Enforcing Normalcy: Disability, Deafness, and the Body
Lennard J. Davis
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In this highly original study of the cultural assumptions governing our conception of people with disabilities, Lennard J. Davis argues forcefully against “ableist” discourse and for a complete recasting of the category of disability itself.
Enforcing Normalcy surveys the emergence of a cluster of concepts around the term “normal” as these matured in western Europe and the United States over the past 250 years. Linking such notions to the concurrent emergence of discourses about the nation, Davis shows how the modern nation-state constructed its identity on the backs not only of colonized subjects, but of its physically disabled minority. In a fascinating chapter on contemporary cultural theory, Davis explores the pitfalls of privileging the figure of sight in conceptualizing the nature of textuality. And in a treatment of nudes and fragmented bodies in Western art, he shows how the ideal of physical wholeness is both demanded and denied in the classical aesthetics of representation.
Enforcing Normalcy redraws the boundaries of political and cultural discourse. By insisting that disability be added to the familiar triad of race, class and gender, the book challenges progressives to expand the limits of their thinking about human oppression.
objects exchanged. Then in the eighteenth century, the term came to refer to horse races in which an umpire would assign extra weight to be carried by a superior horse, and lots would be drawn from a hat to see if the race was ‘on’ or ‘off.’ The idea of the lottery drawn from the hat dropped out, but the sense of unequal contestants, the superior one being ‘handicapped’ to equalize the race, survived in the late nineteenth century. It was only a very late sense that switched from the idea of a
succeeded in convincing the world that he had beaten his disability. Will Durant’s description of Roosevelt at the Democratic Convention in 1928, written for the New York World, makes us see an upright Roosevelt. ‘On the stage is Franklin Roosevelt, beyond comparison the finest man that has appeared at either convention.… A figure tall and proud even in suffering’ (ibid., 67). Rumors that Roosevelt was paraplegic did surface in the press. During his run for president, a Time magazine article
rather than between locations of language as produced by various parts of the body. Even Derrida’s assumption presumes that if a norm is not followed, then what follows cannot be normative behavior. So language is defined as normative, and its eccentric occurrences do not seem to be part of language – language being seen as only either of the voice or of writing. A similar analogy might be to say that sex is defined as only that which is associated with the penis or the vagina, and any other
narrow category to which it has been confined. Just as, I claim, we readers are all deaf, participating in a deafened moment, likewise, we all – first and foremost – have fragmented bodies. It is in tracing our tactical and self-constructing (deluding) journeys away from that originary self that we come to conceive and construct that phantom goddess of wholeness, normalcy, and unity – the nude. One might even add that the element of repulsion and fear associated with fragmentation and disability
legislature to the genetic counselor’s office. Nevertheless, the options remain the same: the limiting of fertility by birth control or sterilization. In effect, the offensive project of the Nazis to eliminate defectives is now practiced through the agency of modern medicine. I want to make clear that I am not saying, nor are most progressive people with disabilities, that women should not have the right to abort fetuses identified as ‘defective.’ This choice is, as always, based on the