Journal of Literary & Cultural Disability Studies

Disability Haunting in American Poetics

Journal of Literary & Cultural Disability Studies (2007), 1, (1), 1–12.


In medicine and rehabilitation, disability has been exclusively narrated as individual tragedy and deviance from bodily norms. As a result, humanities scholarship has only recently begun to understand disability as a foundational category of social experience, and a matter of symbolic investment. The essay examines the language of haunting used by Robert Pinsky in his analysis of American poetry as constitutive of a uniquely American memory. Poems featured in Pinsky's discussion–namely Abraham Lincoln's "My Childhood Home I See Again" and William Carlos Williams's "To Elsie"–are re-read as relying on unacknowledged representations of disability. The essay designates this spectral presence of disabled people's material circumstances in print and media as disability haunting. A disability studies approach to literary analysis can provide readers, teachers, and critics with the ability to concretize such haunting subject matter. Hence, the essay seeks to make surface a 'poetics' of disability in literary works that remain standard to required English classes in American universities and high schools, as well as to interpret poetics broadly as the matter of metaphor, trope and experimentation with storyline.

Access Token

Didion, Joan. The White Album. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1979. The White Album. Google Scholar

Faulkner, William. The Sound and the Fury. 1929. New York: Vintage, 1991. The Sound and the Fury. 1929 Google Scholar

Fiedler, Leslie. Introduction. Ken Kesey. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. 1962. New York: Viking P, 1996. xi-xx. Google Scholar

Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Crack-Up. 1936. New York: New Directions, 1956. The Crack-Up. 1936 Google Scholar

Hemingway, Ernest. The Sun Also Rises. 1926. New York: Scribner, 1996. The Sun Also Rises. 1926. Google Scholar

Keyes, Daniel. Flowers for Algernon. 1966. New York: Bantam Books, 1975. Flowers for Algernon. 1966. Google Scholar

Lee, Harper. To Kill A Mockingbird. 1960. New York: Harper, 2002. To Kill A Mockingbird. 1960. Google Scholar

Lorenzo's Oil. Dir. George Miller. Written by George Miller and Nick Enright. Perf. Nick Nolte, Susan Sarandon and Peter Ustinov. Universal, 1992. Google Scholar

Lowell, Robert. "Skunk Hour." Life Studies. New York: Farrar, Straus and Cudahy, 1959. 89-90. Google Scholar

Melville, Herman. Moby-Dick: or The Whale. 1851. New York: Modern Library, 1952. Moby-Dick: or The Whale. 1851. Google Scholar

Mitchell, David, and Sharon Snyder. Narrative Prosthesis: Disability and the Dependencies of Discourse. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 2000. Narrative Prosthesis: Disability and the Dependencies of Discourse. Google Scholar

Mitchell, David, and Sharon Snyder. "Re-engaging the Body: Disability Studies and the Resistance to Embodiment." Public Culture 13.3 (2001): 367-90. Re-engaging the Body: Disability Studies and the Resistance to Embodiment. Public Culture 13 367 90 Google Scholar

Moretti, Franco. Signs Taken for Wonders: On the Sociology of Literary Forms. 1983. New York: Verso, 2005. Signs Taken for Wonders: On the Sociology of Literary Forms. 1983. Google Scholar

Morrison, Toni. The Bluest Eye. New York: Washington Square, 1970. The Bluest Eye. Google Scholar

Morrison, Toni. Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1992. Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination. Google Scholar

Morrison, Toni. "Unspeakable Thoughts Unspoken: The Afro-American Presence in American Literature." Michigan Quarterly Review 28 (Winter 1989): 1-34. Google Scholar

Nakamura, Karen. Deaf in Japan. New York: Cornell UP, 2006. Deaf in Japan. Google Scholar

O'Connor, Flannery. Habits of Being. New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1979. Habits of Being. Google Scholar

Pinsky, Robert. "Poetry and Modern American Memory." The Atlantic Monthly 284.4 (1999). Jan. 14, 2007 > Google Scholar

Plath, Sylvia. The Bell Jar. 1963. New York: Bantam, 1972. The Bell Jar. 1963. Google Scholar

Pynchon, Thomas. The Crying of Lot 49. 1966. New York: Harper Perennial, 1999. Google Scholar

Random Harvest. Dir. Mervyn LeRoy. Perf. Ronald Colman, Greer Garson, Philip Dorn, Susan Peters and Henry Travers. MGM, 1942. Google Scholar

Salinger, J. D. The Catcher in the Rye. 1951. New York: Back Bay Books, 2001. The Catcher in the Rye. 1951. Google Scholar

Snyder, Sharon, and David Mitchell. Cultural Locations of Disability. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2006. Cultural Locations of Disability. Google Scholar

Stafford, Jean. Bad Characters. New York: Farrar, Straus. 1964. Bad Characters. Google Scholar

Stegner, Wallace. Angle of Repose. New York: Doubleday and Co., 1971. Angle of Repose. Google Scholar

Steinbeck, John. Of Mice and Men. 1937. New York: Bantam Books, 1981. Of Mice and Men. 1937. Google Scholar

Supreme Court of the United States. "Opinion of the Court: Board of Trustees of the University of Alabama, et. al., Petitioners v. Patricia Garrett et. al." Feb. 21, 2001. Feb. 10, 2007 > Google Scholar

Williams, William Carlos. "To Elsie –." 1923. The Collected Poems of William Carlos Williams. Ed. A. Walton Litz and Christopher MacGowan. New York: New Directions, 1991. 217-20. Google Scholar

If you have private access to this content, please log in with your username and password here


Author details

Snyder, Sharon

Mitchell, David