Academic journal article Journal of Literary and Cultural Disability Studies

"I Am/in Pain": The Form of Suffering in David Wolach's Hospitalogy and Amber DiPietra and Denise Leto's Waveform

Academic journal article Journal of Literary and Cultural Disability Studies

"I Am/in Pain": The Form of Suffering in David Wolach's Hospitalogy and Amber DiPietra and Denise Leto's Waveform

Article excerpt

Introduction

Amber DiPietra and Denise Leto's Waveform and David Wolach's Hospitalogy are poetic explorations of pain and suffering from the perspectives of disabled writers who are invested in innovative writing. They demonstrate how suffering can be a source of innovation, and how this innovation can be part of the therapeutic benefit of writing through and with pain. Of course, pain is different for each person, and has the potential to lead to a variety of effects. But DiPietra, Leto, and Wolach choose to write with and through pain- rather than around it-by actively engaging with their suffering, utilizing it as a motive for collaboration and as a spark for the conception of alternative understandings of disability. For them, the act of writing with and through pain (of representing pain, writing while in pain, and writing about the difficulties of representing pain) is both liberatory and revolutionizing. More broadly, DiPietra, Leto, and Wolach show that readers and writers of avant-garde poetry can learn from the formal innovations (such as indeterminacy, unstable analogy, and dysfluency) of disabled writers. They also show that by engaging with the formal and linguistic openness of the avant-garde, disabled writers can re-envision their alternative embodiments as productive constraints.

DiPietra, Leto, and Wolach are wary of reductive representations of disability, yet in Waveform and Hospitalogy they have decided to embark upon diaristic, experience-based writing practices that simultaneously investigate how to aestheticize pain and how to incorporate it into processes of inquiry, meaningmaking, world remaking, and self-care. Disability studies scholars have long sought to problematize representations that reduce disability to suffering, but overly positive models of disability do not adequately address pain and can lead to "a facile celebration" of the "richness" of experiences of pain (Disability Culture, 96). As Alyson Patsavas observes, discourses about pain in disability studies often begin with Scarry's claim that "pain does not simply resist language but actually destroys it" (Patsavas 214; Scarry 4). However, Scarry also argues that in order for pain to be diminished, it must first be expressed, suggesting that not only is it possible to express pain, but that it is actually politically and psychically necessary to do so (164-70).1 While Susan Wendell, Christina Scheuer, Patsavas, and Petra Kuppers (among others) have built upon and complicated Scarry's second claim in their scholarly work, DiPietra, Leto, and Wolach use poetry to investigate pain's (in)expressibility.

DiPietra, who has chronic arthritis, Leto, who has laryngeal dystonia, and Wolach, who has been diagnosed with mitochondrial disease, show that the suffering that comes with some disabilities must be represented. This position risks being interpreted as re-inscribing the assumption that disability is defined merely by suffering. As Bill Hughes and Kevin Paterson state, "Disabled people feel uncomfortable with the concept of suffering because [...] it seems inextricably bound to a personal tragedy model of disability" (336). According to Hughes and Paterson, the tragedy model portrays disabled people as being in constant need of charity from temporarily able-bodied people. Similarly, Anna Mollow states that "The issue of suffering has been vexed within disability studies," because the discipline privileges collective experience and social oppression over personal, embodied experience, thereby failing to account for individual experiences of pain caused by disabilities such as depression (417). The decision to give suffering a central place in their work is notable because in doing so, DiPietra, Leto, and Wolach complicate both early disability studies scholars' tendency to resist the understanding that disability is purely individual and corporeal and its tendency to advocate for an understanding of disability as rooted primarily in the social and political. …

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