Extraordinary Bodies: Figuring Physical Disability in American Culture and Literature

Extraordinary Bodies: Figuring Physical Disability in American Culture and Literature

Extraordinary Bodies: Figuring Physical Disability in American Culture and Literature

Extraordinary Bodies: Figuring Physical Disability in American Culture and Literature

Synopsis

Inaugurates a new field of disability studies by framing disability as a minority discourse rather than a medical one, revising oppressive narratives and revealing liberatory ones. The book examines disabled figures in Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin and Rebecca Harding Davis's Life in the Iron Mills, in African-American novels by Toni Morrison and Audre Lorde, and in the popular cultural ritual of the freak show.

Excerpt

In its broadest sense, this book investigates how representation attaches meanings to bodies. Although much recent scholarship explores how difference and identity operate in such politicized constructions as gender, race, and sexuality, cultural and literary criticism has generally overlooked the related perceptions of corporeal otherness we think of variously as "monstrosity," "mutilation," "deformation," "crippledness,"or "physical disability." Yet the physically extraordinary figure these terms describe is as essential to the cultural project of American self-making as the varied throng of gendered, racial, ethnic, and sexual figures of otherness that support the privileged norm. My purpose here is to alter the terms and expand our understanding of the cultural construction of bodies and identity by reframing "disability" as another culture-bound, physically justified difference to consider along with race, gender, class, ethnicity, and sexuality. In other words, I intend to introduce such figures as the cripple, the invalid, and the freak into the critical conversations we devote to deconstructing figures like the mulatto, the primitive, the queer, and the lady. To denaturalize the cultural encoding of these extraordinary bodies, I go beyond assailing stereotypes to interrogate the conventions of representation and unravel the complexities of identity production within social narratives of bodily differences. In accordance with postmodernism's premise that the margin constitutes the center, I probe the peripheral so as to view the . . .

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