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Exploring Shame

aclark1's picture

    In Exile and Pride, Eli Clare discusses multiple topics that range from freedom and sexuality to disability. Each topic is usually kept confidential from other beings, unless they are close relations. But, Eli provides personal insights and teachings since he has lived with the struggles that each topic adds. Many of his short stories, that are packs into the book, concludes with writing personal reflections in which he tries to end his material oppression. He uses the reflections to reflect on times where he felt shame, without actually using the exact term.   

     Throughout the text, Eli Clare rarely says shame. Yet, it is a common theme weaved within the lines of the text. In a way, he is able to reflect so deeply because the condition of shame is so deeply rooted within the text itself. Eli shares in the text by saying, “For years I have wanted to write this story, have tried poems, diatribes, and theories. I’ve failed mostly because I haven’t been able to bridge the chasm between my homesickness for a place thousands of miles away in the middle of logging country and my urban-created politics that have me raging at environmental destruction. I have felt lonely and frustrated. Without words for this story, I lose part of myself into the chasm.” (Clare,19) Even though Eli was finally able to produce a final product, during his reflection he decided to focus on the years it took him to finally begin to write this exact story. He uses the word failure instead of shame. But, he weaves the definition to be ashamed into his short reflection without ever saying the corresponding emotion. He writes as if he put himself into a state of shame in order to create the book. 

    In the book, Eli writes in a negative tone, which is interesting because shame is a negative word. It associates with pain because of the feeling of humiliation it leaves on people’s hearts. Shame also refers to a loss of respect or self-esteem and ultimately dishonors someone from a group. The word shame digs so deep that it can be considered an affect, cognition, state, or condition (Oxford English Dictionary). Therefore, a sense of shame can trigger other negative social emotions, such as a feeling of displacement. Eli Clare says, “My displace, my exile, is twined with problems highlighted in the intersection of queer identity, working-class and poor identity, and long-lasting, systemic changes.” (Clare, 44). He writes about how deeply ashamed he is because within a lot of things he does, his disability influences it, which created limitations for him. In the text, he says, “These physical experiences, one caused by a social construction, the other by a bodily limitation, translate direction into frustration, making me want to crumple the test I can’t finish, hurl the rocks I can’t climb” (Clare, 7). In both excerpts help to expose his shame of having a disability. Through his shame of being disabled, he reaches a deeper state of shame. Therefore, he experiences other emotions such as frustration or anger. 

    Eli establishes a tone that is very straightforward in a scene of already knowing everything about the topics presented within story. For example, he talks about the model of disability and how he feels about the word impairment and disability. In the text, he says, “I want to so badly, but fear rumbles next to love next to real lived physical limitations, and so we decide to turn around. I cry, maybe for the first time, over something I want to do, had many reasons to believe I could, but really can’t. I cry hard, then get up and follow Adrianne back down the mouton. It’s hard and slow, and I use my hands and butt often and wish I could use gravity as Adrianne does to bounce from one flat spot to another, down this jumbled pile of rocks.” (Clare, 5) Through his shame, he talks about his battle to separate impairment from disability, without ever saying he is ashamed because he has these difficulties. Although he expresses, throughout the book, his difficulties in his mini stories, he never actually admits that he’s shameful, which makes only this argument solid. 

    Throughout the text, Eli uses the word shame only when he is talking about something else or talking about others. However, when it comes to something that is direct to him, he never mentions the word shame. He expresses his shame by saying, “For as long as I can remember, I have avoided certain questions. Would I have been a good runner if I didn’t have CP? Could I have been a surgeon or pianist, a dancer or gymnast? Tempting questions that have no answers.” (Clare, 5) In the excerpt, Eli clearly talks about having CP. This example provides a very clear tone of shame without him ever saying the exact word, which ultimately makes shame even more of a presence due to its own definition. Shame often humiliates people to an extent where the person will try to ignore the condition completely. This is also the reason why people never personally confess their own shame. However, others will put that person to shame. Eli Clare experiences shame due to his disabilities, which makes him for abnormal. 


Works Cited 

Clare, Eli. Exile and Pride. Cambridge, MA: South End Press, 1999. Print. 

“Shame.” Oxford English Dictionary. n.p, n.d. 26 Sept. 2014. Print