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93 Imperfect Meaning [The prosthetic body] infirm or lacking, in need of the other, [is] not the exception but the paradigm for the body itself. —David Wills, Prosthesis Rh et or ic c a n be seen as the function of power within language, and I connect it to the body because the body is what has been traditionally defined and (thus) disciplined by rhetorics of disability, while at the same time our bodies speak back, insisting (prosthetically) upon the impossibility of a normative essence. Saying this, however, introduces static. Who owns and what constructs—what owns and who constructs—the disabled body? In order to assert that all bodily rhetoric is mētis, these questions of power and agency must first (and continuously) be addressed. In this chapter I will further examine ways that disability has been constructed and defined, but more important I will make the crucial transition to proposing models and theories that situate disability as meaningful and as meaning-making. I will move from surveying the construction of disability as deficit to theories of the unique, imperfect, powerful meaning that disability generates. Models of Disability Within disability studies, there has been a relatively recent—and much reflected upon and theorized through—split between social constructionist and materialist positions on disability identity. As Bonnie G. Smith suggests in her introduction to the landmark collection Gendering Disability : “The term ‘disability’ is becoming increasingly polymorphous. . . . [I]t can suggest a set of practices, kinds of embodiment, interactions with the 94 • Disa bil it y Rh et or ic built environment, an almost limitless array of literary types, frames of mind and forms of relationships” (2004, 1). Indeed, disability (via this contestation over meaning) puts the somewhat malleable rubber of constructionist theories to the road of lived experience. Through an observation of this tension, we also learn a lot about the split between biologism and sociologism across other discrete yet often convergent discussions—as it plays out in feminist, queer, and critical race discourses, for example. I want to show that a disability studies analysis of socio/material tension is a way to foreground these convergences—to recognize how race, gender, sex, sexuality, class, and ability are characterized by marked bodies. What these discourses do share, upon first glance, is that disability of some sort has been attributed to the minority or abjected group, most often pejoratively . To interrogate the meaning of disability is to better understand all bodies and their discursive/corporeal markings, effacements, and rewritings and to question the exclusions that underpin materialization.1 Disability studies as a political movement has been very much about claiming disability (see Linton 1993), owning disabled identity, and the right to define this lived experience. In the face of the medical model of disability, in which the individual was often reduced, via synecdoche, to the sum of her or his dysfunctional parts, disability rights has been an identity movement—a reclamation of the symbolic power of self-definition . Disability rights activism is a direct challenge to the abbreviation of subjectivity. If there were an image for the medical model—a scene that I would never reproduce here—it would be a picture of an individual in which the head is out of frame, while the medical “abnormalities” of the body are centered, are the singular focus. Such images, unfortunately, fill the medical files of people with disabilities—as they fill the files of 1. As mentioned, a disability studies examination of embodied rhetoric takes up Judith Butler’s argument that it is equally important to examine “how and to what end bodies are not constructed” (1993, 16; emphasis added). She argues that we gain power by questioning the normative conditions of the emergence of materiality (ibid., 10). Butler’s vision is that “it will be a matter of tracing the ways in which identification is implicated in what it excludes, and to follow the lines of that implication for the map of future community it might yield” (2000, 119). MētisImperfect Meaning 95 anthropological studies of colonized Africa, as Londa Schiebinger (1993) and Robyn Wiegman (1995) show us. If there were a film to enact this image, it would be of a doctor lecturing to interns in front of the exposed body of a patient, named only by their disability, with this disability on display for the consumption of the student.2 Obviously, I am responding to this model when, throughout this work, I try to position people with disabilities, in their...


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