Metis

I.

Dolmage’s recognition of the hidden body in rhetoric (and philosophy) proves a powerful starting point of critique, particularly considering his point that many ancient texts were quite obsessed with the body. For example, Socrates and Plato actively attacked the lustful qualities of the body. Continuing this, Augustine marked the potent marriage between the Neo-Platonism of Plotinus with Judeo-Christian dogma, giving a particularly powerful foundation to embodiment in the Western tradition.

Here, I think Nietzsche is particularly helpful, as he is incessantly asking one to return to the body. He also critiques the potential disembodied “view from nowhere” (as Nagel calls it) that this distance from body and experience may create. In Thus Spoke Zarathustra, for example, Nietzsche critiques objectivism’s quest for “immaculate perception,” mocking science’s goal of passively lying before objects “as a mirror with a hundred facets.”

In pursuit of this immaculate perception and its rhetorical extension of immaculate communication, any unusual, distracting, or problematic body would be unwanted. So starting from the opposite end, as Dolmage does, in grounding rhetoric in the body, one must look at rhetoric in a more embodied, complex enterprise.

But Dolmage’s recognition of  metis exemplifies a particular body and rhetoric: the sort of “crafty” or potentially “crooked” and “cunning” bodies and their link between nonlinear, often indirect–yet highly situated–approaches. Grounding a rhetoric in this more realistic, inclusive, yet still extraordinary body, moreover, Dolmage also recognizes rhetoric’s discoursive crookedness to it. Doing so, Dolmage does indeed provide a powerful foundation for not just disability rhetoric, but rhetoric more generally.

With body and communication so linked, one can embrace the inherent messiness and uneven gaits present in both, making a more equitable, generative rhetoric that is more inclusive to disability as a type of ability in itself.

II.

We are strangers to our statistically averaged selves. And yet as a largely nondisabled person, I’m constantly exposed to affirmations to uphold my “normal” position and hide the “abnormal.” As a male who is somewhat asexual, sensitive, not interested in sports, a pacifist, etc., I often have had a hard time fitting into Capital-M Male culture. As I get more mature, I tend to have an almost bemused–or amused–laughter at these differing pressures.

But I feel less amused on depression. For a long time, I was told–implicitly and explicitly–that I was just sad or that I needed to “man up” or “push through.” That it was just a phase.

I had to conform or face alienation. If I couldn’t control my depression, I was seen as a weirdo, a buzzkill, a crybaby, or someone perpetually in an pity party. Or just awkward, quiet, and attention-seeking. Internalizing this, I was not sure what was wrong with me or where I could fit in.

In time, I learned to hide my depression well. I also learned to seek out others, on the side, with similar experience. And I also learned to code my episodes and chronic outlooks, faking a different, more brooding guise–in short, making it more “masculine” than “feminine” in the lens of culture. Doing this, I could appear more “normal” than a male body that couldn’t get out of bed, or eat, or smile, or feel. A male body that would cry suddenly or not at all.

And I think this too, is a sense of metis under duress: being forced to get cunning in order to address the normal.

III.

But Dolmage, more pointedly, raises a new paradigm for looking at rhetoric, one in which resistance is not rhizomatic and metis is not forced into camouflage.

And I think he offers some helpful critiques to move this forward. For one, I appreciate his investigation of both the material and socially constructed elements, as both can comprise embodied experience and the way that bodies get orchestrated or orientated.

Also, his insistence on the “interdependence” of bodies proves particularly “foreign” yet “apt,” as he notes (111-13). I see this as an important move on two parts. First, troubles some of the self-help, individualist narratives that Linton also critiques in Claiming Disabilities and that Dolmage highlights in his disability myths, whether it be the individual overcoming or being isolated and therefore pitied.

But more importantly, I think it connects to a rhetorical ethic that he does not discuss much but seems essential if society itself will more broadly consider disability.

Here, I’m drawn to the work of Diane Davis and her grounding in Emmanuel Lévinas. For Lévinas, most people “consume” or “totalize” their surroundings: consuming food, consuming media, organizing space into formal or informal taxonomies, etc. But other people–the Other–complicates this totalizing, forcing us into an always present ethical relation.

For example, if we see someone kicking garbage cans, we may not think much of it, but seeing this person kicking a human being, we are forced into an ethical situation, so that even doing nothing is acting. The situation makes present an already existing reality that we just tend to ignore. So for Lévinas and Davis, this always “being-with” and “being-for” others pre-grounds the symbolism and semiotics of communication.

In a similar way, if we take Dolmage’s interdependent embodiment at the foundation of rhetoric, we face a profound ethical and rhetorical situation that begs us to address the Other that is inextricably linked to ourselves–and their embodied experience in the world. Siding with Lévinas, I think this begs profound empathy. However, such empathy must be wary of the differences in embodiment and the dangers of the “doctor.” We are in this together as ourselves, embodied subjectivities who are rhetorically engaged in, through, and as bodies.

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