Dolmage, Jay. “Breathe Upon Us An Even Flame: Hephaestus, History and the Body of Rhetoric.” Rhetoric Review 25.2 (2006): 119-40. Print.

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In this piece, Dolmage is discussing the myth of Hephaestus through the lens of disability studies as a way to “disrupt our acceptance of an ableist view of rhetorical history” (119). Hephaestus was represented at having his feet twisted backward or to the sides–although his disability was presented as positive rather than stigmatized. He is said to represent a specific form of intelligence known as metis (cunning). Dolmage argues that it’s tempting to think that the image of Hephaestus is a contradiction (the disabled craftsman) or that he represents overcoming disability, but that his difference and his craftsmanship represent metis together. As Dolmage puts it, “In a way his disability is his ability” (122). Dolmage draws on Berlin’s comments in the Octalog to define rhetoric as “the function of power within language,” which naturally connects to issues of the body since the body is disciplined by power, and works to highlight the ways in which the rhetorical histories we’ve constructed privilege the normal, able body. He argues that we have imported our bias against disability into the past and that the concept of metis and the myth of Hephaestus asks us to rethink this tendency. Dolmage instead calls us to look to Hephaestus as a starting point for looking back on rhetorical history for further insight on the division between ability and disability and the role this division plays in rhetoric.

Comments

In a lot of ways, this piece is very similar to some of his later work, but what I really appreciate about this article is the definition of rhetoric he lays out as “the function of power within language.” He returns to this definition and works with it further in his statement in the third Octalog. Overall, this definition of rhetoric that gets away from privileging persuasion and introduces power dynamics is helpful for constructing a rhetorical framework for the kind of work I’m doing.

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