In October I will present at the American Literature Association War and Literature Conference on the portrayal of badly-wounded and disabled veterans in contemporary war literature. Two stories that prompted my thinking about the subject are Siobhan Fallon’s “The Last Stand” and Brian Van Reet’s “Big Two-Hearted Hunting Creek,” which I first wrote about in this blog here. I’m open to other suggestions, and I am reading lots of on-line veterans’ writing for more examples of the genre. The major war novels so far don’t seem to concern themselves so much with physical disability, though we might wonder about author Ben Fountain’s extended satirical skewering of Billy Lynn’s father in Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk. The demented, debilitated family patriarch, confined to a wheelchair after a stroke, doesn’t do much to enhance sympathetic understanding of the impaired, that’s for sure. Instead, his physical disability seems to symbolically manifest the lameness of his arch-conservative political views, the blindness of his hypocritical morals, and the impotence of his control over his family, his life, and the world.
Lameness, blindness, and impotence…. Disability activists would say those are good examples of how our language is infested with figures of speech that stigmatize the handicapped. Hmm….
So, the issue is vexed, both in life and literature, but that’s no reason not to explore it more fully, right? Below are three pictures taken from the popular domain of badly wounded and handicapped veterans. What are your thoughts as you view them? What do you think the photographers were trying to achieve? How are the photographs formally composed to be arresting? What are their ethics and politics? What about the “backstory” and post-publication history of each picture would you be interested in knowing and might help you understand them better?