Disability is Childhood All Grown Up, But Correctly

William Blake


I have been thinking for a long time now about disability as the prelude to metaphor. Of course this is a political act—a bit of street theater on the page. For everyone wants disability to be a symbol of something, even those with disabilities themselves give in to this enterprise. The deaf community loves to stand for deep culture; machismo is raised to a higher power in wheelchair rugby; blind people like to impart extra-sensitivity as a compensatory gift. Why not? The world robs you of your proper mirror. You make a new one.

But what if people with disabilities are simply people? That is, that is, that is…what if they are funny or sad or lonesome or talented because they are human souls? Well of course they are human souls. You don’t need the incunabula to draw this on your chalkboard or your IPad. So lets say our problem is the body itself. We demand that our bodies stand for something. You don’t have to be Michel Foucault to know that metaphors of embodiment and the construction of prisons and hospitals were codetermined. And so the crippled body must stand for weakness and weakness must stand for the chill of dying. When this metaphorical rubric is complete It is time to lock up the weak. Bad social metaphors are poetry without grace. Yes, bad poetry can hurt men and women. Have you been to Milan to see the anorexic, blow dried skeletal girls parading cutaway clothing? Beauty is “almost dying”—the new post-modern version of the chill of dying—lucrative dying, money changes the metaphor of the ars moriendi into something so sexy you would tear the ghost out of your own face to join it. What am I talking about? I’m stating the obvious: all metaphors of embodiment are traps. I’m also saying that art can be an unreliable lover if you are a person with a disability.

I have friends who cannot speak. They are all talented and shrewd. And people run away from them. I can attest that all human beings are slaves to embodied metaphors. You will miss out if you don’t know my friends. But you will also miss out if you’re a person with a disability who must imagine life as a symbolic, heroic distinction. Freedom is just another word for stepping outside of embodied life as a metaphor. This sounds so easy. One could conjure up Nancy Reagan (Oh wait, she’s not dead yet, sorry.) “Just say no to metaphorical embodiment!”

Alright. So you want to live like any decent animal. Let’s say that successful people with disabilities are steepened and tested by adversity but instead of being bitter (like the average American victim who appears over and over on TV talk shows) they are filled with wonder—still possess what William Blake called innocence. And let’s say that for experience they have the knowledge that nothing with the body is what it seems. That is childhood properly grown.

It is awkward to speak or see without metaphors. See how odd the body is? Do you see its minor but true technicalities? Can you just let it be?




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