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THE FIRST IMPRESSION of the picture on the cover of this volume may be that it is a traditional or conventional image of disability that refers to a visible sign of impairment, the crutches. It shows a man dressed in modern clothing whose body is hanging in an awkward manner between his crutches, as if he is about to slip and fall; there is no smile on his face; he could be in pain; he is pointing to something that is out of reach. It is easy to read this artistic image as a negative representation of disability, and an image of despair, pain, and hopelessness. However, the first reaction of the viewer has to be revised when the context becomes known. The picture is by a disability activist and artist, Riva Lehrer, and is of Bill Shannon, a New York dance performance artist who break-dances and skateboards with modified crutches. Bill Shannon can also be seen on the video cited below, and his agility is breathtaking to watch. His energetic performances re-invent the crutch as a positive, artistic, urban/street sign that is not only non-medical but is also an artistic tool that politicizes the common and hegemonic ways of seeing disability that are often taken for granted. This contextualization of the image reveals that the artist may be making a political statement about disability that challenges the viewer's aesthetic assumptions about the disabled body. It is an apt image to highlight this volume's central idea that artistic and cultural representations of disability have political power and agency. The aesthetics of disability irritate, disrupt, and may also change presumably unquestioned prejudices and assumptions about the norms surrounding disability and deviations from them.
This fourth volume of the Edinburgh German Yearbook focuses on the treatment of disability in German literature, film, and theater, and examines the cultural discourses on the aesthetic experience of physical, sensory, and intellectual impairments. It aims to identify some of the features of the German cultural experience of disability and of German Disability Studies, without claiming to be a history of disability and Disability Studies.