Before modern conceptions of “disability” and the scientific “norms” that defined it, “deformity” demarcated and degraded physical difference. Defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as “the quality or condition of being marred or disfigured in appearance; disfigurement, unsightliness, ugliness,” deformity has roots in both the embodied realm of the aesthetic and the figurative realm of the moral. “Deformity” reigned supreme in the eighteenth century, that great age of satire, caricature, and sanctioned laughter at cripples (Dickie 2011; Lund 2005). This was also the age of classification, in which differences of sex and race were invented and delineated. In an age during which the norm was not yet fully materialized, deformity was suspended between the early modern understanding of corporeal difference as divine punishment for sin and the nineteenth-century conception of disability as individual obstacle to be virtuously overcome (Davis 2000a). Deformity encapsulates the paradox of a visible sign of unintelligibility, a fall from form written by God or nature on the body. It is linked conceptually with “monstrosity,” which is derived from monstra, meaning a warning or a portent of catastrophe to come. “Deformity,” like “monstrosity,” is at once sign and story.

This essay may be found on page 52 of the printed volume.

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