Journal of Literary & Cultural Disability Studies

“Spastic Saints”

Jack Kerouac, Non-Conformity, and Disability Representation

Journal of Literary & Cultural Disability Studies (2015), 9, (2), 135–152.

Abstract

Jack Kerouac uses representations of disability throughout his fictional narratives to signify radical social non-conformity. Such representations are often considered acts of “discursive subjugation” (Mitchell and Snyder 6), yet the affinity between symbolic representation and the political as such opens a space for a figural use of disability that does not marginalize. Kerouac’s The Town and the City (1950) offers two disabled characters, Waldo Meister and Jimmy Bannon, who not only embody metaphors but also demonstrate productive, often contradictory effects of disability representation. Both Meister and Bannon flip the script of disability representation by signifying an emergent common US subjectivity triangulated with the ideological modernity of the backward-looking small town and the proto-postmo-dernity of the forward-looking metropolis. In On the Road (1957), Kerouac extends his use of disability as a marker of non-conformist opposition to the dehumanizing hegemony of late capitalism. Dean Moriarty’s disability provides him with an alternative subject position that frees him from postwar hypermasculinity, and Kerouac uses phalangeal amputation as a textual motif that signifies social non-conformist affiliation, not social stigmatization.

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Kupetz, Joshua