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Part 2: Shame

aclark1's picture

In Exile and Pride, Eli Clare discusses multiple topics that range from freedom and sexuality to disability. The complexities of these topics are kept confidential to outsiders. But, Eli provides personal insights and lessons, since he has lived with the struggles that each topic presents. His multitude of short stories concludes with writing personal reflections to interoperate his personal self. Although his tone is with filled with shame, his pride keeps him from directly admitting it to the reader.

According to Oxford English Dictionary, the definition of shame is, “The painful emotion arising from the consciousness of something dishonoring, ridiculous, or indecorous in one's own conduct or circumstances, or of being in a situation which offends one's sense of modesty or decency” (Oxford English Dictionary). In the book, Eli writes in a shameful tone, which is interesting because the term shame is never used throughout his stories. But, each story he introduces to the reader, associates with pain and of the feeling of humiliation due to disability, sexuality, rape, etc.  Shame digs so deep that it can be considered an affect, cognition, state, or condition. 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 creates 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). Both excerpts help to expose his shame of having a disability. However, he has too much pride to confess he has shame. 

Throughout the text, Eli Clare rarely uses the word “shame.” Yet, it is a common theme woven 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 because he has too much pride to say shame exactly. 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. 

       Eli establishes a tone that is very straightforward in a scene of already knowing everything about the topics presented within the 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.

    In the text, Eli 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. Eli Clare’s pride tries to masks his shame although he experiences shame often. His pride is so strong, that when he reflects, he doesn’t admit his true feelings of shame. Instead, he decides to marvel within his pride instead of applauding his shame to appreciate his existence.