I’ve been trying unsuccessfully for years to imagine the kind of society that cultural theorist Lennard J. Davis envisions in his book The End of Normal. Briefly: we know race, gender, and disability are social constructions—which means in the widest sense “normality” might be, conceivably, on the ropes. A boxing analogy is appropriate. We’ve been punching Old Normal for a long time. The maddening thing is how “Normal” keeps smiling, taunting us, snarling through his tombstone perfect American teeth. And if you think his teeth are infuriating, well, his odor is worse. He smells like “Brut” and bacon.
Joking aside, we’re now in an age of post-modern bio-politics. We know “normality” was designed by committee in London early in the reign of Victoria. “Normal” meant “factory ready labor” and everyone else became a commodity (slave labor) or a liability (cripples). I’m simplifying but I get to do this because after all, this is my blog, and to paraphrase Huck Finn, “I don’t take no stock in normal.”
The Huck Finn joke is pretty good I think, because Normal of course doesn’t take any stock in me. He can’t help it. As a blind person I’m of dubious value to him. (Or to her—there’s feminine normal too.)
Let’s say you were blind in the 17th century. You could get a job currying horses. Or feeding them.
If you were deaf you could work in the blacksmith’s shop. The photo below depicts my wife’s horse “Luigi” who is an ex-racehorse. He’s a dark “bey” chestnut colored thoroughbred who has a very long neck. He’s eating grass on a summer’s day. In the old days, he’d have had a blind friend to braid his mane. He might have had a hunch backed girl to clean his hooves.
Disability is a modern pejorative construction. We’ve known this for a long time now. I’m not talking about ableism; racism; misogyny, homophobia—these are with us still, and hauntingly so. But Lennard Davis has me thinking about the world we can insist on—one where the tyranny of industrial normal is over. One where everyone gets to curry the horse.
Currying the horse is a metaphor and I won’t deny it. Proper accommodations change the world.
As I write, people of color, predominantly young males, are being shot down in American streets.
“Old Normal” sees them as having no value—just as he sees the disabled or transgendered people as having no value. But everyone can curry the horse. There’s a proper life and job for everyone in a culture that understands what a liability “normal” really is.
Now I must go and shave. My chin wants to appear normal. He has different views than my upper noggin. But he won’t be getting any Brut.