Sites of Resistance

I thought we were through with the Bad Writing subject for the moment, but now I’m not so sure. Maybe it’s one of those subjects that one is never through with – not until it goes away, at least.

A kind (and horrified) reader has sent me this delightful example. And the writer is from Norway, too! Wouldn’t you think they would know better? I have this idea (very essentialist of me, really) that Scandinavians in general and particularly Norwegians are sensible people, not the kind of people who are inexplicably impressed by Bad Writing and seized with an uncontrollable need to imitate same. Why do I think that, I wonder. I don’t know – something to do with Roald Amundsen perhaps, and their relative good behavior during World War II, and their general reputation for stolid imperturbability. But then there’s lutefisk – maybe it’s rather like lutefisk. (That’s a pretty Seattleish joke. Seattle is a very Norwegian city, and I have friends who joke about lutefisk and their stolid imperturbable parents and grandparents.) (The friends’ parents and grandparents more than the lutefisks’, but either way, really.)

Enough fooling about; down to business. As my colleague the sociologist said about this article when I forwarded it to him, ‘it would be possible to write sensibly about the way in which conceptions of body normalcy are influenced by social discourse but they just have to write stupidly about it, don’t they!’ Don’t they though.

The body is a discursive reality. It is a site for the production of meaning. One meaning produced is that of deviance, or difference. The means of production are located in the interactions of the human sciences and the ideas of mainstream culture. Science measures and counts, while mainstream culture fears the unknown and longs for stability. Through an exchange relation they establish the discourse of normality and differentiate normal and deviant bodies. In this way, bodies have become a site of political struggle over what is normal and what is not normal.

Science measures and counts? And that’s all? And mainstream culture longs for stability and fears the unknown? All of mainstream culture? Really? Could that be a bit oversimplified? Is that the function of overcomplicated jargon, I often wonder – to disguise the oversimplification of the actual thinking?

In disability studies, two discourses defining the disabled body are identified. The first is founded in modernist thinking and defined by the keyword, normality. The second, founded in postmodernist thinking, is defined by the keyword, difference…With reference to pre-modern perceptions of disability, in the first edition of his book Stiker nominates the anti-psychiatry movements as a promising empirical case that makes a potential contribution to understanding disability through difference. An essential part of Stiker’s book is the normative standpoint he takes in favour of difference. He clearly states the celebration of difference as a road to human life, and that the passion for similarity is a potential for social violence leading to repression and rejection.

Which modernist thinking, exactly? And what kind of difference? Difference from what? All difference? What if we decide to call suicide bombers or people who shoot abortion doctors ‘different’? Is that celebration of difference a road to human life? Come to that, what does ‘a road to human life’ mean anyway? And if we’re going to talk about similarity as leading to repression, where is John Stuart Mill in all this? Do we ignore Mill because he might remind us that in fact suspicion of social pressure and the value of sameness is not a postmodern invention at all? Does postmodernism have an irritating habit of claiming it invented ideas that have in fact been around for centuries or indeed millennia?

And then there is the strange combination of appeals to difference and refusal of the repression of normality and sameness, with the disapproval of amputees who insist on having their own opinions about their amputations and ‘devotees’.

Amputee women also contribute to mainstream conceptions of disability and beauty. This is the case both when it comes to those hostile towards devotees and those welcoming the devotees. They typify devotees as oppressive and deviant in desiring the part of their body that to them represents tragedy and loss. The hostile amputees want to be loved for everything else but their stump(s). In this way they contribute to the construction of the disabled body as deviant and ugly. Even the possibility of living alone is brought up as a better alternative than the company of a devotee. They totally reject the male devotee gaze, but in doing this they tend to contribute to the construction of the disabled woman as asexual.

Oh leave them alone! one wants to snap. Why can’t they have their own reactions to their own bodies and situations, without being told what construction they’re contributing to. All this orthodoxy-enforcing, this heresy-sniffing, this frowning over insufficiently ‘postmodern’ attitudes – surely it’s at least as coercive and repressive as the putative passion for stability and normality of ‘modernism’. Read Erving Goffman’s Stigma instead, and let it go at that.

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