Journal of Literary & Cultural Disability Studies

From Virginia's Sister to Friday's Silence

Presence, Metaphor, and the Persistence of Disability in Contemporary Writing

Journal of Literary & Cultural Disability Studies (2012), 6, (3), 241–258.

Abstract

The article aims to produce new thinking about the representation of disability in contemporary literature, especially understood with reference to uses of metaphor and the question of a material disabled presence. It also wishes to make a claim for what is termed the "persistence" of disability in contemporary writing, an idea that connects writing over the last 25 years back to the modes of disability representation established early in the twentieth century. As such, it starts with a set of thoughts about Virginia Woolf's half-sister Laura Stephen, disabled and ultimately institutionalized, and the ways in which a reading of the presence of Laura in Woolf's fiction suggests a method that allows for a more sophisticated analysis of the instances of disability in contemporary writing. The article then discusses marginality, metaphor, and materiality in a range of contemporary texts, suggesting that, although frequent and highly problematic representations of characters with disabilities continue, there are appropriate metaphors that can reflect the productivity of disability aesthetics and disabled lives. It ends with an analysis of J. M. Coetzee's 1986 novel Foe, which aligns this idea of productive metaphor with a reading of the disability ethics suggested by material location and narrative possibility.

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Murray, Stuart