What I seek out is the struggle aspect: how do people find their identity within their own disability and how to they come to terms with it?
In my journey, I have found few pieces of literature that really tackle this issue, and those that do "cop-out" their answer to the most repetitive of concepts such as love, friendship, or hope. However, there is one book I found that showed a more honest version of disability: The Temple of the Golden Pavillion by Yukio Mishima.
The Temple of the Golden Pavillion highlights a man named Mizoguchi, a young man that has a stutter. Mizoguchi has an obsession with the concept of beauty and has a growing urge to destroy this beauty, in any way he can. Such an outburst can resonate with many who have physical disabilities since we cannot live up to society's standards of "beauty," often we try to reject the concept as a whole.
The most interesting part of the book however, is when Mizoguchi meets his friend Kashiwagi. Kashiwagi, too has a disability known as clubfeet. The intersectionality between the two disabilities allows for a different kind of dialogue regarding the concept of disability right from the moment they meet:
“His most striking characteristic was that he had two rather powerful-looking clubfeet…His walk was a sort of exaggerated dance, utterly lacking in anything commonplace…I was relieved at the sight of his deformity. From the outset his clubfeet signified agreement with the condition in which I found myself.”
Here we see the curious idea of two people understanding each other due to disability. Disability becomes a concept here that bonds two people together as opposed to something that separates people from the "normal" world. It's framed as a "them versus the world" idea for a good part of the novel as the two work together on tackling issues of beauty. Kashiwagi of course has his own ideas when it comes to being "beautiful," as instead of rejecting the idea he uses his disability as a way to manipulate those around him. He boasts in the fact that he can make women "fall in love with my clubfeet" and purposely falls in front of a girl as a way to get into her house (and an obvious attempt to get into bed with her).
It is then that Mizoguchi is disturbed by this sight and runs away. It's interesting to note that even though the two boys could understand each other due to disability, they both have vastly different ideas about how disability functions in their life, as well as how to properly use it in society. It shows that the identity of disability is not static and is interpreted entirely differently from person to person. On an ideological level, how one applies and reacts to their disability becomes an entirely subjective idea.
Curiously, Mizoguchi believes that disability is beautiful and draws parallels between the two, saying, "Cripples and lovely women are both tired of being looked at, they are weary of an existence that involves constantly being observed, they feel hemmed in; and they return the gaze by means of that very existence itself. The one who really looks is the one who wins."
The concept of disability and beauty are similar for the character because they are restricted to what they are by their identity. Mizoguchi doesn't taint his identity, because he believes his disability of stuttering to be part of the beauty of the world. As opposed to twisting it for more personal gains like Kashiwagi, he holds it firm as something that is to be beautiful.
The Temple of the Golden Pavillion provides an honest look into the lives of two boys, with two different disabilities that end up bonding together over similarities while also highlighting that what disability can mean to a person is dramatically different for each person. For anybody looking for a challenging text regarding disability identity and what it means, I would highly recommend this book.
Darrell Gilkes is a English and Special Education Teacher from Newmarket, Ontario, Canada. In his free time, he tutors students and has a deep passion for writing in the hopes that one day he might get his own book released. Darrell has been featured in Anthologies such as Seeing Beyond the Surface as well as The Book of Hope: 31 True Stories from Real People Who Didn't Give Up. He enjoys writing about how it feels to have a disability and the different reactions or experiences one can have to it! You can contact Darrell at his LinkedIn or at darrell[dot]gilkes[at]hotmail.com.