Illness (in)action: Multiple Temporalities of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Looking forward to the Society for Literature, Science, and the Arts (SLSA) Conference in Toronto this weekend (November 15-18, 2018).

I will present my paper “Illness (in)action: Multiple Temporalities of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome” as part of a panel organized by Vincent Bruyere titled “Out of Mind/Out of Time/Out of Sync: Emergent Models of Agency in Disability Studies.” The other presenters are Sofia Varino and Rebecca Garden, so you know it’s going to be good! Our session is from 3:30-5:00 on Saturday, November 17 in the Casson Room in the Toronto Hilton.

Here’s the abstract for my paper:

In this paper, I explore the multiple temporalities of chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) through an analysis of CFS experiences and events as documented in Jennifer Brea’s film Unrest(2017). I argue that the film shows illness and illness politics as operating biopychosocially across different temporalities. First, I discuss what I describe as the historical persistence of hysteria, a diagnostic category replaced by conversion disorder, but nonetheless haunting the phenomenological experience of illnesses, like CFS, without (yet) known biological causes. I also discuss how the film attempts to capture the experience of enduring embodiment, as extreme fatigue and sensitivity to light, sound, and surroundings makes CFS a condition of unrest—a disturbed and uneasy state that is at once physical, social, and political. Early in the film, as Brea films herself struggling to crawl across the floor to her bed, she anticipates a question that might be on the viewer’s mind: “Why would I film it?” Her answer—“Because I think someone should see this”—suggests both a politics of visibility and a politics of endurance, or the politics of making endurance visible. I argue that this film, along with other recent examples of illness and disability politics, challenges in important ways what activism and the figure of the activist look like. By connecting with people with CFS online, Brea not only documents their experiences with CFS but also seeks to politicize the many people with CFS who she describes as missing in action from society and the public sphere. With the film and hashtag #TimeForUnrest, she demonstrates illness (in)action as a kind of unrest cure.

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Imagining Justice Alchemically: Articulating a Rhetoricity of Rights and Vulnerabilities

I’m headed home to Atlanta for the NWSA conference where I will be presenting a paper called “Imagining Justice Alchemically: Articulating a Rhetoricity of Rights and Vulnerabilities” on Thursday, November 8 at 4 pm at the Hilton Atlanta, 3, 315 (LCD). My paper is part of a panel on Vulnerable Desires. Here is a teaser on what I’ll be talking about:

In their groundbreaking intersectional analysis of race and disability, Nirmala Erevelles and Andrea Minear begin by offering a critique of law professor and critical legal and race theorist Patricia Williams’s essay “Spirit Murdering the Messenger.” Williams’s essay discusses the killing of Eleanor Bumpurs by police officers who were attempting to evict her from her home in the Bronx in 1984. Press coverage at the time described Bumpurs as “violent and uncontrollable” during the encounter, and the police officer who shot her claimed he feared for his life when confronted with a knife-wielding Bumpurs. In their critique of Williams’s analysis of the complex social factors that led to Bumpurs’s killing, Erevelles and Minear argue that, “Williams deploys disability merely as a descriptor.” They then make a more general claim about the problem of an “(unconscious) nonanalysis of disability as it intersects with race, class, and gender oppression” in work by many critical race feminists. I share Erevelles and Minear’s desire to include disability as an essential component of intersectional analysis, and I value and am motivated by their forceful critique of the problem of the “nonanalysis of disability” in much intersectional analysis. Yet, in this paper, I want to offer a different reading of Williams that engages with her work more explicitly for critical disability studies. Although Williams doesn’t use the term “disability” in her early work, I contend that her preoccupation with thinking vulnerability and rights together indicates an attempt to account for forms of disablement, including racism, in and across the spaces and performances of the law, academia, and medicine. I draw on both the content and formal and methodological innovation of Williams’s work on race and rights, as well as on the strategies and practices of critical legal and race studies more generally, in order to explore the conjunctures and disjunctures—or what I call a structural and structuring double bind—between a rhetoricity of rights and vulnerability.