Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Fighting Monsters Without Becoming One Part 3: The Power in Dual Voices

The Power in Dual Voices
Last week, I wrote about the power of diversity in the form of artistic experiences. However, Robert F. Murphy indicates that in his experience with a disability (as with mine.), these experiences form dualities, and even change the symbolic meaning of actions once taken for granted in the able-bodied lifeworld. A pat on the shoulder becomes opaque in meaning: “The dentist was putting me in my place and treating me as one would a child, but the students were affirming a bond. They were reaching over a wall and asserting that they were on my side.”9 (Murphy 1987 p. 127)
This ambiguity in symbolic worlds continually force Murphy through his dogged determination to re-evaluate relationships and signs, even with relationships once so close as his wife. Says Murphy: “There has crept into my voice at times an edge of querulousness that was never there before, and it bothers Yolanda almost as much as it does me.” (Murphy 1987 p. 215) Many times, she reads into his requests for assistance as a demand, and in anticipation of the negative response, he begets one. This brings to bear one of Nietzsche’s observations, that intellect or even voice, to use Evans terminology, often becomes a weapon inadvertently in the absence of other dissimulating tools. “The intellect, as a means for the preserving of the individual, develops its main powers in dissimulation; for this is the means by which weaker, less robust individuals survive, since in the struggle for existence they are denied the horns and sharp teeth of beasts of prey.” 10 (Nietzsche 1873/Gilman et al. 1989 p. 247) One has do make do with the tools one is provided; unfortunately tools like knives can double as weapons. The same is true of misinterpreted calls for help.
These voices battling for primacy in the multivoiced body of disability all have one thing in common. Whether the voice of “dys-appearance”, “the homeland”, or Robert F. Murphy’s “edge of querulousness”, they all take strength to form at any given moment in one body without tearing it asunder. It is from this observation that I have gained my own insight into the superhuman. Though it relates closely to Nietzsche’s ├╝bermensch, it is not necessarily Nietzschean. At least, no more Nietzschean than the theory of gravity is Italian for being discovered by an Italian. It is that natural dogged determination and creative force which takes over where other abilities are lacking. Drew Leder articulates this force as phenomenological, Michalko gives it force and direction, and Murphy reveals it as a Bakhtinian hybrid and multivoiced body, though he does not use these terms. Evans says of hybridization: “This notion is important for us because it provides a precise portrayal of how voices can be “inside” one another, how each voice is a dynamic hybrid.” (Evans 2009 p. 63)
All of these conceptions hybridized together highlight a social problematic that ultimately ends in paradox. Disability both increases strength and limits it; it includes a community of disability in the mainstream, and distinguishes itself from the mainstream by identifying itself by the source of its greatest strength, and its greatest physical limit. The voices of disability culture, a continual hybrid of quiet observation, querulous reservation, and superhuman determination is always in play within society. Voices both less vocal and more silent than my own. Some voices in the multivoiced body of disability are literally and figuratively mute, and unexplored.
I myself can only explore the proverbial Sphinx desert of mobility impairments, and face the myths of old Greek bodily “perfection”. The Greeks had their own king who with the help of his walking stick, answered the riddle of the man-eating Sphinx, and saved the town of Thebes. Yet, his name was Oedipus, and today he is the very symbol of cultural taboo and repression; even expressed in his body image, he was what the ancient Greek repressed. But, it is because of his voice and body that his good deed is not overshadowed by what was repressed in the memory of Western civilization; the preference of body image over lived experience. In the words of Nietzsche, the multivoiced body of disability forces us all to ask: “Who of us is Oedipus here? Who the Sphinx? It is a rendezvous, it seems, of questions and question marks.” Again, the abyss stares at everyone, both hauntingly and invitingly.
“Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And when you look long into the abyss, the abyss also looks into you.” This should tell all of us within the multivoiced body of disability that we all have monsters to slay, values to set in their place. Even those who do not have disabilities will look into those who do, and see themselves. This I know from having my own mirror, an able-bodied twin who looks back at me and sees me as a spirit of courage, as I see him, and we sense that we are perhaps somewhat unknowable. Together, we have emerged as a living testament to the multivoiced body I have discussed: silent, across homelands, and whirling inside of a functional dys-appearance.
So, following the advice of Nietzsche, one must ask what is more difficult: to slay dragons, or to offer a hand to the ghosts that would frighten us? I cannot speak for all people with disabilities, for I am only one aggregate of voices. Let those voices resonate with people of all abilities and disabilities, that they may once again become Sphinxes and riddle-solvers to my questions together. Within a body of chaos and paradox, there is life, and superhuman potential. As Nietzsche’s Zarathustra spoke in his Prologue: “I say unto you: one must still have chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star.” (Nietzsche 1885/Kaufmann 1974 p. 129)

  1. Evans, Murphy. (2009) The Multivoiced Body: Society and Communication in the Age of Diversity. New York: Columbia University Press.

  2. Gilman, Sander L. et al. (1989) Friedrich Nietzsche on Rhetoric and Language: With the Full Text of His Lectures on Rhetoric Published for the First Time. New York: Oxford University Press. p. 246-256. On Truth and Lying in an Extra-Moral Sense. Nietzsche, Friedrich. (1879)

  3. Leder, Drew. (1990) The Absent Body. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

  4. Michalko, Rod. (2002) The Difference That Disability Makes. Chicago: Temple University Press.

  5. Murphy, Robert Francis. (1987) The Body Silent: The Different World of the Disabled: The Different World of the Disabled. W. W. Norton & Company Inc: New York.

  6. Kaufmann, Walter. (1974) The Portable Nietzsche. Chicago: Chicago University Press. p. 124-129. Thus Spoke Zarathustra: Part One: The Prologue. Nietzsche, Friedrich (1885)

  7. Nietzsche, Friedrich. (1886) Trans. Kaufmann, Walter. (1963) Beyond Good and Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future. Chicago: Chicago University Press.

  8. Nietzsche, Friedrich. (1886/1888) Trans. Kaufmann, Walter. Hollingdale, R.J. (1989) On the Genealogy of Morals and Ecce Homo. Chicago: Chicago University Press.

  9. Nietzsche, Friedrich. (1872/1888) Trans. Kaufmann, Walter. (1967) The Birth of Tragedy out of the Spirit of Music and The Case of Wagner. Chicago: Chicago University Press.

  10. Safranski , Rudiger (2000). Trans. Frisch, Shelley. (2002) Nietzsche: A Philosophical Autobiography. New York, London: W.W. Norton & Company Inc.


  1. Hi Chris,
    I very much enjoy reading your posts. Inside of your words I experience empathy, humility, and self-awareness. I wanted to share with you that as a dancer or someone who works out ideas through movement, I too gravitate towards these impulses to reconcile otherness/duality/balance. I like to think of "working out" these ideas as my own aesthetic and personal practice for defining self and the world around. Sometimes it feels like a very uncertain place where a lot of times I have to be ok with not knowing what it all means or if it means anything at all! But I guess that is part of why we do what we do!

    Thanks again and looking forward to the next post.

  2. Hi Noelle! Thanks for reading! I suppose it would take a dancer to make a dancing star from all that chaos! And of course, "working out" the noise is how you get music.