Academic journal article Journal of Literary and Cultural Disability Studies

"Her Pronouns Wax and Wane": Psychosocial Disability, Autobiography, and Counter-Diagnosis

Academic journal article Journal of Literary and Cultural Disability Studies

"Her Pronouns Wax and Wane": Psychosocial Disability, Autobiography, and Counter-Diagnosis

Article excerpt

The article analyzes autobiographical narratives written by persons with psychosocial disabilities; it argues that such narratives can refigure conventional assumptions of autobiography through a strategy designated counter-diagnosis. Drawing upon a hybrid methodology that combines disability studies with critical discourse analysis, the article conducts a close reading of the narratives' uses of pronouns in order to highlight their counter-diagnostic strategies. The conclusion is that, although we must pay attention to the problems that have characterized much disability autobiography, recognition of these narratives' creatively disruptive strategies can lead us toward a context in which all of us-psychosocially disabled or not-can better tell our stories on our own terms.

"If it is acrazy story surely it will do no harm, and if it is not, why had it not ought to come out."

-Elizabeth T. Stone, "ASketch of My Life," Women of the Asylum.

"Diagnosis itself is anarrative phenomenon."

-Lauren Slater, Lying: AMetaphorical Memoir.


He said nuts.

It was December. Iwas on the telephone with ajournalist, who had called me out of the blue to interview me for amagazine article about students with learning disabilities. Iwas wearing my professor hat, discoursing knowledgeably on disability, on pedagogy, on learning styles. Then the journalist said something about nuts. Something like, "But there's adifference between aperson with alearning disability and aperson who's just, you know, nuts."

With astrong sense of stepping into another skin, Isaid, "Pardon me?" Isaid, "Itake offense at the term nuts." Isaid, "Iwould never use that term, any more than Iwould call aperson with alearning disability stupid."

That's not really what Isaid. That's what Iwish Icould have said. It may bear some resemblance to what Iactually said. But Icannot say with certainty, not from the point at which Itook offense, because Ido not remember.

I'm not usually very conscious in situations that call for rhetorical confrontation. Part of my brain retreats; someone else speaks through my lips. Sometimes her intervention is helpful. Sometimes, not so much. She has acringing way that Idislike. She agrees to things Iwouldn't choose.

Anyway, that time Iwas lucky. The journalist apologized-so Iknow he could tell Iwas objecting, although Iam not sure he understood why-and we moved on. Igot off the phone as soon as Icould, noting with detachment that my field of vision had tunneled, gone fuzzy around the edges, like amovie shot of someone looking through binoculars. However, Iwas far enough from panic to know the symptoms would pass. It wasn't abad one.

Later, when my breathing and thoughts were smoother, Iconsidered what Ihad not said to the journalist. Icould have said, "Do you realize you just said nuts to someone who has amental illness?" While it would have been gratifying to embarrass him with such an announcement, it also might have destroyed my authority at the very moment Itried to claim it. That is the problem with being mentally ill: it tends to carry acertain lack of cred.

Catherine Prendergast argues that "to be disabled mentally is to be disabled rhetorically" ("Rhetorics" 57). When speaking as amentally disabled subject, one is generally denied what Prendergast calls "rhetoricability" ("Rhetorics" 56), that is, the ability to be received and respected as avalid subject. Importantly, Prendergast does not regard ability as stable or inherent; rather, she explains rhetoricability as something that is constructed based upon the rhetor's social context. Just as one's body is more and less abled by the built context that surrounds one, so too with one's mind.1

This article combines disability studies (DS) with critical discourse analysis (CDA) to demonstrate ways that persons with psychosocial disabilities2 can and do demonstrate rhetoricability by constructing forms of authority that draw upon, rather than 'overcome,' their disabilities. …

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