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  • Acts of Becoming: Autobiography, Frankenstein, and the Postmodern Body
  • Mark Mossman


My body is a postmodern text. I have had sixteen major surgeries in thirty years and I am about to have a kidney transplant. My left leg has been amputated and I have only four fingers on one hand. I walk with a limp, and in each step my left shoulder drops down lower than my right, which gives me an awkward, seemingly uncertain gait. My life has been in many ways a narrative typical of postmodern disability, a constant physical tooling and re-tooling, a life marked by long swings into and out of “health” and “illness,” “ability” and “disability.” As I write this I am in end stage renal failure, with about twelve percent kidney function. My body is in jeopardy, running a race to transplantation, a race against dialysis, debilitating nausea, and ultimate mortality.

My body is a postmodern text. I play basketball every day; I am good at tennis, racquetball; I garden, walk for miles. I look “healthy,” young, and am often mistaken for a student. My life is defined by activity, work, ambition. I write now in the evening, after a day that started with several hours of critical reading, and then included teaching two writing courses and one literary criticism and theory class, meeting individually with four freshman composition students, playing an hour of basketball, spending another hour in a contentious faculty meeting, taking a trip to the grocery store, cooking supper, and, at last, talking for a few short but meaningful minutes with my spouse before I scurried downstairs to where I currently sit working in my office in our basement.

My body is a postmodern text. When I sit behind a desk, looking out to my class on that first day of the semester, my students think I am a “norm.” It is rare in those first moments for students to notice my disfigurement. I usually arrive at the classroom early. I prepare, go over notes for the opening class session. I sit down. Students slowly drift in, and then finally, after taking roll and beginning the arduous process of matching names with faces, I get up and distribute the syllabus. What happens? I see surprised expressions, eyes quickly shifting away from my body, often glancing anywhere but the location, the space where disability is unexpectedly and suddenly being written. I go on and begin my introduction to the particular course, while my students hurriedly attempt to account for difference, to manage the contrast of the literal with the prescribed stereotype and the previous impression. These are the crucial moments that constitute the process of my life; these are the absolutely significant points that define the narrative of my body.

My body is a postmodern text. I am aware that I am constantly located in a social space, a gray area where the category of disability is manufactured. My body is deceptive, though, so I can at times escape, slip out of the net of discourses that determine the lives of so many disabled people. I am aware that I am able to have these moments because my body is so pliable in its ability to be normal and then abnormal and then normal again. I live in a space that allows perception, comprehensive awareness. I can feel the colonizing discourses of biomedical culture wash over my body like waves sweeping up onto the seashore. They recede and I am normal; they crash again and I am drowning in stereotype and imposed identity. The unique privilege of my life has been the fact that I am, figuratively, a beach, an edge of something; I know the different spheres of water and sand; I am able to live in both worlds. And as I move through these worlds, as the narrative of my life is constructed around and through me, I am aware of how I change and am changed, written and re-written by the different clusters of discourse that mark all of our lives: at the doctor’s office last week, for example, I was “ill,” a “patient”; on the basketball court later that day I was “healthy,” a...

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