as about becoming rather than being?
I struggle to speak, so I’m told.
Apparently I labor over words; they gap and cram, clawing at my mouth. I used to deliberate over phrasing to avoid l’s and w’s—those pestery sounds that would not eject. But inevitably some other would take its place unexpectedly and inopportunely. It was a futile game of outwitting my tongue.
Speaking is no longer this type of work. I now say whatever I Wwwaaa---
wANT, no matter the charitable interjections, the averted eyes, or the length of the Starbucks line. Yet there is still labor. Sarah Ahmed remarks that the embodied “repetition of work is what makes the signs of work disappear” (553), but for me redoubled work merely produces the repetition of signs.
The labor theory of value suggests that (exchange) value is produced in relation to the labor invested in a commodity. Yet the value of speech seems to exist in an inverse relation to its production process. I feel the value and the weight of my words sharply decline as they linger in the air, shaped and reshaped. People edge away anxiously, wishing they had purchased a warranty, looking to shop elsewhere. I struggle to speak. I am a perversion of capitalist logic.
Disabled speakers are nonetheless artisans. We welcome syllables like old friends and are not quick to part. We tongue the edges and clefts of phonemes. It takes effort and skill to do what we do. We form wor/l/ds with great care and sometimes with playful abandon. We stretch and clump language into polyglot shape, into our shape, into shapes that exceed our control.
People tell me that I struggle to speak, that I struggle with stuttering.
They are the ones who struggle, and fail, to understand.
It may be true that our bodies knot winding time and limbs in the concerted effort to speak linearly. Yet read through a crip and queer phenomenology, perhaps the disabled are not the misshapen ones. Bodies, as Ahmed notes, are formed and twisted into straight shape through the forceful repetition of norms over time (553). The straightening of bodies is an achievement of history: being orientated and habituated to move predictably towards desirable (capitalist and heteronormative) futures.
Defying straight norms, futures, and bodily comportments gathers the crip and queer together in generative dialogue.
The production of fluent and linear speech—wringing tongues, contorting bodies, and sitting on hands—is complicit in reproducing straight distorted temporalities. Perhaps the rational and calculable trajectory of fluency, of logos, is a very condition of possibility for straight time and futurity. Shooting words like an arrow through time (or time like an arrow through words) is a capacity engendered by ableist choreographies of the body that restrict certain capacities in order to induce clear, fluid, and rational speech.
How, then, are bodily capacities, relations, meanings, and futures cut off by the straightening of speech? More importantly, what queer/crip capacities, relations, meanings, and futures are made possible by crip/queered speech?
Lurking in this project is a question of bad faith that I must face up front: is my stuttered voice not simply attempting, yet failing, to speak rationally, fluently, straight? Robert McRuer reminds us of the compulsory yet impossible demand to perform able-bodiedness. How am I answering the question “wouldn’t you rather talk like me?” if I still chase and grasp at legibility? This worry gnaws at my crip consciousness.
Disabled speech is admittedly ambivalent in its failure at compulsory able-bodiedness. There is, however, a difference between stuttering crip and stuttering straight.
McRuer writes: Critical de-composition . . . results from reorienting ourselves away from [compulsory able-bodied] ideals and onto the composing bodies—the alternative, and multiple, corporealities—that continually ensure that things can turn out otherwise. Put differently, critical de-composition results from actively and collectively desiring not virtual but critical disability and queerness (158).
A stutter is seemingly a virtual and a critical failure. Our speech fails spectacularly, but our stubborn effort to trace linguistic norms signals a complicit and knowing answer to the question “wouldn’t you rather talk like me”? (McRuer, 9) The collective anxiety stirred by our spectacular fail (Peers 2015) is followed by a sigh of pitied relief.
So let me be clear: stuttering crip is a transformation not in the phonological but the political-phenomenological register. Stuttering crip may often sound the same—grasping for words in crowds and chasing down runaway syllables scattering into noise. Yet to reduce our speech to floundering straight lines assumes an impossible mastery over language and communication. This is a basic intuition of disability politics: outsiders do not get to decide what our bodies mean.
Stuttering crip is thus to stutter subversively, playfully, critically. It embodies the rhetorical posture of mētis, as Jay Dolmage describes it (2013), in the effort of interrupting logical flows. Stuttering crip creates affective openings and invitations to gather within subaltern spaces and temporalities. Like claiming crip, stuttering crip is not grasping an identity as much as becoming into a political community.
If stuttering crip is a struggle at all, it is not a struggle to communicate despite (and against) the body, but a sympoietic struggle with the body against those who delimit the range of intelligibility, police the boundaries of noise, and confine and straighten our voices.
Apollo is the patron god of straight speech.
He drives, Nietzsche reminds us, towards rationality, order, clarity, and distinction (40). His is calculation of form and measured constraint. He is the god of light and deity of the bow.
What are words for the Apolline but arrows and missiles? The body arcs and tenses, its energies coiled, flexed, focused to a single point. Words are discharged, let loose, the phallus flings itself into the world—shooting straight.
What are speech pathology and ableist norms of communication but Apolline technologies?
More pressure here, less tension there—breathe: our bodies are shaped and straightened within primary school hallways so we can return to class and fill our quivers with words.
The social pressure to follow a certain course, to live a certain kind of life, and even to reproduce that life, can feel like a physical press on the surface of the body, which creates its own impressions for sure. We are pressed into lines, just as lines are the accumulation of such moments of pressure (Ahmed, 555).
Our bodies are pressed into lines that fling futures. Corporeal technologies produce temporalities, and straightened bodies shoot time through words. These technologies upon the body are at times most industrious. As Benson Bobrick points out (100-103), the nineteenth century went wild unknotting and rehinging tongues with scalpels. Flesh was cut, tongues were forked. Frankenstein gadgets convulsive with springs, tubes, and drills have clasped our heads, holding the teeth apart, the palate in place, words dripping down our shirts.
These panicked technologies have no end.
Today we are more humane. Syllable counters measure and ration words, the tick-time drum directing sing-song fluencies marching down time. Anti-stuttering devices are thrust in our ears that clone and compress choraled voices into straight lines facing forward, always forward.
But for all this effort, crip futures, like crip bodies, are unpredictable and aporetic. They resist somatic orientation. Recalcitrant and rigid, our bodies buckle, trip over sluggish tongues. We are, Alison Kafer describes, cast out of time, “the sign of the future of no future” (34). Or perhaps our bodies simply do not shoot straight; our futures accordingly can neither be charted nor controlled. We are not an absence but an excess of futurity that cannot reduce to a single, straight, intelligible line.
Habituating the body to bend its energies towards the production of fluid speech and phallic futures is thus to curb super/-/fluent capacities. Autistics are compelled to restrict stimming, to sit on their hands (to have “quiet hands,” Bascom 2012), and thereby reroute bodily capacities to the production of normalized communication. Why are the facial tics and wild gestures of stutterers and other dysfluent speakers never communicative inflections, but made abject and cast out of the communicative realm altogether (Richter 2014)?
Logos has made its decree:
to speak in its name you must speak as its name.
Janus is the patron god of crip lips.
Two-faced Janus of beginnings and endings. Of moving-betweens—of transitions and interstitial spaces.
The god of words ensnaring time on the threshold of lips. Of beginnings with ends that no one can know. In the everted space between “now” and “then” lie crip worlds where time is fashioned and sent out to play. Crip lips catch words flying straight and sit down for a chat; they create something new.
Hephaestus is the patron god of stuttering crip.
Hephaestus with splayed feet twisted in opposite directions. The cunning, the inventor, and craftsman. Hephaestus of crooked and sideways steps that sneer at straight time marching from lips.
Crip speech erupts from bodies, bubbling and doubling from teeth, hands, and tongues. There is here no phallus cleaved from the body, streaking forward through the world, but a field, a whirl of sounds, gapes, and grimaces forged into crabwise, prosthetic, and partial meanings.
The body of history has been shaped to look like an idealized human body: proportional, inviolable, autonomous, upright, forward facing (white and masculine). But if you find the rhetorical body, you find tension, trial, and trouble (Dolmage, 16).
Cripping speech is to concede that straightness is a technological, narrative, and rhetorical coup d'état over and through the body. It is, Dolmage contends, a dual movement of exposing the idealized human body as primordial patchwork (thinly plastered, sanded, and then put on display) while emphasizing the heterogeneity of rhetorical bodies (16).
It disavows the piked, smug, and straightening line of syntax and profit growth, and rather to desire meaning that, as Deleuze would say, balloons and bulges from the middle (1997, 110).
Cripping speech is to grow ears, from seed if need be, that revel in excess and incoherence.
But cripping speech is most importantly to
and sp/l/it crip.
Stuttering straight wrests sidelong-forward with restless, anxious steps, wary of jolts and cracks. But we, veering edgeways awry over terrain, sprouting protean limbs that vine and couple bodies to bodies in meaning and motion, stutter crip with the patchy gait of Hephaestus (Dolmage, 108). Bacchic clatter, drunken wobbles, and knotted grins. This is mētis, the cunning and creative dance of language.
The patron god of stuttering crip is the trickster.
Coyote. Crow. Hephaestus. Hermes. Jackal. The trickster has many names and shapes, bringing trouble and chaos—doubt. She rides double-tongued imitating gods and beast. Double-tongued forking linear tales and dislodging the center.
[Her] function . . . is to add disorder to order and so make a whole, to render possible, within the fixed bounds of what is permitted, an experience of what is not permitted (Kerényi, 185).
Tricksters are not bound by socio-political conventions of propriety; outside order they “break in, thieve, steal away, and cause havoc in the normative human register and, ultimately, express life in productive ways” (Goodley, Huges, and Davis, 8). She is scandal and possibility.
The trickster stutters crip, feigning straight lines while bending meanings into a cagey ruse. A queered Janus trap. A cunning snap of fluent futures (de)/re/composed; beginnings that swell from the middle.
Her speech cannot be contained nor plotted along boundaries of noise and meaning. She is too wily for that.
Tricksters are prosthetic rhetoricians. This trickster rhetoric becomes a crucial way to view mētis: as the universal and timeless importance of both making and undoing language through the body (Dolmage, 219).
I must learn to speak double-tongued. If one tongue is purity, a clear-sighted projectile failure, two tongues are schemers. Two are conflicted, dishonest, wrapping words in prosthetic embrace and lurching, shapeshifted and profane, lips to limb.
I must learn to stutter crip. To look them in the eye when I sputter hoodwink. Watch the unravelling of selves that slip sideways in crip step and return the question—“wouldn’t you rather talk like me?”
The title of Marty Jezer’s autobiography, Stuttering: A Life Bound Up in Words, summarizes the anxiety commonly experienced by stutterers: consisting precariously within language, subjectivities entangled through consonants, antecedents, diphthongs, and bilabials. For many of us, Jezer’s phrase conjures a Wittgensteinian language game from hell, a nightmare of isolation and cruel and impossible demands. It suggests a freakish Kafkaesque tale of linguistic bureaucracy, of syllables spilling down endless corridors, and words backing into words that pile up on cubicle desks with deadlines looming.
While vividly familiar, these anxieties are of course a remnant of straight speech and “normative shadows” (Overboe 1999) that stubbornly presume purity.
Moreover, these notions of story have run aground,
grown respectable and naïve.
Hans Kellner urges all historians to ‘get the story crooked!’
. . . In his words, ‘the straightness of any story is a rhetorical invention’
(1989, xi) (Dolmage, 8).
“The truth about stories,” writes Thomas King, “is that that’s all we are” (2). This is a powerful quotation (my crip friend Danielle’s favorite) of origin myths and narratives that through many tongues and ears call worlds into being. For one stuttering straight, King, like Jezer, paints a dreary scene for people with communicative disabilities. It’s an anxious thought to be composed and glued by story when you regularly stutter your own name.
Yet King refuses to tell the story straight. He evades linear paths, indulging narrative tangents that slingshot in ellipses around the point; he holds us in suspense through exhausting repetition.
The telling of the story is important.
The becoming of the teller is important.
King’s indigenous, oral aesthetic points the way toward a stuttered crip politic.
Adding Ahmed’s to Kellner’s intuition, the straightness of any story is also a phenomenological achievement, a bodily orientation of speakers themselves. We shoot ourselves down lines, gaining inertia and coherence over time. A fabrication of bad faith. Story-tellers are bent, crooked, turned sideways by the very effort of telling ourselves and others straight.
Since I cannot tell the story in a straight line, and I lose my thread, and I start again, and I forget something crucial, and it is to [sic] hard to think about how to weave it in, and I start thinking, thinking, there must be some conceptual thread that will provide a narrative here, some lost link, some possibility for chronology, and the ‘I’ becomes increasingly conceptual, increasingly awake, focused, determined, it is at this point that the thread must fall apart (Butler, 35).
The truth about stories is that that’s all we are.
What does that make me?
Stuttering crip, I become and am undone through story-telling—through my own name. My body breaks stories apart, decomposing arced meanings into possibility shot through with other voices. Telling stories, I get lost in the middle and become incoherent, oblique, as fragments of myself double and redouble through others.
This is a sideways future that resists coherence,
a becoming that can be neither anticipated nor controlled,
but lived together.
One of the tricks to storytelling is, never to tell everything at once, to make your audience wait, to keep everyone in suspense (King, 7).
Crip politics grows (from the middle) through stories and tellers decomposed.
Crip politics is an opening that must be stuttered into.
Ahmed, S. (2006). Orientations: Toward a queer phenomenology. GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies, Volume 12(4), pp. 543-574.
Bobrick, B. (1995). Knotted Tongues: Stuttering in History and the Quest for a Cure. New York: Simon & Schuster
Butler, J. (2001). Giving an account of oneself. Diacritics Volume 31(4), pp. 22-40.
Deleuze, G. (1997). He stuttered. In Essays critical and clinical, translated by Daniel W. Smith and Michael A. Greco. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.
Dolmage, J. (2014). Disability Rhetoric. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press.
Goodley, D., B. Huges, and L. Davis. (2012). Introducing disability and social theory in Goodley, Huges, and Davis, eds., Disability and social theory: New developments and directions, pp. 1-14. New York: Palgrave MacMillan.
Jezer, M. (1997). Stuttering: A life bound up in words. Toronto, ON: Harper Collins Canada / Basic Books.
Kafer, A. (2013). Feminist, queer, crip. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.
Kellner, H. (1989). Language and historical representation. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press.
Kerényi, Karl. (1969). “The Trickster in Relation to Greek Mythology.” In The trickster: A study in american indian mythology, Paul Radin. Greenwood Press Publishers, New York.
King, T. (2003). The truth about stories: a native narrative. Toronto, ON: House of Anansi Press.
McRuer, R. (2006). Crip theory: Cultural signs of queerness and disability. New York: New York University Press.
Nietzsche, F. (1999). The Birth of Tragedy and Other Writings, translated by Ronald Speirs. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Overboe, J. (1999). Affirming an impersonal life: A different register for disability studies. Journal of Literary & Cultural Disability Studies Volume 3(3), pp. 241–256.
Paterson, K. (2012). It’s about time!: Understanding the experience of speech impairment. In Routledge handbook of disability studies, ed. Nick Watson, Alan Roulstone, and Carol Thomas. New York: Routledge.
Peers, D. (in press). From inhalation to inspiration: A genealogical auto-ethnography of a supercrip. In S. Tremain (Ed.), Foucault and the government of disability, 2nd Ed. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
Richter, Z. (2014). Repairing the textual wholeness of the dysfluent voice: The politics of speech and noise. Society for Disability Studies Conference. Minneapolis: MN.
St. Pierre, J. (forthcoming 2015). Distending straight-masculine time: A phenomenology of the disabled speaking body. Hypatia Volume 30(1).
 For more on bodily choreographies in relation to dysfluent speech see Paterson 2012 and St. Pierre 2015.
 McRuer insists that able-bodiedness is a fictive ideal impossible to embody but nevertheless compulsory in its performative demands: offering the appearance of a choice where there is actually none. We thus all continually fail to perform able-bodiedness, in either of two ways: “virtual” failures of compulsory able-bodiedness are those (perhaps small) slip-ups which can be absorbed into the logic of normalcy, while “critical” failures rupture its plane beyond repair.
 My use of Hephaestus mythology in this context is a playful engagement with a central motif in Dolmage 2014.