In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

31 • In ter c h a pter An Archive and Anatomy of Disability Myths As Rosema r ie Ga r l a n d-Thomson writes, “Seeing disability as a representational system engages several premises of current critical theory: that representation structures reality, that the margins constitute the center , that human identity is multiple and unstable, and that all analysis and evaluation has political implications” (1997b, 19). With this in mind, I will pause here to create a quick overview of some of the myths of disability that are ubiquitous across cultures and eras and that condition our understanding of disability (and thus of all identity and all bodies). This investigation of disability myths is an extension of my interrogation of the logics of normativity. Each of these myths works to mark and construct disability as surplus, improper, lesser, or otherwise other—and none of them actually directly defines what “normal” is, except via an excessive exnomination. In this way, these myths reach into all bodies, yet they also very particularly structure roles for people with disabilities. I call these myths, but I also situate them also as stereotypes and tropes. These may not be fully “mythological,” in the rich rhetorical sense of myth I will try to put forward throughout this book. But these are myths in the manner of Roland Barthes’s Mythologies: meanings are attached to these images, and they become routinized and easily consumed (1972, 92). Each one of these myths is also a misplacement of meaning. These are stereotypes because they are often narrow and inflexible and render simple understandings. They are tropes because they shape stories and emplot. They are rhetorical because they provide material for a wide range of expressions, whether through compressed analogies or longer narratives. 32 • Disa bil it y Rh et or ic Regardless, these figures shape both stories and lives. As Joseph Shapiro has shown, “Disabled people have become sensitized to depictions of disability in popular culture, religion, and history. There they find constant descriptions of a disabled person’s proper role as either an object of pity or a source of inspiration. These images are internalized by disabled and nondisabled people alike and build social stereotypes, create artificial limitations, and contribute to discrimination” (1993, 30). I borrow for my taxonomy from several sources, including Shapiro. Rosemarie Garland-Thomson looks carefully and systematically at disability in literature, and Ato Quayson (2007) similarly offers a “typology” of representations.1 Michael Norden, Paul Longmore, and Leonard Kriegel also look at disability stereotypes in film, television, and literature.2 The chart is greatly indebted to Mitchell and Snyder’s “Body Genres,” which maps out an “anatomy” of the common characteristics found in disability portrayals across genres of film (2006, 188).3 Disability studies scholar G. Thomas Couser describes the “preferred plots and rhetorical schemes” of disability in nonfiction or memoir (2001, 79). These rhetorical schemes or myths tell familiar stories about disability from an ableist perspective. The use of all of these myths in discourse, then, both borrows from and shapes cultural beliefs about disability in the everyday.4 Of course, this book will mainly focus on the ways disability can be positively and expansively represented and not on simple, negative dismissals. Yet sometimes these two polarities need to engage with one 1. In addition to her literary analyses, Rosemarie Garland-Thomson (2002) also suggests that there are four dominant visual rhetorics of disability: the wondrous, the sentimental , the exotic, and the ordinary or realistic. 2. See Norden 1994; Longmore 1985, 2005; and Kriegel 1987; among other surveys and sources for the analysis of disability stereotypes. 3. In turn, Mitchell and Snyder borrowed and revised this anatomy from Linda Williams ’s influential essay “Film Bodies: Gender, Genre, and Excess” (1991). 4. Importantly, echoing all of the other disability studies scholars who have surveyed these ideas, Couser suggests that these schemes appeal to audiences because they reaffirm commonly held ideas about disability. “What characterizes these preferred rhetorics,” he writes, “is that they rarely challenge stigma and marginalization directly or effectively” (2001, 79). MētisArchive and Anatomy of Disability Myths 33 another. In the field of disability studies, an understanding of these negative myths offers shorthand for the ways that disability is narrowly represented or depicted. These myths offer evidence of some of the most basic and omnipresent ways that disability is rhetorically shaped. I will work through many of these myths here to further illustrate how disability studies and rhetorical theory should intersect...


Additional Information

Related ISBN
MARC Record
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.