We were very sad today to learn of the passing of John Callahan the cartoonist whose wickedly unsentimental depictions of political correctness and yes, of disability have so often made the steep paths of this world into places of dark amusement. While some found his work too dark (and surely we will attest that Callahan had no sentimentality whatsoever) many of us in the disability rights community often had ourselves a good, righteous, miniature shit hemorage while laughing at his cartoons. We all remember our favorites. I always liked the one depicting two heads protruding from hooples (those boxes on wheels that cripples have famously used for centuries). One head says to the other which is obviously visually impaired: “People like you are such an inspiration to me.” I’m posting his most famous cartoon below. It shows three cops on horseback in a desert. Before them stands an abandoned wheelchair. There’s no sight of its owner. The lead cop is saying: “Don’t worry, he won’t get far on foot.”
The poet Wallace Stevens famously remarked that the world is ugly and the people are sad. What we choose to do with this incontestable truth is one of the central questions of art. John Callahan resisted “the overcoming story”–that is, a narrative that glibly suggests we’re all made well simply by telling our stories of suffering. Callahan didn’t trust the Oprah or Disney models of narrative closure wherein suffering makes for emotional freedom. In all too many cases suffering is suffering and laughter won’t save you but it will confirm that you still have a brain in your head. Thank you Callahan. We’ll miss you brother.