Disability, Film, and the Jewish Question
In the nineteenth century canaries were taken into British mines to detect methane gas, which is odorless but lethal to animals. The sensitivity of this small and delicate bird to an invisible, but deadly substance meant that if it died, a danger was present that humans would not have been able to detect. My title plays with the phrase “the canary in the mineshaft,” which evolved from this poignant interspecies situation. In this chapter I explore how scientific and documentary images of disability have served as visible evidence (the “canaries,” if you will) of a kind of danger lurking in the Jewish community over the course of the twentieth and into the twentyfirst century. The toxic element in this case is the stigmatization of the Jewish/disabled body within a particular Gemeinschaft, a development in which biomedical discourses are deeply implicated.1 As a counterpoint to this process of exclusion, I examine recent works—primarily documentary films—that are reversing that trend through a process I call “mediated kinship.” In these projects relationships among family members with disabilities—which often require rethinking the normative frameworks of the taken-for-granted Gemeinschaft world—are reimagined on their own
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Publication information: Book title: Deus in Machina: Religion, Technology, and the Things in between. Contributors: Jeremy Stolow - Editor. Publisher: Fordham University Press. Place of publication: New York. Publication year: 2013. Page number: 159.
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