Revising the Subject:
Disability as "Third Dimension" in Clear Light of Day and You Have Come Back

by Cindy LaCom

in NWSA Journal Special Issue on Feminist Disability Studies, (National Women's Studies Association)
pp. 138-154 Vol. 14, #2, Fall 2002, Indiana University Press, Bloomington, USA.

Copied from Google cache in May 2006.



When considering the work of post-colonial scholars, it becomes apparent that missing from the list of the oppressed and marginalized are those who are doubly colonized with physical and mental disabilities. If, as Frantz Fanon has argued, Othering occurs on the basis of physical and verbal difference, then that colonized subject who is Other in terms of body and voice is made doubly Other by means of her disability. In this paper, I examine the social framing and ideological work of disabled characters in two texts, Anita Desai's Clear Light of Dayand Fatima Gallaire-Bourega's You Have Come Back. Using these texts' main characters-Baba, who is autistic (Desai), and the Madwoman and the Cripple (Gallaire-Bourega)-I argue that the incorporation of a disability studies perspective in post-colonial and feminist critiques can enrich our understanding of the dialectic between colonizer and colonized and refigure our consideration of hybridity. Though Desai and Gallaire-Bourega resist simple "answers" to the question of how gender intersects with disability in post-colonial worlds, both offer provocative instances of the transgressive potential of "different" bodies.

Keywords: disability / disability studies / feminist / feminism / gender / identity / nationalism / nation-building / post-colonialism



In Culture and Imperialism, Edward Said states that the work of postcolonial scholars "should be seen as sharing concerns with minority and 'suppressed' voices within the metropolis itself: feminists, African-American writers, intellectuals, artists, among others" (1994, 54). Missing from his list, however-and, arguably, from too many analyses of the mechanisms of oppression and liberation-is a consideration of those with physical and/or mental disabilities.(1) To begin to address and "fill in" that gap, I examine characters in two texts, Anita Desai's Clear Light of Day (1980) and Fatima Gallaire-Bourega's You Have Come Back(1988), to argue that the disabled characters in each text serve critical political and ideological purposes during a particular postcolonial moment in their respective nations.

It has become a theoretical commonplace to argue, as Frantz Fanon does, that Othering occurs on the basis of physical and verbal difference (1963). To that end, narrative desire-the impulse to tell stories-"underlies the ways we construct the so-called normal and the aberrant, and the ways we explain the disjunctions between the two" (Epstein 1995, 19). Judith Butler reiterates this point in Bodies that Matter when she writes that "the subject is constituted through the force of exclusion and abjection, one which produces a constitutive outside to the subject, an abjected outside" (1993, 3). In a post-structuralist and post-Foucauldian world, we are all familiar with the idea that we can only conceive of normalcy by conceiving of its opposite: deviance. And in traditional readings, the colonized body has been that abjected outside against which the British body-civilized, civilizing, normal-is constituted, at both a cultural and a more literal level. Perhaps the best example of this is the so-called "Hottentot Venus," whose enlarged labia and buttocks, circulated in the freak shows of Victorian England, marked her as savagely sensuous and measurably different from the English angel in the house.

But if the colonized body constitutes the abjected outside, if it is part of what Alexander and Mohanty call a "citizenship machinery which excludes and marginalizes particular constituencies on the basis of their difference," how are we to read the disabled colonized body (1997, xxxi)? How does it fit into this dialectic between colonizer and colonized and into the transaction of the post-colonial world? From a Bakhtinian perspective, one might argue that the very grotesqueness of disability has the potential to disrupt hegemonic paradigms and revise cultural norms. Donna Haraway considers such a possibility in "A Cyborg Manifesto," where she claims that the cyborg has the ability to transcend, transgress, and destroy boundaries (1998). And often, reading disability in terms of transgressive power provides a useful means for deconstructing the traditional paradigm of disability as tragedy. But in most literary texts which incorporate characters with disabilities, that liberatory and transformative potential is written in the margins and difficult to detect if it is expressed at all.

The "Third Dimension"

In order to do justice to the complex cultural and ideological work of disability and enrich my exploration of possible meanings of disability in postcolonial texts, I will incorporate Homi Bhabha's idea of the "third dimension" outlined in The Location of Culture (1994) in my readings of Desai's novel and Gallaire-Bourega's play.

The third dimension, as Bhabha describes it, exists in the moment of recognition that Self cannot be wholly contained within a Self/Other binary, a binary dependent upon fixed and static boundaries. In other words, as soon as we recognize that the chasm which divides us from them is artificial and reductionist, we move into a place where identity is ambivalent and mutable. As Bhabha notes, the very struggle to maintain that Self/Other binary articulates the possibility of slippage between the two categories and reminds us that "identity is never an a priori, nor a finished product; it is only ever the problematic process of access to an image of totality" (51).

In contemplating moments of potential slippage between identity categories, Bhahba develops the idea of the "evil eye," that figure which reminds us of what is missing or invisible in a text, those figures whose gaze "alienates both the narratorial I of the slave and the surveillant eye of the master" (53). The evil eye is the outside, the margin, that "structure of difference" which blurs the gap between slave and master by making both objects of observation and judgment. In this capacity, the evil eye has power because it unsettles the simplistic polarities of Self/Other, because it resists that image of totality so important in myths both of imperial and postcolonial worlds.

I want to use this image of totality to turn now to an examination of the disabled body which, almost universally perceived in terms of lack, comes to symbolize the impossibility of totality, acting then as a sort of evil eye which reminds us of what is absent. Harlan Hahn reads the crosscultural and ahistorical recoil from those with disabilities as an expression of what he calls "existential angst" (1988). In considering the segregation of those with disabilities in ableist cultures-and he argues that most cultures are and have been ableist (5) -Hahn suggests that we seek to distinguish ourselves from disabled bodies because we understand the very real possibility that those bodies can become our own. At the most basic level, then, we Other those with physical and mental disabilities in order to shore up our own very temporal sense of able-bodiedness. After all, "No one is immune from becoming disabled" (Boyle 1991, 1).

Given this, I want to suggest that the disabled body informs Bhabha's third dimension, that site where identity is negotiated, in critical ways. If, as Bhabha suggests, "the very question of identification only emerges in-between disavowal and designation" (1994, 50), then the disabled body multiplies the possible terms of disavowal for both the colonizer and the colonized; because disability can be a more evident signifier even than the color of one's skin, it becomes a visual means by which to define normalcy and, by extension, nation. And though Bhabha suggests that interstitial (in-between) spaces can foster those moments of recognition and of connectedness essential to the creation of a heterogeneous nation (because difference itself is temporal and co-exists with similarity), such moments are largely absent in the texts of Desai and Gallaire-Bourega who, in a post-modern move, negate the hope of such synthesis.

Disability and the Dialectics of Nation-Building

Acknowledging the prevalence of differentiation rather than synthesis in nation-building, Jean-Paul Sartre writes in his "Preface" to Fanon's The Wretched of the Earth that "the European has only been able to become a man through creating slaves and monsters" (1963, 26). Similarly, I will suggest, the colonized are only able to "become men," to establish a national identity in the historical moment of decolonization, through the reification of a new category of monsters-the disabled, the deformed, the mad. To that end, disability designates a docile body upon which nationalist tensions can be arbitrated and against which a rationalist ideology can pull "a collection of disparate peoples into a self-identified nation" (Heng 1997, 31).

A second category which emerges in this moment of nation-building is woman. This is especially true in many Middle Eastern countries, where women's roles grow increasingly constricted as sharp gendered boundaries evolve in the chaos created by the colonizer's departure. As Deniz Kandiyoti notes, many Muslims draw a correlation between feminism and cultural imperialism, so that the woman who resists culturally sanctioned behaviors in a postcolonial world comes to be understood as undermining the project of nationalism (1991, 5-8). Women become, as Amrita Chhachhi puts it, "the symbols and repositories of communal/ group/national identity . . . [so that] [t]hreats to or the loss of control over their women . . . are seen as direct threats to manhood/community/ family. It therefore becomes essential to ensure patriarchal controls over the labour, fertility, and sexuality of women" (1991, 163-5).

In the two texts to which I now turn my attention, I argue that the disabled body defines and delimits transformative possibilities and becomes a kind of repository for the anxiety that arises from mediation between old and new cultural norms. I also consider the meanings of a convergence between disabled and woman as identity categories.

Though Fanon has been critiqued for a too-simplistic understanding of the colonizer/colonized dynamic, his conception of the processes of decolonization and nation building is useful here. He argues that "Decolonization unifies [a] people by the radical decision to remove from it its heterogeneity, and by unifying it on a national, sometimes a racial, basis" (1963, 46). Along with postcolonial feminist critics, I would add gender to the list.

If we look around, we can see that oppressive and homogenizing impulse in, for instance, the Islamic fundamentalism gaining such power in Iran and which is becoming more of a force in certain other Middle Eastern cultures. The simplest reading of the disabled body in postcolonial cultures, then, might be that it provides the difference against which a homogenous national body is defined. Or as Rosemarie Garland Thomson puts it in Extraordinary Bodies, reading the disabled body as Other supports the belief "that each citizen is a microcosm of the nation as a whole. A well-regulated self thus contributes to a well-regulated nation" (1997, 42).

Part of this regulation is the literal and symbolic regulation of the bodies both of women and of people with disabilities. An imperative of homogeneity contributes to a social environment where bodies out of bounds are understood to have the potential to undermine the project of nationalism. At such moments, individual bodies are often imbued with the metonymic power to represent the "social body," giving rise to a category of in/valid bodies which includes people with disabilities and women who refuse to enact "appropriate" behaviors. As Poovey puts it, "The process by which a national identity is consolidated and maintained is . . . one of differentiation and displacement-the differentiation of the national us from aliens within and without" (1995, 55).

Anita Desai's Clear Light of Day

In the novel, Clear Light of Day, Anita Desai explores the ambivalent role of characters with disabilities, both as sites of transgression and as repositories for cultural tensions in a postcolonial world. In it, Desai uses the family as microcosm for larger national concerns, as she does in many of her fictional explorations of postcolonial themes (for instance, in Fire on the Mountain [1977] and Baumgartner's Bombay [1988]). The novel traces the tensions of a Hindu family reunited in the family home, where one sister, Bim, who has stayed there caring for Baba, represents Indian culture, while the other sister, Tara, represents more Western values. In essence, the family dynamics as the sisters confront their differences and struggle to balance old and new worlds become a microcosmic exploration of larger national concerns, establishing a "parallel movement between British withdrawal from India and the progressive emptying out of the Das home . . . [making] a distinct point about the erosion of cultural frames of reference" (Mohan 1997, 49).

In the midst of their negotiations exists their brother Baba, who is developmentally disabled. At one level, Baba represents the naive dream of detachment from postcolonial negotiations of power, i.e., that one can somehow remove oneself from such negotiations. He is literally left out of almost all arguments between his sisters and thus exempt from the anguish caused by such altercations.

But the slippage of identity, which occurs when the sisters struggle to understand one another's narratives, is fostered by Baba's own fluid movement between symbolic identity categories. If on one hand he reflects Bim's passive resistance to change (he is addicted to order, ritual, to the known and familiar), he also embodies Tara's internalization of Western values, articulated in the American music to which he compulsively listens. As Rajeswari Mohan notes, "Brought to India by the American GIs and British Tommies, this music is coded as the monstrous and cosmic intrusion of Western popular culture" (1997, 51). On the surface, then, his disability marks him as uniquely able to simultaneously participate in imperial standards and to reject them by escaping reality. Because of this dual role, he becomes the focus of his two sisters as they attempt to mediate between old and new cultural norms. At one point in the first part of the novel, Tara persistently asks Baba if he is going to go into the office to perform duties of which he is blatantly incapable; later that day, when one of his records develops a skip, he rushes off the property only to witness a man beating a horse and to return, disoriented and deeply upset, "as if he were an amputee" (Desai 1980, 15). In many respects, he is: that which is absent in him serves to justify why Bim has not changed and to explain why Tara recoils from "those silences and shadows" representative of "Old Delhi decadence" (15). Literally, then, it is through his body (his silence, his compulsions, his ghostly presence) that the two sisters attempt to negotiate a balance between old and new India.

His "amputation" has gendered connotations, as well. Baba is feminized by his disability in overt ways: he is not self-supporting, he does not participate in the public world, and he is very gentle. But Baba also lives in a semiotic world, resisting entry into the symbolic by means of his music and his mutterings. Graham Huggan suggests that "silence and music in several postcolonial texts can be seen . . . as providing alternative, non-verbal codes which subvert and/or replace those earlier, over-determined narratives of colonial encounter in which the word is recognized to have played a crucial role in the production of and maintenance of colonial hierarchies of power" (1990, 13). Like Baba, Aunt Mira, the alcoholic aunt who cared for the siblings when they were children, retreats into the semiotic and challenges social order with wildly transgressive acts-for instance, running naked and drunk in public. Aunt Mira does not fill a culturally-sanctioned role, for she is not mother, wife, or worker. Rather, like Baba, she hovers at the edge of a "new" Indian society. Both characters act as constant irritants, refusing to fit neatly into either old or new cultural paradigms. In fact, their inability to fit in either category reminds us that such polarities (an old versus new world order) are simplistic, unrealistic, and unrealizable.

To that end, Baba and Aunt Mira have subversive potential; they function as the evil eye that observes and resists inclusion. Though Baba and Aunt Mira are in many respects passive figures upon which tensions are worked out, the novel itself resists resolution and suggests, instead, that the process of negotiation will be ongoing. After one of her final outbursts of resentment, Bim comes to recognize that "It was Baba's silence and reserve and otherworldliness that she had wanted to break open and ransack and rob" (Desai 1980, 164). And yet Baba himself-whose story is never told first-hand, whose motives and memories remain a blank in the sisters' efforts to reconstitute their pasts and thus their present-remains silent, a third space which is indeterminate and unrepresentable. He is that Stranger "whose languageless presence evokes an archaic anxiety and aggressivity" by highlighting the opacity of language in a story where language is all (Bhabha 1994, 166). Those who do not speak, or who do not speak with the dialect of the new nation, are dangerous, and their threat to nationhood must be contained. One means of containment is making static an "extraordinary body." This, I argue, is what happens with Baba: initially dangerous because of his fluid identity, he is neutralized when the sisters fix his identity as silent shadow, recipient of their dual care, loveable burden. Thus, together they situate him in a particular role as dependent and knowable. Towards the end of the novel, Desai momentarily reconsiders the idea of Baba as fixed in his difference from the sisters, offering a fleeting hope of connectedness in place of differentiation. In this scene, Bim brings Baba his tea and

felt an immense, almost irresistible yearning to lie down beside him on the bed, stretch out limb to limb, silent and immobile together. She felt that they must be the same length, that his slightness would fit in beside her size. . . . Together they would form a whole that would be perfect and pure. She needed only to lie down and stretch out beside him to become whole and perfect. Instead, she went out. (1980, 166)

The opportunity of this moment-the impulse towards familiarity if not recognized similarity-is rejected, and the transformative power represented by Baba is negated. In the very next scene, Baba is absent while the sisters "paced the terrace" (166).

Given this, I am not convinced that the sisters accept him "as one of their own" (Huggan 1990, 15). Their tentative reconciliation is forged via acknowledgment of past memories and the articulation of shared familial bonds. But Baba's silence places him outside this reconciliation, and ultimately, he serves as an Other, an abject outside by which the sisters establish their renewed ties. If, as Bhabha suggests, "the work of hegemony is itself the process of iteration and differentiation [which] depends on the production of alternative or antagonistic images that are always produced side by side and in competition with each other," then we can understand "a politics of struggle as the struggle of identifications and the war of positions" (1994, 29). The struggle of identifications by the sisters occurs next to Baba's increasingly stable identity against which the sisters articulate a sense of unity.

Desai recognizes the temporal nature of that unity and reconciliation-as Tara reminds Bim, "it's never over. Nothing's over, ever" (1980, 174). I agree with Trinh T. Minh-ha that "Silence as a refusal to partake in the story does sometimes provide us with a means to gain a hearing" (1989, 83), but in this novel, the "clear light of day," that sense of community and connectedness which Bim experiences during a musical gathering at the novel's climax, tends to elude Baba, whose "face was grave, like an image carved in stone" (Desai 1994, 182). Unlike his sisters, mobile, fluid, struggling to negotiate the changing nature of postcolonial India and their roles within it, Baba ultimately is cast in stone, fixed, excluded from the dialectic of nationhood.

Fatima Gallaire-Bourega's You Have Come Back

M. Jacqui Alexander notes that the process of colonization demands a reconfiguration of identity and, by extension, women's sexuality (1991, 134). In the wake of liberation from imperial forces, the process of nationbuilding often demands a reconstitution of women's sexuality as part of the differentiation which occurs in the creation of a new national identity. Such differentiation is at the heart of Gallaire-Bourega's play, You Have Come Back, in which the main character, Lella, returns to her Algerian home after leaving it twenty years before to marry a French man (1988). Having learned of the death of her father, the man who disowned her upon her act of cultural betrayal, she comes back. Welcomed by her old servants and by the younger women in the community, she is nonetheless warned to depart by Nounou, her old nurse, and by the Madwoman, an older woman despised and reviled in her community. The threat to Lella's safety is not initially articulated, but in the latter part of the play, she is visited by a group of older Algerian women, representing nationalist forces, who enact her father's will by killing her after she refuses to renounce her French, Christian husband.

The play has three characters on whom I will focus: the Madwoman; the Cripple, an old man who appears midway through the play to add his warning to that of the Madwoman's; and Lella herself. The first two characters enact a kind of chorus, commenting on the moral qualities of other characters and offering insights into the play's ethical and political dimensions.

The Madwoman does four things in the play: when one of the young women flatters Lella, she cries out, "Rock your pain"; when Lella describes her husband as a "pleasant companion and . . . a wonderful lover", the Madwoman cries "Brava!" twice (183). The third thing she does is dance madly until she falls into a faint after a woman begins a song of rejoic ing; and her final act is to interrupt by wildly howling a story of how one of the young women pleased her mother-in-law by having an operation that "opened [her] womb" (188). Each of the acts constitutes a cultural critique: in the first, her cry calls into question the sincerity of the young woman who praises Lella; in the second, she celebrates an act seen as traitorous by others; in the third, her wild dance ending in a transient death, a faint, undermines the celebratory ambiance of the luncheon; and finally, her howling initiates blood-thirsty anger among the young women, who say at this juncture things like "kill her" and "give her a blow to knock her out" (189). It is important to note that the Madwoman is hated, then, not only by the group of older Algerian women at the end of the play representing nationalist forces, but also by these younger women who purportedly represent postcolonial evolution.

Their response to the Madwoman reinforces Fanon's argument that violence is an often necessary element in the development of a new nation and the destruction of colonial structures. Calling into question the idea of passive resistance, he suggests that change is the result of one of two causes: "either of violent struggle on the part of the people in their own right, or of action on the part of surrounding colonized peoples which acts as a brake on the colonial regime in question" (1963, 70). Because the Madwoman defends Lella and transgresses national and cultural boundaries, she is beaten into silence by the young women. Her silencing, re-enacted at the end of the play when Lella is herself set upon by the older Algerian women and beaten to death, signals the power of the collective against the radical individual. But she also functions, I am suggesting, as the evil eye, that disruptive figure who does not fit anywhere and who, from the margins, refuses to allow the women to take refuge in myths of harmony and totality. Like Baba, the Madwoman uses the semiotic, in itself arguably subversive; her very inarticulateness enacts a hybridity of language "associated with vacillating boundaries-psychic, cultural, territorial" (Bhabha 1994, 59). Those vacillating boundaries negate the fixed world that the first part of this play so futilely attempts to maintain.

Ultimately, Lella cannot "come back," cannot import her hybrid identity into a culture whose nationalist fervor increasingly negates heterogeneity. Though the women attempt to make the Madwoman that Sartrean monster upon whom they might build a nation, they ultimately cannot. Their efforts fail and the tension between old and new norms reasserts itself. Thus, though the women attempt to inscribe the Madwoman's body as a repository for anxieties about national identity, to make it that Other against which they can define an Algerian identity, her disabled body cannot contain those anxieties. Failing to do so, it is expelled. The expulsion is only temporary, however, because the fluid nature of hegemonic paradigms means that subversive forces will also be changeable. Each new hegemonic paradigm is simultaneously in need of a monstrous figure against which to define a standard of normalcy and is disrupted by a new evil eye which threatens its borders. The disappearance of the Madwoman cannot guarantee against her re-appearance as a different monster, a different re/presentation of that evil eye.

To that end, the Madwoman is replaced by the Cripple, another figure who disrupts the apparently joyous reunion with warnings of danger. Like the Madwoman, the Cripple's very body is transgressive: he drags himself about with shoes worn on his hands; his posture is "twisted and ludicrous"; and he looks enough like a gargoyle to make the women scream and hide their faces when he appears. Lella dismisses him after he delivers his warning, but in the echo of "the sound of his thumping down the stairs," her heart is "suddenly filled with sadness and questions" (194). Too late, she recognizes that her desire to come back is nostalgic, unrealizable, and dangerous. In the play's last scene, she is murdered, along with the Madwoman and the Cripple.

Like them, Lella has no place in a nation whose gendered categories are so sharply demarcated. Though her marriage to a Christian stigmatizes her in a Muslim country, her overtly-expressed sexuality marks her perhaps even more fully in a nation where women are veiled and public expression of female sexuality is taboo. I agree with Evelyne Accad that sexuality is "central to social and political problems in the Middle East" (1991, 237), and there is literally nowhere in the new dialectic of nationhood for Lella's distinctly undocile body. Gayatri Spivak examines the problematic of where women fit in this historical moment in A Critique of Postcolonial Reason:

Between patriarchy and imperialism, subject-constitution and object-formation, the figure of the woman disappears, not into a pristine nothingness, but into a violent shuttling that is the displaced figuration of the "third-world" woman caught between tradition and modernization, culturalism and development. (1999, 304)

Lella, who "shuttles" back and forth between the tenuous welcome of the younger women and the rigid judgment of the older, becomes a kind of disabled figure in the play, whose disability is marked by that physical body which resists "cultural authenticity expressed in Islamic terms" (Kandiyoti 1991, 3). I am arguing, in essence, that this collapse between the identity categories of woman and disabled suggests that those women who resist postcolonial patriarchal rules of behavior are stigmatized. Due to that stigmitization, they become partners with people with disabilities in the creation of a site where national identity is negotiated against and in opposition to their bodies.

Both the Madwoman and the Cripple embody subversive possibilities through their warnings to Lella and their refusal to be silenced as they challenge both class hierarchies and the scopic regime that seeks to regulate them. At the play's end, however, both fail to evoke overt or measurable transformation of their nation, and in that failure, their disabilities become totalizing: the Madwoman is ignored because she is mad, while the Cripple's claim, "They will not get past my body," resonates ironically because of its complex truth; in fact, they never do get past his body. Though Gallaire-Bourega suggests that resistance to Islamic nationalist efforts is inherently disabling-the connections between Lella's and the misfits' identities becomes completely clear by the play's close-the exclusion and cultural dismissal of the disabled by both the new and the old Algerian cultural orders suggests that one's body limits one's role in either regime.

However, though the younger Algerian women do not reject Lella, they abandon her in the face of the more culturally-sanctioned appearance of the older Algerian women, whose behavior is approved (and directed) by Lella's dead father, that most literal patriarchal figure. She, like the Madwoman and the Cripple, fails to transform or transcend this moment of deep cultural anxiety; she cannot come back to a nation and homeland that marks her as deviant and dangerous.

By emphasizing the similarities between Lella and those characters with disabilities, Gallaire-Bourega inscribes into the margins of her play the potential of those interstitial spaces where difference is renegotiated. In doing so, she opens the door to possible deconstruction both of disability and woman as fixed identity categories. But their exile by death limits that subversive potential. The in-between spaces created by interaction are fleeting, subsumed ultimately by a violent expulsion of difference that is understood as threatening to a hard-won national identity. Gallaire-Bourega, personally invested in deconstructing a homogenous national identity which excludes difference, explores issues of oppression, and hybridity in many of her plays. In Madame Bertin's Testimony, Madame Bertin speaks in a monologue of her life, her husband, and her suspicions of his pedophilia (1995). At the play's end, she discloses herself as Monsieur Bertin, dressed as his wife. An example of hybridity and symbiosis but also of complex power negotiations, the play repeats certain themes of You Have Come Back. More generally, as an Algerian who has chosen to live in France and who writes and publishes her plays in French, Gallaire-Bourega has struggled to "integrate the two languages and cultures" (Temerson and Kourilsky 1988, 165). Recognizing that such efforts may well be transitory, she nonetheless returns repeatedly to the subversive possibility of such moments.

Thus, some transgressive potential remains in the echo of the Madwoman's cries and in the shadow of the Cripple's halting figure. The recirculation of their disabled bodies suggests that, though temporarily exiled, other disabled bodies will reappear to disrupt the oppressive process of nation-building. Ultimately, the gaze of the evil eye can be only temporarily ignored. Thus, though the final stage directions show us the elder women bowing and kissing the male Elder's hand as they leave the murderous scene, the last image on stage pairs the Elder with Lella's body, which remains on stage. The ironic "call to prayer" which closes the stage directions, and the play, echoes just as does the sight of Lella's body: however still and silent, it remains before our eyes, a visual reminder that such subversive elements will not-cannot-simply disappear.


In both texts, physical, mental, and gender-based stigmas create and maintain a status quo where normal bodies do the necessary work of assimilating to new social patterns while arbitrating old power dynamics. To that end, the representation of disability, because it remains seemingly stuck in a subordinate relationship to ablebodiedness (which comes to include patriarchy) is problematic. In Playing in the Dark, Toni Morrison examines the ways in which Africanism has historically done the work of constructing whiteness in American literature and concludes that "Africanism is the vehicle by which the American self knows itself as not enslaved, but free; not repulsive, but desirable; not helpless, but licensed and powerful; not history-less, but historical; not damned, but innocent; not a blind accident of evolution, but a progressive fulfillment of destiny" (1990, 52). Similarly, the characters with disabilities in the two postcolonial texts I examine exist in a binary that excludes them even as it depends upon them to develop a status quo.

But we are reminded, as well, that that status quo is tentative, fluid, and subject to constant revision and that "out of bound" bodies foster that revisionary process in important, even radical, ways. Borrowing again from Morrison's argument, who notes that "A writer's response to American Africanism often provides a subtext that either sabotages the surface text's expressed intentions or escapes them through a language that mystifies what it cannot bring itself to articulate" (66), I want to suggest that a similar mystification occurs in Clear Light of Day and You Have Come Back. Though Desai and Gallaire-Bourega might not be fully capable of articulating the transformative potential of disability, whether physical, mental, or gender-based, their respective representations nonetheless resonate with cultural and political implications. Both return repeatedly to figures of disability and, in You Have Come Back, to the figure of the sexualized woman, to explore the unfixed nature of hierarchies, national identity, and power paradigms. For both, disability is an "echo, shadow, and silent force" which hovers at the margins of their texts (Gallaire-Bourega 1988, 48). This presence, this shadow, always there, demands a closer reading and more careful consideration. Because however concerted the endeavor to stabilize disability as the subordinate term in a normal/deviant binary, the potential of characters with disabilities to disrupt comfortable, comforting, and ultimately unreliable images of totality reminds us of their transgressive potential, however unarticulated, however mystifying-indeed, perhaps because unarticulated and mystifying.

Such potential is certainly cause for further exploration in our quest to more fully understand and enrich the field of disability studies and its intersections with feminist and postcolonial applications. Cindy LaCom is Associate Professor of English at Slippery Rock University. In graduate school, she discovered the then-new field of Disability Studies while working on a dissertation chapter that analyzed the interplay between female invalidism and female sexuality. She participated in an NEH seminar on Disability Studies in the summer of 2000 and is a member of the Modern Language Association Committee on Disability Issues in the Profession. She is currently working on a book that examines the social, gendered, and ideological meanings of the physical disability in Victorian literature and culture.