The Effect of Rhetoric on Representation as Argued in Signifying Bodies and Showcased in Cockeyed

Summary; 2018

In G. Thomas Couser’s chapter, “Rhetoric and Self-Representation in Disability Memoir” in Signifying Bodies, he argues that autobiographies from marginalized groups such as disabled people have the power to remove the social, economic and political domination in their lives. This is because they are given the power to represent themselves. In the chapter, Couser focuses on “rhetoric” (i.e. the way the narrator tells their story), illustrating with real disability memoirs how the various types of rhetoric – “triumph, horror, spiritual compensation, and nostalgia”, enforces the stigma and marginalization of disabled people (33). In the end, Couser introduces the rhetoric of emancipation in the memoir I Raise My Eyes to Say Yes by Ruth Sienkiewicz-Mercer and Steven B. Kaplan. Couser explains that Sienkiewicz-Mercer illustrates disability as something that can be accommodated if society removes the ‘physical, social and cultural obstacles’ (44) that it has created, as opposed to something that requires fixing. These types of social accommodations contribute to the positive representation of disabled people.

One rhetoric that was present in the disability memoir Cockeyed by Ryan Knighton, was “rhetoric of nostalgia” (Couser 38). Couser exemplifies with the memoir The Driving Bell and the Butterfly by Dominque Bauby, that this rhetoric is when the narrator tells his story reminiscing in when they were not disabled. The consequence of the rhetoric is it enforces the perception that disability makes someone less of a person. In Cockeyed, this rhetoric was present in Ryan denying his blindness by refusing to get a cane and enduring relentless injuries from bumping into things. This creates great sympathy for Ryan especially when he fell into “oncoming traffic” (Knighton 60) because it emphasised that his deteriorating vision puts him in constant danger. This subconsciously created the impression that he was less of a person than he was before losing his vision, which is in line with the consequence of “rhetoric of nostalgia” (Couser 38).

However, in Cockeyed, “rhetoric of nostalgia” (38) was then replaced with “rhetoric of emancipation” (44), as Ryan learned to accept his disability, and that it does not define him. Couser illustrates with the memoir I Raise My Eyes to Say Yes that this rhetoric is when the narrator reveals that what causes the discrimination of disabled people, is society’s perception of disability and not the actual physical or mental disability. This was present in Knighton’s memoir when he had a “shift in perspective” (71). Ryan realised that people have multiple reactions to him using a cane, because of their perception of disability and feelings towards those who have disabilities (72).

In conclusion, Couser’s chapter has highlighted the lost potential of some disability memoirs for challenging stigmas because of their rhetoric. In addition, Cockeyed has illustrated that different types of rhetoric can be present in a single disability memoir. This could have been because like understanding disability, for those who are disabled, accepting it can also be a process. Hence, it is crucial that when people read memoirs from marginalized groups, they understand that it represents the individual first and foremost but are critical about how those personal narratives represent the collective.

Work Cited

Couser, G. T. Signifying Bodies: Disability in Contemporary Life Writing. University of Michigan Press, 2009.

Knighton, Ryan. Cockeyed: a Memoir. PublicAffairs, 2006.

Book Review – The Speechwriter: A Brief Education in Politics

Name: The Speechwriter: A Brief Education in Politics
Author: Barton Swaim
ISBN: 978-1-4767-6992-9
Genre: Politics, Non-Fiction, Memoir
Pages: 204
Difficulty: 3/5 Dictionaries

Brief Introduction:

Barton Swaim is new to the world of politics, but he is now a speechwriter for a local governor, and is willing to learn. Indeed, he learns a lot. Through the eyes of Barton Swaim, we get an honest insight into the ins and outs of the world of politics.

Favourite Quote:

“Stella, I wish you had said that.”

She had tears in her eyes.

Reasons Why You Too Should Read It:

  1. What is politics?

Swaim is still trying to figure it out, and you probably are too, so pick up this book! Swaim brings you on a range experiences, from his miniscule tasks to the emotion every staff felt after the governor’s scandal had destroyed their hard work.

  1. It is raw and honest.

Yes, Swaim is neutral in his writing. He ‘wrote [the book] because he had to ” and for you to enjoy. In addition, he is not afraid to tell you how he felt when his writing was sent back by the governor, or what he did to try to keep his job. This allows us readers to trust the book, thus giving us reliable insight into the world of politics.

  1. How is language used?

Of course, with the job of a speechwriter, Swaim’s experience revolves around writing. In fact, there are a few chapters that focus solely on writing and the use of language. For example, Swaim teaches us the importance of nuance when he begins transcribing his letters to understand “the reason for [the governor’s] choice of words”. In addition, I realised that we all have a unique set of writing style, and it speaks volume* about us.

*You’ll understand the reason for the phrase if you read the book 🙂

A long overdue book review, my apologies. I would love to hear what you guys think and know what book(s) you are reading now. Do leave a comment!
Love, Temidayo