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Reading Embodied Citizenship

Reading Embodied Citizenship: Disability, Narrative, and the Body Politic

Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 264
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  • Book Info
    Reading Embodied Citizenship
    Book Description:

    Liberal individualism, a foundational concept of American politics, assumes an essentially homogeneous population of independent citizens. When confronted with physical disability and the contradiction of seemingly unruly bodies, however, the public searches for a story that can make sense of the difference. The narrative that ensues makes "abnormality" an important part of the dialogue about what a genuine citizen is, though its role is concealed as an exception to the rule of individuality rather than a defining difference.Reading Embodied Citizenshipbrings disability to the forefront, illuminating its role in constituting what counts as U.S. citizenship.

    Drawing from major figures in American literature, including Mark Twain, Flannery O'Connor, Carson McCullers, and David Foster Wallace, as well as introducing texts from the emerging canon of disability studies, Emily Russell demonstrates the place of disability at the core of American ideals. The narratives prompted by the encounter between physical difference and the body politic require a new understanding of embodiment as a necessary conjunction of physical, textual, and social bodies. Russell examines literature to explore and unsettle long-held assumptions about American citizenship.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-4990-3
    Subjects: Law, Language & Literature, Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-IV)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. V-VI)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. VII-IX)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-22)

    In the political history of disability in the United States, 1990 serves as a watershed moment. The passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a broad legislative statement laid on the foundation of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, affirmed the rights of disabled Americans in the last of that century’s civil rights laws.¹ While each of the act’s five titles covers specific spheres such as employment, public services, and communications technology, the conceptual reach of the ADA goes beyond these aspects of policy to impact the most fundamental concepts in American citizenship, including independence, individualism, and public responsibility to...

  5. 1 Domesticating the Exceptional: Those Extraordinary Twins and the Limits of American Individualism
    (pp. 23-58)

    One of the richest moments in Mark Twain’s fiction comes in the opening pages ofPudd’nhead Wilsonwith the “fatal” half-a-dog joke. On his first day in Dawson’s Landing, David Wilson joins a “group of citizens” and offers the remark that will transform him instantly and for twenty years into a pudd’nhead. While standing together, the group hears “an invisible dog” barking, yelping, and disrupting the sleepy peace of the town. Wilson remarks, “I wished I owned half of that dog.” Why? “Because, I would kill my half” (6). This early scene resonates with many of the major thematic concerns...

  6. 2 “Marvelous and Very Real”: The Grotesque in The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter and Wise Blood
    (pp. 59-96)

    Very early inThe Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, Carson McCullers offers a scene of domestic discord between Biff Brannon and his wife, Alice. Frustrated with his preferential treatment of an unusual customer, Alice charges, “It’s a disgrace to the business. And besides, he’s nothing but a bum and a freak.” To which Brannon responds, “I like freaks” (14). This direct statement of Brannon’s affinity for freaks—a group later elaborated to include sick people, cripples, anybody with TB or a harelip, hunchbacks, amputees, and John Singer, another central character and the local “deaf-mute” (22)—applies not only to a...

  7. 3 The Uniform Body: Spectacles of Disability and the Vietnam War
    (pp. 97-130)

    In the months leading up to the 2004 presidential election, media coverage of political life in the United States grappled with the tangle of disability and citizenship in the figure of Max Cleland. The former senator, who lost three limbs in the Vietnam War, took the national stage most emblematically in his introduction of John Kerry at the Democratic National Convention. ALos Angeles Times Magazineprofile captures the veteran’s iconic status: “In many ways, Cleland is more powerful as a symbol than he ever was as a senator” (Barabak). This casually expressed belief in the symbolic potential of embodied...

  8. 4 Conceiving the Freakish Body: Reimagining Reproduction in Geek Love and My Year of Meats
    (pp. 131-169)

    In the American political arena, the figure of the child carries special ideological weight. Candidates and special interest groups sell their positions as a promise to America’s children of a better future. As denoted by pop songs and campaign ads, children are synonymous with the future, and as such, figures of reproduction and childhood take on heightened significance in the discourse of citizenship. In describing a similar political dependence on the alliance between the figure of the child and the appeal to the future, Lee Edelman argues, “We are no more able to conceive of a politics without the fantasy...

  9. 5 Some Assembly Required: The Disability Politics of Infinite Jest
    (pp. 170-197)

    Weighing in at over two pounds, David Foster Wallace’sInfinite Jestcautions by its sheer heft that reading the novel will be an embodied experience. In finding a place to balance its weight or endlessly flipping back to the endnotes, reading the book becomes a curiously physical task. These excessive qualities call attention to the reader’s body consuming the text, but the novel also announces the extraordinary bodies between its covers. At a distended 1,079 pages, the most obvious anomalous body is perhaps the text itself. Wallace constructs this unconventional textual body from a series of nonlinear episodes, shifting points...

  10. Conclusion: Inclusion, Fixing, and Legibility
    (pp. 198-206)

    As I hope to have shown throughout these chapters, embodiment is a mutable discursive and material category shaped by the reading practices of a no less dynamic social body. But the contours of these reading practices are themselves shaped by long-standing ideological categories that tempt with their promise to fix what is inherently fluid. I use the term “fix” here to call upon a productive double meaning of (1) fixing as correcting and curing, an approach most commonly associated with the medical model, and (2) “fix” as it describes attempts to make shifting phenomena static and capable of control. These...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 207-226)
  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 227-242)
  13. Index
    (pp. 243-253)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 254-254)