretation continue to propagate ableism today.
Postscript: A Word About Words
As a rhetorician I am very sensitive to the power of names and words, and deliberately chose to use phrases such as “disabled people” and “the disabled” in this book. I selected these terms over the now common “person-first” language, which employs phrases such as “people with disabilities” with the logic that identifying subjects as persons before noting their disability will prioritize their humanity. Proponents of person-first language argue that using the term “the disabled” tends to reduce people to a mere category identified by their condition, and that “disabled people” syntactically prioritizes disability over personhood. In theory, person-first language implicitly critiques the medical model, which conflates a person and their disability, because it approaches someone first as a person rather than as a broken body that needs to be fixed. When originally developed, using person-first language challenged the conventions of ableist discourse that dehumanized people, and thus called attention to it. Saying or writing “person who is blind” instead of “the blind” sounds awkward and unwieldy to an ableist culture conditioned to think that a disability defines a person. In this context, using person-first phrases made an important statement and encouraged hearers and readers to consider the reasons why someone would willingly speak and write in this unconventional manner. For these reasons I formerly encouraged person-first language in my writing and classrooms, and I defended the practice in my dissertation. At the time I argued that I could best support the challenge to ableist culture by using language that deviated from typical ableist terminology. But person-first language is not without its problems or critics, and these have convinced me to instead use such terms as “disabled people” and “the disabled” in this book as a rhetorical practice that challenges ableist rhetoric. One problem with person-first language is that it risks reifying negative connotations of disability because it implicitly accepts the ableist idea that disability lessens value. The idea that putting disability first undermines personhood relies on the ableist assumption that something is wrong with being disabled. If we view disability as a neutral or positive term, then it should not undermine someone’s status and there would be no reason to put the person first and disability second. We would not object to calling someone an “outstanding student,” “exceptional athlete,” or “best friend,” and we do not express a preference for phrases like “person who is an outstanding student,” “person with exceptional athletic skills,” or “person who is my best friend.” In other words, using the adjective “disabled” as a neutral or even positive description is one way of following Foucault’s suggestion that we open the existing discursive practices to new meanings to transform the culture that uses such words and texts. Additionally, the phrase “people with disabilities” may counterproductively displace attention from the ableist social oppression that it seeks to challenge. Linguistically putting the person first obscures the way that society generally treats disabled people as second-class citizens. Brendan Gleeson, among
others, suggests that the term “disabled people” foregrounds the way that society strips humanity from the disabled though oppressive ableist practices.39 In this view, the label “disabled people” activates a political orientation just as the phrase “oppressed people” calls immediate attention to the primary reason for discussing the group in the first place. Putting “disabled” first identifies people who face ableist discrimination on multiple levels all of the time, while “people with disabilities” are secure in their personhood and incidentally have an idiosyncratic difference that only partially impacts how they live. Person-first language deflects attention from the way that ableist society discriminates, and the ways that it is people’s disabilities that makes them the target of ableism. For many, using person-first language connotes sensitivity to disability issues and demonstrates a desire to avoid appearing offensive. As a result, it has become the standard in the “politically correct” vernacular, which I view as its greatest flaw. Using terms because they appear “p.c.” becomes a substitute for genuine consideration of the feelings and views of the people described. In America the political right pretends that the left created the concept of political correctness, but it was conservative scholars, pundits, and radio talk show hosts that popularized this phrase as a pejorative way of mocking the political strategies of identity politics and other practices that recognized the power of names and words. We should choose our words carefully, but we fail to do so when we select terms that provide the superficial veneer of sensitivity while allowing us to avoid actually thinking about the views of the people who might be offended.
2 Fearing Disability and the Possession Narrative
On August 22, 2003, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, eight-year-old Terrance Cottrell Jr. was asphyxiated during an exorcism performed by minister Ray Hemphill.1 Cottrell had been held down by his mother and two other members of the Faith Temple Church of Apostolic Faith, while Hemphill allegedly placed his knee on and later lay across the boy’s chest while repeatedly saying that the “Demon should leave him.”2 Hemphill explained to detectives that he had to pin Terrance down to keep him from kicking and screaming, and that Terrance was very strong.3 The criminal complaint stated that Hemphill told authorities that “for the final hour, he lay chest-to-chest with Terrance until becoming exhausted and rising from the boy” when he discovered that Cottrell was no longer breathing.4 The fatal “prayer service” was at least the ninth and possibly the twelfth such session that members had performed on Cottrell in the previous three weeks.5 Although the death was ruled a homicide, District Attorney E. Michael McCann elected to charge Hemphill with felony child abuse because he could not prove that Hemphill “realized his actions presented a ‘great likelihood’ of causing great bodily harm or death.”6 Hemphill was convicted, and on August 20, 2004, was sentenced to two and a half years in prison and seven and a half years state supervision, fined $1,224.75, and ordered to refrain from conducting exorcisms until he received “extensive training” in them.7 Terrance Cottrell had been diagnosed with autism at age two. Like many autistic children, he “hated to be touched and was often unable to express his needs.”8 This tragedy testifies that the concepts of possession and exorcism remain a part of contemporary Western culture. Commentators were quick to confine the act to the fringe, pointing out that the “independent,” small “strip-mall,” or “storefront” church was “not affiliated with any larger organization of Pentecostal or Apostolic churches,” that neither Hemphill nor his associate pastor had any formal religious training, and that Ray had been ordained by his brother David Hemphill.9 David Daniels, a history of religion professor at McCormick Theological Seminary, noted that “the fact that they were not even in an informal training process means that they are without . . . any sense of what norms are or without any sense of how one reads different texts.”10 Cottrell’s case may be rare in contemporary American society, but simply pushing it to the side ignores complex and important ableist rhetoric taught and sustained by narratives of possession and exorcism. Those who see Cottrell as autistic see him
differently from those who see him as possessed, but simply validating the former perspective and dismissing the latter merely obscures the interpretations made visible in possession stories. While actual cases of possession and exorcism may now be uncommon, the fiction genre I label “the possession narrative” can be found throughout Western culture, where it forms one of the most recognizable and consistent types of horror fantasy. In this chapter, I demonstrate that instead of operating without an accepted framework, the actions by Hemphill and the other participants reveal how deviance is evil plays a key role in the interpretive scheme employed in possession narratives. As trial judge DiMotto told Hemphill at the sentencing, “all [Terrance Cottrell] could do was struggle and you interpreted that as demonic.”11 The Cottrell exorcism and the possession narrative genre reveal how the ways of knowing, valuing, and—in particular—seeing disability play a substantial role in perpetuating ableism. Society can label the possession narrative “fiction,” and its reasoning “irrational,” but the visual rhetoric that intertwines them exposes the way that this “equipment for living” continues to create meaning, distinguish value, and shape experience.12 Ableist responses and thinking are related to the way disability is seen, which makes visual rhetoric a critical dimension of ableist culture. Robert Murphy argues that one of the original experiences that teach an ableist orientation is the disciplining of the child caught looking at the body of a person with a disability. “Children are quite understandably curious about disabled people and often stare at them, only to have their parents yank their arms and say, ‘Don’t look.’ ”13 The lesson is powerful, for “Nothing could better communicate to a child a sense of horror for disability; the condition is so terrible that one cannot speak about it or even look at it.” Over time, the response becomes a physical reflex, as “People recoil from us, especially when there is facial damage or bodily distortion.” Thus, ableist “sentiments that appear to be spontaneous and ‘natural’ because they seem to violate our values and upbringing” are revealed instead as learned attitudes, dictated by a response to the act of looking.14 Western film and literature have long recognized this fearful response to seeing the disabled body and often exploit it through conventional stereotypes that display villainous characters with some disability or disfigurement. Characters like Captain Hook and Dr. No continue a stereotypical tradition easily traced to Long John Silver and Richard III. As Paul K. Longmore writes: “Disability has often been used as a melodramatic device. . . . Among the most persistent is the association of disability with malevolence. Deformity of body symbolizes deformity of soul. Physical handicaps are made the emblems of evil.”15 Several have identified similar uses of disability in their studies of television, literature, and film.16 As Jack A. Nelson aptly described the convention: “Any television viewer knows that when a maimed or hook-armed character shows up on the screen, it’s a good bet that he will end up one of the bad guys.”17
Various scholars conclude that at the heart of this visual rhetoric is a religious perspective that sees and reads physical imperfection as evidence of moral imperfection. Claire Liachowitz explains that “classical literary representations of handicapped people are almost invariably marked by the grossly stereotypical attributes of sin and evil and weakness.”18 Ruth Mellinkoff catalogues extensively the appearance of various physical distortions and disabilities in Northern European art of the late middle ages. She argues that “disease, deformity, and physical features different from those of the majority were linked with evil and sin, and so it is not surprising to find these alleged imperfections attached in artistic representations to historical, legendary, and contemporary figures who were viewed as ignoble or evil.”19 In some cases, this interpretation influences the way that sickness is viewed outside of the artistic tradition. Susan Sontag explores one example between disease and “the night side of life” in her book Illness as Metaphor.20 Mellinkoff maintains that this artistic tradition was not particular to the period on which she focuses, tracing “an amazingly consistent pattern of thought [that] has persisted in Western society, from at least as early as ancient Greece into our own time.”21 Leslie Fiedler, in his elaborate historical study of the social role of “Freaks,” notes that the equation of deformity and evil is especially prevalent in Christian theology. Unlike other members of polytheistic religions, which could identify “anomalous births” as “avatars of equally freakish gods,” monotheistic Christians needed to justify the paradoxical presence of monstrous birth defects in a world created solely by a perfect God.22 Fiedler argues that Christians were forced to explain congenital deformity in one of three ways: “as signs of God’s wrath, occasioned by sin; as a reminder that each birth was as miraculous as the original Creation; and as omens and portents, intended for our good.” Of these, “the view of Freaks as tokens of the Lord’s vengeance or as instruments of the Devil was especially strong” throughout the early history of the United States.23 The traditional relationship of disability and sin discussed by these researchers reveals the historical strength of the association of deviance and evil. Deviance is evil becomes particularly visible in the possession narrative, because the genre’s success depends on readers or viewers interpreting physical deviance as evidence of an uncontrollable spirit. In these stories, the deviant body does not merely suggest which characters will turn out to be malevolent. For the audience to believe in the possession, it must read the possessed body’s physical and psychic abnormality as proof of a spiritual Other’s presence. Viewers and readers who fail to interpret the deviant body as evil will not understand the conventional narrative at all as they cannot perceive that the victim is possessed. Even in the rare case where the possessing spirit is not evil—as in Rupert Wainwright’s film Stigmata (1999)—the body has been unwillingly “invaded” by another consciousness. The rare possession narrative where the possessing entity turns out to be beneficent performs an ironic inversion of the genre’s conventions, which testifies to its centrality to the generic form. In such stories
the presence of that spirit must be perceived as evil (typically by key characters in the plot) so the interpretive frame operates as an essential part of the coherent narrative even when the possessing spirit is good.24 The necessity of the warrant arises from the problem of how to reveal that which cannot be seen. Authors of possession narratives convince their audiences to identify a person as possessed by an invisible evil spirit by displaying visible bodily abnormalities as signifying that evil influence. This task shapes the entire possession story. Unlike most texts that symbolically link disability and criminality, monstrosity, or immorality, the possession narrative requires the audience to adopt the ableist perspective that deviance is evil in order to comprehend the story. The possession narrative puts a face on evil, teaching audiences to recognize that face by its extreme deviance from the “norm,” and without this action the possession cannot even be perceived. The deviant bodies portrayed in possession narratives are so extreme that they are usually not considered disabled at all. In the possession film audiences stare voyeuristically without guilt because the obvious ableist nature of such staring evaporates when the story replaces the character’s disability with evidence of possession. The narrative transforms the body from one recognized as disabled to one identified as possessed, which frees the audience’s gaze from the social codes described by Murphy. The child taught to look away can look openly with all the pleasure of the voyeur when seeing possession instead of disability. But whether or not audiences consider possession stories as disability narratives, I maintain they should be considered ableist narratives that rely on and perpetuate the rhetoric that deviance is evil. When linked via this ableist rhetoric, the relevance of possession stories to disability becomes clear. That most would not think of these narratives as tied to disability reveals the norm’s cultural acceptance, and cases like that of Terrance Cottrell show how dangerous it can be when it frames how deviant bodies are seen. The possession narrative deserves attention for two additional reasons. First, among the case studies I engage in this book, the possession narrative most explicitly connects ableist rhetoric and mental disabilities. Although the deviance displayed is physical, the underlying cause is a mental condition in which the possessed person loses her or his mind to the invading spirit. It is this loss of mental control that makes the deviance of possession so threatening. Second, the gendered dynamics of the narrative and the stereotypes it uses provide an additional example where disability fits among the classifications explored by intersectionality theory. Several scholars have pointed out that disabled women are subjected to sexism as well as ableism, often facing the two forms of discrimination simultaneously.25 The possession narrative typically genders its stock characters along the power relations of a patriarchal system. The usually female and/or youthful possessed person is saved by the almost-always adult male
exorcist, and, even when the possessed character is male, the aggressively and uniformly masculine possessing spirit penetrates and enters the host in a psychic rape. I develop these arguments further in this chapter’s conclusion as extensions of my primary position. To explore the dynamics of the deviance is evil interpretation, I analyze Cotton Mather’s 1689 published sermon “Memorable Providences, Relating to Witchcrafts and Possessions” and the 1971 book and the 1973 film version of William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist.26
Seeing Deviance as Evil in Cotton Mather’s Memorable Providences The action and power of deviance is evil becomes spectacularly visible in one of the most famous episodes of public activity on the North American continent based on belief in possession: the Salem Witch Trials. The trials puzzle scholars for a variety of reasons, but the escalation of the accusations into the widespread fervor and panic that marked them is among the most perplexing. Historians have noted that the events in Salem diverged widely from similar contemporaneous cases in which widespread skepticism repudiated or contained accusations of witchcraft.27 Such cases raise the question of why the cries initially made by Elizabeth “Betty” Parris and her cousin Abigail Williams in 1692 were so influential. Explanations for the hysteria in Salem range from the significant political and social turmoil in the Massachusetts Bay Colony at the time to ergot poisoning of the local grain supply.28 But as Bernard Rosenthal points out, such narratives overlook the underlying problem of the reasons why “authorities actively supported the accusers rather than seeking to suppress them.”29 I contend that Cotton Mather’s Memorable Providences (MP) played an important role in the change of attitudes that set the stage for the authorities’ quick acceptance of witchcraft accusations. For reasons including the sermon’s popularity and references to it in contemporaneous accounts of the events in Salem, other researchers have linked MP to the hysteria that fueled the trials.30 But aside from noting these connections and recognizing the way that the text raised the specter of witchcraft in the public mind, these accounts of the 1692 trials do little to explain exactly how MP helped motivate the events. In my reading of MP, I argue it rhetorically promoted perception of unholy activity by firmly establishing the premise that deviance is evil, and that Mather’s scientific ethos legitimated it as an interpretive lens. MP stood as a testament, an interpretive guide, and a definitive collection of empirical, observable proof of witchcraft and how it appeared. While doubters disregarded the text, it became the bible for the believers, and the rhetorical warrant it embodied became accepted by authorities in the late seventeenth century. When the attitude toward witchcraft accusations changed, it did so through a widespread public convergence on how the various ailments “suffered” by the victims were understood.
Whatever intentions lay behind the cries of witchcraft, the warrant employed to see demonic activity at work was the same. In other words, while the hysteria was encouraged by a number of factors, it was marked by its consistent use of the deviance is evil rhetoric. In this way, the untimely appearance of the MP helps explain why these particular witch hunts grew into such a horrific debacle. In MP Mather copiously described a variety of disabling conditions and abnormal behaviors as signs of demonic possession. This technique reveals how deviance is evil works to negotiate the gap between religious views of evil and scientific ideas of proof. Mather, who was as much an intellectual and scientist as he was a preacher, turned to physical disabilities as empirical evidence of the existence of the Devil and his minions in this “Narrative of the marvellous Trouble and Releef Experienced by a pious Family in Boston, very lately and sadly molested with EVIL SPIRITS.”31 By providing the aura of scientific observation to his religious view of the severely deviant body as possessed, Mather presented the logic deviance is evil as a commonsense, unbiased, and necessary way of seeing the world. This move was not without its critics, and few of Mather’s works appear as controversial as those on witchcraft and possession. Both MP and his defense of the infamous Salem Witch Trials, The Wonders of the Invisible World (1693), elicited substantial criticism from his contemporaries.32 It is deceptively easy, from our modern perspective, to identify the subjects of these works—possession and witchcraft— as the cause of this controversy. But what made Mather’s work so controversial was his adamant insistence that he was providing empirical scientific proof of the existence of such phenomena. As a member of the intellectual elite since his graduation from Harvard College at age fifteen, where his father Increase Mather would later serve as the seventh president, and as a scholar trained in observation and the scientific method, Cotton Mather carried the ethos of a rational and reasonable empiricist. To the community of skeptics, his work on witchcraft was tantamount to intellectual treason: it validated beliefs that they described as baseless superstition by claiming to provide scientific proof of their veracity. In anticipation of this controversy, Mather explicitly adopts the persona of a scientist in MP.33 Throughout the work, Mather repeatedly affirms the truthfulness of the narrative, the credibility of its witnesses, and the validity of their accounts. In the “Dedicatory,” he defends his evidence as gained “partly by my own Ocular Observation, & partly my undoubted Information.”34 In their prefatory note “To the Reader,” Mather’s associates Morton, Allen, Moodey, and Williard lengthily expound: That which is recorded in this Narrative, is worthy to be commended to the Notice of Mankind, it being a thing in itself full of Memorable Passages, and faithfully recorded, according to the Truth in Matter of Fact, scarce any Instance being asserted in it, but what hath the evidence of many credible Witnesses, did need require. Among others who had frequent Occasions to observe these things, the Reverend Author of this short History . . . hath accordingly written very little besides
what Himself was an eye-witness of, together with others; and the rest was gathered up with much Accuracy and Caution.35 Additionally, Mather constantly reminds the reader of his presence as a witness by writing in the first person. Several references to unidentified “Spectators,” “Critical Eye-witnesses,” and “by-standers” further articulate the textual presence of observers. Mather’s reliance on the deviance is evil rhetoric may be less explicit than his claims to scientific observation, but it is no less pervasive in the text. Throughout MP, physical ability is discussed and identified in three different contexts. The first two, physical limitations or supernatural powers, are consistently associated with witchcraft or possession. The third, the ability of the trained observer and rational scientist to gather information and accumulate knowledge, is associated with the proper use of God-given talents. The presence of the third textually reinforces the connection between the first two deviant abilities by juxtaposing them with a “normal” ability. Contrasted with the correct use and normal range of human faculties and abilities, even super-abilities are seen as unnatural violations of God’s plan. The narrative begins with a brief description of the Goodwin family and the healthy and pious upbringing of their children. Mather assures us that the idyllic family experienced no uncommon problems until the eldest daughter accused their laundress of having stolen some linens. When the laundress’s mother, “an ignorant and scandalous old Woman,” heard of the complaint, she “bestow’d very bad Language upon the Girl” who “immediately . . . became variously indisposed in her health, and visited with strange Fits, beyond those that attend an epilepsie, or a catalepsie, or those that they call The Diseases of Astonishment.” Soon after, a sister and two of her brothers began to exhibit similar “Affects.” The family consulted local physicians who, finding no natural cause for the convulsions, concluded that “nothing but an Hellish Witchcraft could be the Original of these Maladies.”36 With this introduction of the facts of the case, Mather proceeds to describe elaborately the physical dimensions of their afflictions. One early description is worth quoting at length: Sometimes they would be Deaf, sometimes Dumb, and sometimes Blind, and often, all this at once. One while their Tongues would be drawn down their Throats; another while they would be pull’d out upon their Chins, to a prodigious length. They would have their Mouths opened unto such a wideness, that their Jaws went out of joint; and anon they would clap together again with a force like that of a strong Spring-Lock. The same would happen to their Shoulder-blades, and their Elbows, and Hand-wrists, and several of their joints. They would at times lie in a benummed condition, and be drawn together as those that are ty’d Neck & Heels; and presently be stretched out, yea, drawn backwards, to such a degree, that it was fear’d the very skin of their
Bellies would have crack’d. . . . Their Necks would be broken, so that their Neck-bone would seem dissolved unto them that felt after it; and yet on the sudden, it would become again so stiff, that there was no stirring of their Heads. . . . Thus they lay some Weeks most pitiful Spectacles. (4–5) This description exemplifies the structure, style, and tone of the rest of Mather’s narrative of the Goodwin family’s travails. The bodies of the victims are laboriously described and all their conditions are documented. Nameless, the children exist only as data to be consumed by a scientist. Various body parts synecdochally display their contorted wholes, while loss of sensory ability denies the presence of a conscious, perceiving person. In the context of their “possession,” each and every one of these violations of natural form identifies the presence of evil. Mather further articulates the connection between disabilities and the presence of malevolent spirits in a series of experiments exploring a recurring theme uniting human ability with performing God’s work. At his first encounter with one of the children, Mather noted that she became deaf when he attempted to pray over her. At several points thereafter, Mather would use “Religious Exercise” as a litmus test of the children’s possession. He discovered that “any Discourse of God, or Christ, or any of the things which are not seen and are eternal” would cast the children into “intolerable Anguishes” (17). Hypothesizing that the demons that possessed the children could not bear to hear or see the truth of their fallen nature, he conducts a series of tests that appear to validate his premise. The children are apparently unable to hear all “Praying,” “Bible readings,” and “gracious Counsel” (15). When the eldest daughter is asked to read the Bible “her Eyes would be strangely twisted and blinded,” or she would stutter uncontrollably, yet she reads other texts (including a “Quakers Book,” a “Popish Book,” and two “Jest-books”) quite well (22–14).37 In these and similar tests, Mather textually constructs a clear link between the experience of disability and the presence of evil. Super-ability, the second class of ability identified throughout the text, also indicates the presence of possession or witchcraft. While less prevalent than the first, this second type nonetheless plays a significant role by limiting the range of proper ability to the characteristics of “normal” bodies. The extra abilities attributed to possession include a knowledge of things that the children should not have known, vision and perception which exceed “normal” capacity, and extraordinary physical feats. The eldest daughter, for example, surprises Mather by telling him that there is a silver plate (which he is unable to see) hidden at the bottom of his well, a fact that he verifies with the previous owners of his house (20). Mather also argues that the children react to things they cannot physically perceive, mysteriously “seeing” things that occur behind their backs (21). As an example of exceptional physical ability, Mather recounts stories of the children “flying,” “carried hither and thither, tho’ not long from the ground, yet so long as to exceed the ordinary power of Nature” (20). As evidence of supernatural
activity, these abilities are also taken as signs of possession. This perspective on ability reinforces the notion of deviance as violating norms by emphasizing the acceptable range of ability. Like disability, exceptional ability is seen as a violation of natural law: only normal ability given by God through nature is acceptable. The last context for the concept of ability is the correct use of trained faculties for inspection, reason, and communication, which allows the observers (primarily Mather) to gather and disseminate knowledge. While this perspective on ability is generally constructed in Mather’s descriptions of his role as “Observer” and “Critical Eye-witness,” it is also apparent in the extensive use of sensory verbs: I saw, I heard, I felt. These verbs display Mather’s abilities as appropriate to normal people and behavior. In the context of negative associations with both disabilities and super-abilities, the textual presence of the observer as an exemplar of normal abilities becomes the standard against which others can be judged. In short, Mather’s description and exemplification of the correct use (and range) of one’s abilities identifies normal abilities as pure and good while reinforcing the connection between disability and evil. By extension, the scientific ends toward which Mather uses his trained abilities are validated as proper goals for God-given talents. Cotton Mather’s narrative of the Goodwin family, by seeking to provide empirical evidence of witchcraft and possession, repeatedly equates physical deviance with unspeakable evil. Deafness, blindness, paralysis, and other maladies identify the actions of demonic forces: they become signs proclaiming the presence of the beast, the mark of the Devil. To some extent, Mather’s empiricist perspective—which requires that he observe the evidence that supports his theses—leads him to rely on this rhetoric. As a scientist, Mather cannot rely overtly on intuition, spiritual guidance, or “Spectral Evidence” to make his case for the presence and activity of witches. Instead, he must find physical evidence, which he textualizes by relying on—and perpetuating—the rhetoric deviance is evil. By declaring deviations from the norm to be evidence of evil, Mather provides such physical evidence but accepts and promotes a particularly punitive view of disabilities in general. This ableist perspective continues to infect even modern examples of the possession narrative, including the most famous of these in contemporary American culture.
The Exorcist as Ableist Visual Rhetoric The Exorcist stands alone as the best known possession narrative in the United States today. By 1977 William Peter Blatty’s novel had sold over 11,700,000 copies, at that time more than any other fiction book sold in the country between the years 1895 and 1975 except for Mario Puzo’s The Godfather, and more than double the sales of the two books from the same period and genre to which it was often
compared: Ira Levin’s Rosemary’s Baby and Thomas Tryon’s The Other.38 The American Film Institute ranked The Exorcist, William Friedkin’s film based on Blatty’s screenplay, third on its list of the one hundred top American Thrillers of the last one hundred years (behind only Psycho and Jaws.)39 In 2000, the original film was reissued in theaters with additional footage that had been cut from the 1973 release. Titled William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist, this “ ‘special edition’ generated tens of millions at the box office,” which solidified The Exorcist “as the most financially successful horror film ever made.”40 The enduring popularity of The Exorcist story generated a Blatty sequel novel, two film sequels, two separate yet similar prequels, and a documentary.41 A television series launched in 2016 positioned itself as a sequel to the original film, and it credits Blatty’s work as its inspiration.42 Film theorist Carol Clover captured the extent of its influence nicely when she argued that many horror films since The Exorcist should be considered “countless imitations” of the story.43 The most common explanation for its success emphasizes its credibility as a possession narrative, which indicates its close ties to how Americans view possession. Clarence Petersen argues that the novel was a “super-success . . . because it is so credible” and suggests that “the final test of a supernatural suspense novel is how natural the events described seem.”44 Duncan Fallowell wrote, “Perhaps this is why the book is so horrific. Though a fiction, it reads like an actual case history and since it is built on theoretical and factual material which is not merely the author’s invention, one cherishes the romantic suspicion that it is one which might yet acquire reality.”45 These sentiments were reinforced when Blatty revealed that The Exorcist was based—albeit loosely—on the “true story” of a possession and exorcism of a young boy that began in Maryland in 1949.46 This authenticity accounts for why The Exorcist’s excessive bodily displays are accepted as dramatic literary and cinematic devices instead of fantastic or comedic hyperbole. The film provides what have become paragon images of possession: the possessed girl’s profuse “split pea soup” vomit, her wildly shaking bed, the toys and personal objects flying around her bedroom, the contortions and levitation of her body, her bleeding facial wounds, the cacophony of screams and different voices she utters, and the iconic 360-degree rotation of her head all continue to haunt films to this day. The widespread use of these images outside of the horror genre testifies to their pervasive impact. The image of the spinning head, for example, appears in films as diverse as Buddy Van Horn’s Dirty Harry crime drama The Dead Pool (1988) to Pixar’s animated children’s film Toy Story (1995) to Ivan Reitman’s comedy Ghostbusters (1984).47 When The Exorcist first appeared in theaters, viewers reacted dramatically to this spectacular cinematic display, often covering their eyes, collectively holding their breath, sometimes fainting or leaving the theater in distress, and even vomiting on themselves.48 Like Clover, I treat Blatty’s 1971 novel and Friedkin’s 1973 film as two nearly identical iterations of the same story, and I will use them interchangeably in my examination of the narrative.49 While the
visual imagery of the film reveals a dramatic and explicit use of the rhetorical frame that deviance is evil, the novel’s imagery and style depend equally on this rhetorical device. Using both the film and the book provides a more developed perspective on the story’s visual rhetoric. By examining the film, the technologies of the visual medium become apparent, and the critic can view the visual rhetorical action. As scholars like Laura Mulvey have pointed out, seeing how and what the film displays allows them to actually gaze through the orientation provided by that text.50 But a similar perspective can arise when reading the book, as critics may discern how the gaze of their minds’ eyes are directed toward certain things and not others. Blatty’s choice to describe some characteristics of a body, for example, indicates their salience in relation to other characteristics that the text does not describe. Reading the book gains the additional advantage of identifying the perspectives of the characters, particularly when the prose literally states what they see or where they look. In such moments the visual rhetoric of the book seems even more transparent than in the film, because the critic can perceive how the things characters see relate to what they do and interpret their motives. When a male doctor sees the possessed girl’s seizure, diagnoses it as a form of epilepsy and initiates medical treatment, it reveals how that doctor’s way of seeing informs what he does. Drawing from both the book and the film thereby allows critics to engage the visual rhetoric three ways: they can reflect on how the film directs their gazes and frames their perspectives of the narrative and characters, they can identify how the book uses literary devices to accomplish the same result, and they can read how the character’s explicitly described acts of seeing shape their perspectives and motivate them. Both the film and the novel The Exorcist describe the same basic plot. They depict the possession of Regan MacNeil, the twelve-year-old daughter of the actress Chris MacNeil, which occurs circa 1970 while the mother is on set at a film shoot in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, DC. Chris has recently divorced her husband, and the only other persons living in the house she has rented for the duration of the filming are her housekeeper, Willie, and Willie’s husband, Karl, the handyman. Often present are Chris’s secretary and assistant, Sharon Spencer, and her friend Burke Dennings, the vulgar and usually intoxicated director of the film in which she stars. These characters all discount early evidence of the demon’s presence, including strange rapping sounds, inexplicably moved furniture, and the disappearance of Regan’s new dress. Regan initially exhibits minor symptoms of her possession, including somnambulism, wild mood swings, swearing with a vocabulary she does not generally use, smelling odors others do not, and conversing with an imaginary friend through a Ouija board. As Regan’s symptoms become gradually more extreme, Chris reluctantly takes her to see a series of neurological and psychiatric specialists who diagnose their cause as everything from stress over the divorce, to epilepsy, to a lesion in her temporal lobe. During this time, Dennings dies under suspicious
circumstances, leading to an investigation by Lieutenant Kinderman, who eventually discovers that he was killed before or while being pushed from Regan’s bedroom window. Desperate after the medical specialists fail to provide a viable treatment—other than incredibly large doses of Librium, which eventually do not seem to work—and with growing conviction that Regan is responsible for Denning’s death, Chris seeks help from Father Damien Karras, a priest at the nearby Georgetown University. Karras, himself trained in psychiatry, originally considers Regan’s case from the medical perspective but eventually becomes convinced that she is possessed by a demon or malicious spirit. On his request, his Jesuit superiors approve the use of the exorcism ritual and send Father Lankester Merrin, the aging but experienced exorcist after whom the novel is named, to conduct the ritual. Merrin dies of a heart attack during the epic struggle, and Karras becomes possessed by the demon when in a fit of rage he challenges it to take on a person stronger than the prepubescent girl. Possessed, Karras flings himself out the same fateful window that claimed Dennings, falling to and tumbling down a long flight of Georgetown steps to his death. Now exorcised, yet apparently remembering nothing of recent events, Regan’s behavior and body return to their prepossession states and the story ends when she returns with her mother to their home in California. Ableism in the Novel The text of the novel employs a number of literary devices to encourage readers to adopt the rhetorical framework deviance is evil. “Northern Iraq,” the opening prologue to the novel that describes Merrin completing an archaeological dig, uses a rhetorical device that emphasizes how the novel revolves around two central themes: bodies and evil.51 The device thus reflects the very definition of a possession, which is the (unholy) combination of a body and an evil presence. The device is an unusual example of the classic figure antonomasia (or periphrasis), where characters’ descriptions are given in place of their names. This figure both elevates the identifying power of the body and suggests the relative importance of the characters, creating a hierarchy by withholding all proper names save that of the most important character. While the prologue describes several characters and their interaction, none are named except the demon Pazuzu. Even Merrin, the eponymous exorcist, is known only as “the old man in khaki”; his status as a priest is similarly withheld until after Pazuzu is named, when he is immediately identified as evil’s rival by a curator calling him “Father” (6). This antonomasia serves two purposes, both of which identify bodies and evil as the focus of the novel. First, the demon appears as the central and most important character in the story. In this story the demon acts, and everyone else merely responds to those actions. The demon’s immortality, its killing of Dennings and Merrin, and its triumph over Karras reveal that it essentially wins the titanic struggle. Evil may be banished, but only with spiritual assistance and great personal sacrifice. In any possession narrative, the demon must play a crucial role, for without it there is no possession, and thus no story. But
making evil the first to be given a name in the story elevates it even further and identifies the demonic presence as the leading character of this narrative. Second, the antonomasia of the prologue forces readers to distinguish between characters by descriptions of their bodies and the roles they fulfill, thus directing us to see them as bodies first and persons second. The focus on bodies influences even the description of the scene, as the finished archaeological dig is described as a body with “its entrails examined” (3). Tellingly, descriptions of the characters dwell excessively on the bodies’ physical maladies and deviant characteristics. For example, the “withered proprietor” of the “lonely roadside chaykhana” where Merrin stops for tea “wheezed . . . shuffling toward him, kicking up dust in Russian-made shoes that he wore like slippers, groaning backs pressed under his heels.” Even the man’s shoes are oppressed, broken bodies liberated from communism to be crushed through toil in the dust of Iraq. As Merrin contemplates the man’s disabled shoes—he thinks them “laceless, crusted shoes caked thick with debris and the pain of living”—the man “stood waiting like an ancient debt.” Merrin looks up at him, noticing “eyes that were damply bleached as if the membrane of an eggshell had been pasted over the irises. Glaucoma. Once he could not have loved this man” (4). Clearly linking disability with an unlovable status, these last sentences preface the dominant view of disability found throughout the text. When Merrin walks to his jeep after paying, the Kurd calls out an untranslated Arabic phrase. In the sentences that follow, the text revolves around a second ableist rhetorical device: a synecdoche that uses some visibly deviant physical characteristic to take the place of an entire person. “Rotted teeth. The Kurd was grinning, waving farewell. The man in khaki groped for a warmth in the pit of his being and came up with a wave and a mustered smile. It dimmed as he looked away” (5).52 This paragraph does not say that Merrin has looked back. Instead, readers must discern that movement from their imagination of his gaze directed at a smile made repulsive. This forces them to see the smile first as a display of undesirable deviance and to direct their gaze in the same reductionist move made by the character Merrin. The prologue instructs them to recognize deviance in bodies, link it with that which is hard to love, and see it in rotted teeth spoiling a welcome smile. A third device that appears throughout the novel arises from the “third-person omniscient” point of view that dominates the text. From this perspective the reader learns the most intimate thoughts of all the major human characters, save one. Readers encounter Chris’s fears and dreams, Karras’s doubts, Merrin’s ruminations, and Lieutenant Kinderman’s beliefs. Characters originally hidden from this perspective often become exposed. Karl, Chris’s resident handyman, begins as a blank slate, whom— even after six years living under the same roof—Chris considers “a mask—a talking, breathing, untranslated hieroglyph running her errands on stilted legs” (17). But this mask is lifted for the reader when Karl has an emotional visit with his and Willie’s heroin-addicted daughter. That moment reveals
his genuine grief and his sense of shock when his covert visit is discovered by Kinderman. Even the feelings and points of view of several minor characters are exposed to us, including those of the Kurdish tea stand proprietor who only appears in the prologue. But the reader never—not once—knows what Regan is thinking or feeling. Her missing mind renders her two dimensional, an empty vessel to be filled by an invading spirit. Hiding the mind of the possessed girl suggests it is incomprehensible, which testifies to evil’s power: it cannot be truly known or understood. Readers can know their own minds, and those of the characters like them, but they cannot know the mind of one infected by evil. Evil’s power becomes invisible and can only be seen when displayed by a deviant body. To make sense of the story, readers must rely on what they can see and interpret descriptions of what her body does and says. In effect, readers can only be certain of her possession by employing the premise deviance is evil, for without that warrant Regan’s body is merely, if inexplicably, very, very unusual. Not knowing her thoughts eliminates any chance of discovering alternative causes for her condition, which requires readers to employ ableist rhetoric to comprehend her deviance. These devices set the stage for the (re)conversion of Karras that forms the central denouement of the novel. The story of his slide toward a loss of religious faith, compounded by the soul-shaking death of his mother, is told alongside the early stages of Regan’s possession. At the same time that Chris loses faith in the doctors treating Regan and comes to have faith in her daughter’s need for an exorcism, Karras is losing his faith about the existence of God and the Devil. When Chris contacts Karras and asks him to exorcise her daughter, he is initially skeptical that an exorcism will benefit Regan, believing the ritual horribly outdated. When Chris asks how to go about arranging for an exorcism, Karras replies: “Well, first you’d have to put him in a time machine and get him back to the sixteenth century. . . . It just doesn’t happen anymore, [not] since we learned about mental illness; about paranoia; split personality; all those things that they taught me at Harvard” (236). Even after visiting Regan and witnessing the incredibly deviant display of her body he rejects the idea that she—or anyone—can be possessed. As he finally becomes convinced that a demon inhabits Regan, he recovers his faith in God and the teachings of his church. Convinced of the reality of evil, he welcomes a newfound belief in the existence of God. His conversion story tells of a struggle between a scientific atheism and acceptance of the religious orientation deviance is evil, and a careful reading of this conflict reveals the workings of this ableist perspective. After witnessing the extreme deviance of Regan’s body, and communicating extensively with the possessing spirit, Karras begins to read historical texts describing “genuine” possession, and studies the criteria that a person must meet to qualify for a Catholic priest to perform an exorcism. During this research, Karras realizes the issue in diagnosis is how one chooses to read the available signs: “But the
problem is how do you interpret the phenomena” (267). His conversion—like the reader’s—is the process of adopting a particular hermeneutic. To accept this way of seeing, Karras initially proceeds as a scientist, gathering evidence and experimenting on Regan. He compares her ability to speak backward, knowledge of things not revealed to her directly, and ability to speak in foreign languages to the accepted indicators of possession, but he is constantly assailed by doubts that these cannot be explained as natural.53 Erasing his doubts becomes the central action of this portion of the novel. At one point Karras tests Regan by sprinkling her with the contents of a vial he tells her falsely contains holy water. When Regan reacts violently, he concludes with disappointment that she is not truly possessed, and merely responding to suggestion (283). But the demon is toying with Karras; it knows it has been tricked and later refers laughingly to “that embarrassment over the holy water” as playing with Karras’s faith (315). It claims to know his doubts and will not intentionally erase them, preferring instead to allow them to gnaw away at Karras’s beliefs. Karras’s discussions with Chris teach readers to view the scientific analysis of the deviant body as flawed, leaving the religious interpretation as the only alternative. One conversation displays this dynamic very well. Like a doctor before him, he tries to calm Chris’s fears with the familiar terms of Ockham’s razor, identifying his own scientific orientation (251).54 Chris’s response is both reasonable and logical, quickly pointing out the flaw of the scientific dictum. This conversation occurs immediately after Karras has visited Regan for the first time, when he provides his initial diagnosis that she exhibits “compulsive behavior produced by guilt, perhaps, put together with split personality.” Chris is incensed, “Father, I’ve had all that garbage! Now how can you say that after all that you’ve just seen!” (250). Karras explains that as a psychiatrist he has witnessed all kinds of disturbing behavior and proceeds to discount the rapping sounds, Regan’s extraordinary strength, and the poltergeist phenomena as “psychokinesis. . . . There’s nothing supernatural about it. . . . In pathology it’s common.” Chris is exasperated, noting ironically that their roles do not correspond with the faiths usually associated with them. She rants, “Boy, isn’t this beautiful. . . . Here I am an atheist and here you are a priest and,” stopping when Karras cuts her off with the razor: “The best explanation for any phenomenon . . . is always the simplest one available that accommodates all the facts.” Chris retorts, “Well, maybe I’m dumb, but telling me an unknown gizmo in somebody’s head throws dishes at a ceiling tells me nothing at all!” (251). Karras proceeds to provide a conventional explanation for the mysteries of the mind, identifying the large number of psychological processes that scientists have witnessed but cannot easily explain, and outlining a Freudian theory of the unconscious. Chris is shocked—“staring in unblinking incredulity”—and she gives voice to what the reader has been encouraged to think all along, “Father, that’s so far out of sight that I think it’s almost easier to believe in the devil!” (253).
This response resonates with the entire orientation of the novel, identifying both the flaw in Ockham’s razor—the sine qua non of Positivist scientific thinking—and the motive for adopting a religious perspective. The razor’s flaw is that simplicity is in the eye of the beholder. From the reader’s perspective, the simplest and only satisfying explanation for Regan’s condition is not that she has a neurological or psychological disorder. The simplest explanation that accounts for all the facts is that she is possessed. Doctors and scientists who cannot see this simple fact—because they assume that the supernatural and demons do not exist—appear ignorant, and their ironic use of the razor to discount possession reveals the depth of their arrogance. Blatty prefaces this moment with three epigraphs to this section of the novel. The first quotes the gospel of John (6:30–31): “They said, ‘What sign can you give us to see, so that we may believe you?’ ” The second quotes a 1969 Newsweek article: “A [Vietnam] brigade commander once ran a contest to rack up his unit’s 10,000th kill; the prize was a week of luxury in the colonel’s own quarters.’ ” The third completes the syllogism by quoting Jesus’s response to the doubters (John 6:36–37): “ ‘You do not believe although you have seen.’ ” (230). The message of these epigraphs is transparent. Evil is visible, it can be seen; those who do not interpret what they have seen as signs of its presence are misguided and ignorant. Taught by her extreme physical deviance that Regan is possessed, the reader is brought to see as absurd arrogance the scientists’ assumption that the “simplest explanation” always reflects a scientific perspective. Karras decides that Regan exhibits qualities that justify an exorcism only after he sees words appear written on her torso by raised welts. Called to her side by Chris’s secretary Sharon Spencer, Karras watches the blank flesh where she indicates something new has been happening. He sees “a faint redness, but in sharp definition, like handwriting.” Peering closer, and encouraged by Spencer’s whisper “There, it’s coming,” Karras reacts in shock: “Abruptly the gooseflesh on Karras’s arms was not from the icy cold in the room; was from what he was seeing on Regan’s chest; was from bas-relief script rising up in clear letters of blood red skin. Two words: help me[.] ‘That’s her handwriting,’ whispered Sharon” (329). Confronted with this evidence—this body explicitly rendered visible text—Karras becomes convinced that Regan meets the requirements for an exorcism. At this point the pace of the novel quickens dramatically, shifting immediately to a report of the ensuing events, and all the barriers to the exorcism fall away in two brief sentences. The long drawn-out process is rushed to completion, and Merrin is called in to begin the fourth and final section of the novel. This moment, pivotal in both book and film, deserves some scrutiny. It is the closest readers ever come to hearing Regan’s “inner” thoughts. As noted above, her mind is never revealed to readers, and we “know” her thoughts only through her words, facial expressions, and other nonverbal communication behaviors. Because readers realize that what we communicate through words and gestures might not be genuine, this knowledge stands less certain than the knowledge of possession made apparent through the
deviant display of her. But as literally physical and deviant marks, the words “help me” appear genuine. Written in her own handwriting on the flesh of her torso, these words speak plainly as proof of her condition. The goosebumps on Karras’s arms also reveal his true inner state; reading the body as speaking the mind occurs in commonplace and familiar experiences as well as the bizarre. This physical connection between body and text emphasizes the necessity of engaging bodies as something to interpret. Reading physique itself encourages readers to use this technique to understand Regan and other bodies they encounter. What Clover notes in her analysis of this scene in the film applies equally well in the novel. In this image the body has been forced to externalize its inner secrets, to “give a material account of itself” when placed on trial by Karras and those who would comprehend what ails it. In this way, “skin is made to speak the truth about what it hides,” revealing to the gaze a body opened up for inspection.55 Even though Karras has been convinced that an exorcism is appropriate, he still refuses to believe that Regan is truly possessed by a demon. All the signs he has witnessed—her ability to speak backward, her apparent telekinetic and telepathic powers, her distorted face with its violent eyes and tumescent tongue, even the writing on her body—all identify her as a candidate for exorcism, but he remains plagued by doubts. When his bishop asks if he is convinced the possession is genuine, Karras hedges: “ ‘I’ve made a prudent judgment that it meets the conditions set forth in the Ritual,’ answered Karras evasively. He still did not dare believe. Not his mind but his heart had tugged him to this moment; pity and the hope for a cure through suggestion.”56 This idea that exorcism may cure, even if the patient is not truly possessed, was introduced earlier in the novel. Suggesting that the ritual might convince Regan’s unconscious that she has been cleansed, one of her doctors argues that exorcism has been known to work, “although not for the reason [Catholics] thought.”57 But even when the doctor makes this argument, readers already know it is flawed, having been taught that the deviant body cannot be explained so easily. More faith in science is lost when it gets viewed as mere rationalization, and when readers accept that the real answer is one beyond what science can explain. In the reality of evil in the story, science becomes ignorant, impotent, and helpless. All the different marvelously confused medical explanations for Regan’s condition reveal science as just another tower of Babel that offers no way to comprehend what her condition really is. Karras finds his faith finally during the exorcism itself, when in his presence Regan and her bed levitate several feet above the floor. “He stared at it incredulously. . . . It’s not happening! he thought, as he watched, transfixed.”58 As Merrin continues to pray, “Karras again returned his gaze to the bed, to his hopes of his God and the supernatural hovering low in the empty air. An elation thrilled up through his very being. It’s there! There it is! Right in front of me! There!”59 Karras has found his proof, and his doubts fall away as his gaze alerts him to something that can only be explained by his religion. This
crucial moment defines the relationship of the visual and the epistemic, as “seeing is believing” operates as the warrant for Karras’s experience. He knows because he sees. But this simplistic formula belies the role of interpretation, which stands between the seen and the known. In Karras’s conversion, his interpreting the levitation as proof of demonic possession requires the framework deviance is evil. Without that lens, what he sees remains unexplained. As his (re)conversion to Catholic faith and acceptance of religious over scientific explanations stand as the novel’s denouement, the text teaches the reader of the necessity of this particular way of seeing. Once readers view Regan’s condition through the ableist rhetorical lens, her display reveals the reality of her possession, proving the existence of evil by demonstrating dramatic physical and psychological deviance. Only by seeing through the lens deviance is evil can readers comprehend the story and identify with Karras’s realization of his faith. Ableism in the Film The film version of The Exorcist uses different rhetorical devices than the novel, but the necessary focus on deviant bodies—especially Regan’s—still requires that audiences adopt the warrant deviance is evil. The film opens with a dramatic image. A black-and-white shot of a huge sun over a barren rocky landscape brightens into color, revealing a bright white sun against a red sky over a black landscape. Throughout the prologue to the film—like the novel it is subtitled “Northern Iraq” and depicts the almost same sequence of events—this same image of the sun is repeated three times. Against the red sky, this sun appears as a completely bloodshot eye, the black pupil reversed into an “unnatural” white opening. It implies a malevolent gaze, joining with the repeated background sound of buzzing insects, to create a heavenly watcher of what enfolds. To see what it sees, one must adopt a similar perspective and see evil. Like the prologue of the novel, the film’s opening depicts an enormous dig in a foreign land. But the completed dig of the novel is very active here. Everywhere people are digging, strafing Mother Earth in an attempt to reveal a city lost in the sands of time. Their archaeology enacts what the audience must do to understand the story. Like the characters, viewers must dig into the past to find the ways of seeing that make possession a reality. As the camera’s gaze roves across the multitude of diggers, it is directed to a small boy running across the ruins and through part of the surrounding antiquated Middle Eastern city to find a weary old man wearing khaki as he works to uncover part of a wall. The boy tells him in Arabic that something has been found, and the man slowly rises to follow. Arriving at the indicated spot, the man reaches into a small cave-like hole, prods it with a tool, and gently pulls forth a small amulet depicting a demonic face. A background sound of buzzing insects increases to an annoying and disturbing cacophony. The hole, described in subtitle translating the boy’s Arabic as “At the base of the mound,” resembles a dirty womb; his removal of the artifact enacts a monstrous birth from the bowels of Mother Earth.
The camera cuts again to show the same old man (who is eventually identified as Merrin) drinking tea outdoors at a dirty table. Merrin is at the chaykhana. But when his server appears he does not resemble the Kurd in the novel. Instead of a broken man wearing broken shoes, the man who comes with his tea is handsome and cleanly dressed. The film quickly contrasts the server’s able-bodied presence with a shot of a person who apparently cannot see being led through the nearby street. Suddenly, disabled people appear everywhere. Merrin leaves the table, walking past a blacksmith banging red-hot metal in a crude forge. The smith looks at him, partially blind with one eye covered by a white scab, and Merrin looks away. Moments later when the exorcist wanders the stone streets, he must leap from the path of a wildly driven horse-drawn carriage carrying a decrepit old woman who grins toothlessly. Collectively, these disabled bodies play the role of the novel’s glaucoma-bearing tea server, allowing all the speaking characters to be able-bodied and rendering disabled people silent. No one, not even the demon, is named in this opening sequence. The dominance of bodies suggested in the novel becomes inescapable in the unflinching gaze of the film. These original images of disability take place in a landscape alien to the Western viewers for whom the film was made; an Otherworld displayed as the location where disability belongs. The initial sequence of shots depict the dig, which provides few cues that identify the time period. These trick the Western audience’s perspective into thinking that the scene may be from a distant past. Sheep wander aimlessly through the ancient site (not yet identified as archaeological) and workers hack away with picks and shovels, carting dirt in crude wheelbarrows and animal-drawn carts. It might be hundreds of years ago. The dusty Middle Eastern garb most of them wear, complete in many cases with traditional headdress, fit as easily into the present as into the distant past. Only when Merrin appears in his khaki pants and contemporary hat do viewers know for sure that the scene takes place recently. Like this trick with time, almost everything about this opening sequence disorients the film’s target audience. The opening depicts a world conspicuously non-Western. The film reinforces this realization when the prologue ends, and the scene shifts to an elevated view of busy streets and modern houses identified in subtitle as “Georgetown.” The freely moving disabled people found throughout the Otherworld are conspicuously absent in the shots of contemporary Georgetown. The contrast literally puts disability in its place. The public presence of visibly disabled bodies in the “foreign” land becomes a way of distinguishing it from the modern society of the affluent West. Early in the film, two statues of exceptionally deviant bodies reinforce for viewers the appropriateness of the deviance is evil ableist norm. One of these images appears in Iraq, the other in Georgetown, and they form a distinct visual link between the appropriate way to see both of them. The first of these is a statue of the demon Pazuzu, who stands over the archaeological dig in the prologue. It stands in silhouette in front of the white sun against the red sky when the camera first focuses on it.
When Merrin approaches it in the final sequence of the prologue—as the sound of wild dogs in a vicious fight complement an increasingly loud sound of buzzing insects—we see its body revealed. It is grotesquely and inhumanly deviant from any known animal. Its feral grin, jutting teeth, elongated serpentine phallus, and two pairs of large wings identify it as a monster. Merrin encounters the statue standing on a small rock outcropping across from where it stands on its own worn pile of rock. Merrin is face to face with evil, on its level, the image crafting a visual challenge foreshadowing his ultimate role in the film. Their opposing stances contrast the two bodies, and the audience need not guess how to determine which belongs to the hero. Applying the deviance is evil lens renders the image perfectly clear. The second extravagantly deviant statue is a desecrated image of Mary the mother of Christ in a Georgetown church, which appears after the remaining primary characters and their initial relationships have been introduced. The face of the priest who finds it—he has brought flowers to adorn its base— displays shock at the elongated cone breasts and curved phallus that have been attached to it. Even this brief scene exhibits the basic ableist interpretation that abnormal bodies shock and that deviance indicates evil. Recognition of the distorted statue as a desecration reinforces these assumptions, for it requires that viewers see the idealized form of the body as sacred. When the expectation of proper body form adopts the status of divine writ, violations of that form enact blasphemy. The statue venerates more than the person memorialized; its adoration of the perfect human body suggested by the offering of flowers becomes a kind of worship in itself. Its desecration reveals that evil’s presence—heretofore limited to significant but ambiguous signals like knocking sounds—has begun to play an active role in Georgetown. Soon after the scene with the desecrated statue, the film reinforces the proper place of disability in our ableist culture when it cuts to a scene at an institution for mentally disabled people. Karras’s mother has been taken here after a debilitating stroke. The bodies in the facility display the trappings of the modern institution: patients stare vacantly out the window or at nothing at all, a delusional woman eats a meal that is not there, many shuffle aimlessly around, and all are dressed in the bland and shapeless hospital gown. Their disabled bodies are everywhere contained by uniformed nurses and attendants who watch and maintain control, locked metal grates that separate patients from incoming visitors, and the straps and lock wards that restrain some patients. These disabled characters display the common stereotype of the disabled as “burden,” for even shut away they require society’s care and appear to drain its labor through unrewarded efforts to comfort people who cannot even comprehend that they are disabled. As Nelson notes, this stereotype renders them empty plot devices, suggesting only the difficulty that disabled people “create” for the able-bodied.60 Even Karras’s mother, whom he loves but cannot cure, saps his mental strength and drains his faith in God. Finally, the image of the institution
directly contrasts with the public presence of disabled people in the Otherworld. There they are integrated within the community, here they are kept—as Karras puts it to his mother—where they will be safe and, not coincidentally, safely out of the way. These various images prime us for the critical moments when we witness the possessed Regan. Her violent seizures, scarred and bleeding face, occasional catatonia, lack of bladder control, and the iconic and much-copied 360-degree rotation of her head all exhibit her bodily deviance. Her eyes, often “unnaturally” white with pinpoint pupils and bloodshot irises, recall the evil eye of the sun seen in the film’s prologue. In addition, her abnormality is evident in her body’s super-abilities of prescient knowledge and the ability to speak in foreign tongues she has never had the opportunity to learn. Her body’s superhuman ability to levitate and violently shake her entire bed amount to deviance so extreme that it must be supernatural. All of this appears verbatim from the novel, and the technology of seeing required there is equally necessary here. To see Regan as possessed, viewers must accept these images of deviance as signs of a demonic presence. The failure of medical science to account for Regan’s condition reinforces this interpretation for the audience. Inconclusively examined by a number of different specialists, and variously diagnosed with everything from a “lesion in her temporal lobe” to philandering, her body reveals the limitations of medical knowledge. Clover argues that this theme dominates many horror films: “The inevitable lesson of the modern occult film is that White Science has its limits, and that if it does not yield, in the extremity, to the wisdom of Black Magic, all is lost.”61 This lesson, in my terms, is the necessity of adopting the interpretative perspective that deviance is evil. Although the possession scenes in the film depict the same action already examined in the novel, their visual impact is substantially more evident here. Obviously, while viewing the film the image is literally seen instead of imagined by the reader. Readers might resist doing the work of imagining the images of possession but viewers cannot help but see the graphic display of the film. The film audience loses the power implicit for readers, who must partially create the images they see, to become nearly subservient viewers who don the spectacles dictated by the camera’s gaze. The option for spectators is to not look and thus attempt to disengage from the visual rhetoric of the film. The relentless progression of the story in cinematic form also increases its effectiveness. Unlike a novel, the cinematic display cannot be easily put down and picked up again after one’s heart stops racing, and one cannot skip to later pages to resolve anxiety by learning ahead of time what happens. Finally, the film in the theater is encountered as a public spectacle, where a community of watchers together witness its horrific display. As Janice Hocker Rushing and Thomas S. Frentz have noted, the theater operates as “a liminal realm where the reality outside recedes for a spell.”62 Films rely on this collective sanction to leave the real behind to “pull us into our cultural unconscious to meet our shadows, those disowned aspects of ourselves that we loathe.”63
Conclusions Of course not all representations of physical deviance show the disabled body as evil. In some narratives the deviant body signals the exact opposite, when such stories employ disability as a sign of innocence and moral purity. In what Martin F. Norden labels the Sweet Innocent stereotype, personified by characters like the blind girl of the Charlie Chaplin film City Lights (1931) or the character Tiny Tim found in the various iterations of A Christmas Carol, disability signifies the absence of evil.64 This stereotype inspires pity disguised as compassion or empathy and has its own set of dangerous implications in ableist culture. Pity constructs inferiority and reinforces the subordinate position of second-class citizenship, masking such discrimination as beneficent and proper. Contesting this view has been the basis for widespread opposition to such “pity parties” as the Jerry Lewis MDA telethon, and “Piss on Pity” has been a common slogan of the Disability Rights Movement.65 Unlike the possession narrative, substantial work has already looked in depth at charity organization fundraising and the problem of pity, and it makes a convincing case about how the basis of that feeling threatens the status of disabled life.66 The visual rhetoric of the “poster child,” which constructs physical deviance as innocent, naive, and unable, may inspire people to donate money, but it also infantilizes the disabled and renders them helpless. Signifying innocence displays a deviant body as insufficiently aware of the realities of life. This “touching and inspiring” innocence conveys the idea that the disabled lack the skills needed to survive socially without the generosity of others, layering a social deficit on the physical. The use of deviance to signify innocence in stories applying this stereotype and to signify evil in the possession narrative actually reinforces the ableist logic of both, because they rely equally on the essential assumption that disability is in some way related to a person’s moral capacity. These ableist perspectives judge external physical deviance as reflecting an internal state. The idea has no rational basis and instead reflects an ancient, still powerful, yet well-criticized bias built around taboo.67 Whether evil or innocent, according to this rhetoric the disabled do not belong in a conventional civilized society, either because they threaten it through their malicious capacity or because society threatens them because of their incapacity to protect themselves. Both protection and exclusion indicate separation, identify the disabled as Other, and judges them as undeserving of basic human rights. Either practice denies access to the full range of social opportunities. The able-bodied must be suspicious of the disabled or suspicious for them, and in either case their moral status is suspect. In my analysis of the logic of associating deviance and evil in the possession narrative, I show how it complements instead of contradicts the potential link of deviance and innocence. Evidence of each association strengthens the other by reinforcing the idea that one’s physical difference is in some way even remotely linked to their moral character.
Obviously not everyone belonging to Western culture views disabled people as evil, marked by sin, or possessed. Deviance is evil forms a normative part of the ableist imagination that becomes spectacularly clear in possession narrative, but Western culture generally views supernatural stories as suspect. Scientists in general, and medical specialists in particular, distance themselves from such theological ways of seeing, preferring instead the “enlightened” clinical gaze. Yet scholars since Michel Foucault have identified how this medical gaze, explicitly invalidated in the possession narrative but usually accepted by educated members of our culture, can itself discriminate and oppress.68 It too sees disability as something wrong—a pathology that needs to be cured—isolating the disabled by adopting the medical model. Strictly speaking, in this perspective pathology is not evil, but it justifies radical and sometimes extreme manipulations of the body that indicate it too treats physical deviance as “unhealthy” and as the enemy. In the medical model, disease and death—like evil—cannot be good. As I explore in more detail in next chapter’s discussion of the cochlear implant, the shift from possession to a medical context may distance the association of ungodliness, but it tends to view all disabilities as tainted by the profanity of deviance. The medical model’s view of disability as something that needs to be cured and, ideally, eradicated, brings the negative connotations of deviance into a modern perspective that appears free from mystical superstition yet continues to generate an ableist way of seeing. Until people recognize that the very way one sees disabled people is a rhetorically constructed process rather than an objective gaze, such pedagogies as the possession narrative will continue to teach ableism to the future generations of Western culture. The ideas needed to comprehend the possession narrative become the lessons one learns when uncritically accepting the logic of the story. It teaches audiences to read the sheer violence the disabled body does to normalcy as the work of an outside agent who is responsible for such an aberration. It shows that the physical body of the possessed person is rendered alien and Other, justifying its exclusion and demanding its banishment. Seeing this interpretive lens in The Exorcist reveals why people cannot simply treat these views as culturally discarded remnants of a distant past to which the trials of Salem can be consigned, and the popularity of the possession narrative displays the continuing appeal of ableist thinking and intricacies of ableist logic. Even when isolated, the possession narrative forms part of an ableist “scopic regime” that consistently employs ableist rhetorical norms.69 The voyeuristic reward of the spectacle sells a technology of seeing that frames how viewers look at all visibly deviant bodies.70 Although society tends to view the possession narrative as fiction, its visual rhetoric teaches ableist ways of seeing become part of everyday life. As Howard G. Chua-Eoan put it: “Monsters, therefore, were created to teach lessons. And they can still be pedagogical—even in an age that no longer believes in the gods or their messengers.”71
Indeed, the importance of reading deviance as a sign of evil or death becomes the lesson of The Exorcist, as readers and viewers witness the doubting priest/scientist plagued by a crisis of faith and inaccurate understanding until he discovers incontrovertible evidence of the truth of evil in an extremely abnormal body. Faith and redemption, the most important goods for the priest, reward him when he finally understands that what his religion has taught him is real, and that seeing the deviant body as possessed proves it. Identifying with the protagonist Karras, audiences accept his perspective and become familiar with this interpretative scheme. The possession narrative teaches people to read disability as evil both in the mechanisms they must use to comprehend it and thematically as the principle denouement of each story’s central characters. Portraying the evil demon and the doubting priest/scientist as the main characters of the narrative reinforces the exclusion of the disabled body, relegating the passively possessed young woman to almost a supporting actress role. This is not her story. Conventionally two dimensional, she is almost absent except for her body, conveniently left empty as a receptacle for invading spirits. The flat two-dimensionality of the possessed particularly encourages ableist discrimination against those with psychological, behavioral, and intellectual disabilities. The possessed person’s mental absence makes it nearly impossible for audiences and readers to identify with such characters, which helps explain the individual motive—in Kenneth Burke’s sense of the word—behind watching or reading the possession narrative.72 Humans work to develop their own personal identity by distinguishing themselves from others: I am not you. By sharing common values and perspectives, an individual crafts group identities that also rely on distinctiveness from other groups: we are not them. The formation of these “two” identities becomes so intertwined that separating them seems pointless, as both inform the orientation of the individual. As Burke explained, the process of identification follows the same basic pattern whether it is the individual identifying oneself, the individual identifying with a group, or the group identifying itself. In all cases, unity arises by separating from those who do not belong.73 Burke pointed out that this makes all efforts to craft identity effectively the basis for conflict, and he famously called war “that ultimate disease of cooperation.”74 From this perspective, the identity of an able-bodied individual and a group identifying as able-bodied both rest on positioning the disabled as Others. In this process of rejection, the possessed body occupies a distinct position among other abject bodies. The possession narrative inherently and uniquely provides an abject identity against which audiences can craft knowledge of and certainty in its concept of the body. The possessed body stands among the most threatening to Western conceptions of identity, which place at their center the possibility of control over one’s mind. Even the slave—that identity most distanced from the citizen within the confines of the sovereign state—occupies a relatively more powerful subject position than the possessed. Ownership of
one’s mind is more central to identity than ownership of one’s body. Being enslaved entails a loss of agency and basic human rights; being possessed means a total loss of humanity and oneself as agent. Although horrific disciplinary measures discourage them, slaves can retain some measure of individual identity—or at least its possibility—but the absence of this possibility defines the possessed person. Of course, because it is caused by the invasion of an evil spirit, possession is also qualitatively worse than insanity, a mental breakdown, or other psychological disabilities. But possession’s association with the loss of mental control, irrational and antisocial behavior, and lacking the ability to express oneself connects the rhetoric to mental disabilities involving these and similar forms of deviance. Even as fantasy, the possessed person functions as an unsurpassed form of what Julia Kristeva named “the abject.” By extension, learning to see that deviance is evil becomes a way to firmly ground an identity that need never question whether the Other deserves exclusion and destruction.75 Ableist audiences need the distance provided by the possession narrative because they fear the inevitability of becoming disabled themselves, and, more specifically, the eventual onset of mental disabilities. Societies have developed numerous institutions to address the crisis of the body’s inevitable “demise,” most of which work to craft an able-bodied orientation that subordinates disability. Interpreting deviance as evil, or at least as somehow removed and distanced from “the good,” provides an important part of the logos rationalizing ableist discrimination. People accept exclusionary systems as moral and proper when what they exclude is identified as evil. From teaching children to look away from disabled people, to resisting the idea that all are always moving one day closer to our deaths, ableist culture both sees mortality and envisions it as evil and repulsive in an attempt to deny its inevitability. This is the mind responding to a fear of its own body, a phenomenon called somatophobia. This fear of the body’s demise also motivates the view of the body known as Cartesian dualism, which separates the (mortal) body from a (potentially immortal) mind, self, or soul. I suggest that the rhetorical devices the possession narrative employs in its presentation of the possessed person reinforce the dualist paradigm’s inherent limit on ways of knowing others. Elizabeth Grosz explains that Cartesian dualism’s “I think therefore I am” privileges an individual’s own consciousness and makes the existence of other’s minds less certain: “At its extreme, all that consciousness can be sure about is its own self-certain existence. The existence of other minds must be inferred from the apparent existence of other bodies. If minds are private, subjective, invisible, amenable only to first-person knowledge, we can have no guarantee that our inferences about other minds are in fact justified. Other bodies may simply be complex automata, androids, or even illusions, with no psychical interior, no affective states or consciousness. Consciousness becomes, in effect, an island unto itself.”76
The two-dimensional possessed person’s mindless, empty body, and the unknowable status of what evil thinks, perfectly fit Grosz’s argument. Excluding Regan’s thoughts from the third-person omniscient point of view of the novel rhetorically places her among the bodies that might as well be automata or androids. Marking her as possessed disguises the somatophobia posed by her condition, which distances her from other “normal” people, and protects society’s desire to maintain hope in the immortal promise of the dualistic view. Accounting for her extreme deviance requires separating oneself from whatever it is that controls her. But this is not a harmless defense mechanism, for it motivates exclusion and oppression of disabled people. As the disabled remind society about what all people really are, ableist reasoning protects itself by identifying the disabled body as Other. Seeing the disabled in the way Murphy described so well may protect the dream of immortality, but it forces society to abandon the people whose bodies identify it as a lie. Their exclusion is the product of the desire to deny what—deep down—all people know. The somatophobia to which the idea deviance is evil appeals and the logic of Cartesian dualism encourages more than ableist rejection, and scholars like Elizabeth V. Spelman argue that the latter promotes misogyny/gynophobia and racism.77 As women have historically been identified by their closeness to bodies, and men have been privileged by their supposed mastery of the mind, this dualistic view denigrates women and promotes sexist oppression.78 White colonialist views of races of color legitimated racism through similar connections between the supposed superiority of rational “enlightened” civilization and societies they thought were formed entirely around physiological needs. The dualist hierarchy of the mind’s domination of the body also informs the logic behind man’s conquering of the natural world, which European societies believed justified the oppression of cultures they perceived as centered on biological imperatives and simple existence in harmony with their environment. This intersection of ableism and sexism and racism in Cartesian dualism’s rejection of the body forms a space where theories explaining these various forms of discrimination can meet. Intersectionality also connects to the gendered dynamics that possession stories create through their use of conventional disability stereotypes. In addition to the Sweet Innocent discussed earlier, the Obsessive Avenger describes another of the stock characters Norden identified in his extensive study of disability imagery in films. In this work he concludes that “the history of physical disability images in the movies has mostly been a history of distortion in the name of maintaining an ableist society,” and argues that this cinematic display of disabled people is prompted by the sexual eroticism of the emasculated male and the hierarchical satisfaction of subordinating the Other.79 Echoing Christine Gledhill’s observation that media representations of women “do not represent women, but the needs of the patriarchal psyche,” Norden concludes “that the movie industry has created physically disabled movie characters primarily to serve the needs of a society long committed to stifling and exploiting its
disabled minority.”80 Films with disabled characters satisfy this need by enacting an “Oedipal scenario”—a term he takes from Tania Modeleski’s argument that “all traditional narratives re-enact the male Oedipal crisis”—where the male gaze is allowed to consume the Sweet Innocent stereotype (almost always a female character) or learn from the symbolic castration of the Obsessive Avenger stereotype (almost always a male character).81 The Sweet Innocent, itself “a sexless construct” incapable of erotic desire, is “the ultimate object” of the male gaze: a “childlike object requiring domination.”82 Such characters satisfy the pleasure of the masculine voyeur, especially when portrayed as characters that are blind who are able to be seen but unable to return the gaze. The Obsessive Avenger, typified by Captain Hook or Quasimodo, warns of the threat of castration from the Father if the male child fails to repress his desire for the Mother. Norden writes: “Films that feature Obsessive Avengers show what happens if the male refuses to control his desire for the Mother (and thereby bucks the patriarchal system) and is symbolically castrated. Disempowered and filled with revenge, he becomes a “monster” in his idiosyncratic quest to regain the phallus, and, since Oedipal transgressions seldom go unpunished, he almost always perishes.”83 In other words, both the Sweet Innocent and the Obsessive Avenger are “fetishized Others to be gazed at” as performing roles in an Oedipal drama that reinforces the appropriateness and domination of the male gaze.84 Norden’s compelling explanation for the appeal of these images suggests the psychosexual appeal of the display of the deviant body in the possession narrative, for the possessed (almost always a female character) transforms from the Sweet Innocent to an Obsessive Avenger (under control of masculine impulses). The resulting combination of purity and corruption demands cleansing, and the sexualized dynamics connect this purification to repositioning the subject as the proper focus of male attention made ready for consumption. The rescue by the almost always male exorcist completes the picture by celebrating the power of the patriarchal male, who effectively asserts his domination over the female innocent in the process of forcing out the invading evil spirit. By controlling the demon that controls her, he makes his presence and agency essential for the preservation of good order, and he establishes her place at the lowest spot in the hierarchy of power. The apparent necessity of these gender roles for the possession narrative becomes particularly evident in The Exorcist when we recall that Blatty’s true-story inspiration was the 1949 possession of a young boy in Maryland, and all the praise for the book’s authenticity was not undermined by this fact. Indeed, my analysis suggests that Blatty probably increased the story’s credibility by making his possessed subject into a female because that fits better with patriarchal beliefs about power and order. Seeing deviance as a sign of evil becomes easier when it appears consistent with the dominant patriarchal beliefs about where evil’s influence should be found.
The possession narrative reveals part of the relationship between the visual, epistemic, and ideological rhetorics of ableism. It employs ableist rhetoric as simultaneously a way of seeing, knowing, and evaluating, and the relationship between these elements is not simple or linear. Their connection “turns” in a cycle, where vision generates knowledge, which grounds values, which frame vision. In Western culture to see is to know, as knowledge becomes linked to experience, which is then valued as real, supposedly unmodified by the values of the beholder. This relationship of visual, epistemic, and ideological rhetoric suggests why it is so hard to abandon an ableist perspective. Seeing deviance as evil becomes a necessary and objective view within the ableist framework made real by the possession narrative, but people can dismiss the idea that obviously fictional possession stories have anything to do with how disabled people get viewed. Until people consider deviance is evil to be a learned perspective, people think their recoil from the disabled body is merely a reasonable response. Breaking with these tendencies requires a whole new way of seeing, knowing, and valuing. It requires a broader understanding of ableism that sees its rhetorical influence even in the logic of fictitious fantasies, and in the things that attract people to such stories. It requires that ableism become visible in places that seem very distant from disability. Without recognizing the impact of the visual rhetoric of ableist culture throughout everyday life, society has little basis for understanding and accepting the claim that ableism is widespread and problematic. Understanding how the possession narrative teaches a way of seeing that gets applied to encounters with the disabled—and thus a way of knowing and a way of valuing—enables society to confront this source of ableist rhetoric. In this ableist culture, visibly disabled bodies are always a spectacle, consumed by the able-bodied gaze. As Lennard Davis succinctly puts it, “Disability is a specular moment.”85 Visual rhetoric, from the message of the parent chastising the child caught looking to the technologies of gaze dictated by the possession narrative, operates below the surface of the ableist consciousness. In Western culture, people want the connection of seeing and believing; they desire the revelation of truth through the simple mechanics of sight. Challenging this simplistic understanding of vision can threaten and generate resistance, but it is necessary to reveal the logos of established discriminatory biases. Our actions and the rhetorical frames that shape the lenses through which we see ultimately reinforce each other, perpetuating a cycle where structured perception generates behavior that creates physical conditions consistent with what people believed was always already apparent. W. J. T. Mitchell argues that “such stereotypes as cripple, gimp, retard, freak, or monster can lock people inside of images that have their own perverse life and logic, condemning individuals to repeat certain ritual behaviors and narratives, or struggle against them as a condition of daily existence.”86 For Terrance Cottrell, the struggle of the possession narrative’s demand for the ritual of exorcism proved deadly when he was suffocated in 2003.
The evidence offered as proof of possession in the Cottrell case so clearly resembles that found in The Exorcist, that the novel might as well have been the manual followed in the ritual. During the exorcism Cottrell was described as exhibiting “violent tendencies”; would “screech, wail, and cry”; and repeatedly kicked, scratched, and threw himself to the ground.87 The exorcism performed a titanic struggle: the sessions could last up to two hours, and when authorities arrived on the scene that fatal Friday night, both Cottrell and Hemphill were “soaked with sweat” and Cottrell’s urine.88 Throughout the final exorcism, Cottrell’s hands had been wrapped in sheets “to prevent him from further scratching himself,” just as Regan had been constrained.89 According to a neighbor, Cottrell’s mother reported that during one of these sessions “the devil started to speak through Junior’s voice—though he can’t really speak—saying ‘Kill me. Take me.’ ”90 All of this proof demanded to be viewed through a deviance is evil lens, so that together these elements condemned Cottrell to be seen as truly possessed. The legitimacy of this ableist perspective became apparent in one of the story’s tragic twists: the reasonableness of the possession narrative converted killing Cottrell from murder or manslaughter to mere abuse. Asked why the parishioners believed an exorcism was necessary, Pastor David Hemphill, brother of Ray Hemphill, said, “I’m 62 years old, and I can tell a person that’s not normal.”91 Accepting this belief as the framework for Ray Hemphill’s acts, the prosecution opted to only charge him with child abuse instead of a more severe crime. In their view, Hemphill’s faith in the possession—and, thus, in the logic that deviance is evil—appeared so complete that they believed he did not understand that his actions could kill Cottrell. This should be the scariest part of the possession story. When the lessons it teaches become acceptable delusions that can justify the death of a young autistic boy, the “fiction” of the possession narrative has become horrifically real.
3 Ableism and the Cochlear Implant Debate
The negative value of disability implicit in the rhetorical warrant that deviance is evil also arises in the logic that I label normal is natural. Indeed, the latter could be understood as science’s iteration of the religious concept. The idea that normal is natural establishes ableist ideology within the rhetoric of science. This tends to protect it from scrutiny and provide it the aura of truth, yet the fiction of the “normal” body can be considered a tool of oppression—a rhetorical construct that has historically perpetuated ableism within powerful cultural institutions. Lennard J. Davis, who traces the origins of the idea of the normal body in contemporary Western culture to the mid-nineteenth century, explains that “the normal” informs “a notion of progress, of industrialization, and of the ideological consolidation of the power of the bourgeoisie.” Ultimately, Davis argues, the “implications of the hegemony of normalcy are profound and extend into the very heart of cultural production.”1 In the medical model of the body, the construction of normalcy envisions the norm as the statistical average. A “normal” body has ten fingers and ten toes because that is what most people have, and those who have more or less of either are “abnormal.” A “normal” body can see, taste, smell, touch, and hear, because that is what the majority of bodies can do. This placement of the majority at the center of the concept isolates the minority on the outside, revealing that the construct of normal empowers one group over another and creates a social hierarchy capable of privileging some people at the expense of others. Yet the “normal body” simply cannot exist. It is simply impossible that someone will ever be completely “normal” in the sense that no single body will have the statistical average of dimensions, parts, abilities, and all other aspects collected in the idea of a body. Humans vary in infinite ways; we are all different from each other. Additionally, as we grow and live our bodies change, and they are never completely stable. An accurate and exact count of the number of blood cells in a body could only be done after that body was dead and the bone marrow ceased creating such cells. Indeed, the number of things one could count as being part of the body is unlimited, and it depends only on what one decides to or can number. People cannot even begin to identify the average of everything because more things are found or invented all the time. Moreover, if we arbitrarily establish one limited set of qualities to quantify, and someone were to have the complete statistical average in all characteristics, qualities, and abilities, that person would be unlike anyone else—and therefore abnormal.
Combining the ideas of the previous two paragraphs—that the normal body operates as a way of distributing power in a culture, yet it exists only as a rhetorically constructed fiction—provides the basis for the questions underlying this chapter. Why is the idea of normalcy so powerful? Why has its application to prioritize the needs and conditions of some people instead of others become so widely accepted? From where does Western culture get the idea? In this chapter I contend that a critical part of what makes normal so powerful is its usually unquestioned association with the concept of “natural.” Simply put, the view that normal is natural holds that being normal is “what nature intended,” and thereby in line with powerful and fairly mysterious systems that span far beyond the reach of mere mortals. The “norm,” a human invention, becomes valued, known, and seen “as natural law.” The roots of this view that normal is natural can be traced back at least to ancient Greece, when Aristotle used it to explain and create the existence of what came to be known as monsters.
Valuing Normal as Natural in Aristotle’s Generation of Animals Although Étienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire would not name the science “teratology” until 1822, the etiology of congenital deformity, also known as the study of monsters, was established much earlier by Aristotle’s work Generation of Animals (GA).2 A. L. Peck notes that the text “is the first systematic treatise on animal reproduction and embryology . . . ; indeed, Aristotle’s work was not resumed until after the lapse of nearly two thousand years, and some of his observations were not repeated until comparatively recent times.”3 Robert Garland reaches the same conclusion in his study of deformity and disability in the Greco-Roman world. He argues that GA “provides the most illuminating discussion of the classification and aetiology of congenital deformity to be undertaken before the middle of the seventeenth century” and that the work attempts to establish “a comprehensive set of explanations for the principal categories of congenital deformity.”4 As a result, “Aristotle’s discussion of teratology in book 4 of Generation of Animals is more extensive and detailed than that of any other ancient biologist or indeed of any other scientist until the middle of the seventeenth century.”5 Substantial evidence suggests that GA largely inspired the “modern” science of teratology.6 Peck notes that Hieronymus Fabricus ab Aquapendente “knew and admired Aristotle’s work on embryology” and that his famous successor, English physiologist William Harvey, was inspired by GA.7 In 1651 Harvey published the first significant modern exploration of the subject since Aristotle, which he named Exercitationes de generatione animalium after the earlier work.8 In the nineteenth century, GA would again inspire research on the subject, when it was “rediscovered” by Saint-Hilaire.9 While it has not received the attention given to many of his other works, GA occupies a significant space in Aristotle’s corpus. Peck considers it the “culminating portion of Aristotle’s zoological works”
and states that “in this treatise Aristotle’s thought is to be seen integrated as it is nowhere else.” In laws that govern reproduction, Aristotle saw nature’s basic rules at play in the “business in which the powers of the universe are concentrated and united.”10 In GA Aristotle couples his observations on procreation with his typology of four causes, well known as the foundation of his epistemology, to explain why life takes its variety of forms. A brief synopsis of the “Final,” “Motive,” “Formal,” and “Material” causes opens book 1, and Aristotle identifies the focus of the study as the Motive Cause of the body.11 He declares that for bodies, that which generates and that which motivates a body to exist amounts to the same thing.12 By studying the reproductive system, he sought to account for the diversity of animals and nature itself. As Garland puts it, “Aristotle’s insistence that ‘monsters’ are a necessary part of Nature is not so much evidence of exceptional enlightenment on his part, but rather the consequence of his need to defend the epistemic foundations of his biological system.”13 Aristotle invented monsters to sew up holes in his argument for his way of knowing bodies. Aristotle’s examination of the subject was certainly not the first,14 but he appears to be “the first to provide physical anthropocentrism . . . with the status of presumed biological fact.”15 Like many of his contemporaries, Aristotle viewed the world of animals as a hierarchy with the human male at the apex. In Aristotle’s system the human male stood as the standard of physical perfection “in comparison with which all other animal life is at best deviant, at worst monstrous.”16 This aspect of the text illuminates how distorted “scientific objectivity” can be and suggests the attitude inherent in the rhetoric of interpreting what is understood as normal as natural. Aristotle’s elevation of the human male as the highest form of life has understandably drawn criticism from several feminist scholars.17 Rosemarie Garland Thompson echoes their critique and further suggests that his move unites the political struggles of women and the disabled. Specifically, Garland Thompson argues that the fourth book of GA, the section focused on the monstrous or imperfect body, marks the genesis of associating femaleness and disability. Identifying Aristotle as the “father of western taxonomy,” she stresses that his seminal move is the creation of the “norm” or “generic type” against which all other physical variation “appears as different, derivative, inferior, and insufficient.” In this step Aristotle lays the groundwork for the invisibility of prejudices rooted in its assumptions, by initiating “the discursive practice of marking what is deemed aberrant while concealing what is privileged behind an assertion of normalcy.” His argument provides possibly “the original operation of the logic that has become so familiar in discussions of gender, race, or disability: male, white, or ablebodied superiority appears natural, undisputed, and unremarked, seemingly eclipsed by female, black, or disabled difference.”18 Garland Thompson’s analysis ultimately suggests the fatal weakness of the resulting structure, for “without the monstrous body to demarcate the borders of the generic, without the female body to distinguish the shape of the male, and without the pathological to give form to the
normal, the taxonomies of bodily value that underlie political, social, and economic arrangements would collapse.”19 Building upon her analysis, I argue that while Aristotle’s text crafts the idea of the normal it also naturalizes it, thus establishing it as a rule of interpretation that carries the ethos of natural law. Since Aristotle often explicitly stated his reasoning, it is not difficult to locate the places where the text encourages the reader to operate with the assumption that normal is natural. In the first book of the GA he declares, “It is what occurs generally that is most in accord with the course of Nature.”20 The idea appears more explicitly in book 4, where he uses it as the foundation for his discussion of monsters, stating, “anyone who does not take after his parents is really in a way a monstrosity, since in these cases Nature has in a way strayed from the generic type.”21 Whenever “some violence is done contrary to what is normal . . . that ipso facto means something contrary to Nature, because in the case of things which admit and do not exclude the possibility of being other than they are, ‘normal’ and ‘natural’ are identical.”22 At the end of the book, Aristotle even suggests the origins of this idea, arguing that Nature testifies to the importance of regularity and normality in the repeated patterns of the sun and moon. Just as the moon dictates the rising and falling tides, all life must follow the same regular pattern of generation and decay. Whatever the reasons for the stable revolution of the heavenly bodies, “Nature’s aim” is to bring all things into similar patterns, “to measure the generations and endings of things by the measures of the bodies.” But Nature ultimately fails to accomplish this task, foiled by “the indeterminateness of matter and the existence of a plurality of principles which impede the natural processes of generation and dissolution and so often are the causes of things occurring contrary to Nature.”23 In these final claims, Aristotle raises his equation of the normal and natural to the status of the natural laws governing the universe. Aristotle’s repeated use of normal is natural as a warrant reinforces his stance as a scientist bent on revealing the laws that govern nature. In Aristotle’s system, natural laws describe stable conditions, inherent characteristics, and relationships that always apply to any situation. Because the monster violates the rules that Aristotle argues govern reproduction, it must be explained. If his analysis reveals the ways nature works, then that which does not follow those principles must be deemed relatively unnatural. His claim that normal and natural are identical maintains the consistency and cogency of his explanation of the reproductive system. Without the warrant, his systemic explanation would appear flawed. Instead of revealing the laws of nature, all his copious examples would simply suggest the way things worked “most of the time.” According to Aristotelian logic, a theory of how something should work must account for those cases where it does not. By defining those exceptions to the rules he establishes as aberrations contrary to nature, Aristotle protects the general epistemic claims of his explanation of how animals are generated; the exception makes the rule. By rendering the normal as the intended aim of nature, he places it on an elevated foundation that does not require defending or
elaboration and that escapes critique. He raises it to the status of a rhetoric that denies its own rhetoricity, positioning it as that which goes without saying. Constructing the abnormal body as unnatural ultimately attached very negative connotations to disability. Monsters were considered “subhuman,” imperfect beings not deserving of the rights of other citizens, and Aristotle argued in the Politics there should be a law “that no deformed child shall be reared.”24 But the Greek perspective did not go so far as to connect deformity to immoral behavior or the presence of evil, despite currently popular beliefs to the contrary. Martha Rose makes a compelling case that such beliefs arise from our contemporary interpretation of the behaviors of ancient Greeks, which mistakenly project our current ableist biases on that past. By carefully examining the historical record, she concludes that “there is no evidence in the Greek material that [physically deformed infants] were thought to evoke or result from divine displeasure.”25 Indeed, Garland argues that this prejudice was absent from ancient Greek culture as a whole, and that there is little evidence to suggest that they “were susceptible to the type of thinking that was prevalent at the time of the Reformation when mentally handicapped children were regarded as changelings in whom ‘the Devil sits . . . where the soul should have been.’ ”26 Garland notes that even if deviance and evil were linked on some level, the disabled were not considered morally responsible for their own deformity.27 Garland also points out that the Greeks lacked rituals to remove an evil influence from a monstrous body, which reinforces his conclusion that they did not link them in a definitive way.28 Although not prevalent in ancient Greece, the Christian worldview of the middle ages developed theories of teratology that coupled biological explanations for congenital deformity with religious beliefs. Generally, in these times the occasion of monstrous births was linked with sin and unholy activities. As Ottavia Niccoli has explained, the fourteenth through sixteenth centuries were marked by a widespread belief and well-published theory that linked abnormal births with conception during a woman’s menstrual period. As such intercourse was deemed sinful and unclean (an interpretation of chapter 16 of Leviticus and the apocryphal book “4 Ezra”), such births were deemed punishment for irresponsible sexual activity. Even works by famous physicians like Lievin Lemnes and Ambroise Paré contained this view, and the scientific aura surrounding their work helped validate the idea. In this period, infants and people described as monstrous were treated as Satan’s offspring, and it was standard practice for midwives to terminate the life of “monstrosities” at birth.29 This practice makes very clear the compatibility of the ableist rhetoric that normal is natural and the warrant I identified as deviance is evil in the previous chapter.
The Ableist Rhetoric of the Cochlear Implant Debate
As with the idea of demonic possession, it may seem easy to set aside Aristotle’s arguments as the extremely misguided and discarded notions of a previous era. But the ableist logic that normal is natural continues to operate in America today. The public struggle labeled the Cochlear Implant Debate (CID) provides an excellent example. Since its origins in the 1990s, the CID has been one of the most public conflicts that prominently display ableist assumptions about disability. The CID pits Deaf activists who see the implant as a threat to their cultural identity against medical specialists and implant designers who typically view deafness as an illness that can and should be cured. The medical perspective maintains that deafness excludes people from the world, and that the implant can provide the opportunity for the deaf “to learn language skills.”30 Activists argued that this view assumes that only Hearing culture exists and that only spoken/audible languages are legitimate, thereby ignoring the viable Deaf culture and its use of American Sign Language (ASL). They maintain that there is nothing wrong with being deaf, and that the Deaf are a cultural minority oppressed by Hearing culture that treats them as “something that is broken.”31 Deaf activists argue that Hearing people can “only speculate from their hearing-world perspective on what [Deaf] life would be,” and that forcing a person to be implanted is analogous to forcing a black person to take a theoretical pill that would turn her or his skin white.32 Although the CID has become less heated over the years, the tension between these arguments remains present today. The assumptions and arguments generating the CID directly clash over the meaning and function of the body. Different cultural orientations read and locate the body and its constituent parts in distinct ways, and the controversy arises as each culture advocates their ideas of the body to shape policy over the contested technology. Cochlear implants, a technological device that is partially inserted under the skin into a hole drilled through the skull into the human cochlea, provide different levels of sound reception for people with many types of deafness. The permanence of the device and cultural pressure to use it have made it into an extremely controversial technology for the Deaf. In the context of their culture, the Deaf have made opposition to Hearing assumptions about the cochlear implant a unifying stance, and have used the arguments of the CID as a critical site for promoting the Hearing culture’s awareness of their existence. Deaf Culture as Linguistic Minority As in many other countries, a Deaf culture thrives in America. Members of this culture have adopted the convention of capitalizing the term “Deaf” when referring to the culture and those that belong to it, reserving the lowercase “deaf” to refer to the audiological condition of not being able to hear.33 By extension, the Deaf label the dominant culture in America “Hearing culture,” usually capitalizing the first letter of “Hearing” to emphasize that it indicates a set of cultural norms and expectations, while “hearing” refers to the condition of being able to hear. It is important to note that the term “Deaf” does not simply describe all those who cannot hear. This culture is distinct from the total population of
hearing-impaired persons and separate from Hearing society.34 Many people whom society labels “deaf” or “hard of hearing” do not claim membership in the Deaf culture. Deaf participants in the culture differ from other deaf persons in two key ways: Deaf persons claim American Sign Language (ASL) as their natural language, and Deaf persons proudly identify themselves as Deaf. Deaf theorists argue that their use of a distinct language has helped shape and sustain a distinct orientation and cultural perspective. An example popularized by Carol Padden and Tom Humphries locates this “different center” in the use of the signed phrase “HARD-OF-HEARING.”35 To a Hearing person, the phrases “a little hard of hearing” might describe a person with restricted hearing who can use the telephone, and “very hard of hearing” might describe a person whose hearing capacity prevents this. But the Deaf use the ASL phrases “A LITTLE HARD-OF-HEARING” and “VERY HARD-OFHEARING” oppositely: a person who is unable to use the telephone but has some residual hearing is given the first label, while a person who hears enough to use the telephone is referred to by the second phrase. To these Deaf persons, the closer one is to being able to function as a Hearing person, the greater the “hardship” of hearing.36 Researchers began to recognize the Deaf culture in America in 1965, when Bill Stokoe, Carl Cronenberg, and Dorothy Casterline published the Dictionary of American Sign Language. The dictionary supported two important arguments. First, that ASL is a complete, unique, and sophisticated language, and, second, that the community of ASL users has developed into a viable Deaf culture. Since Stokoe et al.’s groundbreaking move, other linguists have confirmed and extended the argument that ASL is a distinct and unique language,37 and several cultural theorists have recognized the presence of the Deaf culture within the deaf community.38 Indeed, a consensus appears to have developed in both linguistics and cultural studies that ASL is the living language of a separate and stable culture in the United States and parts of Canada. Furthermore, similar signed languages and cultures of Deaf people appear in many other countries, which creates what many call a “worldwide deaf nation.”39 Until Stokoe et al.’s work, the Hearing culture mistakenly thought of ASL as a signed version of English,40 or a coded version of some other spoken language, and it was generally considered inferior to other languages because speech was believed to be a uniquely human trait. Brenda Jo Brueggemann notes that this Hearing bias, present in various forms since ancient Greek rhetoricians praised the power of speech and Quintilian dictated that the good man “spoke well,” emphasizes spoken language as the only true language and considers signing “juvenile,” “lower class,” or “primitive.”41 She argues that this view of language as speech—physically making sounds received by others’ ears—created the basic syllogism that justified Hearing attempts to “cure” the deaf or otherwise oppress them. “Speech is language; language is human; therefore, deaf people are inhuman, and deafness is a problem.”42 This view has sanctioned extreme measures that seek to correct the “problem,” and some of those who
attempted to cure deaf persons committed incredible atrocities on their bodies. For example, Jean-Marc Itard conducted highly injurious and sometimes fatal experiments on deaf children in the early nineteenth century.43 Because of this history, the Deaf see ASL as central to their status as a linguistic minority and oppressed culture, and they target practices that discriminate against them and deny their cultural legitimacy by repressing signing. They hate most the “pedagogical” practice of training deaf children known as “oralism.” Oralism forces deaf children to learn to speak and speechread while discouraging— or even prohibiting—sign language. This flips their preferred model known as “manualism,” which educates students via sign. In the Deaf culture, the term “oralist”—signed “THINK-HEARING” to indicate the Hearing mindset—describes the person most removed from Deaf interests and goals: it names the Other. While the history of oralism can only be sketched here, it has received extensive attention from several scholars.44 Generally, their work reveals that its historical association with repressive measures has led the Deaf to view oralism as dedicated to the elimination of Deaf culture. The philosophy is a residue of the considerable controversy over the appropriate means and goals of educating deaf children that has raged since the early 1800s.45 Put simply, oralism is the belief that deaf children need to be taught to speak in order to allow them to join “normal” society. The International Conference of Teachers of the Deaf held in Milan, Italy, infamously articulated the rationale for this philosophy in 1880: “The Convention, considering the incontestable superiority of speech over signs in restoring the deaf-mute to society and in giving him a more perfect knowledge of language, declares that the oral method ought to be preferred to that of signs for the education and instruction of the deaf and dumb.”46 Since then, oralism has been associated with strict prohibitions on the use and development of sign language, incorporating practices that the Deaf describe in the darkest terms. Oralist instructors would punish the deaf pupils’ use of sign by rapping them across the knuckles with rulers, paddling them for signing among themselves, and binding their hands to prohibit signing.47 From very early on the Deaf have referred to oralism as the method of “violence, oppression, obscurantism, charlatanism, which only makes idiots of the poor deaf-mute children.”48 But Deaf objections to oralism did not stop its adoption by Hearing educators of deaf children. Until the 1960s, oralism reigned as the predominant method for instruction of deaf pupils in the United States. Today oralism has become decidedly less prevalent, but its popularity rebounded in the early twenty-first century and well-funded groups like the Oberkotter Foundation continue to promote the practice. Research reveals that between 1999 and 2008 the return of oral education became a significant trend: deaf students being mainstreamed increased by 15 percent, classrooms combining sign with speech decreased 14 percent, and speech-only programs increased by 8 percent.49 The Deaf generally regard
oralist efforts as akin to the religious persecution of early Christians and the oppression of Jews culminating in the Holocaust. They describe oralism as “a final solution” to the “deaf problem” and point to the eugenic motives of such early oralists as Alexander Graham Bell. Bell was among the prominent educators who endorsed the practice and argued that prohibiting the use of sign language was necessary to discourage deaf endogamous marriages, which he believed were responsible for perpetuating deafness. Even in 2018, while the Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing worked to establish connections with groups associated with Deaf culture, it continued to identify its mission as working “globally to ensure that children and adults who are deaf and hard of hearing can hear and talk, a mission that remains since 1890.” They described their oralist approach to education as focused “on raising awareness about the importance of early intervention and early language development, with emphasis on learning through listening and spoken language.”50 For many Deaf Americans, Bell is the symbolic equivalent of Hitler. As Ben Bahan writes, “I am not saying that their methods are similar, but the ideas are not that much different. Bell and Hitler both wanted to wipe out what they considered ‘defective.’ ”51 Joseph Michael Valente echoes such sentiments, arguing that Bell’s combined roles of inventor and “arguably the most prominent supporter of modern oralist deaf education” made him the “ur-criminal” behind the ethnocide of Deaf culture.52 This history of oppression intimately links being Deaf with a need for intracultural support, loyalty, association, and community. In this context, the Deaf are highly protective of the means by which their culture has been sustained throughout the years. Transmission of the Deaf culture from generation to generation is particularly important to the Deaf because it necessarily differs from the transmission of most other cultures. Most cultures are sustained and passed on within family or via the social systems of the culture in which the parents raise their children. Because 91.7 percent of deaf and hard of hearing children are born to two hearing parents53 (who are typically Hearing) and they are surrounded by Hearing culture, the Deaf cannot pass their culture to new generations in these ways.54 James Woodward states “the majority of Deaf children belong to a different cultural group from their parents and must be enculturated into the minority group through means other than their parents,”55 and argues that enculturation into the Deaf culture is additionally hindered by two additional pressures unique to the Deaf position as a minority culture. First, the dominant Hearing culture generally does not recognize the Deaf claims to cultural status, describing deafness entirely as a medical pathology, and viewing as nonsensical the Deaf argument that their physical differences are less significant than linguistic differences.56 Second, linguistic differences between Deaf and Hearing culture are different than linguistic barriers between other cultures because ASL differs from spoken languages in both code structure and channel. Because ASL employs “topic-comment” instead of “subject-predicate” grammar
and operates in a visual instead of an audible medium, it is more than a different set of words, syntax, and style—it is an entirely different type of language than most of those spoken today.57 These barriers are even more important because usually people do not write down sign language, and historically writing plays a substantial role in cultural transmission. Except when transcribed in scholarly work like Stokoe et al.’s dictionary or dictionaries used to teach sign, the written materials of the culture are produced in other languages (such as the English used in the glosses I employ above). Even with the relatively recent availability of digital recording, the primary way of transferring the narratives and traditions of Deaf culture across generations remains face-to-face association. This makes Deaf culture very similar to the “oral” cultures discussed by Walter Ong, and it is largely dependent on everyday conversation, “oral histories,” and intracultural interaction as the mechanisms for propagating the culture.58 This need for direct physical association makes places where the Deaf interact essential to maintaining Deaf culture, and the state residential schools for the deaf have been the places where many children who became Deaf met for the first time. Advocates of Deaf culture overwhelmingly agree that the residential schools and Deaf clubs are vital structures for the perpetuation of Deaf culture. Rutherford points out that the schools “are the primary places where enculturation of these children takes place” even when only “informally, often surreptitiously, and without official sanction of the educational establishment.”59 The residential schools create the conditions necessary for the transmission of Deaf culture by bringing deaf children into contact with the small number of Deaf children who have been raised in Deaf families. These Deaf children provide their peers with the opportunity to learn about the Deaf way of life and have also been known to teach ASL to other deaf children when the school has operated in an oralist framework or used some form of signed English. This practice of peer education and introduction to ASL is both symbolically and historically important, for it was primarily through this process that ASL was able to survive the oralist onslaught. The Deaf routinely tell stories of children teaching each other ASL in the dormitories and on the playgrounds at the residential schools, symbolically presenting the practice as a type of “underground railroad,” a subversive and secretive act which sustained the language throughout its darkest hour.60 The introduction ritual used when Deaf people meet for the first time reflects the significance of the schools for transmission of Deaf culture, as it often involves conversing about the schools they attended.61 As I explore below, one of the reasons that the Deaf object to cochlear implants is that implant proponents are among the most vocal opponents of the residential schools, and otolaryngologists often make enrollment in an oral school or mainstreaming a stage in the implantation process. In the CID the Deaf typically describe the cochlear implant as an extension of oralist oppression that seeks to shut down
the residential schools for the deaf, which some argue would result in ethnocide.62 While the debate involves many arguments, many of them involve the idea that Hearing culture fails to understand the richness of Deaf culture, and that this ignorance explains their actions and encourages their belief in the device’s desirability. The Debate over the Cochlear Implant When scientists developed the cochlear implant in the mid-1980s and obtained approval to implant deaf adults, they were shocked by how few deaf people wanted to get one. When the cochlear implant was introduced, neither the total population of deaf persons, nor the estimated 500,000 members63 of Deaf culture, welcomed it. After three decades of procedures, in December 2012 only approximately 58,000 adults and 32,000 children in the United States had implants.64 This is less than 5 percent of the approximately 2 million deaf persons in the country.65 Most of the adults who have been implanted belong to the group labeled “postlingually deaf,” which means they became deaf after they learned to use spoken language. Such “late deafened adults” are typically found on the fringes of Deaf culture, if at all, for they have grown up among the Hearing, lack contacts with the Deaf, and often do not learn to sign.66 Research showed that “among postlingually deaf adults cochlear implants have allowed about a fifth of the recipients to hear and speak. . . . Three fifths can use the implant as an aid to lipreading. The other fifth get no real benefit.”67 Even with this poor performance record, the developers of the cochlear implant were surprised and dismayed that Deaf adults did not seem very interested in the technology. In order to develop a larger pool of potential clients, corporations that manufactured cochlear implants appealed to the FDA to allow children to be implanted.68 On June 27, 1990, the Ear, Nose, and Throat Devices panel of the FDA granted permission for children over the age of two to receive implants, and the CID began.69 The National Association of the Deaf (NAD), one of the largest organizations associated with Deaf culture, articulated the “official” response to the FDA decision: “The NAD deplores the decision of the Food and Drug Administration which was unsound scientifically, procedurally, and ethically.”70 The scientific objection rested on the “experimental” quality of implanting children (“There is no evidence of material benefit from the device in this population and no evaluation of long-term risks”). The procedural objection revealed that the FDA had not requested the input of Deaf spokespersons or organizations (in violation of standing procedure to thoroughly investigate the implications of a device before authorizing its use). The last objection argued that experimenting on children was unethical (because children cannot legally consent). While these arguments raised serious and legitimate questions about the FDA decision, even more harsh accusations appeared in documents less public than the NAD position paper.
The more vehement objections to the FDA procedure decried the implant as an attempt at cultural genocide (or ethnocide), an attack on future members of the Deaf community, and scientism gone amok. George Montgomery notes that implant opponents described advocates as “cheerful head-choppers in the Sir Lancelot mould, hell bent on ‘curing’ deafness and thus committing casual genocide on the deaf community and its language.”71 In this perspective, the cochlear implant developers targeted defenseless children because their Hearing parents would agree with the developers’ view of deafness and choose implantation. As even the NAD statement put it: “Adults, such as these children will become, when given the option of such prostheses, overwhelmingly decline them. The parents who make the decision for the child are often poorly informed about the deaf community, its rich heritage and promising futures, including communication modes available to deaf people and their families.”72 Since over 90 percent of all deaf children are born to hearing parents, the Deaf saw the FDA approval as putting the decision to implant in the hands of uninformed Others. Subsequent decisions to implant children, the Deaf reasoned, were based on a Hearing person’s interpretation of what it means to be deaf. Birgitta Söderfeldt’s words were widely echoed: “This limited awareness of what it means to be deaf, and of the success of so many deaf people, may be why parents insist on these surgical implants.”73 The Deaf also pointed out that the implant did not “cure” audiological deafness. Even with the best results, a child would never be able to hear “normally.” Thomas Balkany, one of the leading otolaryngologists responsible for developing the cochlear implant, admitted that “even when improvement is substantial, patients’ ability to hear does not approximate that of normal subjects.”74 Postlingual implant subjects reported that what they heard sounded like “a radio that’s out of tune” or “Donald Duck talking.”75 It was and still is not clear whether most or even many persons born deaf would be able to translate such sounds into intelligible speech, but it was clear that, once implanted, a child would become “an implant patient for life,” for the device would require periodic repair and adjustment.76 The result, the Deaf believed, would be to create a person that did not belong in either the Deaf or the Hearing culture. Implanted children would “end up trapped between two worlds: they can’t live the way hearing people can, and yet they won’t have grown up in the deaf community, using ASL.”77 The Deaf perspective views the implant as reification of the medical model of the deaf condition. Such medicalization insisted that deafness (and, by extension, Deafness) needed to be “cured” and eradicated. The Deaf identified this as an expression of ableist synecdoche and argued that the implants and medical community treated Deaf people as “a broken ear with a person attached.” The focus on a cure for deafness was understood as saying that “being deaf is the same as being sick.”78 As noted above, the Deaf were aware doctors were insisting that children who were implanted be enrolled in oralist education programs. They interpreted this as a belated attempt to revive the disputed tenets of
oralist thinking: that sign language was inferior, that deafness was an intolerable condition, and that living outside of the Hearing world was a severe handicap. As Robert Sparrow points out, “The search for a cure for deafness represents the desire of a majority culture to impose its language and values on the Deaf rather than modify its institutions to take account of the perspectives and needs of members of another culture.”79 Some advocates for the implant justified such fears of cultural genocide by proposing that the device would rectify the dangerous separatism represented by an independent Deaf culture. “We’re going to clear out the schools for the deaf,” claimed a speaker at a National Academy of Sciences meeting.80 This statement had particularly strong and threatening overtones for the Deaf, given the role that deaf schools continue to play in promoting and sustaining Deaf culture. Oralist advocates for the implant made similar claims, and the implant was “wholeheartedly supported by the oralist establishment as a final blow to manualism, eradicating once and for all the need to sustain a separate Deaf community with its own Sign Language.”81 The general bent of these arguments is evident in the common claim that the cochlear implant “can enable a deaf child to communicate with the world.”82 This statement simply ignores the world of the Deaf, implying that without the implant the child is lost and homeless, and positions the implant as the means to integrate the deaf into “normal” society (at the expense of the Deaf culture). Otolaryngologists and implant advocates often overlook valid Deaf motives for rejecting cochlear implants. One uninformed explanation of why the implants were not more popular relied on the profoundly ableist assumption that deaf people are essentially ignorant. For example, Margaret Skinner claimed that the social isolation caused by deafness had prohibited the deaf from learning about the implant: “These people isolate themselves in the population. They avoid support groups that could help them, and they don’t listen to television or radio because they can’t hear it.”83 Skinner’s dismissal of the entire controversy over implants as simple ignorance exhibits a recalcitrant prejudice that the inability to speak is a sign of stupidity, an idea reified in the repugnant phrase “deaf and dumb.”84 Since the Deaf had clearly rejected the technology, Skinner assumed they were either ignorant, stubborn, or irrational people incapable of making sane decisions for themselves. From her Hearing perspective that living deaf must be an intolerable tragedy, it was inconceivable that people would not undergo a serious operation that would make them perpetual patients, destroy whatever residual hearing was in the implanted ear, and have only a one in five chance of giving them “normal” hearing. The Rhetoric of the Controversy From a rhetorical perspective, the CID arises out of the clash between two different ways of evaluating, knowing, and seeing the body of a person who is deaf. In other words, it arises from the ideological, epistemic, and visual aspects of ableism. Many of its participants—including some otolaryngologists
such as Thomas P. Gonsoulin—recognize that culturally bound perspectives fuel the dispute. Gonsoulin argues for bridging the gap between the “hostile rhetoric” of the two sides, which requires those operating from the medical model to “step out of the purely scientific mode for a bit” and be “willing to consider thinking differently, to grapple with the definition of culture and disability, which may be more sophisticated and difficult than initially perceived.”85 Approaching the debate from this perspective, I seek to unpack its rhetoric to explore the way that ableist warrants influence the events and arguments associated with it. Looking at the way the debate revolves around the concepts of normal and natural reveals how the implant advocates’ stance relies on the ableist rhetoric that normal is natural, while the Deaf stance adopts the reverse warrant that natural is normal. While the Deaf’s rhetoric does not generate the same ableist implications as the Hearing warrant, its use of the same two terms undermines its strategic value as an argument. In particular, it accepts the positive connotations of both “natural” and “normal,” which makes it logically impossible to adopt a more rigorous anti-ableist stance that inverts the value of normalcy. As I explain below, the warrants that most effectively deny the ableist stance that normal is natural are the positions that abnormal is natural and normal is unnatural. By basing their argument on accepting the same terms as the Hearing stance, the Deaf lost the option of framing the CID as a contest between ableist and anti-ableist views. In a sense, by accepting the implant advocates’ key terms, the Deaf situated their arguments in the debate within a domain defined by the logic of ableist rhetoric. The CID thus demonstrates the power of the ableist rhetorical warrant normal is natural and the appeal of linking the concepts of nature and norm. Although the debate opposes two different ways of evaluating, thinking about, and seeing disability, my analysis reveals that while the Deaf stance counters the Hearing arguments for cochlear implantation, it does not challenge the fundamental ableist rhetoric upon which the position is based. Although they do so from a different set of assumptions about deafness, both sides base their positions on what they argue are naturally normal characteristics and behaviors and presume that this normalcy makes them naturally desirable. Instead of repudiating the Hearing stance, the Deaf position mirrors it: it inverts but also reflects it. In the CID, this reflection of the preference for normalcy proves more important than the inversion of its relationship with nature. In the examples I explore below, the proponents of cochlear implant technology argue that hearing is “normal” for humans and that deafness itself is therefore an unnatural condition.86 This stance positions cochlear implants as technological miracles that can allow deaf people to become normal and participate in the “naturally superior” mainstream Hearing culture. In opposition, proponents of Deaf culture argue that sign is a deaf person’s natural language, and that living as Deaf is normal for a person who lives without the ability to hear. This stance positions cochlear implants as unnatural devices that remove deaf persons from their normal Deaf cultural heritage.
One place in the CID where the Deaf and Hearing cultures’ contrasting use of the terms “natural” and “normal” becomes apparent is in the rationales behind oralism and manualism. The CID continued the struggle begun in the debates over deaf education that I discussed above, where the “key to this confused [pedagogical] debate lay in the confusion over what was ‘natural.’ ” As Baynton points out, “the very idea of nature and the natural was undergoing radical change in the second half of the nineteenth century . . . manualists and oralists argued past each other, usually unaware that they spoke the same words to express different things.”87 The manualists claimed that deaf persons could not naturally hear, so signing was the normal mode of communication for those who were born or became deaf. The oralists countered that speaking was the normal way of communicating for humans, so the use of sign language was not natural at all.88 Because the implant advocates generally supported oralism as the appropriate method for teaching implantees—in some cases a child would not be implanted unless she or he would be enrolled in an oralist school—the Deaf claimed that the implant was an unnatural technology designed to rob deaf children of their natural heritage of sign language and exclude them from their natural culture.89 The debate over “early implantation” of young children also illustrates the roles played in the CID by the ableist stance that normal is natural and the Deaf position that natural is normal. Since the beginning of the controversy, many medical experts have maintained that early implantation would have a better chance of success, as children with the implant would be more likely to develop mental connections between the areas of the brain responsible for linguistic capacity and the auditory cortex. Neurological research suggests that people who have lived their entire lives using speech and hearing to communicate develop strong cognitive links between the auditory cortex and the parts of the brain related to language (known as the Broca’s area and Wernicke’s area), but the neural systems of deaf people who have grown up communicating in sign connect these same areas primarily to the visual cortex.90 While these conclusions remain somewhat controversial and many of its premises remain to be scientifically validated, the theory is often raised in disputes over whether children should be implanted at an early age. Cochlear implant advocates use this idea to argue that children born deaf and taught to sign develop connections between that part of their brain that controls language and that part of the brain that interprets visual input. Such children are unlikely to receive as much benefit from an implant later in life because the brain does not connect language capacity and the auditory stimuli it makes available. An early implantee, they believe, develops instead the “normal” connection between the Broca’s and Wernicke’s areas and the auditory cortex, as the implant provides audiological input that becomes the context in which the child learns language. Otolaryngologists argue that for a child born deaf this creates a window of opportunity roughly from birth to age four, because the linguistic cortex begins to be
developed extensively after this time. Some even suggest that speech acquisition is more likely the earlier implantation occurs, and that children born deaf should be implanted before they become twelve months old.91 From a rhetorical perspective, these arguments for early implantation operate with the assumption that normal is natural, for the “normal” development of the child is to learn speech, which the “natural” characteristics of neurological development make possible in children implanted at an early age. Deaf cultural activists also associate language development with these neurological connections, but they reach the opposite conclusion by viewing it through the natural is normal lens. They argue that if the brains of children born deaf will naturally develop connections between language and visual processing, then signing is the “natural” language of one born deaf.92 Use of sign is a “normal” outcome for one whose biological growth naturally ties language to vision. In other words, how the deaf brain would develop in the absence of the technological intervention of the cochlear implant reveals the natural course of events. Trying to force the deaf child’s neural development in a different direction requires an unnatural technological intervention and results in abnormal development for a deaf person. Pro-implant medical specialists see the brain’s connection between language and hearing as “normal,” and thus deafness as unnatural and in need of a technological fix. The Deaf see as “natural” the development of the connection between language and sight in a deaf child’s brain and thus see signing as their normal language. Like the opposite ways of understanding what it means to be HARD-OF-HEARING, these mirrored positions reflect the separate centers of the Hearing and Deaf cultures. The Hearing implant advocates’ basic argument holds that since normal children naturally develop speech, and since normal is natural, then speech is the natural mode of human communication. The Deaf argument holds that since deaf babies naturally develop a neurological connection between language and sign, and natural is normal, then sign is the normal mode of communication for deaf people. On the surface, the two sides seem directly opposed, but they are both supported by the same beliefs in the superiority of natural capacities and normal activities. In relation to the warrants normal is natural and natural is normal, the positive connotations applied to both natural and normal are what Stephen Toulmin labeled “backing” in his model of argument. Backing is “generalizations making explicit the body of experience relied upon to establish the trustworthiness of the ways of arguing applied in any particular case.”93 In other words, both the Hearing and Deaf warrants relied upon the same things to establish the credibility of their positions. I contend that using the same backing explains at least two key characteristics of the CID. First, reliance on the same backing accounts for the CID’s endurance. In the United States the debate’s intensity has waxed and waned since it began in 1990, but it has never been extinguished and the central points of the dispute remain unresolved. My analysis suggests that one reason the controversy
has remained volatile is because both sides valued the ideas of nature and normal. In argument theory terms, the positions do not “clash” on the question of whether those are both desirable concepts, or on the question of whether normal and natural belong together. This lack of clash undermines the utility of the debate as a mechanism for establishing policy or persuading someone to agree with a contrary view. On these points, the debate lacks what the ancient Greeks called “stases,” which are the points of contention where competing sides run into each other and prohibit the other from advancing. At these points, movement in one direction or the other is not possible until one side wins the debate and proceeds along its way. Without stases, the debate cannot be resolved by argument no matter how much time the sides spend compiling additional evidence and developing their positions, because they never engage each other. The result is that the debate progresses like the proverbial “two ships passing in the night,” as the rhetorical positions head in opposing directions but fail to collide. Picture two swordfighting warriors who circle each other without making contact. Until they engage, the fight remains unresolved, and the question of which warrior is better than the other cannot be established except by preference. This limits the Deaf stance’s rhetorical efficacy by making acceptance of Deaf culture the fulcrum of the debate. Those who saw natural and normal from the Deaf perspective would agree with their stance, but those who saw these things from the Hearing perspective would disagree. Identifying things as either natural or normal simply reflects the point of view that people bring to the question; their “meaning” is a function of perspective. The CID could become a clash over the propriety of ableist valuing, knowing, and seeing normal as natural, but in its current state it often resembles a war of assertions that appeal only to those who already agree. The Hearing perspective views deafness as an abnormal deviation from human nature because that defines the Hearing view. In perfect contrast, the Deaf perspective views deafness as a natural occurrence normally encouraging signing and the presence of Deaf culture defines perspective. As long as this incommensurability frames the debate, the CID cannot be resolved through argument unless one side renounces its own identity to become its Other. While that is possible, such a conversion experience rarely happens because it requires an extreme and powerful impetus. Requiring the Hearing to abandon their entire orientation demands so much that it is unlikely to ever happen. Second, the preference for normalcy undermines the Deaf stance’s challenge to the ableist assumptions behind the Hearing stance. The clearest rebuttals to normal is natural are the warrants normal is unnatural and abnormal is natural. Taking the stance that natural is normal effectively distances the Deaf from the stance of many disability groups. This helps explain why the Deaf frequently contend that they are not disabled. In its “Position Statement on Cochlear Implants,” the NAD argued that a flaw in the Hearing position is that “many within the medical profession continue to view deafness essentially as a disability and an abnormality and believe that deaf and hard of hearing
individuals need to be ‘fixed’ by cochlear implants.”94 This statement argues that the media present deafness “in a negative light” when it portrays “deaf and hard of hearing children and adults as handicapped.”95 Although these claims do not necessarily advocate an ableist position, the refusal to reject it implicitly accepts the ableist’s negative view of disability—at least from the ableist perspective. This separation between Deaf culture and the larger umbrella of disability culture complicates Deaf culture’s relationship to inclusion and other overarching goals of the Disability Rights Movement (DRM).96 Even when this does not distance the Deaf from potential allies and deny them political support from disability activists, it allows the ableist perspective to decouple them. Dirksen L. Bauman and Douglas C. Baynton argue that it makes more sense to read the Deaf rejection of disability as their way of rejecting ableism than as their rejection of other disabled people, and from a Deaf perspective that makes sense.97 The stance does not explicitly devalue disability, and in the context of its challenge to the medical model—its repudiation of the view that sees deafness as something that needs to be fixed—the Deaf position resonates with the anti-ableist views of the DRM. But ableists’ acceptance of the medical model removes this context from their interpretative frame, so the argument “deaf is not disabled” suggests that Deaf culture does not contest the negative evaluation of disability. In the Hearing view, the Deaf arguments in the CID and disability activists’ attacks on discrimination are practically unrelated. In contrast to the Deaf warrant that natural is normal, the rhetorical stances normal is unnatural and abnormal is natural craft much more potential for debate with the ableist rhetoric. Both of these require reversing preference for one or the other terms of normal is natural, which creates clear stases where debate can be joined. The amount of clash over whether normal is natural or unnatural is much more substantial than the clash possible over whether “normal is natural” or “natural is normal.” Indeed, clash in the latter case rests on a fairly esoteric philosophical debate over the meaning of the term “is” that may itself resemble two ships passing in the night. But another advantage of the former case is that either of these two warrants aligns it with the potentially powerful concept of cyborg politics, while the position natural is normal necessarily distances Deaf culture from this innovative theory. Deaf culture’s investment in identity politics coheres with its acceptance of the ableist preference for aligning normal and natural, but both of these rhetorical positions reject the anti-ableist concept of the cyborg.
Cyborg Theory, Identity Politics, and Ableism One of the more provocative ideas about the body from postmodern theory is the notion of the cyborg as a radical political identity. Donna J. Haraway launched the concept in her 1985 “Manifesto for Cyborgs,” and the theoretical investigation of the cyborg has culminated in several projects.98 These
have studied how the cyborg can restructure the way society conceives nature, alter awareness of how technology shapes culture, and complicate theories of interface and technological dependence in the computer age. Scholars have also explored how this futuristic concept is imagined in film and literature.99 In much of this work, cyborg politics describes a mode of advocacy that transcends the conventional relationship of agency and body. In the context of ableist rhetoric, this reconceptualization of the body carries the potential to subvert normal is natural. Yet this promise remains unfulfilled, which suggests the limitations of the cyborg for anti-ableist politics, indicates the durability of ableist culture, and helps explain why the Deaf explicitly rejected the identity of cyborgs in the CID. While the majority of this cyborg theory develops the concept as a challenge to sexism, a recurrent theme stresses the potential of cyborg politics for undermining other forms of discrimination. The disabled have been explicitly addressed as potential advocates of and adherents to cyborg ideology, and many early cyborg theorists have suggested that disabled people should celebrate a cyborg existence and engage in cyborg politics. The disabled have always had a complicated relationship with technology. As technology is built for and by bodies, many technological advances reify and affirm notions of normalcy that disable those who are not able-bodied. Stairs and telephones, for example, are technological advances that have historically allowed and supported “progress” in architectural and communications design. Yet to those in wheelchairs or people who are deaf these can present serious difficulties. On the other hand, technology can provide aids and prostheses that allow many bodies to accomplish tasks associated with “normal” life. From the wheelchair to the Kurzweil Reading Machine, technological advances have often made the lives of disabled people easier, more productive, and more fulfilling. Furthermore, technology often provides access to those areas that had previously excluded different disabled people. Ramps, escalators, and elevators allow passage where previously only stair users tread, and the teletypewriter (TTY) allows deaf people to use the phone. Finally, those who view disability as a lack, an insufficiency, or a challenge to be overcome often seek to “solve” the “problem of disability” through technological fixes. The medical community especially has developed therapeutic machines, surgical procedures, and drug regimens that attempt to (re)make disabled bodies. Because technology plays so many roles in the lives of the disabled, they view each new technological advance with close scrutiny. Many cyborg theorists suggest that this long and enduring relationship has put the disabled in a unique position to exploit the cyborg identity for political ends. Constance Penley and Andrew Ross assert that “the highly developed technoculture of the handicapped and the complexity of their discussions around appropriate levels of technology” is an important area for future study of cyborg theory.100 Likewise, Haraway suggests that “perhaps paraplegics and other severely handicapped people can (and sometimes do) have the most intense experiences of complex hybridization.”101 Disability
studies scholars provide a more equitable rationale for cyborg politics based in its form of action, which implicitly attacks the dualistic thinking that rationalizes virtually every form of discrimination and bigotry.102 Specifically, the cyborg offers unique avenues for rethinking normal society, normal bodies, and normal relationships with technology. Cyborg politics rearranges the foundation of equality by declaring that the contemporary integration of humans and machines has made us all cyborgs.103 The “normal human body” has become so dependent on technology that the root binary division between human and machine no longer applies. In today’s modern societies people physically rely on technology and devices for such basics as food and shelter and for the more complex goods of communication, cultural memory, and social order. The cyborg theory suggests that people have relied on technology for so long that our very bodies have come to rely on it as well. Stripped of all technology—including everything from the simplest of tools and the ability to manipulate fire to such inventions as language and agriculture—the human body would survive for only a few days in the wilderness. Cyborg theory posits that millennia of evolution have made the human body and the machine inseparable, and the lines society draws between the two have become falsehoods. Blurring the line between human and technology makes lines dividing one human from another completely incoherent. Once violated, the foundational border separating machines and humans becomes increasingly leaky and imprecise, and the fluid that escapes through the holes simply washes away the more superficial distinctions based on gender, or race, or ability. On what grounds can I claim to be different from any other technology dependent organism if I cannot clearly distinguish myself from my toaster? As cyborgs, all people are hybrids and border crossers. The common violation of the human/machine divide unites all people and becomes the only “pure” foundation of identity. This context renders distinctions based on physical difference senseless, for how can one separate one cyborg from another? A cyborg who depends on a car or a computer is not qualitatively or essentially different from a cyborg who depends on a wheelchair or a voice synthesizer. As cyborgs, biological distinctions between bodies become irrelevant, revealing the current ableist construction of disability as a discriminatory and completely artificial abstraction. While recognition of the cyborg belittles the distinctions we make between different humans, cyborg theory undermines as well the ideological foundations of ableist culture. The line dividing normal/abnormal, which Lennard Davis labels “the modern binary,” and virtually any extension thereof, is less visible in the cyborg context. Such divisions form the basis of ableist identity construction. Davis locates the impetus for the normal/abnormal divide in “the desire to split bodies into two immutable categories—whole and incomplete, abled and disabled, normal and abnormal, functional and dysfunctional.”104 As Davis put it, cultures construct and identify themselves through an act of splitting,
equivalent to Freud’s process of Spaltung. Splitting protects the social order: the division of good from bad creates and protects the notion of good. Inability to craft a clean break between desirable and undesirable creates social anxiety and confusion. As ableist culture splits bodies into good and bad parts (“good: hair, face, lips, eyes, hands; bad: sexual organs, excretory organs, underarms”) the unification of these parts in a single body creates something of a psychological crisis, making Spaltung a social imperative. Davis concludes: “The division neatly seals off the frightening writing on the wall that reminds the hallucinated whole being that its wholeness is in fact a hallucination, a developmental fiction. The primitive reaction creates the absolute categories of abled and disabled, with the concomitant defenses against the fragmented body.”105 As the emblem of unification, the cyborg implicitly denies the possibility of division, problematizing any act of Spaltung and collapsing these fundamental divides that shape the ableist view of the world. While the dissolution of distinctions between different bodies can undermine discriminatory perspectives, it also works against a group’s access to identity politics. Haraway concluded her manifesto with the line “I would rather be a cyborg than a goddess.”106 The need for a choice between this iconic representation of the power of women and the cyborg indicates how following one of these paths abandons the other. Indeed, at its core the cyborg represents a radically new subject position that shifts “identity politics” to a strategy of “post–identity politics.” As Haraway notes, one of the traditions of Western science and politics that the cyborg upsets is “the tradition of reproduction of the self from the reflections of the other,” which is the core practice of groups engaged in identity politics.107 Depending on what view one prefers, the cyborg undermines the division of us and them (or self and Other) upon which the identities of identity politics rely, and/or it replaces the currently prevalent identities (women, GLBTQ people, the disabled) with the cyborg as a new identity. As cyborg politics rips at the foundations of discriminatory societies, it rips at the bases for the identities that challenge it. Were all to embrace the cyborg identity and its political victory were to be total, this would be of little consequence. But its impact in the immediate moment—and during whatever time humanity needs for a full transition to a post-human future—may be to fracture or undermine important social movements that continue to advance and protect the rights of many oppressed groups. While identity politics relies on persistent differences as rhetorical foundations for power, the cyborg questions virtually all established structures of differentiation by combining the uncombinable. Haraway therefore describes the cyborg as blasphemy, in that it poses the radical elimination of “animal-human (organism) and machine” upon which so many social systems depend.108 From this blasphemy it derives its power as it violates the sanctity of historically well-established cultural lines and raises questions about widely shared assumptions. It necessitates a complete paradigm shift that begins with rethinking the cyborg itself.
This attack on the process of social division makes the cyborg a useful construct for questioning ableism and other discriminatory practices, but such a broad attack concerns practitioners of identity politics in the DRM. At the core of the movement is a political act called “claiming disability,” whereby disabled people express a sense of pride about their condition, rejecting the medical model and taking a stand against ableist assumptions of what it means to be disabled. Simply put, claimed disability identifies disability pride and indicates participation in the DRM. Activists locate this process of identification at the heart of the movement. Leading disability rights advocate Cyndi Jones suggests that it is the primary act necessary for success, arguing that “the main thing disabled people need to do is claim their disability, to feel okay about it.”109 Likewise, Simi Linton argues that the meaning of disability is the crux of the matter, labeling it “a linchpin in a complex web of social ideals, institutional structures, and government policies.”110 As such, the struggle of the DRM is over the meaning of the term “disability” itself: many in our ableist culture “have a vested interest in keeping a tenacious hold on the current meaning,” and relying on medical definitions isolates disability from public discussions, labeling it a personal matter. Against these static definitions, the DRM reinterprets disability as a political category, identifying “a group bound by common social and political experience.”111 In this context, Michael Bérubé predicts “ ‘claiming disability’ is sure to become one of the most politically sensitive endeavors a body can undertake.”112 But the cyborg identity undermines claiming disability because the tactic requires that a fairly clear distinction remain intact between the categories of able-bodied and disabled. Moreover, the argument that all people are already cyborgs could be understood to mean that a de facto political equality already exists—making a movement for equal rights unnecessary. For most disability rights activists, the idea of abandoning identity politics—which has so far served them quite well—risks too much to make signing on as cyborgs worthwhile. Deaf culture’s dependence on maintaining a Deaf identity aligns it with those who could give up a lot to celebrate a cyborg existence, and their rejection of the potentially cyborgian cochlear implant exemplifies this limitation of cyborg politics. This cochlear implant’s physical merger of technology with the human body creates what Hayles refers to as “cyborgs in the technical sense,” a category that also includes “people with electronic pacemakers, artificial joints, drug implant systems, implanted corneal lenses, and artificial skin.”113 From a disability studies perspective, this places the rhetoric of the CID alongside the debates over cyborg politics, which encourages critics to investigate their alignment. Brueggemann explicitly calls for “a rhetorical analysis of cochlear implants and the discourse surrounding them, as well as a consideration of the implanted body within the frame of the recent rage of academic and cultural critiques of ‘the cyborg.’ ”114
The Deaf specifically rejected the cochlear implant as cyborgian technology, actually using the idea as a way of demonizing the device. Unlike hearing aids, which a deaf person can use at will and easily set aside, the cochlear implant makes a permanent addition to one’s body that requires major surgery to install and periodical adjustment. Its installation virtually guarantees that the recipient will always be in need of medical scrutiny and assistance. The implantation process obliterates whatever residual hearing that a person might have had by permanently damaging the ear, effectively joining the body and machine in a life-long relationship. Following this logic, Montgomery negatively describes the implant patient as a cyborg. He argues that technology has a unique impact “when prostheses are not immediately selfremovable and the consequences of distal control introduce a science-fiction quality to our deliberations.” But since the technology really exists, the Deaf are right to fear “that the day of the Cyborg Krolls is nigh,” and ought to oppose the “technocrats” who do not understand how the devices “have a deeply disturbing effect on personal identity.”115 Similarly, Valente describes the pro-implant faction’s “terrible ethnocidal and linguicidal crimes being perpetuated against the Deaf community and young deaf children” as “cyborgization.”116 He argues that this process reflects “the phonocentric version of the ideal cyborg, a deaf-turned-hearing cochlear cyborg,” which does not resemble the “pure cyborg” animated by Haraway’s theory.117 Instead, Valente argues this cochlear implant crusade reflects the views of “today’s hypercapitalist, technomaniac times,” which engage in the “cyborgization of children with deafness under the guise of humanization.”118 His claim connects the rejecting of the cyborg with the Deaf warrant that natural is normal. The guise of humanization arises from the idea that the cochlear implant allows the deaf to become normal, but the unnatural implantation becomes cyborgization from the perspective that deafness naturally creates normal deaf behaviors such as sign language. In the CID, the Deaf read the cyborg as a subordinate identity and view the cochlear implant as a tool of domination that seeks to undermine the future of the Deaf culture, even at the expense of turning children into truly isolated figures dwelling in a “no-man’s-land” distinct from either the Hearing or Deaf world.119 To Haraway, the cyborg is both human and machine, whereas the Deaf view sees it as neither. From their perspective, the cyborg appears as an excluded Other, a figure caught between worlds and without a home. They also pointed out that the process of implantation itself risked serious harm to the normal body, threatening to cause such conditions as meningitis and damage to facial nerves.120 Instead of an agile border crosser, the Deaf view the “deaf-turned-hearing cochlear cyborg”121 as an entity expressing the Hearing view that deafness and Deaf culture are unnatural and fraught with the risks of a complex operation and lifetime medical oversight and adjustment. Comfortable with the political premises of cultural identity politics, the Deaf claim the right to own and evaluate their physical differences as crucial to cultural existence. By remaking the deaf body based on Hearing assumptions,
the cochlear implant inherently argues against the Deaf way of life. To the Deaf, evidence of the improving effectiveness and technology of the cochlear implant is quite beside the point, as this only makes the device more useful as a weapon of cultural genocide.
Ableism and the Cyborg’s Future The issues behind the CID have not been resolved, but the intensity of the debate has waned dramatically since the 1990s. In the United States, media coverage of and public attention to the Deaf concerns over cochlear implants has practically disappeared. The recent rise in oral education, mainstreaming, and the early implantations described above also suggest that the advocates for the technology currently have the upper hand. Valente and Gail M. Boldt noted in 2015 that the increase in pediatric cochlear implantation was, as the Deaf feared, “negatively impacting the educational opportunities for deaf children and adults” by promoting oralist programs and eliminating programs centered on teaching and using ASL.122 Hearing parents making decisions for their deaf children have generated the increase in implantation, and Sparrow argues that as the implants continue to improve as a tool for integrating the deaf into Hearing society that it will be more difficult to convince such parents not to opt for the procedure.123 He concludes that parental decision making means that to “a large degree the cochlear implant controversy has been resolved in practice.”124 This suppression of the Deaf opposition demonstrates the strength of the Hearing perspective of deafness and the pervasiveness of the rhetorical warrant normal is natural. The CID also reveals significant concerns with the cyborg as a potential identity for Deaf and disability rights activists. Although the cyborg challenges the ableist thinking that normal is natural, the Deaf position that natural is normal inherently discredits the cyborg as an alternative standpoint from which to advocate against cochlear implants, and their rhetoric demonizing the cyborgian aspects of the technology follows that path to its logical end. The CID thus reveals the power, prevalence, and implications of rhetoric linking normal and natural. Through the connection of these concepts, ableism shapes technological priorities and development within the medical model, creating the context that makes accepting a cyborg identity dangerous for the Deaf and disabled communities. The Deaf rhetoric in the CID reveals how technological integration can be reasonably understood as a tool of oppression and ethnocide. No one has made a serious argument to implant hearing children, which means that the cyborg it creates is only for deaf people. The normal body that can hear naturally remains preferred over the cyborg identity it might confer, and technology becomes a mechanism for curing/eliminating disability that extends the view of disability as illness and
the disabled as patients. This contains the emancipatory cyborg Haraway envisioned, transforming it into a discriminatory “solution” for disabled people. This view of the cyborg can be traced to the time of its inception. In 1960, Manfred Clynes and Nathan Kline coined the term “cyborg” to describe their vision of a human being who would be able to survive unassisted in the radically different environment of outer space.125 Within a year, cyborg rocket ships began appearing as characters in science fiction stories by award-winning authors. Anne McCaffrey’s 1961 story “The Ship Who Sang” introduced the “brainship” Helva (designation XH-834), while Larry Niven’s first published story “The Coldest Place” featured a similar cyborg spaceship named Eric in 1964.126 While these stories projected a future where technology would allow the physical integration of human beings and spaceships to create the ultimate space travelers, they reserved that capacity for disabled bodies. Eric had been an astronaut until he was installed into a permanent lifesupport system built into a spaceship after he was extensively injured in a spacecraft accident. Helva and others like her were created because “she was born a thing” with twisted limbs, vision, and hearing disabilities, but because an encephalograph test showed that her mind was “receptive and alert,” she was integrated with a spacecraft instead of being euthanized.127 When conceived as a future only for those who lack normalcy, the cyborg becomes enmeshed in the ableist web. In a fantasy future where integrating the body with machines creates the potential for immortality, unassisted space travel, and the incredible extension of sensory capacity, the apparent continuation of the desire to be “merely human” becomes perplexing. In such a future the post-human cyborg should be celebrated as a higher order being, yet restricting cyborg production in these stories to disabled bodies reveals an ableist hierarchy of value. These living ships exemplify a “better” future only for those who are disabled, suggesting that their bodies are broken machines requiring fixing and that, even repaired, they always remain damaged goods. Making the body into a machine that requires repair marks those that cannot be repaired as rejects. Not every body should become a cyborg. This all shows the difficulty of using the cyborg as a wedge into the ableist establishment if such efforts are not united with an attack on ableist thinking. If the cyborg can be condemned for its tie to disability, and normal is natural continues to frame how people understand it, then it can make little progress against ableism. For cyborg politics to make good on its promise, it must challenge the rhetoric that legitimates the ableist response to it, or it will always be limited by ableist interpretations of its meaning. Conceiving the cyborg within the ableist orientation that the normal is natural deflects its blasphemy of ableist Spaltung. The cyborg imagined in science fiction as a cure for disability is not the cyborg of Haraway’s manifesto; it is the stereotype that cyborg theorists must confront. In contrast, a cyborg true to Haraway’s original vision undoes this ableist rhetoric. In its combination of flesh and machine, of living and nonliving, it separates the natural from the normal. If everyone
would accept that we are all cyborgs who merely depend on different technologies, then normal is natural loses its coherency, legitimacy, and appeal. Accepting the combination of technology and body by the cyborg displaces the warrant itself. If the unnatural cyborg were recognized as the norm of human existence, it reverses this ableist logic. Abnormal becomes natural, and unnatural becomes normal. In short, the work required to make the cyborg and a politically viable identity for all disabled people must include decoupling the normal and the natural. And even if one chooses not to identify as a cyborg, the project of emancipation from ableism requires disempowering normalcy and deconstructing its base. Understanding disability issues and the tools of ableist oppression make it necessary, as Davis writes, “to reverse the hegemony of the normal and to institute alternative ways of thinking about the abnormal.”128 Without that step, as the CID demonstrates, the rhetoric that equates normal and natural provides a perspective that can render the cyborg politically useless and will leave ableism intact.
4 Sport as Ableist Institution
The third ableist rhetorical warrant I name body is able. It creates a simple equation of “ability” and the physical “body,” thereby obscuring the rhetorical construction of ability by the interaction of social institutions, cultural systems, popular assumptions, and the ways these shape our world. Like deviance is evil and normal is natural, this premise allows an ableist calculus to operate invisibly, so that things like bodies’ physical capacities, skills, and dimensions necessarily identify what they can accomplish and do. But what a person is “able” to do depends on those things that make certain actions important and others insignificant. Given a different set of institutions, systems, and assumptions, the world would be made quite differently, and some of those considered disabled today would no longer be categorized as such. Recall the example of stairs: if they did not exist, then those who cannot use them or only do so with difficulty would not be disabled by them. Yet most people do not view a stairway as a discriminatory apparatus that privileges some bodies at the expense of others. The idea body is able dictates that the “problem” of not being capable of using stairs is a function of the body, not the stairs themselves. Through the lens of this rhetoric, the people who cannot use stairs are disabled by their bodies instead of by a set of ableist ideas and the structures that entrench these in contemporary culture. The two cultural practices justified by the rhetoric body is able that I explore in this chapter range from what appear on their surfaces to be one of the most pernicious to one of the most innocuous. I explain this disparity as a function of different contexts in which the warrant is used. On the one hand, body is able grounds the idea that biology is destiny, which has historically been used to justify discriminatory activities and ideologies like eugenics, social Darwinism, and denying women the right to vote. On the other, body is able informs the logic that systems rewarding specific types of bodies and skills—such as professional sport—simply create a level playing field in which all are welcome to participate as long as their bodies are up to the challenge. Both of these concepts rely on the notion that what society considers ability is a physical trait instead of a cultural judgment, removing from scrutiny the reasons and beliefs that select particular skills and characteristics. Their implications may seem quite different, but they arise from the same rhetorical premise that plays the same role of presenting cultural systems as blameless and inevitable.
Knowing Ability via Body in Bell’s Formation of a Deaf Variety of the Human Race
In 1883, Sir Francis Galton coined the word “eugenics” to describe “the science of improving stock . . . to give to the more suitable races or strains of blood a better chance of prevailing speedily over the less suitable than they otherwise would have had.”1 Within a few years, this controversial science had spawned a powerful movement in the United States. By 1921, widespread support for eugenics policies led fifteen states to adopt laws mandating that feeble-minded and mentally ill persons be sterilized, and between 1907 and 1960 over sixty thousand “retarded” persons were sterilized without their consent.2 Such eugenics legislation gave legal status to the view that “mentally ill,” “feeble-minded,” and other disabled persons were “degenerate” humans who lacked reproductive and social rights. The rhetoric that promoted and defended eugenics shaped some of the most explicitly ableist and repugnant events in history. Indeed, historians link eugenics, euthanasia, and widespread discrimination against disabled people to the development of genocidal practices in Nazi Germany.3 Henry Friedlander points out that genocide of “inferior” races can be understood as simply the most efficient method of creating a brighter future once a society accepts an ideology of human inequality, believes it can scientifically and paternalistically identify lebensunwerten Lebens (“life unworthy of life”) even over the protests of those living it and adopts a view of progress that validates sacrificing the rights and livelihood of some for the social benefit of others.4 By extension, the Nazis’ euthanization of roughly 75,000 disabled people between 1939 and 1941 provided the rhetorical logic and the practical experience that facilitated the Holocaust.5 The ideological consistency between eugenics and the horror of the Nazi genocide programs, and the lasting impact of eugenics on contemporary prejudices, identify the importance of examining eugenicist texts in this study of ableism. In the very year that Galton coined the term eugenics, Alexander Graham Bell presented a paper to the National Academy of Sciences at New Haven, Connecticut, that argued for the adoption of policies that he maintained would prohibit the formation of a new race of humans who were entirely deaf. His Memoir upon the Formation of a Deaf Variety of the Human Race (DV) was among the first of “thousands of sermons, speeches, and journal articles discussing how societies had evolved to the point that social needs were now considered to have priority over individual rights” to which American and English audiences were exposed.6 Its groundbreaking appearance, Bell’s enduring impact on policies concerning deaf people and pedagogy in deaf schools, the prominent role that he would play in the subsequent eugenics movement, and continued attention to this text by contemporary authors all suggest its importance.7 As Victor Goodwill notes, “Bell was a pioneer in studying hereditary aspects of deafness” and this text became “a major address” on the subject.8 Douglas C. Baynton concurs, describing Bell as “one of the most prominent and effective crusaders” for prohibiting deaf intermarriages. Baynton notes that Bell’s DV became the foundation for an extended campaign against “deaf inbreeding,” as Bell traveled the country giving speeches “such as the one he gave to the Chicago
Board of Education in which he warned that deaf people, ‘by their constant association with each other, form a class of society that marry without regard to the laws of heredity.’ . . . Bell’s fears would be widely repeated in newspapers, magazines, and speeches for years to come.”9 According to Harlan Lane, Bell became one of the most prominent figures of the eugenics movement, dedicating his later life to eugenic projects and joining the American Breeder’s Association, where “his influence was great enough to have the name changed to the American Genetics Association and to propel his son-in-law into its presidency.”10 Even before DV became the platform for Bell’s eugenic crusade, it became widely known due to strange and unfortunate circumstances. Lane recounts that part of the text’s immediate significance arose from a journalist’s error. A widely distributed story in the Washington Evening Star at the time reported that Bell had petitioned Congress to pass legislation restricting deaf intermarriages. According to Fred DeLand, one of Bell’s biographers, the story arose when DV was published by Congress among the memoirs of the National Academy of Sciences. A reporter saw the document on a congressman’s desk, mistook it for a petition, and wrote the inaccurate account—telegraphed to all parts of the United States —that “led many to believe that there would be, or already were, laws prohibiting deaf marriage.” As the rector of the All Angels Mission to the Deaf testified in Baltimore at the time the memoir was published, “news of [DV] spread like wildfire among parents of the deaf” and some deaf parents began to voluntarily sterilize their deaf children in infancy.11 Bell devotes the bulk of DV to establishing the potential for the formation of a deaf variety of the human race by making four related arguments: that deaf intermarriages are more likely than marriages involving at least one hearing partner to produce deaf children, that deaf intermarriages were widespread, that these two factors were creating extended families of deaf persons, and that the population of deaf persons was increasing. He supported the first of these claims by comparing the last names of pupils at institutions for the education of the deaf. Finding a high number of students had common surnames, Bell concluded: “(1) that deafness runs in certain families, (2) that these families are very numerous, and (3) that they are to be found in all parts of the United States.”12 This extensive population of deaf persons, Bell claimed, amounted to “abundant materials . . . for the formation of a deaf variety of the human race by selection in marriage.”13 To evaluate the likelihood that a deaf variety of the race might form, Bell used records compiled at the reunions of the same deaf institutions to determine the propensity for deaf persons to marry other deaf persons. He found that a “considerable number” of deaf persons eventually married, and that, between 1840 and 1859, of the 233 former deaf students that married, 196 (84.1 percent) married a deaf partner.14 Furthermore, the only exception to this rule was among students at the American Asylum, where a slight decline in such intermarriages appeared to correlate with an official attempt to discourage marriages among its deaf pupils.15 Finally,
Bell analyzed the admittedly limited data on the number of deaf children born to deaf parents and concluded: “While, then, we cannot at present arrive at any percentage, it is certain that the proportion of deaf-mute offspring born to deaf-mutes is many times greater than the proportion born to the people at large.”16 In sum, Bell argued that the evidence revealed a strong propensity for the formation of a deaf subrace in America, which he claimed would be a grave calamity. Bell maintained that the tendency toward deaf intermarriages was closely linked with education of the deaf. His data, he claimed, supported Rev. W. W. Turner’s findings that “ ‘before the deaf and dumb were educated comparatively few of them married’; and intermarriage (if it existed at all) was so rare as to be practically unknown.”17 By providing the deaf with a common sign language that was rarely used outside of the community of deaf persons and by placing the deaf in close contact with each other away from hearing persons, education at institutions and deaf schools appeared to facilitate and promote deaf marriages. Bell remarked ironically: “Indeed, if we desired to create a deaf variety of the race, and were to attempt to devise methods which should compel deaf-mutes to marry deaf-mutes, we could not invent more complete or more efficient methods than those that actually exist and which have arisen from entirely different and far higher motives.”18 Bell’s solution to this problem was to employ the practice known as passive eugenics. Instead of advocating the dissolution of deaf education, he argued for a series of reforms that would allow the deaf to be educated while protecting against the possibility of intermarriages. Criticizing the value of “repressive measures,” such as laws prohibiting intermarriage of the deaf that he feared would “only promote immorality,” Bell argued that preventative measures were nevertheless necessary.19 Since the “immediate cause” of the problem was “the preference that adult deaf-mutes exhibit for the companionship of deaf-mutes,” preventative measures would have to address the roots of this tendency. Bell identified two structures which contributed to this preference: “(1) segregation for the purposes of education, and (2) the use, as a means of communication, of a language different from that of the people [i.e., sign language].” Bell argued that these two steps mutually reinforced each other: segregation promoted the development of sign language, and sign became the preferred mode of education at the institutes as an increasing number of deaf pupils graduated to become deaf educators.20 To reduce the tendency for deaf persons to associate primarily with deaf persons, Bell argued, both of these practices would have to be abandoned. To accomplish this Bell advocated integration of deaf education with the education of hearing students (the practice now known as “mainstreaming”) and promoting the acquisition of articulate speech and speech-reading instead of sign language (the pedagogical philosophy of oralism discussed in chapter 3).21 With these reforms, Bell argued, the propensity of deaf intermarriages would be greatly reduced; integrated education would force deaf students to form relationships with hearing students, while developed speaking skills would provide deaf
persons with the tools to establish and maintain such relationships. If the practices of deaf education could be reformed in this way, Bell contended, they would “exert considerable influence” as remedies to the problem of deaf relationships. Especially in the context of the extremely ableist implications of the eugenics movement, Bell’s crafting deaf intermarriages as a problem exemplified ableist thinking. DV requires its audience to employ the rhetorical warrant body is able on at least two different levels. First, Bell oversimplified the condition of congenital deafness, treating it as a single physical trait. Throughout the study he relies on the assumption that a deaf person lacks the ability to hear because her or his body is flawed in a singularly particular way, and when two deaf persons marry and produce offspring, they are likely to pass that trait on to their children. Their deafness is an essential part of their body, and any issue of their body likely exhibits the same essential trait. In other words, Bell repeatedly treated the inability to hear as a simple failure of a single physical process. To his credit, Bell did attempt to distinguish in his data between persons born deaf and persons who acquired deafness later in life, suggesting that late acquired deafness would not necessarily be passed on to offspring.22 But he treated congenital deafness as a relatively simple condition, assuming that when a child was born without the ability to hear it was because some single flaw had been inherited. “If the laws of heredity that are known to hold in the case of animals also apply to man, the intermarriage of congenital deafmutes through a number of successive generations should result in the formation of a deaf variety of the human race.”23 Deafness is treated throughout the text as a single construct—a defect—as if the problem were as simple as a broken ear. The pattern of reasoning that allows one to see deafness in such oversimplified terms starts from an able-bodied center and moves away. Compared to an able-bodied person, a deaf person is one who lacks the ability to hear. The deaf person’s body is defective, and that locates her or him in a space with other deaf people. They are all excluded for the same reason, namely that their deafness distinguishes them from hearing persons. This single reason for exclusion implies a single reason for their condition. All deaf people have the same physical “problem,” and are likely to pass that problem on to their offspring. Simply put, the bodies of all deaf people are alike, because what defines their bodies is the inability to hear. Defining the body by its apparent ability is core of the rhetorical warrant that ability is a function of body. Bell’s treatment of deafness as the inability of a simply defective body underlies his entire reasoning process. Without it, it would be absurd to count pupils’ surnames, as the reduction of the deaf body to a name requires a singularity of the deaf body. To make sense of his methods as well as his conclusions, a reader must constantly assume the basic equivalence of body and ability. This becomes particularly clear if the rhetorical position is abandoned and deafness is understood instead as a variety of conditions,
grouped by the social practice of people of interacting with each other. In that context, Bell’s arguments are easily recognized as fatally flawed. Modern genetic theory, for example, recognizes that congenital deafness can be caused by a variety of different conditions. Upward of 200 genes have been estimated to be responsible for hearing impairment. W. J. Kimberling notes that “extensive genetic heterogeneity is a hallmark of human hearing impairment and contributes considerably to the complexity of its diagnosis.”24 At least 400 different syndromes, responsible for up to 30 percent of all cases of genetically transmitted deafness, have been catalogued. Congenital deafness can be triggered by a variety of environmental situations instead of by genes alone. Maternal-fetal infections, prenatal complications, obstetric trauma, frequent otitis, and early onset meningitis and encephalitis can cause deafness before or very soon after birth.25 In other words, even congenital deafness is not a simple physical condition. The various types of deafness and the wide range of physical circumstances we label simply as “deaf” reveal it as a social construct grounded in and defined by the assumed superiority of hearing people. From a perspective recognizing this variety of causes, deaf intermarriages are only slightly more likely than hearing intermarriages to result in widespread dissemination of “deaf genes.” For such marriages to contribute any additional likelihood of transmission of deafness over either mixed or hearing marriages, both parents would have to share the same recessive gene. In cases where transmission of a dominant gene manifests as congenital deafness, a deaf parent can pass the trait to her or his offspring even if she or he married a hearing person. The relative rarity of both parents sharing the same recessive gene explains why current statistics show that 90 percent of all children born to deaf parents can hear, and why just over 90 percent of all deaf persons are born to hearing persons.26 Such data shows the necessity of the body is able warrant for Bell’s argument. If the congenitally deaf population were not seen as made up of essentially same bodies, there would be no reason to assume that intermarriage of congenitally deaf persons would result in the transmission of deafness to offspring. If instead of starting from an able-bodied center one started with the body of the person who does not hear, ability would be decoupled from the body. Deafness would be seen as a cultural effect created by systems that make a specific skill and a variety of physical conditions into the same identifying feature labeled as the ability to hear. The variety of different causes of deafness would fracture the simple unity of the deaf population that is the root of Bell’s fearful prophesy of the impending creation of an entire “sub-race of defectives.” The presence of the body is able warrant throughout Bell’s text also corresponds with his support for the eugenics movement as an extension of the logic of biological necessity. Indeed, the idea that one’s body shaped one’s destiny, that one’s heredity is one’s fate, lies at the core of eugenicists’ arguments for forced sterilization or restrictions on reproductive rights. In his examination of eugenics rhetoric, Marouf
A. Hasian notes the depth of this relationship and points out that “necessity” became a central term of the movement, pervading its claims on many levels.27 While the word would be associated with a variety of meanings, the necessary connection of ability and body was among the most pronounced. Whether Bell’s reliance on the body is able warrant helped promote it in his time—or whether his rhetoric merely reflects the age in which he wrote—does not matter because the historical implications of eugenic practices taint it either way. Although it will appear much more innocent in such modern incarnations as the world of sport, the rhetoric should never escape the infamy associated with its history. As Nazi Germany’s leap from euthanizing disabled people to anti-Semitic genocide shows, this way of thinking can shift quickly from justifying one set of practices to another. DV displays an additional characteristic worthy of note, as it links all three of the rhetorical warrants I examine in a single work. In addition to body is able, normal is natural also appears prominently in Bell’s text. The foundation of his study is the argument that deaf persons, unlike any other group of “defectives,” appeared to violate natural order in two ways. First, the deaf were guilty of actively violating normal principles of human relationships. Normally, Bell argued, “sexual attraction often appears to operate after the manner of magnetical attraction—’unlike poles attract, like poles repel.’ Strong, vigorous, and robust men naturally feel a tenderness for weak, delicate, and fragile women, and are generally repelled by physical strength and masculine traits in the opposite sex.”28 Bell argued that this rule appeared to govern even the relationships of most classes of defective persons. “We do not find epileptics marrying epileptics, or consumptives knowingly marrying consumptives,” Bell claimed. The deaf, however, presented a distinct case, for “in this country deaf-mutes marry deaf mutes . . . such marriages are not the exception, but the rule” (4). Furthermore, congenital deafness appeared beyond the bounds of natural control: while “a greater tendency to premature death” would check the widespread dissemination of any other trait, “the continuous intermarriage of persons possessing congenital defects not associated with diminished vitality or vigor of constitution would result . . . in the production of a vigorous but defective variety of the race”(3). The deaf, in other words, threaten nature’s order by violating the principle that “opposites attract” while producing defective offspring that would not fall prey to nature’s primary regulatory mechanism of early death. It was this deviance from the natural law of selection that marked deaf intermarriages as so dangerous, thereby tying normal is natural to the warrant that deviance is evil. Throughout DV, the potential for a deaf variety of the human race is assumed to be sufficient evidence to justify eugenicist measures. Bell’s claim that “the production of a defective race of human beings would be a great calamity to the world” is paired with the consistent description of deaf intermarriage as “the evil” (41, 45). Bell appears to have assumed that this was sufficient justification for action: the possibility represented an imperative that could not be questioned. Indeed, Bell briefly
discussed the “scheme” of several deaf persons to form an isolated “deaf-mute state or territory,” and wrote with relief that “the whole scheme was . . . overthrown by the influence of Rev. W. W. Turner, Mr. Laurent Clerc, and other teachers in conjunction with the most intelligent of the deaf-mutes themselves” (45). The rebellious terminology of this passage is reinforced by Bell’s warning that “the scheme is still favored by individual deaf mutes, and may therefore be revived in organized shape at any time” (45). Bell’s few depictions of deaf people in the work support this portrait of the deaf as scheming, dangerous, and generally slow-witted persons held only in check by their teachers (and those deaf persons Bell deemed “most intelligent” for opposing formation of deaf communities). While professing to hold a more enlightened view of the deaf, Bell graphically describes how many people felt the deaf were “dangerous, morose, ill-tempered, &c.” He tells of a deaf person who was killed in Alabama in 1857 by a man “alarmed” by the deaf person’s gestures. Bell concludes that a deaf person is sometimes looked upon “as a monstrosity, to be stared at and avoided” (43). While Bell offers these statements as “fallacies” concerning the deaf, they remain the clearest depiction of the deaf in the text, as the work contains not one positive description of deaf persons. Furthermore, even while not endorsing these views, Bell uses the fear of the deaf and prejudice against sign language to justify his eugenic solutions and to reinforce the idea that the deaf represent an unnatural, dangerous group that, unlike other defectives, has the potential to disrupt evolutionary progress. In all these ways, Bell’s text leads the reader to use deviance is evil as a key perspective for the interpretation of his argument. Connecting that warrant to the other two throughout the text, Bell’s work crafts a near perfect example of ableist rhetoric —one that advocates ableist thinking for the benefit of both society as a whole and even deaf people. While the widespread eugenics laws mandating sterilization in the United States are a thing of the past, the practice of sterilization without consent of persons who are deemed mentally incompetent continues to this day.29 The landmark case Buck v. Bell, made famous by Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes’s statement that “three generations of imbeciles are enough,” has never been overturned, and it has been invoked by the Supreme Court to legitimate such forced sterilization.30 This practice does not appear especially common, but the general surreptitiousness with which the practice tends to be carried out makes it hard to determine exactly how often it occurs.31 But the warrant body is able would be relevant even if forced sterilization were completely outlawed, as this rhetoric has come to play a role in the much more widespread and socially accepted arena of sport. Sport tends to sanitize and rehabilitate the idea, and the warrant operates much differently in this context, but the ableist logic body is able will forever be haunted by the genocide that it facilitated.
Ableism in Sport
Throughout the history of Western culture, sport has promoted ableist thinking with its focus on the body and physical performance in artificial challenges. The wealth and status commanded by professional athletes, and the extremely small minority of disabled people that belong to this group, stand as strong evidence of the ableist nature of professional sport. Sport’s historical treatment of the disabled provides further evidence for this claim. Ableist rhetoric appears in the controversies surrounding disabled players like Eddie Gaedel, who was prohibited from playing professional baseball in the 1950s because he was only three feet, seven inches tall,32 in the nationwide debate and Supreme Court case over Casey Martin’s use of a golf cart on the Professional Golf Association (PGA) Tour, and in the international controversy over whether Oscar Pistorius could compete in the Olympics while using his prosthetic legs. On its face, professional sport appears to be a prime example of the institutional machinery actively perpetuating ableism. In particular, sport institutionalizes the ableist rhetoric body is able in its practice of locating ability in the body. It assumes an ideal of the stable and controllable body as the foundation of ability, and as the essential characteristic from which ability derives. Like the notion of biology as destiny located in Bell’s eugenicist text, this rhetoric masks the way social institutions that create cultural expectations and rules of behavior effectively transform a particular physical trait or skill into an ability. By locating ability in the body, the ableist reasoning body is able disguises the action of cultural machinery that produces ability, particularly in the well-established and historically popular world of sport. Yet sport defies simple condemnation as purely an ableist institution that merely privileges the ablebodied. The popularity of disability sports among disabled people who participate in such activities as wheelchair basketball, competitive quadriplegic rugby (“Murderball”), and the Paralympics, suggests that disabled athletes can benefit from sport’s redeeming qualities (e.g., teamwork, exercise, accomplishment, etc.).33 Disability and sport also connect through those arenas that integrate disabled and able-bodied athletes, which many see as important evidence of the American spirit of equality and values of persistence and courage.34 Furthermore, sport creates a unique calculus for interpreting the body. While ableist institutions such as the medical establishment tend to regard any deviation from the norm with suspicion, sport rewards deviation when that deviance favors performance according to its rules. The logic of body is able provides opportunities for disabled people whose capacities and skills are made into useful abilities in sports. Mordecai Peter Centennial “Three-Finger” Brown, for example, excelled as a baseball pitcher because he threw an extremely effective curveball with his disabled hand. Injuries from a childhood accident with a corn grinder required amputation of his forefinger, rendered his middle finger “mangled and left crooked,” and made his little finger into a stub. He learned to pitch with the lower two fingers and use the stub to place extra spin on the ball, creating a curveball that “couldn’t be hit by a shotgun.”35
Unlike the religious view associated with the possession narrative, sport does not rely on the simple condemnation of deviance, instead privileging those whose bodies are different enough to give them an advantage in the specified activity. All of this suggests the need to examine sport as an important cultural institution intimately involved with ableist thinking in our culture. When the world of professional sport communicates an ableist bias by perpetuating the logic of body is able among its defining premises, its material values and monetary stakes make its ableism particularly significant and controversial. Indeed, disputes over excluding the disabled from sport would be much less emphatic were there little or no prestige, paid product endorsements, or financial consequences involved. In the professional and elite context, sport’s crafting of ability takes on additional significance. Sport defines particular physical skills as ability by constructing arenas where those skills give players access to substantial rewards. A person whose body exhibits particular skills is made “able” by the rules of the games that reward those skills, whether general—strength, reaction time, and hand-eye coordination—or specific to the sport—throwing a curveball or serving a tennis ball at over 130 miles per hour. Throughout professional sport, in its traditions, rules, and modes of display, attention is placed on the body of the athlete as the source of ability, rather than on the rules and traditions without which the relevant “abilities” would be largely irrelevant. Consider the “ability” to excel at golf, which provides enormous financial rewards based on a player’s skill of being able to hit a small white ball very far and very accurately. Without the game of golf, this skill would be as valuable as some people’s capacity to touch the tips of their tongues to their nose. The ableist rhetoric body is able deflects attention from this perspective, providing a way to see sport as connected to physical perfection. Were professional sport recognized as a purely artificial institution elevating arbitrarily chosen skills with questionable value for no other reason than to provide certain skill-exhibiting bodies with incredible wealth, its appeal and significance would likely diminish substantially. This focus on the athlete, and the way disability relates to it, become particularly visible in the images displayed to and consumed by sports fans.
American Football, Disability, and a Tale of Two Covers On May 7, 2001, former football star and Hall of Fame quarterback Johnny Unitas appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated (SI).36 He holds a football in his right hand, but he does not pose in the classic throwing stance in which quarterbacks are often depicted. Instead, he holds the ball pressed against his chest, clearly displaying his arthritic throwing hand and the amputated tip of his middle finger. He stares at the viewer, mouth tight in a slight grimace, demanding that we recognize what has happened to him. The lighting illuminates his hand on the football, and positions it in full view just below the exact center
of the cover. The hand is pale, almost white, an impression reinforced by its contrast with his handsome tanned face. Its splotchy skin, swollen knuckles, rigid index finger unable to touch the ball, and missing phalange all contrast with the hand we expect to see attached the man known as the “Golden Arm,” whom many fans call “The Greatest Quarterback of All Time.”37 The headline and its accompanying explanation make clear that his photograph dramatically connects the institution of sport with physical disability. In large type “Play Now, Pay Later” appears on the left side of the cover. In smaller type on the right directly opposite this text—on the other side of Unitas’s face and hand—the cover reads: “Johnny Unitas can no longer use his right hand. Like so many former NFL players, he is doomed to a life of pain and disability.” Solid lines above and below each of these statements suggest the viewer needs to read “between the lines” to understand the full message. The cover graphically reinforces this hint by placing the image of Unitas, and more importantly of Unitas’s hand touching yet not quite grasping the football, directly between these two statements. Unitas’s expression, at once both a “game face” and silent appeal for attention, unites the image of the sports hero with the demand for recognition of disability. Unitas’s gaze demands the need to account for what was then being exposed as football’s dirty little secret: that an increasing number of former sports icons were becoming disabled because of the impact of their participation in this hallowed institution. The accompanying cover story explains that professional “contact sports” often disable players. The article cites a Ball State University study that reveals major injuries in the National Football League (NFL) had grown at an alarming rate—from 42 percent before 1959 to 72 percent in the 1980s—and describes the disabilities experienced by such stars as Earl Campbell, Bill Stanfill, and Chris Washington. The study also notes that two out of every three former players’ football injuries limited their recreational ability in retirement, and over half also had a “curtailed ability to do physical labor.”38 Fast forward to September 10, 2012, when the cover of SI featured Jim McMahon, another prominent NFL quarterback, with his partner Laurie Navon.39 Navon embraces him from behind with her head resting on her right hand affectionately placed on McMahon’s right shoulder. Her left arm reaches around over his opposite shoulder and her left hand lies across his chest with fingers splayed. Both Navon and McMahon are wearing black shirts against a black background so that their bodies fade from view at the level of McMahon’s sternum, and the picture does not show his shoulders and arms. Only McMahon’s head appears: bald, wearing his “trademark” sunglasses, a completely blank expression, and with the right side of his face obscured in shadow so that it too fades into the background. In stark contrast, Navon’s tanned face and arms, long brown hair, sincere eyes, and slight, gentle smile combine with her several bracelets, watch, jeweled ring, and painted nails to present an engaging personality. McMahon’s stoic expression and shielded eyes leave open the question of whether
he even sees the camera, while Navon’s direct look invites viewers’ gazes to linger. The juxtaposition of the two focuses the cover on Navon’s complex life and presents an empty, two-dimensional McMahon as a prop on which she rests. A box on the right states “NFL CONCUSSIONS” in small red font, and under the much larger gray of the title “The Other Half Of the Story,” appears the teaser: “One of many women caring for retired NFL players, Laurie Navon frequently has her picture taken with her boyfriend, Jim McMahon—in case he wakes up one day and no longer remembers her.” The bodies fading into the background, and implications of this line, suggest that McMahon, like his memory, is slipping away. These two covers’ common tie to disability suggests they reflect cultural perspectives on the subject, so similarities and contrasts between them can indicate how views about sport’s relationship to the disabled body both changed and remained the same during this period. Unlike the prominent display of disability in the first (Unitas’s visibly disabled hand; “doomed to a life of disability”), disability lacks an overt presence in the second, where the word itself never appears. The Navon/McMahon cover only subtly suggests disability in the implications of its words, in the absence of all of his body except for his head, and in his blank expression. The relative absence of disability in the Navon/McMahon cover reflects the invisibility of his disabling condition. McMahon has early-onset dementia, probably because of the condition Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). Between 2001 and 2012, disability in sport shifts from something easy to see and relatively uncomplicated to invisible conditions that may be difficult to comprehend. The subtle lighting also suggests something about the nature of the disabilities displayed. Navon/McMahon fade into the black background, while Unitas clearly stands out against a bright blue one. The fading reinforces the invisibility of dementia but seems to symbolize the fading memory associated with the condition and specifically identified as the “threat” of this story—that McMahon may forget Navon. The subtle contrast in tanned skin also seems pertinent, insofar as disability seems marked by pale skin in these covers. Unitas’s tanned face contrasts with his pale hand, limiting his disability to one appendage, while Navon’s tanned body contrasts with McMahon’s pale face—the only visible part of him—making his entire presence disabled. The poses arrange different stories about physique. Unitas does not grip the football the way a quarterback would if about to throw, but he does hold onto a football, whereas McMahon does not hold anything (indeed, he has no visible hands). Instead, McMahon himself is held by Navon, and he does nothing while her arms wrap around and symbolically hold him together. The lack of a football anywhere in McMahon’s cover reinforces his passivity by visually distancing him from sport, whereas Unitas’s act of holding the ball (however “poorly”) downplays his disability by visibly contradicting the claim that his disabling condition means he “can no longer use his right hand.”
The gap between how these two men may be expected to look and how they are presented also tells a story. The well-groomed Unitas, dressed in his suit with his genial eyes reflecting his ethos as a gentleman, appears a healthy, handsome, sixty-nine-year-old man who looks almost exactly as he did just two years before when he played a cameo role as a head coach in the major motion picture Any Given Sunday (1999). People have seen the cover as a portrait, sometimes even overlooking his hand until the text cues them to look again and see the amputated finger. He looks good. McMahon presents the opposite; the fan can recognize the face (especially with his famous glasses), but he does not look like the man who played football. McMahon’s defining characteristic was his energy. His career with the Chicago Bears and five other professional football teams was marked by colorful antics, daringly aggressive play, controversial choices, and a roguish personality. He received two Super Bowl rings, winning the first when he led the 1985 Bears in their nearly perfect 15–1 season to a 46–20 victory over the New England Patriots, and earning the second late in his last season as a back-up in 1996 with the Bears’ rival Green Bay Packers.40 The earlier game typified his character, when he became the first quarterback to rush for two touchdowns in a Super Bowl, and when he “mooned” journalists when they asked about a minor injury to his buttocks.41 He courted controversy again following the 1996 championship when he wore his Chicago Bears uniform instead of his Green Bay Packers jersey when President Clinton invited the team to the White House. The McMahon on the SI cover displays none of this. His energy, roguishness, and irreverent humor have been replaced with passive, blank stoicism that implies bewilderment. At the time I write this, the debate over CTE, football, and other contact sports continues, and it will likely develop in significant ways in the near future. But when it occurred, the space between the SI covers featuring Unitas and McMahon suggested that sport—particularly contact sports like football, boxing, and even pseudo-sports like professional wrestling—relate to disability in ways that bring into question both the cultural assumptions about sport’s glorification of the athletic body and the ableist assumptions about the disabled body.42 Robert McRuer observes that this causal relationship should mark sporting events as intimately related to disability, but this relationship is typically repressed and sublimated: “Because of the everpresent threat of catastrophic injury, [sport is] a site where the absolute contingency of able-bodied identity is made manifest. Disability always circulates threateningly around the performance at sporting events, even though it is ultimately always subordinated to able-bodiedness: games stop momentarily when there is an injury, but the narrative perspective doesn’t shift to one identified with disability.”43 Sport and disability, in other words, should be as intimately linked in the public mind as they are on these covers. The institution of sport implicitly recognizes this relationship by managing the way games are played—“injury time outs,” team doctors, “injured reserve” lists, and the like. Yet it presents contact
sports as wholesome games to develop physical prowess and perfection that even young children should view and play. No matter how gory a football, hockey, or even baseball game can be, they still remain places that welcome and encourage attendance by young impressionable audiences. Sport heroes are often role models, and their on-field activities are often lauded as among the best examples for productive childhood play. The link between playing contact sports and becoming disabled and the institution’s tendency to obscure this link suggest one level of the complicated historical relationship shared by sport and disability. Football is a disability-making machine, so the NFL’s well-documented efforts to deny, contest, and then downplay the link between football and CTE exhibits ableist thinking on a tremendous scale. On a second level, sport appears to encourage ableism by systematically rewarding certain ablebodied persons as superior beings. In this context, sport can be read as “showcase for able-bodied performances,” where athletes compete and win based on their physical skills, stamina, and strength.44 Sporting achievement stands as a supreme symbol of physical ability, a quality richly coloring Matthew Scott’s ceremonial throwing of the first pitch at the first home game of the 1999 Philadelphia Phillies season as his first public appearance after his groundbreaking full-hand transplant.45 In addition to addressing the link between disability and sport, the SI covers share the characteristic of employing the ableist idea that body is able. The text specifies that Unitas “can no longer use his right hand,” but this clearly overstates the case when the picture shows him holding a football. To connect these two pieces of information, the audience must mentally add an unstated qualifier to the statement: Unitas can no longer use his hand well, or Unitas can no longer use his hand to throw a football, or Unitas can no longer use his hand the way he did when he was called the Golden Arm. Whichever qualifier one adds, the next sentence provides the impact to whatever it is that Unitas can no longer do: “he is doomed to a life of pain and disability.” The logic that his disability merely describes his body provides the warrant that connects these statements. His hand dooms him to a life of disability, because whatever skill he has lost makes him disabled—even if only in the sense that he can no longer play the sport. Audiences must employ the body is able logic to make sense of the McMahon cover as well, although the idea appears less explicitly. McMahon’s fading body, waning personality, and degrading memory present the image of disability as tragedy. The audience sees him in the process of losing everything, and this loss relies on the idea that such physical changes inherently disable. The cover even exaggerates this idea, erasing his limbs and half his face, equating his mental condition with the removal of body parts. Doctors amputated the tip of Unitas’s finger, but SI’s cover amputates almost all of McMahon’s body. CTE appears to take away one’s physical existence, and all the ability that necessarily flows from it. The cover suggests that the body of someone who does not awake remembering loved
ones is entirely disabled, obscuring the ableist social systems and cultural practices that make the particular mental and physical capacities into disabilities. The ongoing debate over CTE and contact sport engages many of these issues, but its unfinished state suggests that the dynamics of ableist rhetoric involved in the sport/disability relationship may be best examined in an earlier case. The rhetoric that body is able played a prominent role in one of the major public disputes over cases that defined the scope of the Americans with Disabilities Act, Casey Martin v. PGA Tour, Inc. (2001). The case pitted law against professional sport over whether Martin should be allowed a reasonable accommodation that required making an exception to the rules of the game. Closely examining the arguments in this debate reveals the ways that sport can promote ableism through the rhetorical premise that ability is a physical condition instead of a social construction.
Sport, Disability, and Public Controversy in Casey Martin v. PGA Tour, Inc. Between 1998 and 2001, the Martin case generated the most prolific and vocal public debate over the ADA after it became law in 1990. In two weeks it generated more newspaper articles, letters to the editor, and talk show airtime than I could locate during the three years of congressional debates over the ADA itself. Yet this public debate centered on nothing more earth shattering than the question of whether a professional golfer should be allowed to use a golf cart, whereas several other disabilityrelated cases from the time period had more far-reaching legal and political consequences yet generated little public comment.46 When Casey Martin sued the PGA Tour for the right to use a cart during competitions as a reasonable accommodation for his disability, he never expected to become a celebrity who, as one sportswriter put it, “had more media attention than Bill Clinton and Paula Jones.”47 Martin’s suit enflamed public passions to the point that supporters of both the PGA Tour and Casey Martin often resorted to wisecracks, slurs, and ad hominem attacks instead of making substantial arguments. Such behavior is not surprising in any controversy involving radically opposed ideological factions, such as in the debates over abortion, the constitutionality of flag burning, or teaching creationism in schools. But in this debate such ideologically charged furor seems inappropriate and disproportionate and begs to be explained. My examination of the public debate surrounding Casey Martin v. PGA Tour, Inc. focuses on understanding the ideological structures, orientations, and worldviews represented by the two sides. I contend that the dispute achieved its scope and intensity because these two primary sides simply could not communicate with each other in a constructive manner. They each assumed contradictory premises about sport and its social functions, so that very little ground was shared in this debate—much like the debate over the cochlear implant examined in the previous chapter. As such, the controversy reveals the
dynamics of contemporary controversies and the meaning of sport in our culture. Central to this debate is the relationship of sport and disability, the social status of ability generally, and the equation of ability and physical capacity. In other words, the unstated yet key issues in the debate were whether professional sport is an ableist institution, and whether society and its institutions disable people. The Debate over Martin Casey Martin is a golfer with a rare circulatory condition known as Klippel-Trenaunay-Weber syndrome that has limited the physical development of his right leg. When placed under stress, blood pools in and below his knee. His leg is highly susceptible to fracture, an impact compounded for him because his leg will likely be amputated if it breaks.48 After being allowed to use a cart in the first two rounds of qualifying for the Nike Tour, a lower echelon stepping stone to the PGA Tour, Martin was informed by Tour officials that he would not be able to use a cart during later qualifying rounds or competition on the Nike Tour.49 PGA rules allow tournaments to prohibit players from using carts during competition in all but the most limited circumstances. Martin filed for an injunction with the Federal District Court in Eugene, Oregon, and won a temporary order allowing him to use a cart in two qualifying rounds and in two tournaments on the Nike Tour. He won the first of these competitions, the Lakeland Classic in Florida. Martin then sued for a permanent injunction under the ADA in late January of 1998.50 The case made national headlines and often sparked a heated debate. On February 19, 1998, United States magistrate judge Thomas M. Coffin ruled in Martin’s favor.51 The PGA Tour subsequently appealed to the Ninth Federal Circuit Court, which upheld the lower court decision.52 In September 2000, the United States Supreme Court granted certiorari,53 announcing on May 31, 2001, that they upheld Coffin’s verdict by a vote of seven to two.54 Martin would be allowed to ride. For the most part, the public argument over Martin occurred during the first two months of 1998. The PGA Tour’s defense against his lawsuit essentially presented three basic positions. First, the Tour defended its autonomy, arguing that the sport (and their organization) was not subject to the ADA.55 Second, it emphasized tradition, which it associated with the historical importance of golf as a beneficial social institution.56 Third, it trumpeted its sense of fairness, claiming that to allow Martin to use a cart would violate the ethics of sport by giving him an unfair advantage.57 In addition to these PGA positions, supporters of the Tour argued that attempting to accommodate Martin would create a “slippery slope” and “open a Pandora’s box” where golf and other sports would be constantly subjected to scrutiny in courts by people who felt their abilities would not allow them to compete without accommodation.58 Martin’s supporters responded to each of these claims in turn. They described the Tour’s claim to autonomy as the elitist action of a power-hungry group unwilling to give up its discriminatory practices.59 Repeatedly decrying the previous history of the PGA Tour, which had resisted efforts to
allow nonwhite golfers to compete and held tournaments at golf clubs where women and players of color were not allowed, these supporters portrayed the claim to autonomy as a bald-faced attempt to insulate bigoted views from public scrutiny.60 Martin’s supporters also generated a number of what can only be called “pity appeals,” describing the Tour as “heartless,” and “without compassion” because they would not make an exception for the “courageous,” “inspirational” Martin with whom any reasonable person would empathize.61 Perhaps because the issue of autonomy was so quickly dismissed by Judge Coffin during the trial, this part of the controversy died out relatively quickly. Martin’s supporters gave a similar response to the Tour’s defense of its traditions. Among professional golf’s most enduring traditions, they claimed, was to discriminate against those who were not white. Describing Martin as “a Rosa Parks” (like Parks, Casey “just wants to ride”) and a symbol of equality generally, Martin supporters loudly hailed his suit as a necessary blow against a recalcitrant establishment and important symbol of access for the disabled.62 Eventually the tradition issue became connected to the question of whether a cart would give Martin an unfair advantage, and the debate became focused on the Tour’s third basic position: fairness. The issue of whether or not giving Martin use of a cart would give him an unfair advantage over other golfers developed into the most complex part of the controversy.63 The Tour enjoyed a significant amount of support in this case from an unlikely (and somewhat paradoxical) source: Martin’s win in only his second Nike Tour tournament.64 Martin’s supporters admitted that he would not have been likely to win if he had not used a cart—indeed, that position supported his entire case for accommodation—so the Tour was able to exploit his very success to suggest that he had been not only accommodated but “given a leg up” over the other players. The foundation of this “unfair advantage” argument was the contention that walking was fundamentally a part of golf competitions, because it created fatigue that affected play.65 The Tour argued that walking was the “X factor” that could never be eliminated without removing an essential part of the game.66 Martin’s supporters launched a number of responses to this position, ridiculing the Tour’s claim that golf was a strenuous activity, and even questioning the idea of golf as a sport.67 Golf, they argued, was about hitting a ball, as evidenced by the number of amateur players who used carts at their clubs and the use of carts on the PGA Senior Tour.68 The Tour responded with what might be called their most significant mistake in the controversy: they declared that the Senior Tour was a “nostalgia event,” and not serious athletic competition.69 The “nostalgia event” argument brought a number of responses from within the Tour’s ranks of professional golfers. Both regular Tour players and Senior Tour players loudly criticized the characterization and cited numerous examples of intense athletic competition at Senior Tour events.70 Even many of those who agreed that to allow Martin to ride would create an unfair advantage disagreed
that the Senior Tour was merely nostalgic instead of athletic.71 This division within the ranks may have led some of the Tour supporters to join the Martin side of the controversy, but even without such a shift, it marked for some the ultimate end of the Tour’s case. If such ridiculous rationale was required to justify the Tour’s position, some reasoned, then the assumptions on which it was based must be equally unreasonable.72 The Decision Judge Coffin’s decision resolved the central legal questions of the controversy, but many of the public observers were not satisfied with the conclusion and the PGA Tour’s subsequent appeals continued its search for a legal remedy to its central complaint. In a pretrial judgment Coffin denied the Tour’s autonomy positions that it was exempt from the ADA as a private club and that it was not a public accommodation covered under Title III of the ADA, and he reserved for the trial the question of whether Martin was an employee of the Tour (and therefore covered by the ADA’s Title I employment protections).73 Coffin found that the Tour did not qualify as a “private club” because it operates as “part of the entertainment industry” and relies on public participation (fans) to generate revenue for its members (prize money).74 Coffin also determined that the Tour’s commercial function met the definition of a public accommodation, generally defined as a private entity whose operation affects public commerce,75 and noted that golf courses are specifically identified in the law as places of public accommodation covered by the ADA.76 After the summary judgment, the Tour’s case was limited to whether the ADA applied to professional golf tournaments and whether “walking is a substantive rule of its competition and that a waiver of the rule would, accordingly, result in a fundamental alteration of its competitions, which the ADA does not require.”77 Coffin decided that the first of these was satisfactorily resolved in his summary judgment, leaving only the question of whether Martin’s proposed accommodation was a “reasonable modification” that would neither require the PGA Tour to perform a “fundamental alteration of the nature of its business or programs in order to accommodate the disabled, nor . . . result in undue hardship to the [PGA Tour].”78 After reviewing the case law that discussed the “fundamental alteration” issue in ADA cases engaging sporting activities, Coffin found that allowing Martin the use of a cart during competition would meet both the applicable criteria and was a “reasonable accommodation” of the type envisioned by the ADA.79 Finding that “the use of a cart is certainly not unreasonable in the game of golf,”80 and that “nothing in the Rules of Golf requires or defines walking as part of the game,”81 Coffin noted that “even the PGA Tour permits carts at two of the events it stages [the Senior Tour and the first two preliminary rounds of the Qualifying School Tournament].”82 As the Tour does not penalize participants
who use a cart in those events, Coffin reasoned, “this is certainly compelling evidence that even the PGA Tour does not consider walking to be a significant contributor to the skill of shot making.”83 Coffin also considered whether using a cart would give Martin an unfair advantage over the other competitors and thereby “fundamentally alter the nature of [the Tour’s] public accommodation.” He identified this issue as the “ultimate question in this case,”84 and devoted the remainder of the decision to its discussion. Coffin accepted the PGA Tour’s contention that walking did fatigue participants to some extent but concluded that Martin’s unique circumstances—his disability—meant that Martin would not enjoy an unfair advantage from riding in a cart during competitions. Coffin explained: “The fatigue [Martin] endures just from coping with his disability is undeniably greater than the fatigue injected into tournament play on the able-bodied by the requirement that they walk from shot to shot.”85 He maintained that Martin’s disadvantage would persist even with the accommodation, “as [Martin] easily endures greater fatigue even with a cart than his able-bodied competitors do by walking.”86 Since Martin would not gain an advantage by dealing with less fatigue, he ruled that it would not fundamentally alter the nature of the PGA Tour’s game to accommodate him with a cart. In May 2001, the United States Supreme Court affirmed Coffin’s decision and found in favor of Martin by a seven-to-two decision, with Justices Scalia and Thomas dissenting. The majority decision, delivered by Justice Stevens, essentially agreed with Coffin on all points, finding that while a general elimination of the rule on carts might fundamentally change the game of golf, allowing Martin to use a cart was a reasonable accommodation in his case because his physical condition limited his ability.87 In effect, the Court relied on Martin’s specific condition and the unique circumstances of this case and did not conclude that the Tour would need to provide accommodations for all disabled players (or allow all players to use carts).88 Martin won, but any other professional athletes seeking reasonable accommodations would have to sue the relevant organization if their requests were denied. The Supreme Court verdict did little to stem the public controversy over Martin’s suit against the PGA. In the week following the decision, public clamor over the case again became major news. While many expressed support for Martin, a majority of these documents articulated confusion, angst, or dissatisfaction with the decision. In general, the negative reaction to the verdict revealed a continued belief in the sanctity of sport as an institution above reproach and free from government interference. Rather than resolving the debate at the heart of the matter, the Supreme Court decision provided the public with another opportunity to reiterate the same arguments it had made when the controversy began. Reaction to this final decision revealed once again that the opposing sides of the Martin controversy were locked in an ideological struggle that must be understood as a conflict over the meaning and value of sport in our culture rather than a simple dispute over reasonable accommodation. Analysis of the Casey Martin Controversy
Occupying different ideological grounds, the combatants in this dispute focused on different questions. To the pro-Martin advocates, the key issue was the exclusiveness and historically discriminating structure of the PGA Tour, which some suggested ought to stand for “Please Go Away.”89 Although few made this point explicitly, this view generally attacked professional sport as an ableist institution, dedicated to promoting ableist culture. On the other side, pro–PGA Tour advocates argued that upholding the rules of the game required that Casey Martin only be allowed the advantages available to the other golfers. To this group, golf and other sports traditionally upheld the cultural values of fair competition, athleticism, and sportsmanship, values associated with such revered cultures as that of the ancient Greeks. The position lurked underneath virtually every argument made in the PGA Tour’s defense. From a rhetorical standpoint, it is easy to see that the controversy gained its notoriety and intensity largely because these two positions did not clash—sport can be both an ableist institution and uphold ancient cultural values at the same time. In ableist culture, the values of fair competition, athleticism, and sportsmanship are all structured by the rhetoric of ableism, most particularly the idea that ability arises in the body. In other words, professional sport is an ableist institution when it stands for and teaches these cultural values through an ableist lens. Without this perspective, however, the two sides appear to compete, because accusations of “discrimination” carry a recognizably negative valence, while claims of proudly upholding Greco-Roman ideals appear positive. In this context, the Supreme Court decision failed to resolve the controversy because it neither accepted nor denied the positions that sport discriminated as an ableist institution and/or that sport promoted positive social values, effectively decoupling the verdict from the public debate. The arguments of those defending the Tour’s stance on its traditions employed the ableist logic body is able. The claim that allowing Martin to ride would be fundamentally unfair relies on the reasoning that fairness in the competition is ensured when all bodies are treated equally. Such equal treatment makes the ability of the athletes the basis for victory and success, as it is their physical and mental superiority over their opponents that gives them their advantage. When the rules are fair, the ability to win resides in the body. As long as physical capacities determine the victor, then body is able, and sport merely creates a “level playing field” in which the victory goes to the better athlete. Just as the Tour’s argument presents the rules as irrelevant to victory, they also maintain that the athletes themselves are responsible for defeat. More precisely, athletes lose not because the rules in some way privilege their opponents’ skills over their own, but because their opponents are superior physically and mentally. The ability rewarded by victory or discredited by defeat resides in the athlete’s body. In contrast, Martin’s supporters’ arguments challenged the simple equation of ability and physique, calling attention to the ways that sport institutions and their rules favored some bodies over others. The
accusation that the Tour’s traditions discriminated against people of color rebuts the idea of the level playing field. If the Tour’s rules historically restricted other players’ ability to win, this discredits its claim that it merely created fair competition. And, if the rules had been used to enforce discriminatory attitudes in the past, then the idea that the Tour discriminated against Martin becomes more plausible. This position questions the notion that the victors’ ability merely reflects their bodies’ athleticism, rupturing the simple equality of body and ability. While I do not claim that Martin’s side of the controversy was free of ableist ideas, it does undermine the legitimacy of body is able. Although the legal decisions did not resolve the question of whether sport promotes ableism, the verdicts effectively validated ableist ideals even as they concluded in Martin’s favor. The courts relied on ableist thinking when limiting the use of a cart as a reasonable accommodation to Martin alone, as it resolved the issues of the case by assuming the different qualities of Martin’s body (and not the Tour’s rules) limited his ability. Moreover, it reached this conclusion by applying the logic that normal is natural. The PGA Tour argued that for the rules to establish fairness they had to be drawn without regard for whether a body was normal or not, but Coffin ruled that “walking at a slow pace—to the able-bodied —is a natural act, of little more difficulty than breathing. It is how we were designed to move from place to place.”90 Since Martin did not have this natural ability, his abnormality meant that allowing him the use of a cart would be a reasonable accommodation. In this argument, body is able and normal is natural connect at a fundamental level because the orientation that regards walking as a “natural act,” and the way “we were designed to move from place to place,” locates the ability to walk in the design of the body. The combination of the two rhetorical warrants appears in the conclusion that Martin deserves to use a cart because his body naturally lacks normal abilities. This emphasis became symbolized by the “mute testimony” offered by a video showing Martin’s leg without its protective stocking. Indeed, both Coffin and many observers argued that the video was the most powerful argument for Martin’s case.91 According to Coffin, the video clearly showed Martin’s leg as “weakened,” a source of “severe pain and discomfort,” and, in a word, disabled. Richard Sandomir observed: “Nothing in the PGA Tour’s rigid defense—that golfers must walk because the resulting fatigue tests their competitive mettle—can compare with the powerful videotaped depiction of Martin’s Klippel-Trenaunay-Weber syndrome. Standing before a camera, Martin showed how blood settles in hardened black-and-blue patches below a damaged knee that swells instantly. Only when he laid [sic] down did blood return via constricted veins.”92 The synecdoche of the body implicit in the visual evidence of Martin’s leg reinforces a reading of the ableist dimensions of the decision, for it reduces Martin and his case to a single disabled leg. Like the treatment of the Deaf as a “broken ear with a person attached,” having Martin’s leg take his place employs the logic that ability is determined by the body.
Normal Is Natural and Oscar Pistorius as Cyborg Threat The naturalness of walking discussed in Martin’s case also calls attention to the way that the opposition to his use of a cart positions the natural body in conflict with artificial technology. This aspect of sport raises the concern over the cyborg discussed in the last chapter and presents another way that sport reflects and perpetuates ableist rhetorical norms. But the fear of technology’s influence on sport was far more pertinent to another sport controversy that arose a decade later. Oscar Pistorius, the double amputee sprinter from South Africa who successfully fought for the right to compete with able-bodied athletes in the Olympics, created intense public discussion about the proper place of technology in the world of sport. His case reveals another place where the ableist rhetorical warrant normal is natural shapes assumptions about sport’s cultural value and the relationship between technology and athleticism. As various technologies play an increasing role in athletic performance, and as sport itself can be understood as a technological innovation that plays a significant role in organizing society and protecting those arrangements, the institution perpetuates ideas about how the human and machine ought to relate. Sport and/as Technology As expected at the intersection of any two major institutions, sport and technology exhibit a complicated relationship. Sports rely upon and utilize various technologies while forbidding the use of others. Professional baseball players use the basic tool known as the bat, but the technology incorporated in the bat is closely regulated. Major League Baseball (MLB) outlaws metal bats and bats that are “spiked” with illegal substances (such as cork or rubber balls) in professional baseball. Bats must also be made within allowed parameters of size, weight, and balance.93 This example identifies a basic pattern in the relationship of sport and technology: the game requires using tools, but rules dictate strict standards to ensure that differences between tools remain “incidental” and do not “interfere” with the game. Generally speaking, sport traditions dictate that no players should be given any advantage over any others because of the technology incorporated into their particular tools. The debate over Martin’s cart reflected this idea. In sport, any game is a contest of human bodies struggling on the proverbial level playing field to achieve victory because of some characteristic of the body itself. In the myths that surround it, sport rewards the bodies that exhibit “talent,” “skill,” “training,” “mental toughness,” “will power,” and “dedication.” Players are supposed to have equal access to any technology that enhances performance, and technologies that “artificially” increase chances of winning by acting directly on the body, such as steroids and other performance enhancing substances, are closely scrutinized and generally prohibited.
In short, sport puts technology in a particular place where it will facilitate play, and it tries to make it stay there. This sport/technology relationship combines elements of dependency and antagonism. Without any technological developments at all, sport would be reduced to the most basic competitions of physical bodily exertions, such as wrestling or running. All modern professional sports, from football to golf, depend heavily on technological aids and prostheses that shape the nature of the game itself. Many of these aids are “simple” tools: basic extensions of the arm (bats, racquets, golf clubs, hockey sticks) and basic missiles (balls, shuttlecocks, pucks). Far more complex tools appear in motor sports, where a vehicle’s quality of construction and the skill of its maintenance become vital to the game itself. Technology also shapes the arenas in which these sports are played, where rules strictly limit the type of playing surfaces (grass, artificial turf, ice) and the boundaries of the game (end zones, goals, baskets, golf holes) while often creating conditions without which the sport cannot be played. Increasingly, technology plays a role in how sport enforces its rules, such as when tennis officials examine the computer generated Hawk-Eye images to determine where a tennis ball landed, or when American football officials examine instant replay videos to assess controversial calls. Ostensibly for safety reasons, different sports also allow a variety of protective equipment, including helmets, gloves, and specialized footwear and clothing. In specific sports, this protection has evolved into essential tools for the game. The baseball glove, as an extension of the arm, enhances a player’s reach to catch a ball, and the football helmet, as reinforced protection for the skull, enhances a player’s capacity to withstand or deliver a punishing tackle. To keep any players from having an unfair advantage because of their equipment, and to protect players from injury from its use, rules-making organizations closely regulate this technology. For example, at present a professional American football player is penalized for causing a helmet-to-helmet collision or “leading with the helmet” (essentially using the helmet as a ram) while tackling, and players are prohibited from grabbing the facemask of a player being tackled as this can injure a player’s neck.94 These penalties can even be assessed for unintentional violations, as when NFL officials penalize an “inadvertent” grasp of an opposing team player’s facemask, which indicates the desire to regulate any advantage conferred by violating the rules, even when a player did not try to cheat. Sport is also itself a technology, in the sense that it is an invented social institution that systematically performs important functions. Since the early history of the American colonies, sports have promoted and rewarded the development of skills useful for survival. Benjamin G. Rader writes that “the sportlike activities found in these regions [along the advancing frontier] usually sprang from work or common custom.”95 Archery and shooting contests developed the ability to hunt, while horse, boat, and foot racing prized various transportation skills and encouraged the development of more
efficient vehicles and the breeding of faster horses.96 Sports, especially early “football” also offered the colonial villagers “an opportunity to channel their violent tendencies into a form of ritualized combat.”97 Even the hardworking Puritans, who generally considered sport a waste of God-given talent and inflammatory of “the passions,” saw the need for some forms of recreation, and young boys were often allowed to play “informal football, ball and bat, and stool-ball matches” in their spare time.98 By 1850, the Victorians, originally suspicious of the violence, gambling, and drinking that often accompanying sporting events, “had begun to develop a positive sporting ideology, one that defended the playing of certain sports as useful for improved health, as a respite from work, as a surrogate for the vices of the city, and as an instrument for the nurture of proper character traits among the young.”99 In the 1890s, when organizations such as the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) and the Public Schools Athletic Leagues first arose to promote youth sports for boys, “the drive for adultcentered boys’ sport was an integral part of a larger movement to organize and manage the spare-time activities of the nation’s youth.” This movement was grounded in concern that traditional “agencies of socialization”—a rural upbringing, the household cottage industry economy, small geographic communities, religious organizations, and early work experience—were no longer molding young men into productive and moral citizens.100 In place of these structures, sport was offered as distraction from the vices of the city, encouraging boys to learn the value of rules, abstain from excessive debauchery, and take away the idleness that was believed to cause criminal behavior. As one commentator put it, “the country boy” roams the natural environment, living among “God’s first temples,” but the only road to a similar paradise for “the city boy . . . is thru the gymnasium, the athletic field, and the playground.”101 Finally, sport operates as a usually controlled outlet for the potentially dangerous aggression of the public masses. It provides dramas for spectators to consume and vicariously participate and thus control crowds and relieve pressures that might otherwise be brought to bear against the state. In a society marked by what T. S. Eliot called “decadent athleticism,” sport is the opiate of the people.102 This last function of the technology of sport might be its most significant in our contemporary Western culture. Rader argues: “In the twentieth century sports joined the electronic media, bureaucratic structures, and mass consumption as major pillars of a new social order. To some degree spectator sports replaced or supplemented the church, the family, the local community, subcommunities based on status or ethnicity, and the older system of mutual class obligations as one of the sinews which held modern society together.”103 But the spectatorship of sport is not a simple process, for its role in our culture requires that its pacifying function be ignored by the mass audience gathered to vent their frustration. The celebration of sport’s cultural values, vicarious fan participation with teams, and extensive reporting about sport in news media effectively deflect attention from the ways it constructs social order through pacification. Just as most ignored Juvenal’s condemnation of “bread and circuses” for undermining the democratic
society of ancient Rome, the contemporary sports fan seems unconcerned with (or unaware of) this political effect. These much-discussed social functions overshadow a less discussed “institutional” function of sport: rewarding certain unusual bodies. It turns a person who has a skill with relatively low material utility— such as hitting a three-inch-diameter white ball a long distance with a club—into a hero. The batters’ differences from “normal people” who cannot hit the ball as well make them superior within the rules of the game. Sport rewards both such physical “freaks of nature” and those who pursue training regimens that develop their bodies in specialized ways. Indeed, from the perspective of its socializing impact on bodies, a primary function of the institution of sport is to assimilate, reward, and promote what might be otherwise threatening freakish bodies. In doing so, sport controls the large and powerful offspring of future generations, especially those “sports” who differ substantially from the general population. In a herd of wild horses, the especially strong or aggressive offspring can challenge the hierarchy, kill or drive off the herd stallion, take over his harem of mares, force the mares to abort his offspring, and impregnate the mares himself.104 But in human society, such strong and potentially threatening offspring —these freaks or sports—are co-opted as children into an institution that teaches them rules, teaches them to respect officials and authority, teaches them “sportsmanship,” and gives them a controlled outlet for their aggressive tendencies. From the perspective of sport as freak assimilator, the rejection of certain freaks becomes a disturbing cultural distinction. In this context, the popular myth that sport promotes excellence in bodies operates as a façade that protects and hides its more important function of segregating and controlling freakish “sports.” To maintain this myth, the group more conventionally labeled freak—disabled people —must be driven from the field of play. If not, sport might be viewed as a type of strictly regulated freak show, and the negative associations of that activity would likely reduce its appeal to the “sports” currently pacified through it. Given the status of disability in our ableist culture, professional sport would likely collapse if athletes were widely viewed as disabled. To protect itself, professional sport typically obscures its intimate and often causal relationship with disability apparent in the lives of former NFL players like Unitas and McMahon. Moreover, as the case of Oscar Pistorius demonstrates, sport explicitly resists integration of disabled and able-bodied athletes when the former rely on an artificial technological apparatus that allows the naturally “abnormal” body to get in the game. Oscar Pistorius’s Cheetahs and Cyborg Anxiety Oscar Pistorius is an award-winning sprinter, who uses special prosthetic legs called “Flex-Foot Cheetahs” to compete in athletic competitions. Nicknamed the “Blade Runner,” Pistorius has won several international competitions for disabled sprinters, including medals at the 2004, 2008, and 2012 Paralympics. In these games he has won eight medals (six gold, one silver, and one bronze) in the 100-
meter, 200-meter, and 400-meter sprints and 4 × 100-meter relay. As of May, 2016, he held the world record of the T44 class in all four of these events.105 In addition to the Paralympics, he has won gold in seventeen international competitions for disabled sprinters. At the 2011 World Championships in Athletics, held in Daegu, South Korea, Pistorius became the first amputee to win a medal in world championship able-bodied competition when his 4 × 400-meter relay team took the silver.106 A year later, Pistorius became the first amputee runner to compete against able-bodied sprinters in Olympic competition when he ran in the 2012 Olympics. Although he did not win any medals in the 2012 games, he advanced to the semifinals in the individual 400-meter sprint and reached the finals as a member of the South African 4 × 400-meter relay team. Pistorius’s ultimately successful bid to compete in the Summer Olympics sparked substantial controversy. In March 2007, the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) amended its rules to ban “use of any technical device that incorporates springs, wheels or any other element that provides the user with an advantage over another athlete not using such a device.”107 On behalf of the IAAF, in the fall of 2007 Professor Peter Bruggemann studied Pistorius’s performance and concluded that his prostheses allowed him to use 25 percent less energy to run at the same speed as able-bodied runners and that running with his blades reduced the work required to lift the body by 30 percent. In January 2008, the IAAF banned Pistorius from Olympic competition, and he appealed that decision in the Court of Arbitration of Sport (CAS) in Lausanne, Switzerland.108 To counter Bruggemann’s findings, Pistorius’s lawyers offered tests conducted under MIT professor Hugh M. Herr that showed he did not gain an advantage over able-bodied runners.109 Citing issues with Bruggemann’s method— which had only considered Pistorius’s biomechanics when he ran at full-speed and overlooked disadvantages created by his prostheses at the start of the race—the CAS concluded that “not enough is known scientifically to be able to prove” that Pistorius’s prostheses gave him an advantage, and it overturned the IAAF ban.110 Although he did not post a qualifying time soon enough to make it into the 2008 Olympics, in 2011 he ran his personal best time in the 400-meter sprint at the Internazionale di Atletica Sports Solidarity Meeting in Lignano, Italy, and qualified for both the World Championships and the 2012 Olympics in London.111 Many of the arguments raised against Pistorius mirrored the objections to Martin’s accommodation. Despite the findings of the CAS, many maintained that he did receive an unfair advantage from his Cheetahs, contending that he was less prone to fatigue and that his lack of feet meant he was less likely to develop tendonitis and that he could train longer without pain.112 Likewise, opponents argued that allowing Pistorius to run would undermine the sport’s traditions, because it would be impossible to compare the results with those of previous competitions and would undermine the meaning of recordsetting performances.113 While the arguments about the unfair advantage, fatigue, and tradition relied on
the same body is able logic as the Martin debate, many of the objections more directly employed the ableist rhetoric normal is natural. For instance, some criticized the “unnatural” character of Pistorius’s running and viewed his performance as abnormal, arguing that “sports should showcase, and athletes should perfect, ‘natural’ athletic talents to preserve the essence of a sport.”114 This argument relied on a logic that reflected concerns about the cyborg,115 as it specified that his extensive reliance on technology was “a much more significant replacement of a crucial body part than shaping your cornea with a laser, or improving your diet,” which were “normal” uses of technology to alter bodies.116 In effect, proponents of this position took the stance that what Pistorius did was so different from able-bodied competitors that it should not “count as running.”117 Leslie Swartz and Brian Watermeyer characterize these and similar positions as “cyborg anxiety,” a fear that Pistorius’s prosthetics and performance expose the weakness in tenuous and arbitrary definitions of what it means to be human, and ultimately call into question “something quite fundamental, quite invisible, about the boundaries between disabled and nondisabled groups.”118 In effect, Pistorius “encroached on hallowed ideological territory” and brought into question the “deeply entrenched ascriptions of human desirability and value” that I label ableism.119 For Swartz and Watermeyer, because Pistorius is disabled, his performance threatened the basis for much ableist discrimination: the idea “that disabled people do not qualify to be seen as fully human.”120 The frequent description of Pistorius as a “cyborg kangaroo” sharply emphasized his presumed lack of humanity.121 This view rests on the logic that because the disabled body violates the normal parameters nature intended, it ceases to be naturally, and/or fully, human. Thomas F. Corrigan et al.’s analysis showed that in newspaper coverage of the Pistorius case, the “cyborg discourse” associated him with “popular cyborg science fiction, including the classic novel Frankenstein and movies like The Terminator and Blade Runner, [which] all reflect concerns about the threat of technology to the future of humanity.” Corrigan et al. note that the connection between the sprinter and these narratives of dystopian futures was so strong that Pistorius was given the nickname “Blade Runner”—a name he liked so much that he used it as the title of his autobiography.122 Some of the claims about the problems that would arise if Pistorius were allowed to run bordered on the bizarre, and they suggest the extent to which normal is natural has become so ingrained in ableist culture that it can rationalize fairly ridiculous claims. Longman reported that Elio Locatelli of the IAAF stated that allowing the prostheses “affects the purity of sport. Next will be another device where people can fly with something on their back.”123 George Dvorsky raised an even more preposterous claim, arguing that if Pistorius’s prostheses counted as a “better limb,” then deliberate amputation would not be viewed as self-mutilation, and athletes—caught up in “the arms race nature of competition”—might
decide to have “their healthy natural limbs replaced by artificial ones.”124 At the very least, some contended, simply because his prostheses were perceived to provide an unfair advantage (even if they did not), that allowing Pistorius to run would undermine faith in the fairness of the sport so much that audiences would lose interest in watching races.125 The abnormal, ergo unnatural, competition would cease to appeal to fans, who generally saw sport as a celebration of “the virtue associated with bodily perfection.”126 In addition to the clear ableist discrimination of this claim, all the evidence—including coverage of the controversy itself—showed that Pistorius substantially increased spectator interest in Olympic sprinting.127 Yet for some, equating normalcy with naturalness appears to play such a vital role in ableist culture that anything questioning its logic threatens sport’s fundamental practices, athlete’s bodies, and its appeal to spectators.
Conclusions Disabled athletes who succeed in mainstream sport despite their disabilities may seem to contradict my argument that sport relies on and perpetuates ableist rhetoric. Many sports fans can name at least a small number of people who fit this description and for whom no change in the rules or accommodations have been necessary. Citing figures like Jim Abbott, the one-armed professional baseball pitcher who recorded eighty-seven wins over a ten-year career, Kenny Walker, a deaf American football player who was a regular for the Denver Broncos during the 1991 season, and Brad Doty, a waist-down paraplegic who competed in Indy Car racing, some claim that since sport is not always exclusive that it cannot be inherently discriminatory. The logic behind this argument reveals the necessity of exposing ableist rhetoric to challenge ableist institutions, as it mistakes the exceptional skills of a few as proof of equal opportunity and tacitly accepts the idea that body is able. The extremely small numbers of disabled people like Abbot, Walker, and Doty who succeed in ablebodied sports reveals that by far they are the exception, not the rule. Very, very few disabled people find a place in the world of professional sports, and arguments like these make those who do into tokens. On multiple levels able-bodied sports segregate those with disabled bodies. Such bodies cannot be denied the right to participate in such an important cultural institution as sport, but they can be denied the limelight of its upper echelons. Even women, whose “normal” physical strength and stamina mark them in ableist culture as relatively less abled than men, have found a niche by crafting their own courts, their own teams, and their own competitions. As strong and as durable as the female athlete’s body has grown, with rare exceptions it is confined to its own space. Likewise, society gives the disabled their own place to play, safely kept out of the “big leagues” where the fans and the money tend to congregate. Deaf basketball leagues, Quadriplegic Rugby tournaments, the Paralympics, and the wheelchair races
that accompany many major marathons feature virtually everything that makes sport such a popular cultural institution. But they do not rely extensively on the assumption that sport celebrates superior natural abilities, and disability sports are open to making accommodations and embrace many technological developments that promote access. Viewing the disabled athlete who succeeds in able-bodied arenas as proof of nondiscrimination employs the ableist rhetoric that body is able. For such athletes to succeed within the boundaries of the rules, sport must convert their skills into abilities. The rules of sports transform their unique capacities into “natural abilities” that sport can celebrate and respect. When Abbott fielded a line drive hit toward the pitcher’s mound, he quickly put his glove on his left (nondisabled) hand, caught the ball, and then removed the glove and ball by pinching it between his torso and right forearm so he could use his left hand to throw the player out. Since the rules of baseball allow all these actions, his physical capacity and skill set became abilities that allow him to perform the play. Another one-armed player who could throw a baseball pitch as well but not perform the same move with the glove or otherwise compensate for the missing arm would not be able to play. Were the rules changed, perhaps by counting a line drive hit directly at the pitcher as an automatic out so that fielding the ball under such conditions would not be necessary, then the one-armed players who could not rapidly place, use, and then remove a glove from their throwing hands would be able to play. Lacking Abbot’s skill with a glove would not exclude them. In sum, disabled athletes who succeed within the rules prove that sport is not about the few who have made it despite their disabled bodies. Sport is about perfection of the body, and the ongoing search for the names that will embody that perfection for the next generations of athletes. Baseball fans who admire Abbott implicitly recognize this, as they appreciate what they read as his “inspirational effort” because it appears to validate what they already believe about sport: it is an egalitarian enterprise open to everyone who has what it takes. As long as people conceive of sport’s rules as merely commonsensical measures that establish fairness, its expression of the idea that ability is located in the body will continue to generate ableism under the guise of creating a level playing field. The metaphor of the level playing field plays a key role in this rhetorical edifice. In the Martin and Pistorius controversies, proponents of sport insisted, loudly, that the rules simply keep players from having an unfair advantage. It appears the large number of things that undermine sports’ claim to a level field weaken the argument so much that shouting and resorting to fallacies must replace convincing reasoning to defend this claim. Many if not most sports fans know that the field has never been level; the idea is an illusion required to maintain the activities’ legitimacy as a cultural institution. The field only appears level if one ignores the obvious variations that expose it as a façade. The range of technology and financial resources creates one imbalance, and sponsors or personal funds give some players more access to such technology. The quality of training facilities and equipment, sufficient support to dedicate
substantial time to skill development, and the capacity to pay for highly skilled coaches also privilege those who have or can get the money. Even the fields on which athletes play are not level. Different tennis court surfaces privilege certain types of play and sets of skill, so the only way that “equality” can be maintained at the professional level is to use three very distinct surfaces at the four “major” tournaments—Wimbledon uses grass, the French Open uses clay, and the Australian and U.S. Opens use hard courts. No two golf courses are alike, and, with the exception of the Masters, the major tournaments in professional golf are regularly held in different locations. Even at the Masters, shifting placement of the holes between rounds alter the course in ways that advantage and disadvantage some players. Professional baseball fields are not all the same size and shape, and the conditions of a particular locale can influence individual players’ performance. Domed stadiums, differences in playing surfaces, and environmental factors such as climate and altitude affect players’ performance, and playing in familiar surroundings (“at home”) is deemed advantageous. The presence and action of spectators and fans can influence the performance of players, creating the phenomenon of a “twelfth man” in football and a “sixth man” in basketball when a game is played on a team’s home field. These “invisible players” can influence a game by encouraging emotional play, affecting officials’ impressions and penalty calls, and by physically interfering with the ability of teams to perform, as when crowd noise makes “play calling” difficult in football. Differences like the influence of financial backing, distinct arenas and playing fields, and the impact of fans so obviously contradict the idea of the level playing field that it always stands on tenuous ground, and the only real way to answer such objections is to claim that attempting to level the playing field is a worthwhile goal even if it cannot be accomplished. But when such quixotic efforts perpetuate ableism, the value of this metaphor becomes debatable. In my analysis, the idea of the level playing field and the ableist rhetoric body is able and normal is natural reinforce each other. The argument maintains that the field is level because it—and the rules that perpetuate it—is not responsible for disabled people’s lack of access. Instead, such athletes simply lack the ability to play or suffer from the natural limitations of their abnormal body. In the traditionalist positions of those opposing Martin and Pistorius, this position sustains itself, as they insist that allowing them accommodations will provide an unfair advantage and undermine the level playing field. The field must be level because it does not discriminate, so allowing a cart or prostheses might tip the balance and effectively become discriminatory measures. But why does anyone believe that the field is level? I contend that sport repeatedly uses the idea body is able to maintain its mythical status. For if ability were seen to arise from the activity’s rules—and not from the “natural ability” of the performer—then those rules might undermine equal opportunity. They could be evaluated, contested, and changed, and the illusion of the level playing field would be exposed. But so long as sport maintains the belief that it is all
about athletes and their natural abilities, it becomes a place where the spectacle of able-bodied performances can be enjoyed without upsetting ableist sensibilities. Similarly, sports promote the idea normal is natural in its fearful response to the cyborg. The cyborg not only questions the legitimacy of technology’s interface with sport, it also challenges sports’ traditional status as natural and physical (as opposed to artificial and mechanical). Were sport figures seen as cyborgs, the activity’s arguments based on the idea that it only rewards natural ability and talent become falsehoods. Martin’s and Pistorius’s cases to be granted use of a specific technological accommodation would be much less controversial in such a context, as sport would have to admit that every participant in its arenas was, in some sense, a cyborg. Under these circumstances allowing adaptive technology might even be considered a “normal” part of the game. But in the current construction of sport as an ableist institution, Martin’s and Pistorius’s challenges to sport’s rigid rules restraining technology mark their activity as threatening a cyborg reality that could destroy sport. The exorbitant media coverage and highly fractious debates over Casey Martin and Oscar Pistorius reveal the magnitude of the threat that viewing sport as an ableist institution poses for some people. The vitriol of the disputes is best explained if we consider these controversies as ideological battles in which some see sport’s very legitimacy at stake. Understood this way, the PGA Tour’s and IAAF’s strenuous objections and the loud outcries make sense, as they imagine that challenging ableism could develop into a widespread assault on sport. Whether recognized by the courts or not, an implicit message in these decisions is that sport does not provide a level playing field open to all, that certain bodies enjoy unwarranted privileges created by its rules, and that the resulting disparity discriminates. That it took legal action to allow Martin to ride and Pistorius to run means that the rules are, in some cases at least, unfair, and this rebuts the position of sports as an unquestionably wholesome and moral activity above reproach or scrutiny. In these cases, the plaintiffs won their legal battles: Martin was allowed to use a golf cart on the Professional Golf Association Tour (PGA Tour), and Pistorius was allowed to use his prosthetic blades in the Olympics and other able-bodied competitions. But both decisions fell short of affirming the right of all disabled athletes to compete in able-bodied arenas, and they failed to substantially change ableist aspects of sport as a whole, because the courts found that limitations presented by their individual disabilities meant that these athletes’ specific accommodations would not provide them with an unfair advantage. As the Court itself carefully pointed out in Martin, the decision did not craft a clear legal precedent forcing sports to become more accessible, but rather it required that each petitioner bring requests for accommodation on a case-by-case basis.128 This formed a key warrant in their decision, as concluding that there would only be a “handful of requests . . . from talented but disabled athletes for modification” rebutted the Tour’s claim that ruling in favor of Martin would create an undue burden on
the PGA.129 The apparent lack of impact on professional golf—no other golfer has received a similar accommodation—suggests that the PGA ultimately won its argument that walking is essential to the sport. In other words, the “resolution” of these controversies left intact the premise that sport provides a level playing field playing despite excluding some people. The continuation of Martin’s story further reveals the Supreme Court decision’s minimal impact on ableist culture. In 2012 Martin qualified for and used a cart in the U.S. Open tournament, where he scored a 9-over-par 149 but he failed to make the cut (set at 8-over-par). Even outside the world of golf, his return to professional-level play received noteworthy attention, and it was covered in such national outlets as the Washington Post and international newspapers such as Australia’s Times Courier.130 After Martin qualified for the tournament, golf commentator Michael Bamberger wrote a superficially laudatory article that demonstrates how little the case changed ableist thinking, as it articulates an exceptionally blatant ableist response that presents itself as enlightened, reasonable, and free of discriminatory bias.131 Bamberger notes that he felt that the PGA had handled Martin’s case poorly, “but only by way of technicality,” because it could not argue that walking was fundamental to golf yet allow carts on the Senior Tour. Bamberger belittles the case, noting at the time “it seemed so important,” but “the Sept. 11 attacks made us reassess the important from the trivial.” He explains that “now almost nobody cares anymore if Casey uses a cart this week, especially since he’s no longer trying to make a living playing tournament golf.” Bamberger also plays the pity card, describing Martin’s condition as an “unlikely part of his birthright,” noting that people “felt bad for Casey,” and recounting how he changed his original opposition to Martin’s case and “suddenly became more compassionate about this issue” when he learned the condition could worsen. Bamberger does not attribute acceptance of Martin’s accommodation to a popular recognition that disabled people have the right to access. Instead, he claims that the lack of objections by top players (“I haven’t seen any prominent person get on a soapbox and say this thing is an outrage”) reveals a progressive shift among golfers (“we’ve become more tolerant”), and that the United States is now a less bigoted society (“we elected a black president”). Both of these statements speak from a center that remains ableist and discriminatory. A lack of outcry by golf’s elite does not demonstrate a cultural paradigm shift any more than electing Barack Obama reveals the end of racism in America. Interpreting these things as warranting such conclusions employs a framework that requires the reader to identify with an ableist (and white) perspective. Since Martin supporters had already made their views clear, the absence of an outcry identifies only the (non)action of those who had made ableist arguments. Since black voters had few objections to it, the election of a black president focuses attention on what white voters did. Framing these as the voices of “we” suggests that the views that really matter are those of the
ableist and white majority. The self-congratulatory tone of the declaration that “we’ve become more tolerant,” overlooks the myriad of ways that society maintains hierarchies subordinating the disabled and people of color. It echoes the king who demands recognition for his enlightened thinking, which he demonstrates by tossing alms to the feet of the poor as he rides in his opulent carriage through muddy streets. Rationalizing the accommodation as appropriate for Martin because of “the severe nature of Martin’s disability,” Bamberger also reiterates the ableist perspective that views accessibility as special treatment that should be accepted only in those dire situations when the body exhibits extreme deviance. He calls the issue of accommodations an area “with a lot of gray,” and states that he does not know whether “Jose Maria Olazabal, this year’s European Ryder Cup captain and a two-time Masters champion” should get a cart because his arthritis in his feet makes “walking very difficult.” Bamberger notes with approval that Olazabal “said once that it never occurred to him to ask for a cart,” and that “I admire him for that.” In other words, golfers become worthy of admiration when they distance themselves from identifying as disabled, even if they have a condition that makes it difficult to play. Notably, nowhere in the article does he declare a similar admiration for Martin. Moreover, Martin’s legal victory did not even change his access to a cart during an event governed by a major golf organization. In 2013, Martin attempted to use a cart while recruiting for the University of Oregon golf team at a U.S. Junior Amateur qualifier in Oceanside, California. Prior to the event, he contacted tournament chairman Matt Pawlak, who approved his request to have a cart during the tournament. But on the sixth hole, officials informed Martin that use of a cart by spectators was prohibited by United States Golf Association (USGA) rules, and he was forced to relinquish it. Martin argued that his Supreme Court case established his right to use the cart but asked officials if they could at the very least drive him around the course so he could observe the players. They refused. Afterward, the USGA published an apology, but what they apologized for was the “misunderstanding” that occurred when Pawlak told Martin he would be able to use a cart. The USGA noted that its rules encouraged taking “a ‘disabled’ person to a couple of selected spots on the course to view play as it comes through that area,” but that “No one will be shuttled to view play hole by hole, regardless of their condition or relationship to a player in the event.” They did not explain the reasoning behind the prohibition, clarify why disabled spectators would only be taken to certain spots and not to all the holes on the course, or state why the policy explicitly refused to consider the nature of a person’s disability. When asked by Golfweek magazine about these actions, the USGA declared that the organization “has been and continues to be a strong supporter of Casey Martin” and that “we continue to admire what Casey has been able to accomplish in the game as both a player and a coach.” They noted that the misunderstanding (when he was told he could use a cart) inconvenienced Martin, but that “it certainly
was unintentional.” They affirmed their decision, noting that “we have extended to Casey accommodations that we offer all disabled spectators at our championship.” In other words, the USGA did not dispute that their actions discriminated but maintained that they discriminated equally against all disabled people.132 Martin’s reaction emphasized the ableist discrimination of the decision. “It was brutal, the worst experience of my golfing career,” Martin told a reporter. “The long story short: I’m living my life, doing my job, and it sucked to have that taken away. I felt like I got on the bus and they ordered me to the back or even to get off.”133 When the decisions in judicial victories like Martin’s employ ableist rhetoric, such as the warrants body is able and normal is natural, they perpetuate ableist thinking even as they appear to support the disabled perspective. Moreover, they can make it seem like more direct efforts to combat ableism are unnecessary by giving the impression that disability-based discrimination has been eradicated (or the legal remedies mean that it soon will be). When the government employs ableist rhetoric to write and apply disability rights laws, they encourage ableism while suggesting that such laws mean that disability-based discrimination ceases to be a problem. Nevertheless, the Martin and Pistorius cases and the controversies surrounding them reveal a growing recognition of sport as an enterprise that is capable, and has some history, of discrimination. In this context, the Unitas and Navon/McMahon SI covers and the accompanying stories that show how sports disable people also reveal how ignoring sport’s perspective on the disabled amounts to hypocrisy. As sport heroes’ infirmities become apparent, the disabling nature of the activity could lead an ableist culture to question whether its ableist assumptions make any sense. The current controversy over CTE and its implications may increase public awareness of the ableist logic (and fallacies) behind the institution of sport, and the ways that ableist culture shapes how it operates. But many remain unconvinced of the need to rethink sport as practiced in and valued by this ableist culture. The game is far from over, and its outcome remains unclear, but it has begun.
5 A Rhetorical Model of Disability
Ableism presents a difficult problem. As I noted in the beginning, ableist rhetoric has so saturated contemporary society, and has been a part of the traditions of Western culture for so long, that it can be difficult to even recognize its influence. What many think of as a reasonable perspective—the commonsense way of understanding disability—assumes that disability is inherently undesirable and diminishing. “After all,” the ableist asks, “who really wants to be disabled? Who does not want to be normal?” This way of thinking reveals ableist rhetoric at work, as it provides the framework in which people interpret disability and legitimates perspectives that share ableist assumptions and discredits those which do not. This rhetoric’s power arises from its widespread acceptance and the invisibility that results when it blends into the cultural background. A culture cannot turn from an ableist orientation until it recognizes the ways that it has adopted that perspective. This argument rests on an easily overlooked distinction, without which my claim may sound absurd. I argue that contemporary culture accepts ableist rhetoric, not ableism per se. Today, when cultural practices become recognized as blatant discrimination and bigotry, society as a whole discourages those practices because they conflict with generally accepted egalitarian values. While some people do and will remain comfortable with widespread inequality and injustice, most members of contemporary Western culture will distance themselves from the outright bigot or bully. Were a modern culture to view itself as ableist and rife with ableist discrimination, I believe that substantial pressure would promote reforms and significant change. But, for the most part, people do not consider themselves fundamentally ableist, as they do not identify the rhetoric of ableism and the ways it impacts their knowledge, values, and vision. Most people in Western culture do accept the basic reasoning of the warrants discussed in this book, but they do not recognize them as ableist ideas, and they typically find them very familiar. As I have shown, these basic principles—that the deviant body can denote maliciousness, that humanity’s natural state is to be normal, and that ability and disability are physical characteristics—have become accepted as common sense. Yet accepting these warrants legitimates and encourages ableist ways of knowing, ways of evaluating, and ways of seeing. The coordination between these epistemic, ideological, and visual rhetorics of ableism further compounds the problem, as they reinforce each other and can lead people to discount evidence that might reveal ableism’s presence. When something challenges just one
of these, the strength of the other two encourages someone to treat it as a novelty (i.e., unusual, but not an anomaly requiring a shift in the ableist paradigm),1 to account for it in some other way, or to ignore it outright. These characteristics of ableist rhetoric mean that it will take more than a few simple steps to solve the problem of ableism. Such steps must be taken, but they should not be mistaken for sufficient efforts to address ableism. For example, passing laws challenging discriminatory action can serve a valuable function, but these have historically not done much to challenge ableist culture. When people interpret such laws and their application in a context predominantly shaped by ableist rhetoric, the meaning of the legislation becomes an extension of ableist thinking. Moreover, when many people regard the laws themselves as proof that the culture has shifted away from discrimination, they overlook the different story told by their limited and moderate implementation. That is why in the United States Casey Martin can win accommodations under the ADA, but his victory does little to change the culture’s ableist orientation. To more directly confront ableist rhetoric, people must first recognize its presence and pervasiveness, and to accept that the problem goes beyond reprehensible acts of discrimination. Activists, scholars from disciplines other than disability and rhetorical studies, policy makers, members of the legal system, and medical professionals could all develop complementary approaches that make progress in this direction. For example, if medical schools adopted a developed disability studies component in their curricula designed to challenge the ableist assumptions their students grew up sharing, they could undermine the medical model in a place that it currently flourishes. Making doctors aware that some disabled people object strenuously to the medical model—as Thomas P. Gonsoulin suggests—takes a step in the right direction, but ableism’s interlocking web of epistemic, ideological, and visual components reveals that eradicating the medical model will require a lengthy journey.2 The epistemic foundation of the medical profession positions knowing physical deviance from a supposed norm as an illness, its ideology values disability negatively because of its beliefs about health, and its medical gaze sees disability as a suspect condition that should be eradicated. Michel Foucault’s famous study of the medical gaze exposes the roots of this perspective as the need to contain “threats” to society, which can justify even drastic and highly dangerous procedures deemed necessary for the survival of civilization.3 The cochlear implant controversy discussed in chapter 3 exemplifies these issues. The overwhelming support for cochlear implants in the medical community, the practically total focus of extremely wellfunded and extensively published research focused on improving the technology and developing similar devices to address blindness and other disabilities, and the sometimes paternalistic view that Deaf objections are misguided all testify to the enduring power of the medical model. Despite Deaf concerns
about the technology, the unquestionable evidence that Deaf and deaf people can live long and fulfilling lives without the implant, and the successful communities over the years where fluency in sign language created conditions in which the deaf were not considered disabled,4 many consider the implant one of the most important and miraculous medical advances of the twentieth century.5 Tracing the roots of this view to ableist rhetoric’s warrants that normal is natural and body is able indicates the necessity of exposing and countering the rhetoric to counter ableism. I maintain that the rhetorical basis of the problem requires a rhetorical solution. One way to simultaneously confront all ableist rhetoric involves shifting the very framework through which we understand bodies, and by extension, disability. The option I propose begins with a model of body that I call the “rhetorical model.”
A Rhetorical Model of Body The rhetorical model I propose rests on a relationship between text and body. These two key components of my model can be found throughout studies of the body and disability. These studies primarily posit the body as text (or argue that the body is a text), making the body’s meaning a function of all the different narratives, words, images, sculptures, theories, and models that direct attention to the body in particular ways. Body does not exist in a vacuum because it is labeled, evaluated, named, and crafted by texts. In this relationship, the word “text” does not denote a specific thing or genre of things crafted from language (such the words of a book or the script of a play). Instead, text refers to anything providing a framework used for interpretation, recognition, and other processes involved in making meaning. This includes the orientations that guide interpretation of a book or script, but also includes the ideas and values that lead someone to see a painting by Georgia O’Keefe as beautiful, or appreciate a skillful execution of a difficult maneuver in figure skating, or react when encountering a grand piano in someone’s living room, or to make sense out of disability. Positioning the body as text reveals the presence of such frameworks in every conception of the corpus. This interrogates the perspectives of body—such as the medical model—that treat the body as essentially stable, factual, and material. Institutions and techniques that discipline and subjugate bodies to such ideologies as capitalism or heterosexism—enacting what Michel Foucault called “bio-power”— rely on knowing, valuing, and seeing the body as “textless” interpretations and actively suppress varied readings of body and practices derived thereof.6 Instead of an interpretation, these treat the body as a potentially knowable thing, valued through unquestionable ideas of worth and produced by objective observation. As a result, (re)articulations of the body as text pose a critical, controversial, and even
revolutionary view that undermines the primary assumptions of empiricist, positivist, and scientific paradigms.7 Seeing the body as text means knowing that what we recognize as a body is but an application of a construct that defines a body, and that such interpretation is structured by the words and ideas that frame perception. Disability studies scholars adopt this stance in somewhat varied ways, depending on how they view the nature of the thing being interpreted. One perspective, known generally as the “social model,” views disability as a material impairment that becomes a disability because of society’s assumptions, systems, and structures that privilege some body types and conditions over others. The model considers impairment as a real and physically diminishing condition of abnormality (e.g., having only one leg or having schizophrenia). But this physical reality only becomes a disability because of the barriers, stigma, and images that make the impairment into something undesirable and devalued. The disability/impairment dichotomy seeks to call into question the discriminatory practices surrounding disability without undermining the material basis that could be used to justify making real accommodations based on physical needs.8 Another perspective, essentially a social constructionist stance, argues that texts—including barriers, stigma, and images—construct the body itself and make it what it “is” in society. This view offers an “emancipatory paradigm” in which critiquing cultural practices and social structures reshapes the meaning and reality of disability. In this model, the material “reality” of disability (or impairment) is always interpreted, and perceiving disability as a concept layered onto a material impairment limits the possibilities of disability studies and politics. This perspective focuses on the practices and artifacts that shape the ways disability gets displayed, obscured, and symbolically subordinated by a dominant ablebodied population that treats disability negatively and considers some aspects of disability more important than others. While these models differ in some fundamental ways, they both share the idea that the meaning and impact of disability arises from the application of an interpretive framework. In other words, they view the body as text. From these perspectives, what is considered disabling, and what is considered appropriate views of people with disability, are shifting and fluid concepts that are altered rhetorically through social and cultural practices that implicate the ways people talk, think, and act upon such issues. The literal meaning of disability changes over time. Alcoholism, once considered a vice, is now considered a disabling condition covered under the ADA. Homosexuality, once considered a mental illness, is no longer considered a psychological disorder and continues to become accepted as a legitimate sexual orientation. Disability is created by notions of normalcy and ability that are imposed on bodies and exclude them from the population as a whole.9 Viewing the body as text grounds the claim that a body cannot be deformed because it does not have a form to lose. To say a body has an appropriate, normal
form is to take an abstract ideal and attempt to fit a physical body within its hollow shell. Whenever that is done the result will be deformity, since no single body can ever achieve the absolute ideal form. The fiction of the normal body, and the fiction that some bodies are similar enough to the norm to make their slight deviance irrelevant, prevents considering every body as disabled. Bodies by themselves are not disabled. Every living body has some capacities, and no two bodies can do all the exact same things. To make one person’s skills the standard arbitrarily labels everyone else as “different,” and labels those seen as significantly different as “disabled.” Recognizing the rhetorical nature of this act forces us to question whether we should construct disability as we do. The critical practices enabled by the social and social constructionist models generally follow the process that Stuart Hall described for identifying ideological structures that influence a culture. He explains that to analyze meaning a critic must enact “semantic raids . . . to find the fragments, to decipher their assembly and see how you can make a surgical cut into them, assembling and reassembling the means and instruments of cultural production.” Such surgery does not necessarily result in a final product like the revealed cadaver on the autopsy table. Rather, it reveals the process of encoding itself. Hall explains that such critics operate their analysis of meaning “without the solace of closure,” having broken “the one, true meaning into fragments.” But this does not “destroy the process of encoding, which always entails the imposition of an arbitrary ‘closure.’ Indeed it actually enriches it, because we understand meaning not as a natural but as an arbitrary act—the intervention of ideology into language.”10 This allows us to recognize the action of the ableist rhetoric guiding interpretation and constructing meaning as something changeable and open to transformation. Positioning the body as text allows scholars to code it differently and enable multiple and new ways to relate to it. The rhetorical model I propose flips this relationship of body and text. In the cases above, when most scholars consider the interface of body and text, they view body as a physical entity that becomes textualized. They may vary to some degree in their ideas of what the physical body actually is (in the ontological sense), but it is an already present thing that gets interpreted. Even those for whom the body is “always already” a text, this typically means that a body is always signifying something, and that it is irrational to view it as “textless” (as the medical and scientific perspectives tend to do). Teaching and explaining these positions generally assumes that the audience will already know what bodies are and encourages them to transform or translate their understanding by reading the body differently. In other words, when discussing the arrangement of body and text, body comes first. These theories and models start with a knowable, valuable, and seeable body and then refigure it as text or reconceive it by unpacking the texts that shape its place in society. The rhetorical model of body essentially reverses this arrangement. Instead of beginning with the body and understanding it as text, it starts with text and understands it as body. Instead of thinking of
body as something we textualize, I think of text as something we embody. In this way of knowing bodies, the text does not transform a real body, the body transforms a real text. “I” am first and foremost text, and body is but one way that the “me-text” becomes meaningful, develops social place and status, and performs everyday life. Instead of body as text, the rhetorical model views text as body. Instead of focusing on the rhetoric of bodies, it examines the physique of rhetoric. Implicit in the concept of body as text is the idea that bodies can be understood as something other than texts, but implicit in the text as body figuration is the idea that texts can be understood as something other than bodies, but bodies can only be understood as the embodiment of text.11 The rhetorical model of body assumes the existence of text and then posits the presence of body as a possible function of text. Frankly, if I did not believe the term would confuse readers unduly, I would actually name this model the “body model of rhetoric.” The model directs new attention to the arrangement of the relationship of text and body, and I concede its radical nature, but it arises from concepts already found in everyday discourse and scholarly literature. For example, the English language provides a basis for thinking of text as body. The words needed to explain it already pervade our vernacular (e.g., embody, incarnate, materialize), and they provide the roots of the concept. Our use of popular linguistic devices can also display a text that becomes body. We already talk about text as “body” in a metaphoric sense when we speak of person’s life work as a “body of work” or a “corpus.” Additionally, English idioms can grab our ears and flesh out the idea. With words I can get under another’s skin, give her the cold shoulder, light a fire in his belly, leave her breathless, get something off my chest, get on her nerves, go for his jugular (or stab her in the back), cut close to the bone, slit my own throat, and put my foot in my mouth. These all describe textual concepts by employing body as metaphor, which demonstrates one way that text becomes embodied. Christian theology provides another example of the concept of putting text before body in the opening words of the biblical gospel of John: “In the beginning was the Word. . . . And the Word was made flesh.”12 The basic idea of text becoming body already circulates throughout Western culture and discourse, and the rhetorical model proposes to build upon this an alternative to the traditional perspective of bodies. The incredible power of the fictional body also demonstrates the potential for the rhetorical model of body. The fictional character in a novel has text but no physical body, clearly displaying a case where text comes first. From the rhetorical model’s perspective, this lack of body does not lower the significance of the text out of which the character develops. These fictional texts’ rhetorical power may even exceed those of many embodied texts, for the former are more readily distributed, discussed, and can live extremely long lives. Actors can em-body fictional texts literally when they perform characters and craft their bodies to become them, but this is not necessary for the character-text to function. The history of literature proves rather convincingly that even fictional characters who never become
embodied in this way can operate as extremely influential texts, and their rhetoric can evoke responses as real as those associated with the material world even when thing-ness evades them. Building on this idea, the rhetorical model takes the stance that the primacy of text applies to “physical” bodies as well. Perhaps the best example is the limited ways that others perceive us by encountering our bodies, and the incapacity of the physical body to convey all of the text that is our narrative of ourselves. The texts of our lives we literally incarnate always exceed the texts that others interpret from our bodies. No biography, no memory of me, will ever fully account for all the things that compose my text of myself. As Kenneth Burke noted, because people are apart from one another, they rely on identification as a way to compensate for this division. We invent ways to share substance with others (the process that Burke called “consubstantiality”), but this sharing is never complete because we are never “wholly and truly of one substance.”13 In this sense, the texts that become our bodies become the basis for all the forms of human interaction in which bodies participate and perform. A view of body as rhetorically constructed can glance over or even ignore this text, but the view of text as physically manifested cannot deny this text’s implicit significance. By foregrounding text the model necessitates a rhetorical analysis of body. Consider how this model shifts the importance of metaphor. In the traditional approach to the body as text, the body can act as metaphor, but metaphor remains an added condition. It is important, but its significance is still grounded in some thing called a body, and some bodies might even be perceived as failing to express metaphor. But in the rhetorical model’s view of text as body, metaphor is inherent and always present, and it is body that operates as the addition. Body is important, but it is grounded in text, and the presence of metaphor becomes indisputable. What specific metaphor becomes a body remains debatable, especially when considering a specific individual’s situation, and different models of metaphor will approach it in various ways. But unlike the debate about what metaphors a body might exhibit, the rhetorical model shifts the debate to one about modes or systems of interpretation, rather than the presence of words. Unless we want to stay limited by the modernist configuration that often views metaphor as a mere and superficial stylistic element, a rhetorical approach to body seems to better emphasize our strengths, theories, and agency as scholars. The rhetorical model I propose may seem perplexing. Western culture and the still prominent ideas of modernism, positivism, and realism all perpetuate such assumptions as “bodies are real and texts are imaginary,” that “bodies would exist even if texts did not,” and “science knows the truth about bodies.” But I contend that none of these ideas actually delegitimize or even compete with the rhetorical model, because they themselves work as texts that generate ways of seeing and thinking about bodies. In other words, even these ideas can be viewed as examples of texts made into bodies. Moreover, I do not suggest that the model describes the relationship of text and body, nor that it is the only way to
understand this. I propose the model as a way of thinking about these things instead of a description of a “factual” relationship. The rhetorical model of body will ultimately be defined by how others interpret and employ it; my own conception of it cannot dictate or determine what it means. Nevertheless, to situate it among the undeterminable variety of ideas about texts and bodies, I think it is worthwhile to explain what I think the model suggests, assumes, and concludes. As I expect some resistance to or confusion about the model will arise, I write this explanation as responses to the questions and objections it is likely to raise; I articulate it as caveats about what, in my mind, the model does not do. First, it does not propose that bodies do not “exist”; the rhetorical model does not declare a particular ontological stance. Instead of trying to determine the reality of bodies’ existence, it proposes that we begin with the assumptions that texts exist, that one way texts become meaningful is as bodies, and that bodies can only “be” meaningful through the texts they embody. By extension, the model accepts that we do feel and sense our bodies, but that texts shaping our knowledge, values, and vision determine things such as which sensations we treat as limitations or which we find desirable. I “know” I feel pain and I believe that most of us do too, but when we feel pain, we identify that sensation as such because it expresses our idea of pain and carries the connotations we associate with that text. When the experience does not embody the word “pain,” we may feel something else (e.g., we might call and think of it as an “itch,” a “tickle,” or “a sudden warmth”) or possibly disregard it entirely and feel nothing at all. Even when the text “pain” becomes incarnated as a sharply felt sensation, how we respond depends on how we make that meaningful. We might work to alleviate the pain through treatment, welcome the pain because it tells us something about our condition, or desire the pain because we associate it with titillation. The rhetorical model accounts for how one person’s pain can be another person’s pleasure, as the individuals’ texts of pain and pleasure precede the possibility of experiencing either. It does not matter if we consider the stimulus to be “real,” because how we connect it to our bodies (or not) and what physical causes we associate with it also rely upon the presence of the text used to make sense of it. In other words, the sensation is only incarnated because it expresses a text that precedes whatever it is felt to be. Consider the phenomenon of pain experienced in a “phantom limb” as a fairly wellestablished “physical” condition that relies entirely on the textual creation of how the mind (and not the limb) works to be understood as having a material cause. The same applies if we consider how having only one usable leg impacts what we do in our lives. When that condition affects how we live, that is because the texts that we embody, including both those we tell ourselves about our capacities and those materialized by others’ expectations and beliefs of normalcy, have been incarnated as the arrangement of the physical world in which we perform life. In the rhetorical model, stairs do not begin as things; they are first and foremost a text that says, “We need
to empower normal bodies to change the level of the floor or ground on which they stand.” Building the device out of wood, stone, metal, or other things does not generate this message, it expresses the message that was already present in the idea of stairs. The matter used to make the stairs is not itself the stairs, for stairs are something more than the sum of the stuff used to build them. This “something more” is the text out of which they are made. For them to work we must understand what they invite or call on us to do (put your feet here, move them in this way). The text we call stairs literally gives us directions as they convey us to a particular place. What they really “are,” what ultimately makes them stairs, is their text. The rhetorical model also directs attention to the complexity of text expressed in stairs, so that we can read other parts of what that they incarnate—such as a sign conveying the ableist message “For Walkies Only.” Second, the model does not describe the kind of completely fluid text/body relationship that some might fear it does. In the model’s stance, we cannot simply change the texts we view as our bodies, arbitrarily rewrite our narratives, and immediately live in a reconfigured materiality. But the rhetorical model treats the root of this limitation as textual instead of physical. We are not constrained because the physical body is recalcitrant, but because text is, and we never completely control what a text means, how it functions, or who encounters and remembers it. In the model, when audiences believe they “encounter” bodies, they have interpreted a set of sensations as an encounter. We do not control most, or even much, or possibly any of the meaning associated with the text we embody, because those who encounter that text have a practically infinite range of contexts, cues, assumptions, backgrounds, beliefs, and imaginations that they use to interpret it. To borrow an analogy from Judith Butler’s analysis of gender, I cannot get up some morning and put on another text as if putting on a new set of clothes, because people who knew me yesterday will continue to interpret who I am and what I do using their memory of the embodied text they already know.14 The text becomes body, but changing how others read that arrangement is as difficult as changing what people think a word means. We can do it, but it takes time, work, and perseverance. Texts, particularly when embodied, acquire momentum, cultural status, and rhetorical power. Third, the model does not reduce text and body to a single entity. Inverting the text/body relationship encourages a radical change in how we think about text and body, but it does not unify them. Instead, the model proposes to meet the traditional thinking of material and text as “separate” on its own terms, so that by reversing the arrangement of these ideas it can encourage a shift from the conventional perspective. In this way it develops what Burke called a perspective by incongruity, which is at its heart a perspective formed by a juxtaposition of common symbols or ideas that necessarily retains the conflict between those symbols even as it collapses the distance between them.15 “Decadent athleticism,” the exemplar of perspective by incongruity that Burke takes from T. S. Eliot, works as a description of fan
culture because the terms continue to have opposing connotations (decadent = depraved, hedonistic; athleticism = pure, disciplined) even as they are forced together. Thinking of text and body as essentially different allows the model to exploit the components upon which the traditional logic rests, and using them makes the point that believing text and body to be distinct does not in itself validate the idea of body as prior to text. Instead, the arrangement of body first/text second must be recognized as an additional invention that can be questioned even when we leave the body/text divide intact. Exposing the arrangement this way decouples the primacy of the material body from the widely accepted cultural position that bodies and texts are fundamentally different, so that their separation does not support the idea that the rhetorical model contests. Put another way, the model asks people to rethink how body and text relate instead of asking people to dissolve the material world into the textual. Fourth, the model does not require someone to be aware of the text made real when making sense out of something. Cultural frameworks, traditional associations between one thing and another, and warrants are all texts that can be so ingrained in a person’s way of knowing, evaluating, and seeing that they work reflexively when encountering something. We can be motivated to do something by the orientations that we have developed over our lifetime of experiences. These experiences have themselves been shaped by the cultural traditions in which we were raised, and the resulting orientations usually combine such elements as beliefs, values, dramas, aphorisms, educations, unconscious associations, and memories in a rather messy and chaotic way. The interaction of all these various elements does not happen in a simple, predictable fashion, and when used they impact and modify each other. Memories are not always tied to dramas, dramas are not always tied to memories, and anytime memories and dramas are tied together the connection changes both the memories and the dramas involved. Whether recognized or not, text is already present when one places something into a context. We might conceive of it as a narrative, a point of view, or a systematic conception of how the parts of a thing relate. It interacts with one’s perspective, reflects and shapes one’s worldview, and we attempt to communicate it with others through words, images, sculptures, physical movement, and behaviors. It is the ideas from which one forms the meaning or the message sent by another through all the various different media we can manipulate. Although I empathize with the desire to believe that one does actually understand precisely what the person speaking or writing intended to mean, I contend that meaning can always escape intention, that we have no accurate way of determining when this happens, and that this instability raises questions about the value of relating “intent” to a message’s meaning. Positioning the rhetorical model in relation to these caveats aligns it with other theorists, who, while they may not agree with it entirely, have presented ideas that inform it. Readers familiar with recent literature regarding text’s relationship with body probably recognize elements of the rhetorical model in
the work of several scholars. I certainly do not claim to have invented this idea out of nothing, and I have been dramatically influenced by other scholars, who have made critical progress toward reconceiving bodies and texts in new and insightful ways. One particularly important influence, whose mark on this model should be easy to discern, is Judith Butler. Butler’s theories of body move in the direction of the rhetorical model by noting the fallacy inherent in the traditional body first/text second model. She writes: “The body posited as prior to the sign, is always posited or signified as prior. The signification produces an effect of its own procedure the very body that it nevertheless and simultaneously claims to discover as that which precedes its own action.”16 In other words, whenever we think of the body first, we are already employing a text (which she calls a “signification”) that conveys the idea that “here is a body that comes before text.” Without that text, one cannot even assign the quality of primacy to whatever it is that one thinks of as a body. The concept of primacy as a quality of body requires a text of what “primacy” means and connotes, and the claim that “this body precedes text” is but an effect of applying this text. Two other noteworthy influences, Tobin Siebers and Jay Timothy Dolmage, are among the few disability studies scholars who have bucked the trend of simply presenting body as text, and the rhetorical model reflects some of their claims. Siebers argues that through reading “words gain materiality and appear in the world as visible things,” and as they produce “a seizure of meaning . . . they become bodies.”17 Siebers describes the way that one acts toward words on a page when reading as the same way that one acts toward bodies. He uses the example of a scar as “words becoming body,”18 and once we consider the scar as a text denoting “bodily wounds, cuts, defects, and deformities”19 we have begun to understand the marked body as text incarnated. Siebers’s emphasis on reading the body distinguishes his argument from the rhetorical model, because on some level reading always interprets something already present. But his argument that the language used must precede interpretation indicates that some aspects of text must at least be present at the same time as whatever is labeled as body. He writes that when “no language is manifest, readers are obliged to invent one; otherwise the translation between the ‘language’ of reading and the ‘language’ of the object does not take place, and the object remains unreadable.”20 In other words, the distance between his articulation of the body as something people read and the rhetorical model’s perspective of the text as something embodied becomes almost invisible at the point of origin, because what he describes as invention of language shares the key characteristics of the creation of text that the rhetorical model posits as preceding the body. Dolmage’s term “rhetorical body” places rhetoric before body in the same way the rhetorical model places text before body, and, like the model, he describes the work of bodies and rhetoric as completely intertwined. “To care about the body is to care about how we make meaning,” because “studying any culture’s attitudes and arguments about the body always connects us intimately with attitudes and
arguments about rhetorical possibility.” In a sense, bodies and rhetoric do the same thing: they work to “persuade and move ourselves and others.”21 Thus Dolmage examines rhetoric as “the circulation of discourse through the body,” which closely parallels the rhetorical model’s view of bodies as the things that rhetoric uses to move about the world.22 In both, bodies become a function of rhetoric. Within the rhetorical model, bodies circulate the texts that they embody; the movement and interaction of these bodies in society brings their texts into contact with each other, exchanging their ideas, and their comingling performs what we call communication. Bodies spread the words that make them what they are. The four caveats describing what the model does not do raise the question of how to determine the value of the model. Since it avoids making an ontological claim about what bodies (or texts) are, then it cannot be judged merely by whether it is accurate, correct, or true. It articulates a way of thinking that calls attention to the way that the traditional arrangement of body first/text second is itself an orientation and not an ontological position. The traditional view does not prove the existence or the truth of body (or text); like the rhetorical model, it assumes the existence of those things. If this lack of ontological proof somehow undermines the significance of the rhetorical model, then it undermines the significance of the traditional arrangement in the same way—which in itself raises questions about why people usually conceive of bodies first/texts second. The test that both the traditional model and the rhetorical model must pass is whether or not they provide useful ways of thinking about the text/body relationship. Each model’s value relies on what we can gain by thinking of text and body in particular ways, and the value of the rhetorical model is that it calls attention to the potential benefits of thinking of words as the stuff that makes up (or shapes, or defines) what we think of as bodies. This allows us to follow a line of analysis that the traditional model cannot, and to question how texts impact what we know, value, and see as bodies. To put all this a bit differently, all theories and models present possible ways of understanding, and their worth depends on what one can do with them rather than the extent to which they reflect “truth.” This does not deny the existence of truth per se but rather leaves that issue aside to turn the focus elsewhere. Taking the traditional model as static, incontrovertible, knowable, and seeable truth does not help one make sense of what bodies mean. Moving away from the question of truth creates possibilities for asking more pragmatic questions, such as those about a theory’s or model’s usefulness, impact, ethics, viability, longevity, and urgency. I suspect that the rhetorical model of body will prove useful for rhetorical studies in general, especially those investigating other forms of social and rhetorical discrimination and subordination. A rhetorical model of the raced body or a rhetorical model of the sexed body may provide ways of more fully integrating rhetorical and textual analysis with the physical and corporeal aspects of how such
bodies perform. I use it here as a means of critically engaging ableism, because articulating a rhetorical model of the disabled body reveals ableist texts and warrants that inform its epistemology, ideology, and perspective.
A Rhetorical Model of Disability and the Critique of Ableism Placing the disabled body within the rhetorical model in an ableist culture positions it as a collection of sensations interpreted through an ableist frame for knowing, evaluating, and seeing that body. When people interpret sensations as encountering a body they perceive as “disabled,” then what that disabled body means (how it is known, the values assigned to it, and the way it is seen) flows to and from the labels and the texts it embodies. Accordingly, we perceive a body as disabled when experiencing what we understand as an encounter with something believed to fit with such knowledge, values, and vision. This becomes a self-reinforcing circle, as developments in the encounter continue to shape what the disabled body means to the perceiver, which in turn shapes recognition of the body as disabled. In other words, once someone categorizes the encounter as involving a disabled person, she or he interprets whatever happens in the interaction through the lens framed by already present ideas of disability, and the experience weakens, modifies, or strengthens her or his sense of what disability means. These ideas correspond to expectations about the disabled body that influence the interaction, and these too are either weakened, modified, or strengthened by the experience of embodying the texts of disability. If someone perceives another as disabled but then the encounter actively violates her or his expectations about disability, the individual faces a kind of critical moment in which either ideas of the category change or the person is placed into a different category and refigured as something other than disabled. For example, when people look at a person sitting in a wheelchair, a whole series of texts become the body of that person. They might assume that this indicates that the person does not have the capacity to walk, has difficulty opening doors, or envies people who do not use wheelchairs. They might pity the person, be thankful that they do not have to use a chair, and believe that they would “hate to live like that.” They might feel unsure about how to approach the person, or look away. If the wheelchair user appears to validate any of these assumptions and reactions, then these become stronger, more likely to be applied in the future, and harder to set aside. If they assume that the person in the wheelchair requires assistance, they may provide unwanted or unnecessary “help,” perhaps by opening a door or giving the chair a push. If the person refuses such assistance or it otherwise becomes clear that the effort is undesired, then this can shape ideas about the wheelchair user’s personality and possibly associate such personality traits with disabled people in general.
The rhetorical model looks at the various texts involved in the process described above as the stuff out of which the disabled body is made. In the interaction the texts of disability become embodied, and subsequent interpretation of how that body appears to function and behave develop those texts and impact their future use the next time the person encounters a body she or he classifies as disabled. This process activates the ableist warrants accepted by the perceiver, which are applied to make sense out of the ascribed disability. The rhetorical model places these epistemic, ideological, and visual frameworks prior to an encounter with a body, which allows the critic to examine the texts that rely upon such warrants as a way of unpacking the concepts that legitimate and enervate those frames. Importantly, it frees the investigation from the disabled body per se, so that the warrants can be located in texts somewhat removed from disability, such as the possession story, cyborg anxiety, and the mythic status of sport. The responses associated with these narratives situate the text encountered as body in the context of the story’s connotations, attaching such attitudes and emotions to the disabled body. For example, the fear associated with such warrants as deviance is evil and normal is natural are brought into play to color how the ableist person experiences the interaction. The sensation of fear associated with the possession narrative will be more extreme than the feeling associated with disability, but whether it amounts to a tendency to move away or to yank a child’s arm and admonish her or him not to look, the disabled body will be perceived, as Robert Murphy put it, as “represent[ing] a fearsome possibility.”23 Understood through the lens of the rhetorical model, the process of making sense of and even encountering disability becomes exposed and open to scrutiny, which rips away the invisibility of ableist rhetoric. One does not see a body and then make reasonable, conventional, or radical assumptions about it. In the experience itself, the text identifies the body and labels it disabled. One does not encounter a disabled body but rather embodies the texts that one develops or adopts, which then directs attention to certain sensations, disregards others, and makes assumptions that guide how that body is known, evaluated, and seen. When exposed by the rhetorical model, these assumptions’ reasonableness, appropriateness, ethics, and implications come under scrutiny. Making the ableist rhetoric apparent opens them to reevaluation and effectively demands that the person relying upon them defend the ideas. When this proves difficult to do, the entire edifice of ableism weakens. Considering disability as an embodied text thus challenges ableist thinking on a number of levels. For one thing, it provides a way past the concept of stable and idealized bodies upon which ableism rests. Dan Goodley writes that “ableist processes create a corporeal standard, which presumes ablebodiedness, inaugurates the norm and purifies the ableist ideal.”24 Presuming normalcy lies at the root of ableist thinking, because it assumes that most people are normal. From the stance of the rhetorical model, the presence of the able body and disabled body—and all the ideas and reasoning that inform their distinction—flow from a text believed to be stable, invisible, and unquestionable. Exposing that
idea as something that shapes and precedes encountering a body, questions, reveals, and destabilizes it, because its main source of power is that few look past their idea of body to see the text underneath. When one does look underneath and reads the text found there, the text of normalcy thus revealed simply cannot bear scrutiny. Whatever any given society takes to be a “normal body,” that idea is an invention whose power to promote discrimination begins to dissipate at the moment people recognize its artificiality. In Western culture the concept of normalcy came to describe characteristics statistically shown to be present in the majority of a population.25 As Lennard J. Davis explains, this concept of normalcy flows from the notion of an ideal body, an impossible form that no human ever has attained or ever can attain.26 In the terms of the ableist warrant I associate with normalcy, no body can be perfectly normal, so normal cannot be natural. Even the claim that “most people are naturally normal” cannot be reasonably sustained, because bodies differ from one another. If we want a description of what nature dictates for bodies, then it makes more sense to say abnormality is natural. Moreover, the ideal body must necessarily be a static, unchanging thing. It might be specified for a particular set of bodies—“a normal middle-aged woman,” or “a normal prepubescent boy”—but it always freezes the ideal characteristics of such a body in a particular time and age. In this, too, the ideal fails. The text we embody changes constantly because it is alive; the story of our lives is that we age, grow, and die. Even after death the body continues to change, even though most narratives of death believe that we have left the body and do not change with it. The ideal body upon which Western culture has crafted normalcy lacks variety and mortality, which are two characteristics shared by all bodies. The rhetorical model adds an argument to the arsenal that disability studies brings to bear on the medical model. From the stance of the medical model, body and text have nothing to do with each other. Bodies are real, exist entirely on a material plane, and, because medical practitioners are all trained in the standardized jargon of the discipline, bodies can be seen the same way by anyone trained in the language. The ideal text, in other words, objectively reflects what is there and does not shape accurate perception. The body does not get any more stable than this. The rhetorical model directly challenges this view of a neutral text that merely works as a means to communicate real observations and truths about a “real” body. Placing the text of the medical model prior to the perception of the body itself reveals how the medical view inherent in the medical text produces a medicalized body. In the rhetorical model’s terms, the medical profession limits its capacity for understanding how bodies work and what they mean by blithely ignoring how its narratives lead them to encounter bodies primarily as problems that they attempt to fix when broken. In effect, the rhetorical model reveals how the medical model remains powerful because of its institutional momentum sustained by ableist culture. The rhetorical model’s perspective also enhances the power of current practices to challenge ableism. For example, disability autobiography becomes an important tool for understanding disability and
undermining ableist assumptions. It can directly challenge the epistemic aspects of ableism by providing a way for able-bodied people to know disability differently than through their own experiences of temporary disability as a result of injury (or the egregious “disability simulation”). In terms of the rhetorical model, reading a disability autobiography does not simply allow one to read about someone else, it actually allows her or him to encounter the writer’s text. This suggests that a reader should apply the sensation of a face-to-face encounter when reading the autobiography, which can enhance what the work does to encourage a new perspective. Getting to know how someone with a disability feels and thinks often has a dramatic effect on an ableist person, and that effect becomes potentially more powerful when this happens via reading an autobiography because it encourages readers to realize how that “encounter” clearly functions as interpreting embodied text.27 The rhetorical model also resolves a particular problem associated with what an ableist considers a disability autobiography. Some autobiographies written by disabled people present negative views of living with a disability, and a few even present ableist perspectives (especially when a writer acquired her or his disability later in life, learned ableist attitudes and rhetoric as an able-bodied person, and has not identified as a disabled person).28 An autobiography is not a disability autobiography simply because a disabled person wrote it, as scholars define the genre in part by the stance it takes vis-à-vis disability. G. Thomas Couser explains that the work of the disability autobiography is “not the mere expression of experiences of illness and disability but the active reclaiming of them from medicalisation.”29 The rhetorical model provides a rationale that justifies and clarifies this distinction between a disability autobiography and an autobiography written by a disabled person. In the model, the text of the autobiography becomes the body of the writer; what makes that text a disability autobiography is the narrative, warrants, and arguments that appear in the book. Even if written by a disabled person, a text is only a disability autobiography when that text presents a perspective that challenges how ableist culture views disability. The standpoint of the rhetorical model highlights rhetorical solutions to ableism and provides a guide for developing them. From the rhetorical model, the problem of ableism becomes the rhetorical warrants that sustain it. Not only does the model focus attention on this rhetoric—even when it appears in contexts not generally associated with disability—it also indicates that exposure is the key to rhetorical solutions to ableism. Accepted as common sense, ableism obscures the roots of the problem, which undermines the exercise of rhetorical power against them because they do not appear to be necessary. Insofar as ableism operates invisibly, these roots do not appear at all. Rhetoric alone can change that, as becoming aware of them requires the words that make comprehension of the ableist warrants possible. Exposing the warrants makes their simple equations untenable and questions interrogating them arise easily.
For example, the rhetorical model brings to light the operation of deviance is evil, which, once visible, becomes a difficult proposition to defend. For most people in Western culture, the possession narrative is fiction, and understanding how it uses the logic of seeing evil in physical deformity links that equation with fantasy. Admittedly, able-bodied ableists probably have some desire for a fantasy that they think makes them look good (for the inverse of deviance is evil is normalcy is holy), but viewing the interpretive warrant as ableist rhetoric brings that motive into question. Very few can imagine Terrance Cottrell and believe that he was treated appropriately. From such narratives ableism has taught a visual rhetoric that presents disability as inherently bad, but realizing this brings that perspective into question. How can anyone view the disabled body as something possessed, monstrous, or evil? Can a literary convention that kills people be justified? As Richard Tithecott notes in his examination of the narrative of the serial killer, the deadliest monsters we encounter mostly look and act like everybody else (excepting their compulsion to kill), which provides them—like ableism—an invisibility that allows them to operate without detection.30 Seeing through the lens deviance is evil can obscure evil. As noted above, the rhetorical model also exposes and dissolves the warrant expressed as normal is natural. Not only does the rhetorical model call into question the medical model’s assumptions about what is normal, it also challenges the stability of the concept of the natural. This impact may be unique to the rhetorical model, as scholarship that attacks the idea of normal can leave intact the idea of the body as a natural entity that exists independent of a text of naturalness. The rhetorical model goes beyond that stance by taking the position that both normalcy and naturalness belong to the text that becomes body. In other words, “natural” is also a text that precedes the concept of body. This is why the cyborg so clearly threatens the rhetoric normal is natural: it reveals the artifice of natural and questioning its value and coherence when applied to bodies. The variations of all organic life deny that one lives in a “normal body”; we cannot even say what is “normal” for ourselves and use our own bodies as a personal baseline because everyone’s body changes throughout their lives. Likewise, the increasing difficulty of creating a text of a natural body that lives without direct connections to artificial technology, and the impossibility of creating clear lines of where the natural body begins and the unnatural world ends, make “natural” into just as arbitrary a text as “normal.” The rhetorical model refutes normal is natural from the position that nothing is normal or natural without the texts that craft these, and that investigating such texts shows them so riddled with arbitrary assumptions, ableist views, and discredited ideas that neither story makes much sense. In the rhetorical model, the only reason normal is natural works at all is because it plays a powerful yet indefensible role in our persistently ableist culture. The rhetorical model also shows how body is able is an irrational idea, because the text that makes something into an ability precedes the body, so the body cannot be the source of what makes something an ability. Texts that make abilities such as those that surround sport privilege one capacity or skill over
another and/or make a particular physical characteristic necessary for fully functioning in society. Recognized as texts, these can be interrogated in ways that bodies cannot, as the presumed objectiveness of the body treats ability as an inherent characteristic rather than a potentially harmful and questionable assumption. Once again, recall the example of the stairs. Understanding stairs as texts that are made material raises the question of what those texts are, what warrants they use and perpetuate, and whether they express acceptable ideas. In the rhetorical model, the ability to climb stairs resides not in a physical skill or characteristic, but in the capacity to abide by the text they dictate: “For Walkies Only.” In a similar way, the rhetorical model provides a useful way to make sense out of the cases discussed in this book. The father who euthanized his daughter Tracy Latimer saw her as a text that told the story that she was better off dead. Once she embodied that text, poisoning her with carbon monoxide became an act of mercy that any good father would perform. This becomes particularly clear when we read her story initially without the textual addition of her disability; the story lacks coherence and sensibility if that detail is left out of the narrative. Adding that element—which the audience must construct for itself out of the details identified as salient by the newspaper reports—shifts the context in which Tracy Latimer’s body is valued, known, and seen (or imagined in the mind’s eye). Similarly, when Ray Hemphill “encountered” Terrance Cottrell, he crafted the boy’s body from a possession narrative. In the context of that story, in which Cottrell’s body was under the control of pure evil, extreme and dangerous measures seemed justified to save the boy’s soul even at the expense of his life. In both of these cases, the rhetorical model unveils the rationale and warrants that turn the violent acts into reasonable responses. It also shows how the text of the life not worth living and the possession narrative preceded these men’s determination to respond to a particular body. The texts themselves direct attention to certain sensations while ignoring others, as well as providing a coherent framework that dictated a particular response. Without the narrative of the life not worth living, selecting certain aspects of Tracy’s body and perceiving them as relevant would not be possible, for their relevance arises from their fitness with the narrative. Without the narrative of possession, seeing some of the characteristics Terrance appeared to display as demonic and deciding to perform an exorcism would be absurd and incomprehensible even to those responsible for his death. When one makes sense out of the Deaf culture, it is the competing texts of deafness that separate the Deaf view of cochlear implants from the otolaryngologists’ orientation toward the technology. The Hearing perspective is misinformed by a text that imagines deafness as a tragedy, which arises because the Hearing way of knowing deafness is to imagine what it would be like if one who belongs to and in Hearing culture were to suddenly lose the ability to hear. The Hearing person assumes that being deaf is but a permanent version of the condition that she or he encounters when something temporarily disrupts hearing (such as wearing earplugs, or attending a very loud rock concert, or being close to an explosion).
But the Deaf do not know deafness this way; they have a different epistemic of deafness, and they know it as the core of their identity. To someone who grew up without hearing, deafness is not a loss, and to someone in Deaf culture, deafness is not isolating. John Limnidis nicely summed up the Deaf text: “Deafness is not a handicap. It’s a culture, a language, and I’m proud to be deaf. If there was a medication that could be given to deaf people to make them hear, I wouldn’t take it. Never. Never till I die!”31 Finally, when one examines the Casey Martin and Oscar Pistorius cases, it is a text of what makes an athlete—and what make up the essential elements of a sport—that motivate those who fought against Martin’s accommodation and Pistorius’s acceptance in the Olympics. Martin’s withered leg and difficulty walking seem to violate the text of the athletic ideal of the talented, well-trained, and admirable body. In contrast, those who supported Martin embodied him as disabled—a text in which his condition was a validation—and providing him with a cart was appropriate. From these narratives the debate over whether walking is essential to the sport of golf becomes an extension of the text out of which these groups embodied Martin. For the PGA and their supporters, the question posed by walking related critically to the text of Martin as athlete; for Martin and his supporters, the issue of walking was practically inconsequential to the text of Martin as disabled, and accommodation became a necessary response. Similarly, Pistorius’s prosthetic legs did not fit the narrative of the ideal athletic body held by those who opposed allowing him to participate in the Olympics, but it fit the text of the disabled athlete with which his supporters embodied him. Here the tension became a contest over the presence and legitimacy of a cyborg body, whose artificial modifications violated the ableist warrant that body is able, and which provoked anxiety about the future of the pure and natural body’s capacity to control what counts as ability. For those in the Pistorius camp, the narrative he embodied had more to do with training, tenaciousness, and talent—notably, important qualities for an athlete—and his prosthetics had a lot to do with enabling him to display those characteristics and very little to do with cyborgs. In all of these cases, the rhetorical model provides a way to both see the strands of the ableism’s web of epistemology, ideology, and vision and enables ways to work ourselves free from it. From the position of the model, the logic revealed in these few ableist warrants inform each of these different types of rhetoric. The text of ableism that becomes the discriminated against disabled body can be understood as arising from coherent and very problematic rhetoric, and once revealed that rhetoric becomes very hard to justify. The problem of ableism is not that it does not make any sense; the problem is the texts that inform the way of knowing, valuing, and seeing through which it does make sense. Taking on the warrants themselves—decoupling deviance and evil, normal and natural, body and able—can work as a strategy for undermining all of ableism. At the very least, it provides a way to think beyond the enormous and ancient wall of rhetoric that protects ableist culture. Instead of scaling it, the model
suggests that the path is underneath it, through the basic ideas on which it rests and relies. And from the rhetorical model’s perspective, the wall rests on friable soil (admittedly very densely packed) instead of impenetrable bedrock. Changing what disability means is hard, but when pursued through the rhetorical model the effort itself makes progress because it makes visible the strands of the web that constrain it. Siebers put it best: “A reversal of the status quo is not easily achieved, and this fact may be important in itself. Irreversibility is a sign that prejudices are at play, and the power of prejudice manifests itself whenever we try to reverse the proposition currently defining the interpretation of words and images.”32 Like irreversibility, invisibility reveals that prejudices are at play, so articulating the presence of ableist ideas simultaneously exposes their most powerful rhetorical device. The rhetorical model provides a way of seeing ableism at work, identifying the orientation it encourages, and locating critical steps toward overcoming ableist discrimination. Given the strength of ableism in Western culture, this task can seem Sisyphean, but if we can start to see our own and others’ bodies as texts first and bodies second then we can move the conversation directly to those texts instead of trying to solve the puzzles that bodies, in all their incredible variety and complexity, seem to pose. Shifting the conversation in this direction dramatically facilitates identifying, exposing, and critiquing the ableist rhetoric that generates and sustains ableist culture.
Chapter 1 1. Celeste Michelle Condit and John Louis Lucaites provide a succinct yet thorough explanation of the linguistic turn. Condit and Lucaites, Crafting Equality, ix–xvii. 2. For example, many scholars engage in the “rhetoric of science,” and the Project on Rhetoric of Inquiry (POROI) at the University of Iowa gathers several scholars who examine how other disciplines use rhetoric. See McKeon, “Uses of Rhetoric,” 44–63; Nelson, Megill, and McCloskey, Rhetoric of the Human Sciences; Simons, Rhetoric in the Human Sciences; and Obermann Center for Advanced Studies, “POROI.” The controversy over these approaches has involved several scholars, but the following cover much of the debate: Gaonkar, “Rhetoric and Its Double,” 341–66; Gaonkar, “Idea of Rhetoric,” 25–85; McCloskey, “Big Rhetoric, Little Rhetoric,” 101–12; Lucaites, Condit, and Caudill, Contemporary Rhetorical Theory; and Schiappa, “Second Thoughts,” 260–74. 3. In the postscript to this chapter, I explain my choice of terminology and why I do not use “personfirst” language in this book. 4. Linton, Claiming Disability, 73. 5. Sami Schalk takes a rhetorical approach to analyze ableist metaphors, writing what I believe to be at present the only work by another scholar that explicitly examines the operation of ableist rhetoric in detail. Schalk, “Metaphorically Speaking.” 6. For example, Brueggemann, Lend Me Your Ear; Wilson and Lewiecki-Wilson, Embodied Rhetorics; Dolmage, Disability Rhetoric; Price, Mad at School; Johnson, American Lobotomy; Walters, Rhetorical Touch. 7. For example, Campbell, Contours of Ableism; Wolbring, “Expanding Ableism,” 75–83; Wolbring, “Politics of Ableism,” 252–58; Carlson, “Cognitive Ableism,” 124–46; and Goodley, Dis/Ability Studies. 8. Linton, Claiming Disability, 72. 9. Siebers, Disability Theory, 4.
10. Campbell, Contours of Ableism, 197. 11. Linton, Claiming Disability, 74–75. 12. I compiled this history of the Latimer case from the following sources: Globe and Mail (Toronto), “Farmer Accused”; Hamilton (ON) Spectator, “Father Confessed”; Hamilton (ON) Spectator, “Dad Acted”; Toronto Star, “Dad Gets Life”; Globe and Mail (Toronto), “Latimer Released”; Mitchell, “Latimer Murder Appeal Denied”; Makin and Mitchell, “Latimer to Face”; Henton, “Latimer Guilty”; Crary, “Mercy-Killing Dad”; Henton, “Latimer Jailed”; and Bindman, “Crown Appeals.” In November 1998 the Canadian Court of Appeals reimposed the original sentence, reversing Noble’s judgment and sentencing Latimer to the mandatory minimum of ten years in prison. Latimer appealed to the Canadian Supreme Court, which decided in January 2001 to uphold the Court of Appeals’s decision. Latimer served his sentence in prison from January 2001 until he was granted day parole in December 2008 and moved to a halfway house. There he served the remainder of his sentence and was granted full parole in November 2010. The following sources describe the case’s conclusion. O’Hanlon and Nolan, “Latimer Gets Life”; Brown, “Canadian Court Rejects”; Fong, “Day Parole for Latimer”; and Hunter, “Robert Latimer Granted.” 13. Henton, “Latimer Jailed.” 14. Campbell, Contours of Ableism, 5. 15. Campbell, “Inciting Legal Fictions,” 42–62. 16. See Fiedler, Freaks; Terry and Urla, Deviant Bodies; Grosz, “Intolerable Ambiguity,” 55–66; Adams, Sideshow U.S.A.; Garland-Thompson, Staring; and Mitchell with Snyder, Biopolitics of Disability. 17. Wells, Country of the Blind, 536–68. 18. Siebers, Disability Theory, 81. 19. Becoming disabled does not necessarily make a person less ableist. Christopher Reeve became the archetype of the disabled ableist. Disability activist Mary Johnson calls Reeve “the most famous disabled person since Roosevelt,” and laments that he repeatedly espoused ableist rhetoric. Johnson, Make Them Go Away, 5–10, 45–49, 129–30, 146–47, 255–57. 20. Siebers, Disability Theory, 57. 21. See Frankenberg, White Women. 22. See Blair, Brown, Baxter, “Disciplining the Feminine,” 383–409. 23. Hall, “Problem of Ideology,” 26. 24. Ibid., 27. 25. Grossberg, “On Postmodernism and Articulation,” 137. 26. Burke, Permanence and Change, 35.
27. Ibid., 35. 28. Toulmin, Uses of Argument; Toulmin, Rieke, and Janik, Introduction to Reasoning. 29. The five canons were developed by ancient rhetoricians and continue to be used as a way of conceptualizing the art of rhetoric. They describe the basic steps involved in constructing a public speech: invention, arrangement, style, memory, and delivery. For example, see Aristotle, Rhetoric (trans. Freese). 30. Burke, Permanence and Change, 5–18. 31. Lafleur and Kee, “Ten Years After”; Lewis, “Access and Closed Doors”; and Lochhead, “Collecting on a Promise.” 32. United States Department of Labor, “Persons with a Disability.” 33. McGee and Lyne, “What Are Nice Folks,” 389. 34. Ibid., 393. 35. Panetta and Hasian, “Anti-Rhetoric as Rhetoric,” 58. 36. Brummett, Sporting Rhetoric; Butterworth, Baseball and Rhetorics of Purity; Cherney, Lindemann, and Hardin, “Research in Communication,” 8–26; Billings, Butterworth, and Turman, Communication and Sport; Grano and Butterworth, Sport, Rhetoric, and Political Struggle. 37. Foucault, Birth of the Clinic, xix. 38. Garland, Eye of the Beholder, 5. 39. Gleeson, Geographies of Disability, 9.
Chapter 2 1. Except where specific sources are cited, this story of Terrance Cottrell was compiled from the following sources, arranged chronologically: Sink and Smith, “Leaders Were Trying”; CBSNews.com, “Autistic Boy Dies”; Epstein and Smith, “Boy’s Death Ruled Homicide”; Wells, “Church Expects Clearance”; McBride and Epstein, “Minister Charged with Felony”; Stingl, “Healing by Faith”; CBSNews.com, “Minister Charged in Exorcism”; Davey, “Faith Healing Gone Wrong”; Nunnally, “Preacher Going on Trial”; Nunnaly, “Details of Boy’s Death”; Sweetingham, “Medical Examiner”; Nunnally, “Prosecutors in Boy’s Death”; Nunnally, “Minister Convicted”; Nunnally, “Minister Gets 30 Months”; and Reynolds, “Hemphill Sentenced.” 2. Sweetingham, “Medical Examiner.” 3. Ibid. 4. McBride and Epstein, “Minister Charged with Felony.” 5. Sweetingham, “Medical Examiner”; Nunnally, “Details of Boy’s Death.”
6. McBride and Epstein, “Minister Charged with Felony.” 7. Reynolds, “Hemphill Sentenced.” 8. Sweetingham, “Medical Examiner.” 9. McBride and Epstein, “Minister Charged with Felony.” 10. Ibid., ellipses in original. 11. Reynolds, “Hemphill Sentenced,” emphasis added. 12. Burke, Philosophy of Literary Form, 293–304. 13. Murphy, Body Silent, 130. See also Rosemarie Garland-Thompson’s extensive and insightful investigation into the norms, rituals, and taboos of staring at disabled people. Garland-Thompson, Staring. 14. Murphy, Body Silent, 130. 15. Longmore, “Screening Stereotypes,” 66. 16. Dolmage, Disability Rhetoric, 31–61; Sutherland, “Black Hats and Twisted Bodies,” 6–20; Kriegel, “Cripple in Literature,” 31–46; Phillips, “Most Dangerous Deviants,” 64–76; and Colin Barnes, Disabling Imagery. 17. Nelson, “Invisible,” 119. See also Nelson, Disabled, 1–24. The convention is so well known its reversal can operate as an ironic plot device in such films as John Sturges’s Bad Day at Black Rock, in which the suspicious one-armed man is ultimately revealed to be the protagonist. 18. Liachowitz, Disability as a Social Construct, 7. 19. Mellinkoff, Outcasts, 121. 20. Sontag, Illness as Metaphor, 3. 21. Ibid., 113. 22. Fiedler, Freaks, 229. 23. Ibid., 230. 24. See Wainwright, Stigmata; Zucker, Ghost. 25. E.g., Morris, Pride Against Prejudice; Shildrick, Leaky Bodies and Boundaries; Wilkerson, Diagnosis: Difference; Hall, Feminist Disability Studies; Kafer, Feminist, Queer, Crip; and Hirschmann, “Disability, Feminism, and Intersectionality,” 649–62. 26. Mather, Memorable Providences; Blatty, Exorcist; Friedkin, Exorcist. 27. Weisman, Witchcraft, Magic, and Religion; Davidson and Lytle, “Visible and Invisible,” 28–53. 28. Rosenthal, Salem Story. 29. Ibid., 7. 30. Holmes, Cotton Mather, 658, 660–61; Silverman, Life and Times, 114–23.
31. This quotation appears on the cover of the 1689 edition. A note on the text: I retained the capitalization, italicization, and spelling schemes employed in the original, excepting the use of all capital letters in referenced titles. While many of the quotations are taken from a microfiche copy of the original document, physical corruption of that copy often forced me to quote from the second printing of the book. The relevant portions of that edition, printed in London for Tho. Parkhurst in 1691, appear virtually identical to the original. Except for the addition of a preface by Richard Baxter and a list of “Books Printed for Tho. Parkhurst,” this second impression is “printed almost exactly page for page with the first edition” (Holmes, Cotton Mather, 651). The only difference I can find between the text of the editions is a few instances of modernized spelling. Wording, emphasis, and pagination is identical in each edition for the pages describing the Goodwin case. 32. Mather, Wonders of the Invisible World. 33. Mather specifically anticipated a response from George Keith, who had criticized Increase Mather’s earlier discussion of witchcraft in “An Essay for the recording of Illustrious Providences,” by appending a fourteen-page preemptive strike that accused Keith of “Gross Abuses, Lyes and Slanders” and defended the methods and data of his experiments with the Goodwin children. Holmes, Cotton Mather, 661. 34. Mather, Memorable Providences, i. 35. Morton, Allen, Moodey, and Williard, “To the Reader,” iv–v. 36. Mather, Memorable Providences, 3. 37. To protect his scientific aura of impartiality in the wake of this experiment, Mather quickly adds this disclaimer: There were, I think I may say, no less than Multitudes of Witnesses, to this odd thing; and I should not have been a faithful historian, if I had withheld from the World this part of my History: But I make no Reflections on it. Those inconsiderate men that are provoked at it (if any shall be of so little Sense as to be provoked) must be angry at the Devils, and not at me; their Malice, and not my Writing, deserves the blame for any Aspersion which a true History, may seem to cast on a Book that some have manifested their Concernment for. (24–25) 38. The Godfather sold 12,140,000 copies, The Exorcist 11,702,097 copies, Rosemary’s Baby 4,411,055 copies, and The Other 3,594,693 copies. Hackett and Burke, 80 Years of Best Sellers, 10–13. 39. AFI.com, “Psycho Tops.” 40. E-Splatter.com, “Exorcist”; Internet Movie Database, “Exorcist (1973).” 41. Blatty, Legion; Boorman, Exorcist II; Blatty, Exorcist III; Harlin, Exorcist: The Beginning; Schrader, Dominion; Booth and Booth, Exorcist File. Boorman’s Exorcist II used the Blatty character of Regan but was written by William Goodhart, and did not correspond to Blatty’s sequel novel Legion.
The third film, Exorcist III, was written by Blatty based on Legion. Carrielynn D. Reinhard explains that the two prequels (Exorcist: The Beginning and Dominion) had the same writers, many of the same actors, but different directors (Reinhard, “Problem with Prequels”). 42. Slater, Exorcist [television series]. 43. Clover, Men, Women, and Chain Saws, 67. 44. Petersen, “Picks in Paper-Backs,” 9. 45. Fallowell, Review of The Exorcist, 51. 46. Blatty, “Fear of God.” 47. Van Horn, Dead Pool; Lasseter, Toy Story; Reitman, Ghostbusters. 48. MeTV Detroit, “Do You Remember.” 49. Clover makes an exception to her work’s “films only” policy by integrating portions of the novel in her analysis of the film. She argues that “Friedkin’s decision not to render the interior monologues on which the novel’s meaning depends—and in which Regan’s meaning for Karras is revealed—leaves us with a cinematic text that hints and nudges but never tells.” To render such moments transparent, she interprets the novel directly. She notes that Friedkin himself suggested such a mode of interpretation when he admitted “the first hour of the film—its exposition—may be ‘very hard to follow unless you’ve read the book’ ” and argues that this applies to the second hour of the film as well (Clover, Men, Women, and Chain Saws, 68, 9n). 50. Mulvey, Visual and Other Pleasures. 51. Blatty, Exorcist, 3–8. 52. Emphasis added. 53. Karras considers telekinesis and telepathy natural phenomena because, in the novel, they have been observed by scientists: “psychokinetic phenomena existed; had been thoroughly documented; filmed; observed in psychiatric clinics” (301). 54. The earlier reference to the razor appears on 64. 55. Clover, Men, Women, and Chain Saws, 82–84. 56. Blatty, Exorcist, 330. 57. Ibid., 201. 58. Ibid., 358. 59. Ibid., 359. 60. Nelson, “Invisible,” 122. 61. Clover, Men, Women, and Chain Saws, 66. 62. Rushing and Frentz, Projecting the Shadow, 5. 63. Ibid., 6.
64. Norden, Cinema of Isolation, 33, 126–36. 65. Finger, “And the Greatest,” 120–24; Johnson, “Test of Wills,” 125–35; Cole and Johnson, “Time to Grow Up,” 136–41; Fleischer and Zames, Disability Rights Movement. 66. E.g., Shapiro, No Pity; Barton, “Textual Practices of Erasure,” 169–99; Longmore, “Conspicuous Contribution,” 134–58. 67. Douglas, Purity and Danger. 68. Foucault, Birth of the Clinic. 69. Metz, “Imaginary Signifier,” 408–36. 70. Terry and Urla, Deviant Bodies. 71. Chua-Eoan, “Uses of Monsters,” 66. 72. Burke, Permanence and Change, 5–66. 73. Burke, Rhetoric of Motives, 19–29. 74. Ibid., 22, emphasis in original. 75. Kristeva, Powers of Horror. 76. Grosz, Volatile Bodies, 7. 77. Spelman, Inessential Woman, 128–32. 78. Grosz, Volatile Bodies, 5–10. 79. Norden, Cinema of Isolation, 314. 80. Gledhill, “Melodramatic Field,” 10, cited by Norden, Cinema of Isolation, 314. 81. Norden, Cinema of Isolation, 315–16; Modleski, “Never to Be Thirty-Six Years Old,” 34, cited by Norden, Cinema of Isolation, 315. 82. Norden, Cinema of Isolation, 316. 83. Ibid., 317. 84. Ibid., 317. 85. Davis, Enforcing Normalcy, 12. 86. Mitchell, “Seeing Disability,” 393–94. 87. Sink and Smith, “Leaders Were Trying”; Sweetingham, “Medical Examiner.” 88. Epstein and Smith, “Boy’s Death Ruled Homicide”; CBSNews.com, “Minister Charged in Exorcism”; Stingl, “Healing by Faith.” 89. Wells, “Church Expects Clearance.” 90. Sink and Smith, “Leaders Were Trying.” 91. Wells, “Church Expects Clearance.”
1. Davis, Enforcing Normalcy, 49. 2. Garland, Eye of the Beholder, 141. 3. Peck, preface to Generation of Animals, by Aristotle, vi. 4. Garland, Eye of the Beholder, 4, 153. 5. Ibid., 152. 6. Nancy Tuana describes the entire medical profession until modern times as followers of the “Aristotelian Tradition” and describes Aristotle’s influence on physicians from Galen to Paré (Tuana, Less Noble Sex, 21–25). 7. Peck, preface to Generation of Animals, by Aristotle, xix–xx. 8. Garland, Eye of the Beholder, 141. 9. Peck, preface to Generation of Animals, by Aristotle, xx. 10. Ibid., v–vi. 11. The four causes appear throughout Aristotle’s studies and philosophy, as he argued that to know a thing was to know each of its four causes. The Final Cause is the end or purpose of a thing, the Motive Cause is the agent responsible for initiating the process that creates the thing, the Formal Cause or form identifies the course that that process follows, and the Material Cause or matter is that out of which the thing is made. In the example of a house, the Final Cause is to provide shelter, the Motive Cause is the carpenter who built it, the Formal Cause is the blueprints, and the Material Cause is the lumber and supplies out of which it is built. See Peck, preface to Generation of Animals, by Aristotle, xxxviii–xlii. 12. Aristotle, Generation of Animals 715a (trans. Peck). 13. Garland, Eye of the Beholder, 156. 14. Aristotle specifically refers to earlier works by Anaxagoras, Empedocles, and Democritus, among others. Aristotle, Generation of Animals 763b–765a (trans. Peck). 15. Garland, Eye of the Beholder, 1. 16. Ibid., 1. 17. Horowitz, “Aristotle and Woman,” 183–213; Huet, Monstrous Imagination, 3–4, 32–35, 42–43; Tuana, Less Noble Sex, 18–21. 18. Garland Thompson, Extraordinary Bodies, 19–21, emphasis added. 19. Ibid., 20. 20. Aristotle, Generation of Animals 727b (trans. Peck). 21. Ibid., 767b. 22. Ibid., 777a, emphasis added. 23. Ibid., 777b–778b. 24. Aristotle, Politics 1335b (trans. Rackham).
25. Rose, Staff of Oedipus, 35. 26. Garland, Eye of the Beholder, 15–16. 27. Ibid., 72. 28. Ibid., 67. 29. Niccoli, “Menstruum Quasi Monstruum,” 1–25. 30. McClellan, “Sound and Fury.” 31. Ibid. 32. Emery, “Deaf Culture.” 33. Padden and Humphries, Deaf in America, 2–5. 34. Padden, “Deaf Community,” 1–16. 35. The capitalized phrase “HARD-OF-HEARING” indicates that the words represent a “gloss” that communicates the approximate function and transliteration of the signed ASL phrase. 36. Padden and Humphries, Deaf in America, 39–42. 37. The majority of this research can be found in Sign Language Studies, a quarterly journal dedicated to linguistic research of ASL published by Linstok Press, Burtonsville, Maryland. See also the proceedings of the Deaf Way International Conference held at Gallaudet University in 1989, edited by Erting et al. 38. See Padden and Humphries, Deaf in America; Wilcox, American Deaf Culture; Brueggemann, Lend Me Your Ear; Rutherford, “Culture of American Deaf People,” 129–47; Baynton, “Silent Exile,” 216–43. 39. Shamshudin, “Deaf Culture in Pakistan,” 77. 40. The Hearing misunderstanding that ASL is essentially English has been complicated by the presence of other sign systems (i.e., not sign languages) that are English coded into manual signs. The Deaf generally consider these systems unwieldy, “unnatural,” and inferior to ASL. See Bahan, “Total Communication,” 117–20. 41. Brueggemann, Lend Me Your Ear, 11, 30–33, 103–19. 42. Ibid., 115, emphasis in original. 43. See ibid., 108–11; Lane, Mask of Benevolence, 212–13; and Valente, “Cyborgization,” 642. 44. Brueggemann, Lend Me Your Ear, 167–69, 185–91; Lane, When the Mind Hears; Baynton, Forbidden Signs; and Buchanan, Illusions of Equality. 45. Mitchell and Karchmer, “When Parents Are Deaf,” 133–52. 46. Gordon, Notes and Observations, xvi. 47. Lane, Mask of Benevolence, 104–20.
48. Convention of American Instructors of the Deaf, Proceedings of the Convention of American Instructors of the Deaf (n.p., 1909) quoted by Lane, Mask of Benevolence, 117. 49. Valente, “Cyborgization,” 643. 50. Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, “AG Bell”; see also Jacobs, Deaf Adult, 34–35; and Redeafined.com, “Oralism.” 51. Bahan, “What if,” 86. 52. Valente, “Cyborgization,” 642. 53. Although the literature typically cites this statistic as “9 out of 10 deaf children are born to hearing parents,” Mitchell and Karchmer’s extensive study of the data and earlier research developed this more accurate percentage. Mitchell and Karchmer, “Mythical Ten Percent,” 138–63. 54. Sparrow, “Implants and Ethnocide,” 455–66; and Sparrow, “Defending Deaf Culture,” 135–52. 55. Woodward, “How You Gonna Get,” 164. 56. Ibid., 163–69. 57. Ibid., 169–72. 58. Ong, Orality and Literacy. 59. Rutherford, “Funny in Deaf,” 71–72. 60. Erting et al., Deaf Way, xxiv. 61. Padden, “Deaf Community,” 13. 62. Sparrow, “Implants and Ethnocide,” 458–61. 63. This statistic, the generally agreed upon number cited in most studies of Deaf culture, is fairly speculative. The lack of any census mechanism for identifying the number of participants in Deaf culture necessarily forces researchers to rely on “guesstimates” of its size, which are complicated by the difficulties involved in counting the number of deaf persons overall. Moreover, since this number can include Children of Deaf Adults (CODAs) and others who are culturally Deaf but physically able to hear, it does not necessarily align with statistics describing groups who have hearing disabilities. I take the “500,000” used here from Rutherford, “Funny in Deaf,” 70–71. 64. National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, “Quick Statistics About Hearing.” 65. Harrington, “Local and Regional.” Harrington explains that different definitions of what constitutes deafness (and hearing loss) will result in widely divergent statistics. Gallaudet Research Institute statistics from 2014 identify 38,225,590 people who “have hearing problems,” 421,000 of which are deaf when defined as “in both ears,” 552,000 when defined as “cannot hear and understand any speech,” and 1,152,000 who “at best, can hear and understand words when shouted into the better ear.” I derive my estimate of “over 2 million” deaf people by adding these last three numbers.
66. Jacobs, Deaf Adult, 75–76. 67. Zimmer, “Making Senses,” 80. Otolaryngologists who promote the use of cochlear implants cite later studies showing a greater rate of success that they attribute to factors such as improvements in the technology. Wilson and Dorman, “Cochlear Implants,” 3–21; and Wilson and Dorman, “Interfacing Sensors,” 131–47. But this research relies on laboratory tests that arguably do not accurately represent the usefulness of the device, as they can adopt ideal listening conditions and emphasize the “truly remarkable” abilities of “top performers” while admitting that “most patients have lower scores, typically much lower scores for the difficult tests.” Wilson and Dorman, “Interfacing Sensors,” 137. 68. Blume, “Rhetoric,” 38. 69. Lane, Mask of Benevolence, 3. Subsequently, the FDA facilitated pediatric implantation by lowering the age at which a child could be implanted to eighteen months (in 1998) and twelve months (in 2002), and allowing parents to apply for implantation surgery on a child as young as six months (Valente, “Cyborgization,” 640). 70. National Association of the Deaf, “Cochlear Implants in Children,” 1. 71. Montgomery, “Bionic Miracle,” 104. While sympathetic to this view, Montgomery concludes that he considers it too radical and does not share it. Although Montgomery delivered this paper in Brighton, England, in August 1990, it was published by the NAD and was widely available to American Deaf audiences. 72. National Association of the Deaf, “Cochlear Implants in Children,” 1. 73. Söderfeldt, “Cochlear Implants,” 143. 74. Fackelmann, “Sizing Up Implants,” 69. 75. Gutfeld, “Now Hear This,” 22; Weiss, “New Hope,” 17. 76. The effectiveness of implantation of children remains controversial. For the Deaf view, see Rosen, “Politics of Deafness,” 119–23; Lane, “Cochlear Implants Are Wrong,” 89–92. Otolaryngologist Richard T. Miyamoto, on the other hand, argued, “It’s not like the way you and I might hear. . . . But the fact that these people can hear is still dramatic.” Of his patients he claimed that “they continue to improve over time, and it looks like they’ll be able to hear amazingly well.” Quoted by Gutfeld, “Now Hear This,” 22. See also Kileny, Zwolan, and Ashbaugh, “Influence of Age,” 42–46. Despite technological improvements and extensive research dedicated to implant effectiveness, evidence of the implant’s capacity to treat many deaf people remains ambiguous. 77. Harlan Lane quoted in Zimmer, “Making Senses,” 85. 78. Lane, Mask of Benevolence, 3–6, 203–38. 79. Sparrow, “Defending Deaf Culture,” 135–36. 80. Erikson, “Electronic Earful,” 132.
81. Montgomery, “Bionic Miracle,” 100. 82. Weiss, “New Hope,” 17. 83. USA Today (magazine), “Turning a Deaf Ear,” 8. 84. Because of the widespread idea that associated intelligence with the ability to speak, dumb evolved from meaning “mute” to “meaningless; stupid, senseless.” Oxford English Dictionary, “Dumb,” ninth definition, 712. 85. Gonsoulin, “Cochlear Implant / Deaf World,” 555. 86. Sparrow, “Implants and Ethnocide,” 459. 87. Baynton, Forbidden Signs, 133. 88. Ibid., 132–48. 89. Ibid., 137. 90. Campbell, MacSweeney, and Waters, “Sign Language and the Brain,” 3–20; Rönnberg, Söderfeldt, and Risberg, “Impact of Deafness”; and Corina and McBurney, “Neural Representation,” 455–716. 91. Dettman et al, “Communication Development,” 11S–18S. 92. Padden and Humphries, Deaf in America, 116–19; Jacobs, Deaf Adult, 13–17, 24–35. 93. Toulmin, Rieke, and Janik, Introduction to Reasoning, 61. 94. National Association of the Deaf, “Position Statement on Cochlear Implants.” 95. Ibid. 96. Valente, “Cyborgization,” 647; WebAIM.org, “Deafness as a Culture”; Vicars, “Is Being Deaf”; Jones, “Deafness as Culture”; World Federation of the Deaf, “Linguistic and Cultural Group”; Harvey, “Deafness,” 42–57; and Zak, “Deaf Persons and Experts.” 97. Bauman, “Designing Deaf Babies”; and Baynton, “Uses of Ethnicity.” 98. Haraway, “Cyborg Manifesto,” 149–81. 99. Rushing and Frentz, Projecting the Shadow; Brahm Jr. and Driscoll, Prosthetic Territories; Gray, Figueroa-Sarriera, and Mentor, Cyborg Handbook; Penley and Ross, Technoculture; and Rushkoff, Cyberia. 100. Penley and Ross, Technoculture, xvi. 101. Haraway, “Cyborg Manifesto,” 178. 102. Thrower, “Finding Disability Identity”; Kafer, Feminist, Queer, Crip; Kafer, “Unnatural Bodies.” 103. Haraway, “Cyborg Manifesto,” 150. 104. Davis, “Nude Venuses,” 53. 105. Ibid., 53–54.
106. Haraway, “Cyborg Manifesto,” 181. 107. Ibid., 150. 108. Ibid., 151–53. 109. Shapiro, No Pity, 14. 110. Linton, Claiming Disability, 10. 111. Ibid., 10–12. 112. Bérubé, “Pressing the Claim,” vii. 113. Hayles, “Life Cycle of Cyborgs,” 322. 114. Brueggemann, Lend Me Your Ear, 138. 115. Montgomery, “Bionic Miracle,” 99. 116. Valente, “Cyborgization,” 641–42. 117. Ibid., 644. 118. Ibid., 641. 119. Rennie, “Who Is Normal?” 16. 120. Valente, “Cyborgization,” 640, and Reefhuis et al. “Risk of Bacterial Meningitis,” 435–45. 121. Valente, “Cyborgization,” 644. 122. Valente and Boldt, “Rhizome,” 562–63. 123. Sparrow, “Implants and Ethnocide,” 461. 124. Ibid., 462. 125. Clynes and Kline, “Cyborgs and Space,” 30. 126. McCaffrey, “Ship Who Sang,” 1–24, and Niven, “Coldest Place,” 1–6. 127. McCaffrey, “Ship Who Sang,” 1. 128. Davis, Enforcing Normalcy, 49.
Chapter 4 1. Galton, Inquiries, 24 1n. 2. Reilly, Surgical Solution. 3. Friedlander, Origins of Nazi Genocide; Biesold, Crying Hands; Lifton, Nazi Doctors. 4. Friedlander, Origins of Nazi Genocide, 1–22. 5. Ibid., 61, 110. This period marked the end of what Friedlander labels the “first phase” of adult euthanasia, and it began two years before the Nazis began killing Jews and other “undesirables.” While Hitler temporarily halted the official program of executing disabled adults in the killing centers in August 1941, the euthanasia of children continued until the end of the war. As the first phase drew to a
close, Nazis began killing disabled adults along with other prisoners in the death camps. Hugh Gregory Gallagher’s research indicates that the total number of disabled people killed during the Holocaust exceeds 200,000 (Gallagher, By Trust Betrayed, xx). 6. Hasian, Rhetoric of Eugenics, 26. 7. E.g., Winefield, Never the Twain; Lane, When the Mind Hears, 353–75; Baynton, Forbidden Signs, 30–31; Bahan, “What If,” 83–87; and Moore and Levitan, For Hearing People, 231–34. 8. Goodwill, foreword. 9. Baynton, Forbidden Signs, 31. 10. Lane, When the Mind Hears, 355. 11. Ibid., 358. 12. Bell, Memoir, 5. Bell admitted that name counting was a flawed method. The most common names at the deaf schools (unsurprisingly, the top six were Smith, Allen, Brown, Campbell, Davis, and White) were common to the whole United States’ population. Bell anticipated this critique: “No one would be surprised by the moderate recurrence of such common names as ‘Smith’ or ‘Brown’ or ‘Johnson’—as the recurrences might be accidental and have no other significance than to indicate the prevalence of these names in the community at large. But can it be accidental that there should have been admitted into one institution eleven deaf-mutes of the name of ‘Lovejoy,’ seven of the name ‘Derby,’ and six of ‘Mayhew.’ ” Bell, Memoir, 5. Presumably these latter names were less common in the population at large, but unfortunately Bell neglected to provide evidence of this or to compare the results he found at deaf schools with the results from schools for the hearing. 13. Bell, Memoir, 14. 14. Ibid., 17. 15. Ibid., 20. 16. Ibid., 27, emphasis in original. 17. W. W. Turner, “Causes of Deafness,” American Annals of the Deaf and Dumb 1 (): 32, quoted in Bell, Memoir, 41. 18. Bell, Memoir, 41. 19. Ibid., 45. 20. Ibid., 47. 21. Ibid., 47. 22. Ibid., 12. 23. Ibid., 4. 24. Kimberling, “Genetic Linkage Studies,” 124. 25. Shearer et al., “Deafness and Hereditary Hearing.”
26. Moore and Levitan, For Hearing People, 184; and Mitchell and Karchmer, “Mythical Ten Percent,” 138–63. 27. Hasian, Rhetoric of Eugenics, 2–3, 25–30. 28. Bell, Memoir, 3, emphasis added. 29. Muller, “Why Are We Still Sterilizing”; and Dhillon and Lefebvre, “Fact Sheet.” 30. Buck v. Bell, 274 U.S. 200 (1927), at 207. 31. Smith, “Being Forcibly Sterilized.” 32. For the full Eddie Gaedel story, see Ward, Baseball, 332–33. 33. Kurt Lindemann and I have documented many of these qualities in the sport of “murderball” (wheelchair rugby) and in the way it has been presented in popular culture and film. Lindemann and Cherney, “Communicating in and Through,” 107–25; Lindemann, “ ‘I Can’t Be Standing,’ ” 98–115; Cherney and Lindemann, “Sporting Images of Disability,” 195–216; and Cherney and Lindemann, “Queering Street,” 1–16. 34. Golen, “Hockey’s a Fit.” For a contrasting view, see Chimelis, “Situation Drops In.” 35. Seymour, Baseball, 149; Shatzkin, Ballplayers, 125–26. 36. The cover can be viewed at http://www.si.com/vault/issue/702948/1/1 (http://www.si.com/vault/issue/702948/1/1). 37. CMG Worldwide, “Johnny Unitas Web Site.” 38. Nack, “Wrecking Yard,” 62. 39. The cover can be viewed at http://www.si.com/vault/issue/1009554/1/2 (http://www.si.com/vault/issue/1009554/1/2). 40. Wikipedia, “Jim McMahon.” 41. Sansevere, “Pains in the Posterior.” 42. Cherney and Lindemann, “Wrestling with Extremes,” 107–19. 43. McRuer, “Critical Bodies.” 44. Ibid. 45. Vizard, “Bodies by Design,” 64. 46. Among the most significant: Board of Trustees of the University of Alabama et al. v. Patricia Garrett et al., 531 U.S. 356 (2001); Sutton v. United Airlines, Inc., 527 U.S. 471 (1999); and Murphy v. United Parcel Service, Inc., 527 U.S. 516 (1999). 47. Rosaforte, “All Over but the Shouting,” 10. During this period the press frequently reported on Paula Jones’s sexual harassment lawsuit against Bill Clinton, which led to his impeachment in 1999. 48. Martin v. PGA Tour, Inc., Civil No. 97–6309-TC, 1998 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 1980, at *3 (Ore. February 20, 1998). (In legal citations I follow The Bluebook guide’s use of Id. instead of Ibid., and I
place an asterisk before the page number when citing a LEXIS version of a case to indicate that it follows the pagination associated with the database’s publication as opposed to the print version of the case.) 49. Martin v. PGA Tour, Inc., Civil No. 97–6309-TC, 1998 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 1503, at *3 (Ore. January 30, 1998). 50. Scripps Howard News Service, “Casey Martin Timeline.” 51. Martin, 1998 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 1980. 52. Martin v. PGA Tour, Inc., Nos. 98–35309, 98–35509, 2000 U.S. App. LEXIS 3376 (9th Cir. 2000). 53. PGA Tour, Inc. v. Casey Martin, 530 U.S. 1306 (September 26, 2000). 54. PGA Tour, Inc. v. Casey Martin, 532 U.S. 661 (2001). 55. Kelley, “Hypocritical Comments.” 56. Washington Post, “Casey Martin PGA Tour Trial.” 57. Hirsley, “No Gimmes”; Posnanski, “PGA Walks.” 58. Gordon, “Golf Notes.” 59. Ormsby, “PGA’s Pig-Headed Elitism.” 60. Agnos, letter. 61. Kelley, “Hypocritical Comments”; Benner, “PGA Should Let Martin”; and Reyna, letter. 62. Agnos, letter; and Wolfe, “Casey Martin Wins.” 63. Hirsley, “PGA”; and Chambers, “Head of PGA.” 64. Scripps Howard News Service, “Casey Martin Timeline.” 65. Sandomir, “By-the-Book Defense.” 66. Faculak, letter. 67. Harber, “PGA Needs a Ride.” 68. Robertson, “Have a Heart, PGA.” 69. Gordon, “Tipsheet.” 70. Babineau, “Comment Offends Senior Players.” 71. Elliott, “Tour of Duty.” 72. Broder, “Showdown over a Golf Cart.” 73. Martin, 1998 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 1503, at *22. At trial, Coffin rejected “without detailed elaboration” Martin’s claim that he is a PGA Tour employee and that the Nike Tour ought to be considered a “course or examination” for determining a potential employee’s fitness to work. Martin, 1998 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 1980, at *16. 74. Martin, 1998 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 1503, at *9–10.
75. Title III of the ADA explains that “private entities are considered public accommodations for the purposes of this title, if the operations of such entities affect commerce.” 42 U.S.C. § 12181 (7). 76. Martin, 1998 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 1503, at *18. 77. Martin, 1998 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 1980, at *5. 78. Id. at *6. 79. Id. at *37. 80. Id. at *20. 81. Id. at *23. 82. Id. at *20. 83. Id. at *21. 84. Id. at *22. 85. Id. at *31. 86. Id. at *32. 87. PGA Tour, 532 U.S. 661. 88. Id. at 688–89. 89. Goldman, “Legal Access”; Dayton Daily News, “Dole Supports.” 90. Martin, 1998 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 1980, at *31. 91. Id. at *2–3. The Tour appeared to agree and objected to showing the video on the grounds of relevance and hearsay. Coffin overruled the objection. Id. at *3. See also Ottawa Citizen, “Martin Reveals ‘Nightmare’ Leg.” 92. Sandomir, “By-the-Book Defense.” 93. See Major League Baseball, rule 1.10. 94. Forde, “NCAA’s New Helmet-to-Helmet”; and Gregory, “Can Football Finally Tackle.” 95. Rader, American Sports, 26. 96. Ibid., 7–30. 97. Ibid., 9. 98. Ibid., 12. 99. Ibid., 26. 100. Ibid., 147. 101. F. D. Boynton, “Athletics and Collateral Activities in Secondary Schools,” Proceedings and Addresses of the National Education Association (1904), 210, quoted in Rader, American Sports, 149. 102. Burke, Permanence and Change, 90. 103. Rader, American Sports, 360.
104. Budiansky, Nature of Horses, 97–98; Dobie, Mustangs, 127–42; and Houpt, “Veterinary Care,” 161–62. 105. Although Pistorius fit the classification of T43 events (double below-knee amputees), he chose to compete in T44 events (single below-knee amputees). 106. Gough, “World Athletics 2011.” 107. IAAF.org, “IAAF Council Introduces.” 108. BBC Sport, “Blade Runner.” 109. Associated Press, “CAS Says.” 110. IAAF.org, “Pistorius Is Eligible.” 111. Wikipedia, “Oscar Pistorius.” 112. Berkes, “Studying Oscar Pistorius”; Rushgrove, “Oscar Pistorius Shouldn’t Have Run.” 113. Zettler, “Is It Cheating,” 397. 114. Ibid., 399. 115. As Lauren Reichart Smith notes, some commentators actually used the term “cyborg” to describe Pistorius, often calling him a “cyborg kangaroo” (Smith, “Blade Runner,” 394). 116. Zettler, “Is It Cheating,” 399. 117. Ibid., 402. 118. Swartz and Watermeyer, “Cyborg Anxiety,” 187–88. 119. Ibid., 189. 120. Ibid., 187. 121. Smith, “Blade Runner,” 400. 122. Corrigan et al., “Discourses,” 301. 123. Longman, “Amputee Sprinter.” 124. Ibid. 125. Zettler, “Is It Cheating,” 395–96. 126. Swartz and Watermeyer, “Cyborg Anxiety,” 189. 127. Zettler, “Is It Cheating,” 395. 128. PGA Tour, 532 U.S. 661, 688–89. 129. Id. at 691. 130. Svrluga, “Martin Makes”; and Ryan, “Martin Claims Right.” 131. Bamberger, “This Time Around.” 132. Stein, “Martin Claims Discrimination.” 133. Martin, “Martin’s Cart Brings Controversy Again.”
Chapter 5 1. I follow Kuhn’s use of “novelty,” “anomaly,” and “paradigm” as it appears in his Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Lindemann and I have demonstrated how Kuhn’s model of revolutionary change explains why some things that appear to challenge ableism fail to do so meaningfully. Cherney and Lindemann, “Ableism and Paralympic Politics.” 2. Gonsoulin, “Cochlear Implant / Deaf World,” 552–56. 3. Foucault, Birth of the Clinic. Foucault extends this argument throughout his other works, which question the cultural and political practices built around disability and physical deviance. See Foucault’s Madness and Civilization, Discipline and Punish, and Abnormal. 4. See Groce, Everyone Here Spoke Sign Language. 5. Wilson and Dorman, “Cochlear Implants,” 3–21, and Wilson and Dorman, “Interfacing Sensors,” 131–47. 6. Foucault, History of Sexuality. 7. See Hyde, Bodies of Law; Kelly and Mücke, Body and Text; Mitchell and Snyder, Body and Physical Difference; and MacCannell and Zakarin, Thinking Bodies. 8. Oliver and Barnes, New Politics of Disablement; Oliver, “Defining Impairment and Disability,” 39–54; Oliver and Barnes, Disabled People; and Barnes, “Social Model of Disability,” 65–78. 9. Davis, “Constructing Normalcy,” 9–28. 10. Grossberg, “On Postmodernism and Articulation,” 137. 11. See the concept of text adopted by reader-response theory, such as in Fish, Is There a Text. 12. John 1:1, 1:14 (KJV). 13. Burke, Rhetoric of Motives, 22. 14. Butler, Bodies that Matter, x–xii. 15. Burke, Permanence and Change, 89–96. 16. Butler, Bodies That Matter, 30, emphasis in original. 17. Siebers, Disability Aesthetics, 124. 18. Ibid., 124. 19. Ibid., 125. 20. Ibid., 122. 21. Dolmage, Disability Rhetoric, 4, emphasis in original. 22. Ibid., 5, emphasis in original. 23. Murphy, Body Silent, 117. 24. Goodley, “Dis/entangling,” 64.
25. Davis, Enforcing Normalcy, 23–49. 26. Ibid., 25. 27. Many disability autobiographies provide this opportunity, including Simi Linton, My Body Politic; Lucy Grealy, Autobiography of a Face; Eli Clare, Exile and Pride; Robert Murphy, Body Silent; Georgina Kleege, Sight Unseen; Anne Finger, Elegy for a Disease; Nancy Mairs, Waist-High in the World; and Leah Hager Cohen, Train Go Sorry. 28. One notable example is Christopher Reeve’s autobiography Still Me. Reeve was widely criticized by disability activists for accepting the medical model and seeking a cure for his disability. Mary Johnson wrote an excellent critique of Reeve’s public position (Johnson, Make Them Go Away). 29. Couser, “Body Language,” 7. 30. Tithecott, Men and Monsters. 31. Shapiro, No Pity, 85. As I discuss in chapter three, many members of Deaf culture reject identifying as disabled in favor of identifying as “normal” human beings whose only meaningful difference from the Hearing population is their use of a minority language (American Sign Language). 32. Siebers, Disability Aesthetics.
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Endnotes are referenced with “n” followed by the note number.
abject, the, 54 ableism able-bodied center, 8, 60, 67, 78, 95–96, 128 and common sense, 13, 17–20, 22, 32, 124, 131 (see also antirhetoric; warrants) defined, 2, 7–8 and mortality, 54, 148 as paradigm, 6, 128, 132, 168n1 pedagogy of, 11–12 (see also oralism; possession narrative (genre); sport (activity); stereotypes; warrants) ableism studies, 2–4 ableist culture, 20 endurance of, 81, 148 as framework for interpretation, 6–7, 17–19 and language, 23–24 questions posed by, 4, 11 See also ableist rhetoric; warrants ableist orientation 8, 20, 89, 131–32, 151–53 and invisibility, 17–18 See also Latimer, Tracy; Murphy, Robert; orientation (perspective) ableist rhetoric connections between epistemic, ideological, and visual rhetorics, 4–5, 15, 46, 57–58, 132
coordination of ableist warrants: body is able and normal is natural, 97, 114, 123–25, 129, 133; deviance is evil and normal is natural, 65, 98, 146, 149 defined, 15 See also epistemic rhetoric; ideological rhetoric; visual rhetoric; warrants access, 16, 18, 51, 82, 109, 125 and reasonable accommodation, 123, 127 (see also Martin, Casey) See also stairs ADA Amendments Act of 2008, 16 Alexander Graham Bell Association, 69 American Sign Language (ASL), 66–68, 70 prohibitions advocated by Alexander Graham Bell, 69, 93–94, 98 Sign Language Studies, 161n37 See also Deaf culture Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 16, 135, 166n75 See also access; Martin, Casey antirhetoric, 18 See also objectivity, scientific antonomasia, 39–40 Aristotle, 21–22, 61–64, 160n11 See also Generation of Animals (GA) autism, 26–27, 59 backing, 78 See also Toulmin, Stephen Bell, Alexander Graham, 21–22, 69–70, 92–98 bio–power. See Foucault, Michel Blatty, William Peter. See The Exorcist body is able, 19–20, 90, 99, 133 in controversies surrounding Casey Martin, 106, 113–14, 129 (see also Martin, Casey) in Memoir Upon the Formation of a Deaf Variety of the Human Race (DV), 94, 96–97, 99 in Oscar Pistorius controversy, 121 in sport (activity), 90, 99–101, 106, 123, 125 See also ableist rhetoric; warrants
body (specific types) abnormal, 8–9, 53, 64, 119, 125 “defectives,” 70, 95–98 (see also lebensunwerten Lebens) extraordinary, 8–9, 33, 35, 42–43 ideal, 17, 135, 147, 152 normal, 8–9, 17, 20, 87–88 ; as average, 60 ; as fiction, 60–61, 135, 147, 150 rhetorical, 143 Brueggemann, Brenda Jo, 68, 85 Burke, Kenneth, 11–13, 27, 53, 138, 141 See also identification; orientation (perspective); rhetorical theory Butler, Judith, 142–43 Campbell, Fiona Kumari, 3, 7–8 cerebral palsy, 6, 19 Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), 103, 105–6, 130 Clover, Carol, 36–37, 45, 50, 158–59n49 Cochlear Implant Debate (CID), 20, 52, 66 cultural genocide (ethnocide), 73–74, 86–87 National Association of the Deaf statements, 72–73, 80, 162n71 and oralism, 71, 74 pro-implant arguments, 66, 74, 76–78 See also cochlear implants; Deaf culture; natural is normal cochlear implants, 66 and cyborgs, 85–87 development of, 72 early implantation, 72, 77, 87 effect on hearing, 72–73, 162n67, 162n76 Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval, 72, 162n69 and hearing parents, 73 See also Cochlear Implant Debate (CID); medical model; otolaryngology Cottrell, Terrance, Jr., 26–27, 30, 58–59, 149, 151
Couser, G. Thomas. See disability autobiography cyborg anxiety. See Pistorius, Oscar cyborg theory, 20, 81–89 Davis, Lennard J., 58, 60, 83, 89, 147 Deaf culture, 66–74, 77–81 Children of Deaf Adults (CODAs), 162n63 Deaf clubs, 71 Dictionary of American Sign Language (1965), 67–68, 70 and disability, 80 enculturation (transmission) and the state residential schools, 71 identity politics of, 81, 85, 87 linguistic center, 67, 78 linguistic oppression, 66, 68, 70 oral culture, 70–71 size of, 72, 161–62n63, 162n65 See also American Sign Language (ASL); Cochlear Implant Debate (CID); National Association of the Deaf (NAD); natural is normal deafness, 66–80, 86–87, 151–52 See also Bell, Alexander Graham deviance is evil, 19–20, 60, 150 in possession narrative, 20, 27, 29–30, 52, 58 See also Cottrell, Terrance, Jr.; The Exorcist; Mather, Cotton; warrants disability and employment, 16 and gender (see Intersectionality) mental, 30, 42, 53–54, 106, 135 (see also autism) See also Deaf culture; rhetorical model of disability disability autobiography, 148–49, 168n27 Disability Rights Movement (DRM), 3, 51, 80, 84–85, 87 disability studies, 1–4, 7, 10, 14, 132 and cyborg theory, 82, 85 and models of disability, 1–2, 134–35, 148
scholars, 3, 143 See also ableism studies Dolmage, Timothy Jay, 143 dualism, Cartesian, 55–56 epistemic rhetoric, 1, 4–5, 14–15, 18, 146–48, 152 See also ableist rhetoric; warrants ethos, scientific, 22, 31–32, 63 See also objectivity, scientific exclusion (segregation) architectural 10, 17, 82 general, 8–9, 51, 55, 60, 85, 135 in sport, 100, 112, 119, 123–24, 127 See also access; mainstreaming related to deafness, 66, 74, 86, 94–95, 98, 152 related to evil, 52–54 exorcism. See Cottrell, Terrance, Jr.; The Exorcist The Exorcist, 20, 30, 36–50, 52–53, 57 eugenics biology as destiny, 90, 97, 99 Buck v. Bell (1927), 99 forced sterilization, 97, 99 prohibitions against deaf intermarriages, 92–94 See also Bell, Alexander Graham; genocide, Nazi euthanasia, 91, 164n5 See also genocide, Nazi; infanticide; Latimer, Tracy Formation of a Deaf Variety of the Human Race. See Memoir Upon the Formation of a Deaf Variety of the Human Race (DV) “For Walkies Only.” See stairs Foucault, Michel, 21, 24, 52, 133–34 Friedlander, Henry. See genocide, Nazi
Garland, Robert, 22, 61–62, 65 gaze. See seeing Generation of Animals (GA), 21, 61–64 genocide, Nazi, 91, 97, 99, 164n5 Goodley, Dan, 147 Grosz, Elizabeth, 55 Hall, Stuart, 11, 18, 135–36 Hearing culture, 66–68, 70–71, 73, 76, 152 See also oralism Hemphill, Ray, 26–27, 59, 151 identification, 53, 85, 138 See also Burke, Kenneth; orientation (perspective) identity politics, 25, 81, 84 claiming disability, 84–85 See also Deaf culture ideological rhetoric, 1, 4, 12–15, 75, 89, 144 See also ableist rhetoric; warrants ideology (generally), 11–12, 14–15, 136 infanticide, 23, 65 International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF). See Pistorius, Oscar intersectionality, 2, 30, 55–57, 63, 83–84, 141 Johnson, Mary, 156n19, 168n28 Klippel-Trenaunay-Weber syndrome, 108, 115 knowing. See epistemic rhetoric Kuhn, Thomas, 168n1 Latimer, Robert, 5–6, 19, 155n12 Latimer, Tracy, 5–7, 19, 151 lebensunwerten Lebens, 91 Lindemann, Kurt, 165n33, 168n1
Linton, Simi, 2–3, 85 mainstreaming, 69, 71, 94 Martin, Casey Bamberger’s commentary on, 127–28 litigation against the Professional Golf Association (PGA) Tour, Inc., 20, 106–7, 111–12, 114–15, 126–27 public controversy, 108–10, 112–14, 126 2013 dispute with the United States Golf Association (USGA), 128–29 See also body is able Mather, Cotton, 21–22, 30–36 McMahon, Jim, 106, 119, 130 and Laurie Navon, 102–5 McRuer, Robert, 105 medical model, 1–2, 23, 52, 132–34, 148, 150 as pedagogy, 52 See also body: normal; objectivity, scientific; otolaryngology; seeing: observation, scientific; Memoir Upon the Formation of a Deaf Variety of the Human Race (DV). See Bell, Alexander Graham Memorable Providences (MP). See Mather, Cotton Murphy, Robert, 27, 30, 55, 146 National Association of the Deaf (NAD), 72–73, 80, 162n71 National Football League (NFL), 102–3, 105, 119 natural is normal, 75, 77–78, 80–81, 86–87 See also warrants Navon, Laurie. See McMahon, Jim Norden, Martin F., 51, 56–57 normalcy, 52, 122, 135, 140, 147–50 and the cyborg, 81, 88–89 and Deaf culture, 75–76, 79 hegemony of, 60–61, 63 normal is natural, 19–20, 60–61, 65, 90, 150 in Cochlear Implant Debate, 66, 75–78, 80–82, 87
and cyborg theory, 89, 122, 150 in sport (activity), 114–15, 121, 126 See also ableist rhetoric; Generation of Animals (GA); warrants objectivity, scientific, 18, 22, 43, 52, 54, 62 See also ethos, scientific observation. See ethos, scientific; seeing; visual rhetoric omniscience, third-person, 41, 55 oralism, 68–69, 76–77, 94 orientation (perspective), 27, 37, 67, 114, 144 in general, 7, 11–13, 24, 53 and interpretation, 6, 79 religious, 42 scientific, 43 See also ableist orientation; Burke, Kenneth; Other, the Other, the, 68, 79, 84, 86 the disabled as, 8, 51–52, 54–56 Otherworld, 47–49 otolaryngology, 71, 73–75, 77, 151, 162n67 pain, 40, 102, 106, 121, 139–40 See also Latimer, Tracy; Martin, Casey “person-first” language, 23–25 Pistorius, Oscar, 21, 115, 119–20, 126, 152 cyborg anxiety, 120–21, 167n115 dispute over Cheetah prostheses, 99, 120–22 possession narrative (genre), 20, 27, 29–31, 36–37, 40, 51–59 See also Cottrell, Terrance, Jr.; deviance is evil; Mather, Cotton Professional Golf Association (PGA). See under Martin, Casey Reeve, Christopher, 156n19, 169n28 rhetoric defined, 1–2, 10–15
and meaning, 4, 11–15, 18, 27, 85, 133–43 and power, 3, 7, 11, 23–25, 84, 141 of science, 60, 155n2 See also ableist rhetoric rhetorical devices. See antonomasia; omniscience, third-person; stases; synecdoche rhetorical model of body, 133–45 defined, 136–37, 139 value of, 144–45 what it does not propose, 139–41 rhetorical model of disability, 145–53 rhetorical theory the linguistic turn, 1, 14 signification, 11, 142–43 See also ideology (generally); rhetoric Salem Witch Trials, 21, 23, 30–32, 52 seeing and evil, 150–51 (see also deviance is evil; The Exorcist; Mather, Cotton) gaze (film), 37–38, 41, 50 (see also The Exorcist) gaze (medical), 38, 52, 133 (see also Foucault, Michel) and knowledge, 46, 58 observation, scientific, 42, 52, 134, 159n53 staring, disciplining of, 28, 30, 55, 58, 146 See also intersectionality; visual rhetoric Siebers, Tobin, 3, 9, 143, 153 social construction, 96, 107, 134–35 social model (of disability), 134 somatophobia, 55 Spaltung, 83–84, 89 sport (activity) as ableist pedagogy, 99–101, 107, 113, 125–26. as cultural institution, 17, 21, 101 disability sport (parasport), 100, 123
and injury, 102–6 and the level playing field, 90, 108, 113–14, 116, 124–27 and technology, 115–22 See also body is able; Martin, Casey; Pistorius, Oscar sport (genetic), 9, 119 Sports Illustrated covers. See McMahon, Jim: and Laurie Navon; Unitas, Johnny stairs, 9–10, 13, 81–82, 90, 140, 151 stases, 79–80 stereotypes, 28, 30, 51, 53, 56–57, 150 See also visual rhetoric synecdoche, 6, 34, 40, 47, 115 technology. See access; cochlear implants; cyborg theory; stairs; sport (activity) teratology, 21, 61–62, 65 text (concept) and body, 44–45 (see also rhetorical model of body; rhetorical model of disability) defined, 13, 18, 133–34 as framework (see warrants) Thompson, Rosemary Garland, 63 Toulmin, Stephen, 12, 78 Unitas, Johnny, 101–6, 119, 130 United States Golf Association (USGA). See under Martin, Casey Valente, Joseph Michael, 70, 86–87 valuing. See ideological rhetoric visual rhetoric, 1, 4, 14, 27–28, 51, 58 scopic regime, 52 See also ableist rhetoric; deviance is evil; The Exorcist; Mather, Cotton; orientation (perspective); stereotypes; warrants warrants, 20, 23, 141, 149, 151–53 coordination of (see under ableist rhetoric)
defined, 12 generalization, 14–15, 18–19, 22, 131–32 (see also ableism: common sense) as interpretive framework, 11–13, 16–18, 20–23, 134–36, 141, 146 (see also ableist culture) See also body is able; deviance is evil; natural is normal; normal is natural; objectivity, scientific