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  • Cryptic Triptych:(Re)Reading Disabilility in Spanish Film 1960-2003: El cochecito, El jardín de las delicias, and Planta cuarta
  • Ryan Prout (bio)

Prologue: Disabling Disabled Metaphors

Carol Poore observes that "Associations of disability with power have generally conjured up evil, danger, and the uncanny" (261). Her observation seems to hold especially true when we look at the associations made between Francisco Franco's failing health and his last years in power. In the closing section of La cara B de Franco, a series broadcast in 2007, Telecinco evoked the crepuscular moments of the Spanish dictatorship by connecting dates and facts with scenes of the elderly dictator in hospital, clearly critically ill and attached to an array of medical machinery. The malignancy of his tenacious hold on power is visually linked to the final corruption of his body. As with La cara B de Franco, members of the public responding to clips uploaded to Youtube of Franco's last public appearance in 1975 read the dictator's infirmity as the physical manifestation of a flawed character and a flawed instrument of governance shaped in its image. In December 2007 a Youtube viewer was prompted by the appearance of the senescent man with slurred speech and motor dysfunction to write: "Qué asco de hombre. Se nota que le quedaba poquito para espicharla. Parece un auténtico gusano con el tembleque y esa cabeza de langosta."1 Here, it seems, remembering Franco's regime conjures up in turn the making of associations between age-related infirmity, the malign, and all that is historically reprehensible. More than thirty years after the dictator's death it appears that the conflation of physical and ideological deformity is a seme which continues to have a function in Spanish political discourse and [End Page 165] particularly so in the work of remembering the pre-democratic past. Arguably, the persistence of this seme arises not only out of the fact that Franco lived long enough to become physically debilitated, but also out of the psychosomatic system of mind-body diagnostics cultivated by his regime.2

Spain's first professor of psychiatry, Antonio Vallejo Nágera, who assumed this position in 1947, established a model of diagnosis which linked mental constructs antithetical to Francoism with physical abnormality. Within the school of psychiatry which he led, Marxism and communism were read as symptoms of what would today be called developmental disabilities, and psychological non-conformity more generally was ascribed to physical aberrance in a scheme of biotypology which Vallejo adapted from the work of Ernst Kretchmer. Within this scheme, an identification would be made, for example, between symptoms of manic-depressive illness and a paunchy or flabby body shape. Rafael Huertas sees Vallejo's work as illustrative of a dysfunctional Francoist medical apparatus characterised by "la utilización perversa de la psiquiatría y de la medicina para establecer y legitimar normas sociales, para apoyar hegemonías ideológicas y para descreditar cualquier elemento discordante" (102).3

Extrapolating from Huertas's reading of the Francoist medical culture it can reasonably be argued more comprehensively that the dictator's regime read the human body as a curriculum vitae on which non conformist aberrance would manifest itself in the shape of constitutional oddity or departure from prescriptive physical and psychological norms. This being the case, one could very well argue, furthermore, that Franco is simply getting a taste of his own medicine in having his imperfect and ailing body conflated with a form of government perceived as corrupt and diseased, were it not for the fact that this tactic appropriates a seme deeply embedded in the sick ideology which is putatively the subject of critique. Whilst German fascism's institutionalisation of euthanasia for the sick and disabled may be exceptional, as scholars of the semantics of illness and of disability have observed, the use of the sick or disabled body metaphorically to mobilise narratives—political or fictional—is so universal that no single ideology can take special credit or blame for doing so.4 Nevertheless, it can also be argued that the fact that Franco lived long enough to become disabled, and for his infirmity to become for his critics interchangeable...


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pp. 165-187
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