Academic journal article Papers: Explorations into Children's Literature

Constituting Christopher: Disability Theory and Mark Haddon's; the Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

Academic journal article Papers: Explorations into Children's Literature

Constituting Christopher: Disability Theory and Mark Haddon's; the Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

Article excerpt

In Extraordinary Bodies: figuring disability in American culture and literature, Rosemary Garland Thompson contends that disability is another 'culture-bound, physically justified difference to consider along with race, gender, class, ethnicity and sexuality' (1997, p.5). The two reigning models that have marked disability as a site of difference are the medical and the social; the former in both its benign and pernicious forms identifying the somatic and psychological markers of disability and scaffolding around these regimes of medical intervention and correction, the latter involving social recognition of disabilities, and identifying ways to 'establish social equity that do not depend on a medical response, but on modifying man-made societal arrangements' (Saunders 2004, p.2). The medical and social models have been critiqued by theorists in the field who have argued that they are not only underpinned by the view that disability is a 'personal medical tragedy' (Campbell 2004, p.443), but also that they are often mutually exclusive, failing to successfully cognate the culturally discursive, the socially regulated and the multiple realities of disabled people's lives (Price and Schildrick 2002). This paper will situate Mark Haddon's novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time (2003) within these current debates in disability theory, arguing that fictional representations such as Haddon's contribute powerfully to what Judy Singer calls a more 'ecological view of society', that is 'one that is more relaxed about different styles of being' (1999, p.67).

In mapping the conceptual terrain of disability, Mairain Corker and Tom Shakespeare argue that:

  Both the medical model and the social model seek to explain disability
  universally and end up creating totalizing meta-historical narratives
  that exclude important dimensions of disabled people's lives and of
  their knowledge.
  (2002, p.15)

In the light of this assertion, it would seem that literary and filmic representations of disabilities with their aesthetic remove from the real might have little to contribute to the complex webbing that is the experience, the theorizing and the administration of disability. This said, there have been recent forays by disability theorists into the area of representation, particularly those who have found some usefulness in engaging with the 'symbolic, semiotic and textual dimensions of social life' (Smith 2002, p.72). The signifying/meaning dimension of culture is recognized by many cultural theorists as an important conceptual and ideological site which engages with the cultural dominant in ways that bolster critique or refute it (Garland Thompson 1999; Saunders 2004; Shakespeare 1999). Incorporating the representational into their socio-cultural purview, theorists of disability have exercised a robust scrutiny of the repeated deployment of disability as a category of non-normativity in circulating discourses (Garland Thompson 1999). Moreover the term 'disability' itself has been strongly contested as it is seen to be negatively tagging an abjectness of being; an 'other' to the 'good and proper' social and physical body (Campbell 1999). For many disability theorists however, too much of a focus on the symbolic/textual level of culture fails to comprehensively address the realities of the everyday lives of disabled individuals. One way out of this impasse in conceptual framings of disability is a more fruitful alliance between the lived and the symbolic levels of culture. Smith locates the possibilities of this conjunction in the ethnographic domain, contending "if one is prepared to accept a broader definition of culture as being about the role of meaning in social life, then ethnomethodological perspectives have much to offer" (2001, p.72). Such a position is not incompatible with a core focus of postmodern, postcolonial and gender theories of identity--the valorization of the local and contingent expressed for example in a 'recognition of the perspectives, voices and cultures of subordinate groups' (ibid, p. …

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