What’s the Use of Having a Body if It’s Always Just a Map?

Disability Studies has embraced metonymy and you may not care. After all it is an academic field, interdisciplinary certainly, but largely an abstruse means of theorizing what bodies are and how they function and do not function in societies devoted to normalcy. By metonymy I mean the body now stands for vast arrangements. Disability Studies has grown to conceive of the body as a colonized thing; the body as geography; disabled bodies are occupied countries.


Of course we’re all property of some kind. It’s as true under capitalism as communism and there’s no end in sight. When you’re little you’re the property of your parents and if you lose them you become the property of the state. Some people are more “of” property than others: the illusion that they are not is too costly to purchase.


I don’t know if its liberating to think of the disabled body as colonized space. The idea is richly polemical but also against reason. You have nothing to lose but your chains becomes “once you lose your chains there will be more chains because your body has no corporeal independence from the manufacture of chains.” I chose not to believe this.


Who is paying for the illusion we are always in chains? The idea of independence is imagined by many Disability Studies scholars as being illusory. There’s no freedom within nation states or under neoliberal economies.


That this is tautological and prescriptive is one reason why representing bodies as failed states or colonized regions is seductive. My blindness is a conditioned program. I’m doubly blinded by both the pejorative value of sight loss and by the illusion I can ever achieve my own value. The very notion that one might achieve subjective satisfaction of any kind is foolish. Let us richly theorize the fool’s errand.


I’ve lately talked with several disability studies students who can’t imagine uncathected lives.Anything that smacks of personal choice, autonomy, potential happiness, independence, is to them just a neoliberal trap. Everything is a trap. We’re all colonized.


As a poet I know every poem is an experiment—a life experiment. Taken this way, life is outside of ideological and proscriptive failure.

There are so many sexy ways to sell hopelessness.

I like poems to be both sexy and true.

Stephen Kuusisto and HarleyABOUT: Stephen Kuusisto is the author of the memoirs Have Dog, Will Travel; Planet of the Blind (a New York Times “Notable Book of the Year”); and Eavesdropping: A Memoir of Blindness and Listening and of the poetry collections Only Bread, Only Light and Letters to Borges. A graduate of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop and a Fulbright Scholar, he has taught at the University of Iowa, Hobart and William Smith Colleges, and Ohio State University. He currently teaches at Syracuse University where he holds a University Professorship in Disability Studies. He is a frequent speaker in the US and abroad. His website is StephenKuusisto.com.

Have Dog, Will Travel: A Poet’s Journey is now available for pre-order:
Barnes and Noble

Have Dog, Will Travel by Stephen Kuusisto

(Photo picturing the cover of Stephen Kuusisto’s new memoir “Have Dog, Will Travel” along with his former guide dogs Nira (top) and Corky, bottom.) Bottom photo by Marion Ettlinger 

Author: skuusisto

Poet, Essayist, Blogger, Journalist, Memoirist, Disability Rights Advocate, Public Speaker, Professor, Syracuse University

One thought on “What’s the Use of Having a Body if It’s Always Just a Map?”

  1. Wow, well said. I do know that in the Brain Trauma community, that they are always selling: One day you function as well as you did before the trauma. It is an industry that sells hope instead of acceptance. I got kicked out of several groups because I wanted to live with what I got, instead of trying to get back to what I was before the trauma.


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