MODERNITY'S RESCUE MISSION: Postcolonial Transactions of Disability and Sexuality

By Kim, Eunjung; Jarman, Michelle | Canadian Journal of Film Studies, Spring 2008 | Go to article overview

MODERNITY'S RESCUE MISSION: Postcolonial Transactions of Disability and Sexuality


Kim, Eunjung, Jarman, Michelle, Canadian Journal of Film Studies


Résumé: Certains films internationaux portant sur l'infirmité entreprennent un « projet de modernisation » qui veut « secourir » le corps handicapé en le rescapant de son contexte original et en lui offrant un « remède » contre une condition médicale stratégiquement identifiée comme « pré-moderne. » Dans Princess Mononoke et The Good Woman of Bangkok le récit de l'infirmité devient crucial dans la formation de l'identité nationale et de la négociation de l'échange international de l'aide médicale. Dans les deux films, l'infirmité joue un rôle critique dans la constitution de hiérarchies entre les nations et à l'intérieur d'une même nation. S'érigeant sur des allégories de bienveillance, ces hiérarchies sont souvent déployées en tant qu'actes charitables sous forme de délivrance apparemment « désintéressée » et « généreuse » des personnes handicapées qui ont été exploitées, maltraitées, ou expulsées par ceux qui n'ont pas été « édifiés » par la promesse de la modernité. Ces deux films démontrent que les transactions interculturelles des récits de l'infirmité perpétuent souvent ce mythe de délivrance, un mythe méritant plus d'analyse et de critique aussi bien du point de vue des études postcoloniales et que des études sur l'infirmité.

This essay considers the unique disability narratives in two contemporary international films, Princess Mononoke (USA, 1999; Mononoke Hime, Japan, 1997, Miyazaki Hayao), and The Good Woman of Bangkok (Australia, 1991, Dennis O'Rourke) to investigate the formation of national identity and the negotiation of international exchange. We explore the intervention of subaltern subjects through a discussion of Mononoke's gender and feralness juxtaposed with the social positioning of prostitutes and lepers in Princess Mononoke, as well as through an intersectional analysis of Yaiwalak Chonchanakun's gender, visual impairment, and prostitute status in Good Woman. While these narratives are enacted upon different historical stages, both films display a similar logic that positions modern society above nature or any pre-existing civilizations-a logic solidified by specific deployments of disability and other subaltern designations.

Disability studies scholarship has developed strong critiques of many oppressive strategies developed under the auspices of modernity to diagnose, exile, institutionalize, normalize, or rehabilitate people with non-normative bodies and minds.1 Characterized by a near-obsession with order and progress, people with impairments have been either actual targets or positioned as the symbolic focus of many modernization projects. Drawing from European and U.S. disability history and representations, for example, Lennard Davis's Enforcing Normalcy traces various ways in which the very development of the modern concept of normalcy has been based upon contrastive cultural meanings of disability.2 Modernity, in other words, has depended upon the existence of disability to draw the boundaries between accepted and rejected subjects. Socially positioned outside the parameters of cognitive and physical normalcy, people with disabilities in modern Western contexts almost inevitably have been caught up in systems of charity, rehabilitation, or institutional confinement. Postcolonial scholar Dipesh Chakrabarty makes this clear in Habitations of Modernity by asserting that the "origins of modernity" and the historical process of becoming modern were not benign: "The fact that one is often ushered into modernity as much through violence as through persuasion is recognized by European historians and intellectuals. The violence of the discourse of public health in nineteenth-century England directed itself against the poor and the working classes."3 Yet even as disability-studies scholars have developed critiques of modernity's oppressive medical, rehabilitative, and normalizing processes-especially those targeting the bodies of people with disabilities-these discussions have primarily focused upon situations in industrialized nations. …

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MODERNITY'S RESCUE MISSION: Postcolonial Transactions of Disability and Sexuality
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