Academic journal article Journal of Literary and Cultural Disability Studies

Life with Dead Metaphors: Impairment Rhetoric in Social Justice Praxis

Academic journal article Journal of Literary and Cultural Disability Studies

Life with Dead Metaphors: Impairment Rhetoric in Social Justice Praxis

Article excerpt

The article examines the ubiquitous use of impairment rhetoric within scholarly endeavors oriented by the call of social justice. However, rather than pointing out disable-ism, the article seeks to reveal some of the life and death relations that tie disability with race through impairment rhetoric. It shows how such ties were part of the founding of "disability studies" and are still accomplished today, reconstituting a version of the nature-culture divide that borrows its power from a medical sounding act of diagnosis that declares that injustice is disabling. The discussion turns to the creative potential of metaphor when engaged through a hermeneutic understanding that seeks a more life-filled relation to otherwise deadening uses of impairment rhetoric. The conclusion is that disability can open the imagination to the possibility of new worlds since it is more than a diagnostic signifier of already dead ones.

Introduction

Still we say color blind, deaf to the call of justice, suffering from historical amnesia; blind to structural oppression, limping under the weight of inequality; an amputated self, simply crazy, subject to colonial aphasia, agnosia, even alexia; nothing but a deformed autonomy made to fit a crippled economy-devastatingly disabled. What compels such impairment rhetoric? It is obviously steeped in ableism punctuated with medical overtones. These rhetorical expressions also include disability as a devalued and excludable type. And yet, is there something not so obvious that we should notice here?

This article explores the not-so-obvious by suggesting that something more than disableism is driving the rhetorical use of disability metaphor; and that something more than a dismissive diagnosis of cultural disablement can be found when metaphor is engaged in a non-rhetorical fashion. I want neither to "overlook," nor "forgive," but rather to "understand" how it is that otherwise politically astute and socially aware people and/or movements want and seemingly need impairment rhetoric to drive their social justice endeavors (Arendt 308).

Informed by disability studies, my examination traces the ubiquity of the interest that generates the use of impairment rhetoric within social justice praxis. I show how this interest is tied to a history of the genesis of disability studies itself. I also demonstrate that impairment rhetoric reproduces a nature-culture divide (Linton 8; Michalko 30). Rhetorical uses of this taken-forgranted divide configure disability as the edge of human life by (re)producing a conception of the human steeped in its own inhumanity. Consequently, social justice praxis forestalls the possibility of social change but not simply because of the presence of prejudicial rhetoric. Instead, such rhetoric diminishes a radical engagement with abnormality by transmogrifying disability into a dead metaphor that people use only to diagnose injustice. Finally, working through Frantz Fanon's metaphor of "amputation," I demonstrate how disability can open the imagination to the possibility of new worlds since it can be more than a signifier of already dead ones.

Overall, my work aims to join those critical orientations that attempt to "reverse the hegemony of the normal," as Lennard Davis puts it, by seeking "alternative ways of thinking about the abnormal" (49). This is why I conclude with a demonstration of how to put the brakes on impairment rhetoric by re-engaging the meaningfulness of disability through the complicated relation of hermeneutics of metaphor as a living potentiality or, as Paul Ricoeur claims, "the main problem" of language (134). My aim is to show how a non-rhetorical relation to disability offers an imaginative way to re-approach social justice praxis while simultaneously reconsidering the urge to re-trace the edges of the discard-able human (Bauman).

Pursuing Justice via Impairment Rhetoric

First, we might consider the ubiquity of the common practice of rhetorically deploying impairment metaphor. …

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