When the “respect” we grant to beings is often measured by power scale, social status or prestige, how to go beyond the disgrace of the disabled body to welcome the other as it is? This is the question the philosopher Danielle Moyse, teacher-researcher at the IRIS (CNRS/HESS) wonders in her book Handicap: pour une révolution du regard. To answer it, she thought about two fundamental questions: “How to go beyond the effect of staggering often caused by the presence of a ‘disability’, or simply an unusual body appearance?“; “How the violence so frequent of the glance at women and men who do not possess intact faculties could not be devastating, when the alteration of one of their capabilities is grasped before the child is born?“
Studying the nature of the relationship between glance, assessment and respect, D. Moyse shows that when our glance is used for assessing, our respect becomes conditional. The author worries particularly about the glance at the unborn child which modifies the conditions in which he is born even though any person needs the glance of others to develop his/her being. During the Perruche judgement, the Coalition against Handiphobia lodged a complaint against the State to protest against this glance, given by the judges of the Court of Cassation.
Seeing the humanity of singular body
To look at others with respect, it is first of all to see them for what they are: a human being. The body being the fragile place where humanity appears, it can be an obstacle for our presence in the world and the relationship. If the other can be all the more present given that her body can be forgotten, the challenge is to reach the other despite its ungraceful appearance, despite its body which concentrates all the attentions because the glance “surprised by an unusual appearance, can reify purely and simply the people it appears without seeing them“. This is the reason why men who wanted to dehumanize others began by degrading their physical appearance. D. Moyse notes that the presupposed eugenists of our glance find their base in the philosophical revolution which led the men from child of God, to that of subject, master of him and then of others. With his asserted superiority, he thinks he is authorised to assess, gauge and select.
See with ultrasonography the unborn child
The reduction of the other to its disability is accentuated by the practice of prenatal screening, particularly because the body of the child is seen through a screen. Ultrasonography gives to the other an absent body, the imaging derealises the child, the child is kept at a distance and he cannot oppose to the glance the effective and affective presence. The link between the child and her/his mother, family, physician is modified and this first meeting of the child snatched by the image from her/his immemorial shelter with her/his parents, converts into a medical beat.
The maternal dream can become a nightmare, especially as the imaginary is invested with fantasies worsened by the inaccuracy of the image. Danielle Moyse, analyzing the conceptual and thus philosophical evolution from mongolism to Down syndrome, reminds that the field of prenatal investigation is tainted with symbolics according to which physical malformation would be linked to moral evil. The unborn chid is then condemned to cross the prenatal detection barrier only if she/he is innocent. The “evil of doubt” hangs over him. He must prove he is not “affected by an evil which pushes him within the limits of humanity”.
As a conclusion the author invites us to change our look and to consider that “physical, psychical or intellectual singularities” could not manage to forget “that any child from man and woman, is an integral part of a multiple and indefinable humanity, away from all standards yet it enjoyed imposing and imposing to itself.” “Far from it these unusual men and women effectively are limited to these inabilities to which others’ look, through fear and ignorance, often enjoyed to reduce them to better be away from them, sometimes to annihilate, or avoid the efforts necessary to frequent a human being in difficulty. Fortunately great precursors knew to consider all human beings within their common hopes, whatever their capacities” and this “welcome from all by all contributes to commonly improve their standing“.
Handicap : pour une révolution du regard, Danielle Moyse, mars 2010, Presses universitaires de Grenoble.