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The Rejected Body: Feminist Philosophical Reflections on Disability by Susan Wendell
1996
206 pages
Routledge Publishers

If you are at all interested in Disability Studies (DS), read this book. I felt like I had a kind, clear teacher and friend leading me by the hand through basic and advanced concepts in DS, especially relating to feminism and ethics. It is the most accessible and worthwhile academic text I've ever read-- I don't have a good track record for reading non-fiction books or textbooks, and I was riveted to this book. Partly this is because The Rejected Body speaks so directly to my own life experience as a person with a chronic illness. Susan Wendell also has a chronic illness, ME/CFS, which is what led her into DS from Women's Studies.

The chapters are as follows:

Introduction: she tells you what she's going to tell you, talks a bit about her own illness experience and finding disability identity, and--making me fall in love with her--clarifies her language use by, in part, defining scare quotes and why/how she uses them.

1. Who Is Disabled? Defining Disability
2. The Social Construction of Disability
3. Disability as Difference
4. The Flight from the Rejected Body
5. The Cognitive and Social Authority of Medicine
6. Disability and Feminist Ethics
7. Feminism, Disability, and Transcendence of the Body

My favorite parts:

*The pace of life as part of the social construction of disability. Those of us who need to think or move more slowly are thus disabled by society.

*Her use of the word "phemonenological". OK I just barely know what that means from my one philosophy class in college, but, swoon. I have been thinking about embodiment lately, brain-body duality vs. integration, and chapter 7 really gave me some grist for this mill. I am going to re-read it shortly, especially the section on pain. Basically, feminists have argued against mind-body duality for very good reasons: because it's been used against women's bodies. We've been invested in "Our Bodies, Ourselves". But for bodies that are suffering and in pain, there are reasons to want to transcend the body, and there is room within feminist frameworks to develop this. *mind explosion*

*The illusion of control. For PWD, we know that we do not have control of our bodies, and it is sheer luck that determines what happens, a lot of the time. Will I be in less or more pain today? Will I get some new illness? I have basically no control over these things, and I know it. And yet the society I live in is incredibly invested in the illusion of control to the point where it is part of the mythology of my country and my people, I think. As Wendell points out, this puts me at odds with the people around me, even in casual social situations where people talk about small health problems or things to do with their bodies. It's a disconnect.

There were so many other things that I am probably forgetting. I wanted to underline everything. I will definitely read this book again. I read it slowly to give myself time to process everything I was reading, but overall it's a fairly short and accessible book, just densely packed with great information and ideas.

Incidentally, one book she cites fairly often is Cheri Register's Living with Chronic Illness. My review of Register's book, post is from 2008. Most of her other citations are books/works I'm unfamiliar with.

P.S. I would love to discuss this book with people!

Date: 2010-04-19 01:06 am (UTC)
toft: Screenshot of the tomato roses created by Hannibal Lecter. (Default)
From: [personal profile] toft
Basically, feminists have argued against mind-body duality for very good reasons: because it's been used against women's bodies. We've been invested in "Our Bodies, Ourselves". But for bodies that are suffering and in pain, there are reasons to want to transcend the body, and there is room within feminist frameworks to develop this. *mind explosion*

WOAH. Okay, that is *really* interesting for me. I am thinking more and more that disability studies could potentially be seriously useful for me in doing the work I'm thinking about doing (apart from the fact that it seems like some mind-expanding I should do to myself anyway), and this just confirms that. There's a huge thing about women's Christian spirituality in the thirteenth/fourteenth century and the work they were doing to take control of the way the mind/body dichotimy was set up in Christianity in such a way that spiritual enlightenment was conceived of in such a way as an inherently masculine thing, because women were (in medieval thinking) enslaved to/ rooted in their bodies in a way that men weren't, and so women started performing spirituality *as* rooted in the body, getting into really intensely embodied worship in weeping, fasting, self-mortification, and divinely-sent illnesses and/or visions resulting from near-death sicknesses are a really huge part of that. The classic text on this is Caroline Walker Bynum's Holy Feast and Holy Fast, if you're interested.

There's also earlier saints - in late antiquity, third and fourth century saints mostly, self-mortification was in, but in the sense that fasting and self-harm were a way to force transcendence from the body, rejecting it by causing it pain - but that's not so much what you're talking about, I think, because I always got the sense that that was more about exercising rigid, vicious control over the body in order to 'defeat' it, while the women's spirituality I was just talking about seems more about sort of immersing oneself in the uncontrollability of the body, like what you're talking about. I know someone has talked about early saints in the context of anorexia, but I don't know of anyone who's talked about any of this stuff through a lens of disability studies, and it seems like it's crying out for it.

Anyway, thank you for this rec! It will go on my summer reading list.

Date: 2010-04-19 03:03 am (UTC)
opinion_rush: (Default)
From: [personal profile] opinion_rush
/immersing oneself in the uncontrollability of the body/ Ooo there is an article somewhere written about migraines by a woman who had them a lot. She tried all these drugs for years and nothing worked. Finally she decided to surrender to them and just be there with them kind of. Which, sorry thinking out loud, might even go back to someone like Hildegard of Bingen, who some have diagnosed as having migraines that for her were spiritual experiences. Thanks so much for posting this (both of ya'll above)

Date: 2010-04-19 01:22 pm (UTC)
toft: Screenshot of the tomato roses created by Hannibal Lecter. (Default)
From: [personal profile] toft
This is really interesting - [personal profile] opinion_rush, I didn't know that about Hildegard and migraines. And I'll look at that Hustvedt article, I think this is really interesting.

I suspect actually that disability studies is going to be the next big thing in medieval studies. I look forward to learning more about it, either way! All the stuff you post about it sounds so fascinating and good.

Date: 2010-04-19 02:59 am (UTC)
opinion_rush: (Default)
From: [personal profile] opinion_rush
interesting. I'm particularly interested by the pacing idea. It definitely is one of the cardinal "virtues" of our society that speed is king (that might be a mixed metaphor but I'm sleepy). It made me think of some of the resistance to such views as well--the slow food movement is one of the first to come to mind. But interesting.

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