Disability Drama: Semiotic Bodies and Diegetic Subjectivities in post-WWI German Expressionist Drama
Cattell, Allison G.
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In this dissertation, I examine discourses on disability and the body in three German Expressionist dramas written directly after WWI both for the discursive work they do in this context and for their relevance today: Ernst Toller’s Die Wandlung: Das Ringen eines Menschen (1918) and Der deutsche Hinkemann (1923) as well as Karl August Wittfogel’s Der Krüppel (1920). I analyze how these plays draw on ideas about disability in post-WWI Germany in the midst of a broad-ranging critique of the violence inherent in nationalistic, militaristic, economic, and rehabilitationist discourses. The analysis contributes to the current discussion on how to dismantle what are referred to in disability studies as “disabling discourses,” that is, those discourses that lend support to discrimination against bodies marked as disabled. I contend that the use of representation to subvert bodily norms and resist “the medical model of disability” did not begin only after the emergence of the disability rights movement. I demonstrate how these three Expressionist plays indeed resist disabling discourses in ways that were both feasible and intelligible in their context. I argue that not only was the discourse on disability in this time and place multiple, but also that the primary texts use of a variety of (literary) strategies to resist normative paradigms that privilege able-bodied, aesthetically-pleasing, and economically-productive bodies. The analysis shows how these representations pose a challenge the medical mode of understanding the body, critically engage the social stigma that often accompanies the presence of disability, and offer alternative ways of reading and valuing the body. I argue that literary representations of disability can serve to de-naturalize ideas about ability and other ideals of embodiment, and that even the hyperbolic bodies one encounters in these Expressionist dramas can help readers to better understand processes of disablement. This project will also demonstrate that literary representations of disability are of importance for disabled and non-disabled persons alike because they reveal and critically engage various techniques that are used to categorize and assign value to all bodies in a society in which ideals of ability, beauty, and utility are used to assess the value of life.