Folded Time and the Presence of Disability
In 2005, the South Korean scientist Hwang Woo Suk and his associates published
an article in the journal Science claiming that they had achieved the world’s first
cloning of “patient- specific” embryonic stem cells.1 This success drew imme-
diate national acclaim, as the media lauded him as enhancing national pride
and honor. Shortly thereafter, the public television
program Open Con-
cert aired an episode with the theme of the future of science and technology.
The concert featured President Roh Moo Hyun’s recorded message touting the
importance of science and technology and promising his administration’s con-
tinued full support. After the celebrity singer Kang Won Rae, disabled with a
spinal- cord injury, performed in a group and danced in his wheelchair, Hwang
appeared onstage with the minister of science and technology. He remarked, “I
haven’t found the solution to this incurable disease yet. But I hope to make Kang
spring to his feet, so that on the concert stage after the next one, he can show us
again the quick dance moves he used to have. And I will move forward with all
citizens in a search for the path to the day he performs his wheelchair dance to
reminisce about old times.” In Hwang’s view, Kang’s pre- injury ability to dance
would be restored in the very near future and his wheelchair dance belonged to
the future’s past. This desire for cure was captured emotionally: while Hwang
described the agonizing sadness he felt watching Kang’s performance, the frame
switched to a slow- motion close- up of Kang dancing in his wheelchair.2 As
the cure rhetoric and spectacle fold past and future over the present, disabil-
ity surreally disappears. One newspaper captured this disappearance with the
headline “No More Wheelchair for Kang Won Rae.”3 Kang merely served as the
magician’s assistant to prop up the illusion of cure in front of the applauding
audience, as if he had already been cured. In these folded temporalities, only his
nondisabled past and his cured future become meaningful.
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