Critical theorist Theodor Adorno is rarely considered as a philosopher of the body. The body which leaks, desires, rages, and lusts is seemingly disjointed from the dry and dense writings that often characterize Adorno's work. As bleak as this description of Adorno's writings may be, however, the body is both central to his critique of modernity and the site of hope and desire against the total domination and suffering that capitalism imposes. This paper highlights some of the ways in which feminist philosophy of disability and disability studies, more generally, would benefit by thinking in constellation with Adorno's negative dialectic to interrogate the ways in which meanings get made about bodies and, furthermore, use the margins of difference, in relation with others, to challenge what Adorno calls the "wrong state of things." I argue that the transfigured crip to come is central to this fight against the "wrong state of things."


Theodor Adorno is rarely taken up as a philosopher of the body within feminist philosophy, much less within disability studies. Adorno's work is routinely characterized as dry, hyper-intellectual, and dense, seemingly leaving no opening to consider the body that leaks, desires, rages, and loves. And yet, however bleakly Adorno's work may be characterized, we do find sensuous and affective bodies, hoping, desiring, and struggling against suffering in his work on negative dialectics, critiques of capitalism, and enlightenment thinking. It is in virtue of the fact that Adorno takes up these bodies as they struggle against suffering that he should be regarded as an engaging thinker for feminist philosophers of disability and other disability scholars. In fact, for Adorno, critical theorizing is needed precisely to address why suffering persists in our world, despite the technological and scientific potential to mitigate or eliminate much of this suffering.

In mapping out the history of Western philosophy, Adorno shows the ways in which philosophy has aided and abetted capitalist relations of production that dominate society. He argues that critical thought is needed to overthrow capitalism and eliminate the sufferings associated with its social and cultural order, including the violence that capitalism wreaks upon bodies. In placing the body, philosophy, and suffering in constellation, Adorno works through the ways in which meaning is made in modernity and posits the role of thinking negatively in moving towards a more just and equitable society. The sensuous body is central to Adorno's work and to his desire to alleviate the suffering that capitalism causes. In this paper, rather than argue for the importance of returning to Adorno's thought—and thus a return to the Frankfurt School and critical theory of the 1940s-1960s—I place Adorno's thought in constellation with feminist philosophy of disability to hold in tension the violence that capitalism wreaks upon bodies and the significance of the embodied experience of disability. By mobilizing Adorno's negative dialectic, I crip the concept of disability itself. To "crip" disability is to both destabilize it as a concept and open up desire for what it disrupts (Fritsch, 2012). Cripping disability undoes disability and forces us to confront its remainder, namely, that which is always left out of its own conception. Adorno's negative dialectic, in relation to the disabled body, indicates the ways in which sensuous critical thought is required to overcome "the wrong state of things" (Adorno 1973, 11): the sufferings associated with capitalist domination. I argue that the transfigured crip to come is central to this fight against "the wrong state of things."

The Wrong State of Things: Identity Thinking and Negative Dialectics

One finds only scattered references to the body in Adorno's work. Rather than absent the body, Adorno's approach attempts to evade the homogenizing drive of identity logic that tries to simplify complexity and falsely categorize the world. 1 Throughout his work, Adorno makes clear that the ways in which identity thinking erases contradiction, antagonism, and difference aids and abets capitalism, all of which effects have implications for the ways in which it is possible to be embodied and experience the world with others. Because struggle and resistance are necessarily embodied, and because embodiment is limited by identity thinking, Adorno's attempt to think around and outside identity logic is important and timely for disability studies and feminist philosophers of disability. Instead of starting with the body, Adorno approaches embodiment through negative dialectics and constellations in order to avoid presenting the simplified body with which identity logic provides us. Though the scattering of references to the body in Adorno's writing do not form a unified theory of embodiment, he repeatedly brings the body into his analysis, insofar as he assumes that any resistance to the sufferings imposed by forms of capitalist domination will necessarily be embodied.

In an essay entitled "The Actuality of Philosophy," Adorno (2000) argues that difference gets erased through the ways that we come to know the world. In tracing out the history of Western philosophy, Adorno argues that thought separates the subject from the object and reduces the object to the subject's concept of it. Difference is thus collapsed into identity: the difference of the object and its complexity are collapsed in the simplified identity that the subject gives to it. This reductionism is what Adorno calls the problem of identitarian thinking, which is a conceptualization of the world that, as he points out, permeates modern society. Although the complexity of a given object always exceeds the way in which the subject conceives it, the subject of modern society, when confronted by the remnants of the object, perceives them as a threat to its self-mastery (Lee 2005, 30). This modern subject is intolerant of contradiction, nonidentity, and difference in the object and strives to understand the object's complexity through the familiarity of homogenizing conceptual thought. Against this modern mode of thinking that falsely categorizes the world, Adorno is interested in developing a philosophy that examines the nonidentical, that is, the difference that identity logic erases.

In Negative Dialectics, Adorno (1973, 149) argues that although thought relies on identity in order to make sense of the world, it need not do so and must not be restricted to that position. As feminist philosophers, affect theorists, and phenomenologists have long since emphasized, although we are defined by reductive categories and concepts, our experience of the world is irreducible to those concepts and categories. Adorno allows that our everyday use of common sense or other knowledge-formations involves identification. The representationalism of the tradition of Western philosophy is especially troubling, however, insofar as it has attempted to make this identification systematized, complete, and universal. Contra the representationalism of this tradition, Adorno argues that because any concept is inadequate to its object, there will always be a gap between concept and reality: the object will always elude capture by the concept, that is to say, there will always be a nonidentity between the object and any representation of it (Adorno, 1973, 189). Negative dialectics is a way of accounting for this non-identity.

The International Symbol of Access (ISA) exemplifies the non-identity between an object and the concept of it. The ISA is one of the most ubiquitous and prototypical representations of disability in Western societies: a white graphic depiction of a wheelchair user, faced to the right, presented on a blue background. Approved and promoted globally in 1969 by Rehabilitation International, an international non-governmental organization, the ISA is recognized and used internationally as the official symbol to identify facilities that are accessible to disabled people. According to Rehabilitation International, the ISA has enabled disabled people to locate, identify, and use accessible facilities and has also, through its widespread use, "created a more general awareness of the problems of accessibility faced by disabled persons" (Rehabilitation International 1978). In other words, the ISA directs individuals to accessible locations, in addition to raising general awareness about disability and accessibility by symbolizing disability.

Nevertheless, the ISA leaves much to be desired. In depicting the wheelchair as the symbol of accessibility, a person with a mobility impairment who uses a wheelchair comes to symbolize all other forms of disability. Conceptualized in this way, disability pertains only to a "young man in a wheelchair who is fit, never ill, and whose only need is a physically accessible environment" (Morris 2001, 9). This internationally-recognized, allegedly universal symbol, in other words, comes to contain disability as a physical impairment that requires a wheelchair, while sidelining and erasing other forms of impairment and disability, and the various needs of a disabled person. As Liat Ben-Moshe and Justin Powell have argued, furthermore, "the ISA is part of an attempt to create concrete and clear boundaries between 'non-disabled' and 'disabled' persons[,] when this binary belies the relational context-dependent aspect of disablement" (Ben-Moshe and Powell 2007, 495). The ISA, as a static image, does not show the fluid and changing context-dependent nature of disability and impairment that changes over the course of one's life and certainly does not account for the ways in which the violence of capitalism impacts bodies. Nor can the static character of the symbol account for the ways that developments in cybernetics, pharmaceutical therapies, prosthetic enhancements, and other medical or technological interventions will, in the years ahead, radically alter what bodies can do.

In approaching the ISA negatively, we can begin to crip the ways in which it conceptualizes disability, gesturing towards the nonidentical that is concealed through identity and opening up space for the recognition of differences that this putatively universal symbol obfuscates. As Maggie O'Neil suggests: "Non-identity thinking confronts the partial truth of an object with its potential truth. In this way, criticism can advance the interests of the truth by identifying the false, by uncovering through immanent criticism the discontinuities and mediations among social phenomena" (O'Neil 1999, 25). Through the articulation of particular embodied experiences of disability, the ISA is confronted with both that which contradicts it and that which is excluded from it.

Adorno argues that in order to know an object intimately, we must think more and negatively draw upon our particular experiences that haunt the identical: "What we may call the thing itself is not positively and immediately at hand. He who wants to know it must think more, not less … And yet the thing itself is by no means a thought product. It is nonidentity through identity" (Adorno 1973, 189). Critical reflection is necessary to expose the inadequacy of conceptualization and to intensify the presence of nonidentity. To turn conceptualization toward nonidentity, Adorno writes, "is the hinge of negative dialectics" (12). Although identity thinking seeks to contain nonidentity, it cannot do so. Concepts, on their own, can never provide a clear view of things themselves; but with critical reflection, we can gesture towards the nonidentical. Nonidentity has a presence that haunts us: something that has been left out or forgotten. Negative dialectics does not correct identity thinking's inaccuracy or incompleteness. Regardless of how precise an analytic concept may be, as the representation of a nonidentical entity, it will always be inadequate. With identitarian thinking, we find comfort in the security of knowing things to be true. Negative dialectics helps to accentuate this discomfiting experience and give meaning to the ways in which life will always exceed our knowledge and control.

This inevitable failure to contain nonidentity is why Adorno, in the opening words of Negative Dialectics (1973), seeks to free dialectics from its positive heritage of synthesis, conceiving it instead as a movement of negation. Negative dialectics, Adorno argues, is a form of thought needed in a wrong world, a wrong world full of suffering and oppression (Holloway 2009, 8). Negative dialectics is the mode of thinking that fits the antagonistic character of capitalist society and aims at overcoming it. It is in this faulty capitalistic world of equivalence that difference is thwarted. In order to struggle for a better world, we need to think "the world from that which does not fit, from those who do not fit, those who are negated and suppressed, those whose insubordination and rebelliousness break the bounds of identity, from us who exist in-and-against-and-beyond capital" (15; emphasis in Holloway).

Modern thought, in its pursuit of identitarian thinking, has ignored difference in part because thought is driven by a capitalist social formation whose exchange principle demands equivalence of exchange value and use value. For capital, the exchange value of a commodity will always dominate its value or utility, whereby equivalence dominates the logic of the exchange relationship. That is, the particularities of objects are subsumed by the abstract universal of its exchange value. Additionally, insofar as a system of exchange is predicated on abstract human labor value, the particular material character of work is displaced so that the particularities of various forms of labor become homogenized. All labor, then, becomes equal to and exchangeable with all other labor as abstract labor (Marx 1990, 155). In other words, the logic of capital makes everything exchangeable and denies difference and particularity. As Adorno argues, therefore, identity thinking emerges from an abstraction already at work in the market. As he comments, "no theory today escapes the marketplace" (Adorno 1973, 4). The inescapability of the marketplace and the commodification of the intellectual enterprise leads him to conclude that "theory does not contain answers to everything; it reacts to the world, which is faulty to the core" (31).

As nonidentity refuses identity, negative dialectics leads out of the circle of identification and approaches the object through constellations. For Adorno, there is neither synthesis nor totality, but rather, particularity and constellation. Constellations give form to an object without the elimination of difference that would reduce the thing to a concept that is itself subsumed within the terms of a universalizing and totalizing theory (Adorno 1973, 162). A thing can never be known in its immediacy or in unity with a concept and thus we can only approach the thing through a constellation of concepts that sheds light on the specific aspects of it that are left out of the identifying process (Cornell 1992, 23). In this way, the particularity of an object can be seen to operate in a negative dialectical fashion against totality as the excess of any system's thought. Overcoming a totality does not require another totality, but rather, the development of the excess negated in totality. This excess is relational. Adorno writes: "As a constellation, theoretical thought circles the concept it would like to unseal, hoping that it may fly open like the lock of a well-guarded safe-deposit box: in response, not to a single key or a single number, but to a combination of numbers" (Adorno 1973, 163).

Constellations are not about acquisition of partial knowledge, but rather about recognition of the relation of concepts to each other so that conflicts between them come to light and reveal what identitarian logic has left out. A constellation is not imposed on an object, nor can it be figured out for once and for all. Rather, one deciphers the object through a mimetic capacity, which identifies with, rather than identifying as. As Drucilla Cornell points out, furthermore, "Adorno's notion of 'identifying with' is not a return to intuition or immediacy" (Cornell 1992, 23). That is, constellations can only be formed if we have grasped the way in which representation inherently fails in identity thinking. As Cornell remarks, furthermore: "We cannot immediately see into the object; we can only approach it from different angles of contextual perspectives, knowing all the while that it is never truly recognized by our conceptual apparatus" (23-24).

Negative dialectics shows that a given object remains nonidentical, even as it is represented and made familiar. When the object is experienced as nonidentical, the subject takes a stance against the limits of conceptualization and is open to the other as other (Cornell 1992, 24). Negative dialectics does not set up new concepts, but rather relates the old concepts to each other in order to show what has been left out—that is, what conflicts. If we take the preferred conception of an object and compare it with what the object does in practice, it becomes possible to detect contradictions between the conception and practice, that is, between what the object is and what the object does. It thus, in turn, becomes possible to return to the conception (of a given object) in order to problematize it.

For example, the emphasis on individual autonomy that permeates modern Western society is negated when we consider the concept of individual autonomy through the lens of critical disability studies (Shildrick 2009; Fritsch 2010). The critical disability studies literature that emphasizes relations of interdependence points to what is excluded from the concept of the subject when that subject is assumed to possess individual autonomy and, through the conflict of the nonidentical, exposes the complexity of the concept of individual autonomy and the possibility of other forms of being.

There are many ways in which feminist philosophy of disability and disability studies can benefit from thinking negatively. In one exploration of the ways in which a particular difference—namely, disability—is important, Garland-Thomson (2011, 604) theorizes disabled people as "misfits" within a society of equivalence, noting that "misfitting can yield innovative perspectives." She argues: "When we fit harmoniously and properly into the world, we forget the truth of contingency because the world sustains us. When we experience misfitting and recognize that disjuncture for its political potential, we expose the relational component and the fragility of fitting" (597). The difference of disability as misfit opens up political possibilities through confronting what fits with that which does not. It is in this antagonistic misfit that the nonidentity of disability is exposed.

Critical reflection on the logic of equivalence and fitting has implications for current conceptions of difference, in general, and disability, in particular. Jasbir Puar (2012) challenges disability activists and scholars to rethink the significance that they give to disability as a difference that matters and to, instead, consider all bodies in terms of affective neoliberal control. In something akin to creating constellations, Puar moves us away from thinking through binaries of abled/disabled and reframes this relationship in terms of debility and capacity to attend to changes within capitalism. In doing so, she argues that all bodies in neoliberal capitalism are "being evaluated in relation to their success or failure in terms of health, wealth, progressive productivity, upward mobility, [and] enhanced capacity" (155). As such, there is no body that meets the standard of adequately able-bodied anymore, but rather there are "gradations of capacity and debility in control societies" that blur the distinction between disabled and non-disabled (ibid.). Puar contends that given biopolitical developments in neoliberal capitalism, normalizing the disabled body is no longer the major focus of medical intervention. A biopolitical shift has occurred whose focus is the differential capacitation of all bodies, she claims, not the achievement of a normative able-bodiness. That is, through capacitating processes like genetic therapies, surgeries, supplements, prosthetic enhancements, and healthism, there is a shift from regulative normality that cures or rehabilitates to biological control, where bodies are to be capacitated beyond what is thought of as the able-body. According to Puar, neoliberalism mobilizes the tension between capacity and debility to break down the binaries between normative/non-normative, disabled/abled because "debility is profitable to capitalism, but so is the demand to 'recover' from or overcome it" (154) through processes of capacitation. An economics of both debility and capacity serves the interests of neoliberal capital and reshapes formations of disability. For example, with the development of bioinformatics, where bodies are not identities, but rather data or pieces of emergent information, it is relevant to ask: "which debilitated bodies can be reinvigorated for neoliberalism, and which cannot?" (153). Such a shift changes how disability can be conceived and materialized across levels of social and material relations, in addition to questioning the presumed capacitated status of abled-bodies. This inquiry requires other modes of intervention. The point is not to disregard the role of pathology and processes of normalization, but rather to complicate the horizon by which we come to any form of embodiment at all. Therefore, Puar's intervention into disability studies examines the ways in which the difference of disability is produced and how particular forms of disability become valorized. Intervening in the ways in which the binary of disabled and abled is produced through the lens of capacity and debility makes it possible to question the ways in which the difference of disability reifies an exceptionalism and simplified conceptualization of disability that only certain privileged disabled bodies can occupy (ibid.). In this way, Puar's project grasps at the nonidentical—how disability can be theorized when the concept of disability is not contained by processes of normativity.

Puar's intervention is uncomfortable for disability studies insofar as she challenges the ways in which the field of inquiry reproduces disability as an oppressed identity and an aggrieved subject enacted through "wounded attachments" (Puar 2012, 157). Puar's project of rethinking disability is to move from disability to debility, not in order to "disavow the crucial political gains enabled by disability activists globally, but to invite a deconstruction of what ability and capacity mean, affective and otherwise, and to push for a broader politics of debility that destabilizes the seamless production of abled-bodies in relation to disability" (166). In doing so, Puar asks: "How would our political landscape transform if it actively decentered the sustained reproduction and proliferation of the grieving subject, opening instead toward an affective politics, attentive to ecologies of sensation and switchpoints of bodily capacities, to habituations and unhabituations, to tendencies, multiple temporalities, and becomings?" (157). Puar thus calls for a non-anthropocentric affective politics that moves us away from exceptional aggrieved human subjects whose injury can be converted into cultural capital. Although Puar recognizes the ways in which equivalence and identity are at work within neoliberal capitalist economies, she challenges this pairing through an examination of the processes of capacity and debility that exceed the category of disability.

If, following Adorno, we place disability in a constellation with feminist philosophy of disability and negative dialectics, we arrive at a place where disability theory is produced in reaction to a faulty world. That is, disability is conceived in relation to the capitalist mode of production, whereby exchange value and equivalence results in conceptual frameworks of identity and sameness. In negatively approaching disability, we do not set up new concepts, but rather relate old concepts to each other in order to show what has been left out of the conceptualization—what conflicts. The task of the critic is to illuminate cracks in the totality, moments of disharmony, and discrepancy. This, then, is precisely where suffering enters the picture.

Locating the Suffering Body and the Transfigured Crip to Come

Negative dialectics, not unlike poststructuralist projects, reveals the potential for existing in difference and affinity. For Adorno, in particular, however, exploration of suffering and of the ways in which difference can evade the homogenizing logic of capital are central to opening up space for difference. Central to this difference, that is, is the need to negotiate the body by thinking it through suffering, which includes acknowledging different types of suffering. The negative experience of suffering causes tensions in social relations and illuminates the contradictions in society that can facilitate action for change. Revealing the sufferings of the body and the ways in which capital glosses over them allows us to challenge these social contradictions and find other ways of living. For Adorno, the transfigured body is that to which hope for change clings: a body that has been transfigured by negative dialectics in order that what has been glossed over, forgotten, or manipulated into identical equivalence can be transformed by difference. Adorno tries to give voice to the suffering body, a body that is both physical and social, a site of the history of oppression, pain, and injustice; the body is a point of hope and promise in the face of all the failings of society. That is, hope clings to the suffering body that can be transfigured.

We find hope for the complexity of the suffering body within the work of Eli Clare. Clare (1999) writes: "bodies can be stolen, fed lies and poison, torn away from us." Nevertheless, "the stolen body," Clare asserts, "can be reclaimed … as for the lies and false images, we need to name them, transform them, create something entirely new in their place, something that comes close and finally true to the bone, entering our bodies as liberation, joy, fury, hope, a will to refigure the world" (2). As he notes, however, it is not easy to find hope: "My personal history isn't so easy to step through; the slivers tear my skin; the old familiar pain leaves me guarded and cautious. And the collective history is hard to reduce to a pure story of resistance and subversion that I want to celebrate and use" (95). The material must come together with critical thought. "The work of refiguring the world is often framed as the work of changing the material, external conditions of our oppression. But just as certainly, our bodies—or, more accurately, what we believe about our bodies—need to change so that they don't become storage sites, traps, for the very oppression we want to eradicate" (Clare 2001, 363).

Clare (2001, 364) negotiates the complexity of a suffering body in pain and the equipment to alleviate pain as much as to capacitate it:

I am asking that we pay attention to our bodies—our stolen bodies and our reclaimed bodies. To the wisdom that tells us the causes of the injustice we face lie outside our bodies, and also to the profound relationships our bodies have to that injustice, to the ways our identities are inextricably linked to our bodies. We need to do this because there are disability activists so busy defining disability as an external social condition that they neglect the daily realities of our bodies: the reality of living with chronic pain; the reality of needing personal attendants to help us pee and shit (and of being at once grateful for those PAs and deeply regretting our lack of privacy); the reality of disliking the very adaptive equipment that makes our day-to-day lives possible. We need to do this because there are disability thinkers who can talk all day about the body as metaphor and symbol but never mention flesh and blood, bone and tendon—never even acknowledge their own bodies. We need to do this because without our bodies, without the lived bodily experience of identity and oppression, we won't truly be able to refigure the world.

Thinking suffering in what Clare calls the "stolen body" cannot be done with identitarian logic and philosophy. In the Dialectic of Enlightenment, Horkheimer and Adorno (1999) criticize philosophy for being in bed with the dominant mode of production by bifurcating the mind and body. They accuse philosophy of severing the physical and sensual aspects of human existence from the productivity of thought by both separating emotion from reason and promoting pure reason; that is, they critique the ways that philosophy promotes the productivity of thought and pure reason, cut off from the physical, sensuous aspects of human existence. As thought becomes increasingly efficient, the less thinking thought is able to do. Such "sanitized thinking" will only reiterate and reproduce what is already known and exists. Thought becomes banal without emotion and without an engagement with the sensuousness of embodiment, reproducing the world without challenging it. For Adorno, the intellect is grounded in sensual experience. In Minima Moralia, Adorno (2005, 122) writes: "The assumption that thought profits from the decay of the emotions, or even that it remains unaffected, is itself an expression of the process of stupefaction. …The faculties, having developed through interaction, atrophy once they are severed from each other." That thought will be more productive when separated from emotions is a part of modernity's identitarian thinking.

Adorno, in contrast to philosophy's vivisection of the body that perpetuates the division of mental and physical labour, attempts to bring the corporeal into philosophy. For Adorno, mind and body are reconciled through mediation: the difference between the mind and the body is to be preserved without doing violence to either by liquidating this difference. Even as Adorno wants to expose the ways in which the mind has repressed the body in the process of identity thinking, his negative dialectic approaches this relationship by acknowledging that the mind and body are mutually constituted and constitutive. Reconciliation of the mind and body is, therefore, a moment of nonidentity. Following Clare, as much as Adorno, philosophy of disability and disability studies can benefit from putting philosophy and embodiment together to critically reflect upon suffering. As Lisa Yun Lee puts it, "The body is the site where even in the anesthetized world of glossy magazines and sugar substitutes, pain and suffering still leave their indelible traces. The ability to truly experience suffering becomes the condition of critical and moral consciousness" (Lee 2005, 137).

Critically focusing on the significance of suffering forces philosophy of disability and disability studies to consider the celebration of disability as a difference that matters and the desire to overcome the sufferings of disability. As Nirmala Erevelles asks, how can we celebrate disabled embodiment when its very existence, as much as its overcoming, is inextricably linked to the violence of social and economic conditions of capitalism? (Erevelles 2011, 17). To think through suffering is to begin with the many different and contradictory ways that disabled people suffer: from physical pain, to social pains, to the pains of medical "cures," to painful navigation of the built environment, the experience of our bodies failing in the face of normative standards, the pains of wanting to pass, the shame/pride of passing, or to the ways in which our disabilities, impairments, and injuries continually feed into, and are fed by, pharmaceutical companies and the military-industrial complex that develops so many of the technologies that we use on our bones, organs, and affective selves. To begin with the suffering disabled body is to see these pains and sufferings as social, to see them as ways to put our bodies in relation to one another that expose the contradictions that result from the privatization of goods and resources and the demands of capitalism according to which bodies must be exchangeable. Using the pain and violence inherent in capitalism to express suffering will enable us to take a step towards a different kind of celebration of disability pride, not unlike how shame and pride work in relation to produce a togetherness in troubling times (Chandler 2010). If we insist that our particular sufferings do not have glossy solutions, then, we may, as transfigured crips, prop open the door to crip communities of difference, where such communal crippings can make room for desiring what disability disrupts by exposing the violence of identitarian equivalence inherent to capitalism.

Not all our sufferings can be alleviated, and furthermore, we must be critical and reflective about how we alleviate our pains and what kind of pains should be alleviated. Do we want to be at ease, or rather, be put at ease, by pharmaceutical development? By the military-industrial complex? By extractive mining practices that provide us with steel and aluminum devices? Or by the exploitative labor practices that provide us with our computers? Do we want to find employment as, or become employers of, caregivers only so that we can go to accessible restaurants and consume our way to freedom and contentment? As Erevelles asks, "within what social conditions might we welcome the disability to come, to desire it?" In order to desire disability, Erevelles remarks, we must create the "historical condition of possibility that does not reproduce economic exploitation on a global scale" (Erevelles 2011, 29).

In a text entitled "The Importance of the Body," that is appended to the Dialectic of Enlightenment, Horkheimer and Adorno (1999, 234) argue that the sensuous body has been turned into a corpse, something that can be possessed, dominated, but never escaped. The body is looked upon "with the gaze of a coffin maker" (235) and life is reduced to a chemical process. In "Le Prix du Progres" (also appended to Dialectic of Enlightenment), they write of their reservations about medical anesthesia, suggesting that it is representative of a larger social order, whereby the physical process of oblivion and forgetting suffering is replicated in our own ethical relationships (229- 230). This forgetting of suffering is accomplished by the technological domination of our bodies and through the culture industry. The culture industry—the standardization and consolidation of popular cultural goods like films, radio programmes, and magazines—seeks to erase sensitivity towards, and memory of, suffering. Horkheimer and Adorno argue that suffering is itself an object of consumption, that the loss of memory of suffering is a transcendental condition for science, and that all objectification is a forgetting (230).

Audre Lorde (1997) argues against women obtaining prosthetic breasts after a mastectomy, for she maintains that the prosthesis silences and renders invisible the difference that she wishes to affirm: that breast cancer is not a private, nor a secret personal problem, but is rather a political issue (62- 63). Barbara Ehrenreich (2001), in reflections on her experience of the breast cancer industry, notes how the suffering associated with cancer can be consumed and, in its consumption, actual suffering is forgotten. Ehrenreich writes:

You can dress in pink-beribboned sweatshirts, denim shirts, pajamas, lingerie, aprons, loungewear, shoelaces, and socks; accessorize with pink rhinestone brooches, angel pins, scarves, caps, earrings, and bracelets; brighten up your home with breast-cancer candles, stained-glass pink-ribbon candleholders, coffee mugs, pendants, wind chimes, and night-lights; pay your bills with special BreastChecks or a separate line of Checks for the Cure. "Awareness" beats secrecy and stigma of course, but I can't help noticing that the existential space in which a friend has earnestly advised me to "confront [my] mortality" bears a striking resemblance to the mall.(46)

This loss of the memory of suffering is actively at work in the history of disability. Jennifer James (2011), drawing on Henri-Jacques Striker's A History of Disability, argues that the rush, in post-First-World-War France, to fix bodies that were considered broken and impaired occurred without recognition of the ways in which these disabled bodies had been socially produced. Rather, fixing these bodies through prosthetic devices such as crutches and wooden legs was designed to facilitate a forgetting of the First-World War in France. Repairing the disabled body was a way to redeem society and erase the memory of the violence that brought disability into being in this historical context (138). Adorno pushes us to remember that which made us disabled.

Horkheimer and Adorno argue in the Dialectic of Enlightenment that the culture industry represses the body, rather than giving expression to it. The body, as a site of pleasure, desire, and passion is easily commodified. The culture industry produces false pleasures that do not address the laboring body that experiences pain and suffering. The culture industry effectively destroys the sensuous nature of existence by offering pleasure that "always means to not think about anything, to forget suffering even where it is shown." If pleasure allows flight, they argue, it is not from the "wretched reality" created by capitalism, "but from the last remaining thought of resistance" (Horkheimer and Adorno 1999, 144).

If pleasure is about forgetting suffering and is a flight away from resistance, then emancipation comes through the experience of suffering. For Puar, this emancipation through the experience of suffering requires the recognition of the ways in which capacity and debility are at play. For Garland-Thomson, this emancipation through the experience of suffering requires taking into account the misfitting of disabled bodies. For Clare, the experience of suffering requires the exploration of the ways in which our bodies have been stolen from us. The suffering body experiences the failure of the unity of the subject and object. By focusing on suffering, negative dialectics disrupts this false totality by revealing the nonidentity of the object and giving a glimpse of the possibility of reconciliation (Lee 2005, 150). Negative dialectics gets at "what things in their interrelatedness might become if they were allowed to rest in their affinity rather than forever being stuffed into a new system of identification" (Cornell 1992, 25).

In short, for Horkheimer and Adorno, the culture industry turns every emotion and experience into a commodity. The culture industry depoliticizes suffering and does not prevent suffering. The only thing that the culture industry prevents is the active remembering of suffering. Adorno sees the culture industry as deploying pleasure to undermine resistance to existing wrongs, that is, to deflect our attention away from the sufferings of others and also numb us to our own sufferings, even when these various sufferings are made apparent to us. To derive pleasure from the strategies deployed by the culture industry "means not to think about anything, to forget suffering even when it is shown" (1999, 144). The culture industry must never allow the customer to suspect that resistance is possible (141). Thus, suffering can be consumed as enjoyment; and when suffering is consumed as enjoyment, part of its horror is removed (O'Neil 1999, 29).

Such a deployment of pleasure to undermine resistance to existing wrongs is apparent in a recent "inspirational" image of disabled bodies that is circulating on the internet, Facebook, and Twitter. The image depicts disabled Olympic athlete Oscar Pistorius and a young, blond, white, disabled girl in a yellow dress, accompanied by a quote from former figure skater Scott Hamilton that reads: "The only disability in life is a bad attitude." Dubbed "inspirational porn" (Willitts 2012), this image reinforces ableism by suggesting that disability is something that should be overcome (and can be overcome through an attitude-adjustment), rather than a significant difference that should be approached critically and reflectively. The circulation of the image also glosses over neoliberal austerity practices that have affected thousands of disabled people in London and across Europe, as the social welfare state is eroded and any social benefits for disabled people are cut. This image thus deflects the suffering associated with ableism and neoliberal austerity practices that were simultaneously deployed during the 2012 Olympics in London. In response to the London Olympics and wider neoliberal austerity programs across the United Kingdom, however, disabled bodies gathered in protest throughout the U.K. (McRuer 2012). Such protests show not only the sufferings that have been made possible by recent economic reforms, but also lay bare the inspirational porn of ableist culture that seeks to gloss over the violence of the constraints upon how and where disability can show itself. As Adorno comments, "the smallest trace of senseless suffering in the empirical world belies all the identitarian philosophy that would talk us out of that suffering: 'While there is a beggar, there is a myth,' as Benjamin put it" (1973, 203).

Suffering counters ideal categories of being, acting as a crack in the totality of identity thinking and domination and shaking us out of our acceptance of the status quo (Eagan 2006, 283). Suffering marks our vulnerability, which we continually try to cover over and control. The experience of suffering and the materiality of the body negate the fantasy of the body as an always absolutely knowable object. The suffering and vulnerable body points to the way in which we must yield to the object and attempt to experience nonidentity without fearing the loss of self. In this contingent position of vulnerability, the subject-knower is rendered more powerful and is transformed in relation with others. This transformation is an "endless, iterative, and reflexive process of understanding that is receptive of the experience of otherness, including the otherness within ourselves" (Heberle 2006, 226). This otherness is, in a word, nonidentity.

Receptivity to otherness must happen between people who are perceived as able-bodied and people who are categorized as disabled, as well as within disabled communities themselves. Elizabeth Donaldson (2011) troubles the relationship between physically disabled people and people who have been labeled mentally ill or cognitively disabled by arguing:

Using a wheelchair does not disrupt the notion of American quite so much as being delusional does. For example, although the physical barriers that exist for wheelchair users are very real and pervasive, they are quite different in nature from mental competency requirements that restrict the rights to vote or to refuse medication. The barriers confronting people with severe mental illnesses and cognitive disabilities are more complicated because they involve the concept of the self that is the very foundation of our political system. (105)

Within disability studies and disabled communities, physical impairments that lead to the use of a wheelchair or other adaptive device are often prioritized as embodying what disability is, as the hegemony of the ISA demonstrates. I have used Adorno's negative dialectic to remind us that our conceptualization of disability always already leaves out and forgets the particularity of the other's experience. Adorno reminds us that we must be touched by the suffering of others and the suffering within ourselves without appropriating it. Puar's remarks about processes of capacity and debility remind us that there is no one way to experience suffering, nor can we reduce or trivialize particular instances of suffering: the conceptualization of suffering is never adequate to what is experienced, there is something not contained, not heard in its conceptualization. The excess that haunts all conceptualization makes the full expression of suffering an impossibility. Thus, in order to take suffering seriously, we must form uncomfortable communities, communities that come together to fight against this wrong world, but that do so without sameness or the celebratory pleasure of absolute identity. Although we cannot entirely escape the frame in which suffering is shaped, our experiences of suffering can push us to think more, and to think more critically: "The physical moment tells our knowledge that suffering ought not to be, that things should be different" (Adorno 1973, 203). Negative dialectics exposes the remainder that sustains the possibility for critique and change. Inasmuch as Adorno's philosophy construes suffering as a dialectic between the individual experience and the social context that creates suffering, it is about taking up suffering through "the development of an attitude of tenderness toward otherness and gentleness toward oneself as a sensual creature" (Cornell 1992, 37) that allows space for the remainder.

Although feminist theorists have not typically considered Adorno as a theorist of the body or substantially taken up his work, feminist philosophers and theorists of disability have much to gain by thinking in constellation with Adorno. For Adorno, the body is both a site in which domination and suffering manifest and a site that offers hidden promises. Hope lingers in the body; the body is both subversive and affirmative, poison and cure. Negative dialectics reminds us of the relations of domination and exclusion, of the role that capital plays in making everything identical, and of the way in which exchange value subsumes difference. In addition, negative dialectics reminds us of the role of emotion and the sensuousness of thought, and how experience can push thought to think more, rather than less. And in thinking more, in revealing contradiction and what is excluded, we can come closer to living in affinity with difference through uncomfortable communities. In Adorno's essay "Scientific Experiences of a European Scholar in America," he notes: "We become free human beings not by each of us realizing ourselves as individuals, but rather in that we go out of ourselves, enter into relation with others, and in a certain sense relinquish ourselves to them" (1998, 240). This freedom is based on an ethics of co-existence, rather than based on an ethics of individualism or consumption. In relinquishing ourselves to others, we move towards emancipation, a place that "would conceive the better state as one in which people could be different without fear" (Adorno 2005, 102). That utopian promise necessitates remembering one's own alien land—the body—in affinity with nonidentity.

Not all disabled people suffer equally. Some disabled people are capacitated in ways that are counter-productive to radically refiguring the world. Some people are debilitated through violent processes that should not be celebrated. If it is disabled people—crips—who are the transfigured bodies to come, then these are the bodies that will aid in refiguring the wrongs of our world. For some disabled bodies have been stolen and serve to remind us of the violence of capitalism and the sufferings inherent to its social and cultural order. Some disabled bodies also represent an uncomfortable difference, a misfit that should be welcomed without fear. It is disabled bodies that haunt the able-bodied world in shame and pride and show the relationship of nonidentity between the misfit bodies and the normatively conceived abled body. Perhaps the transfigured crip, through the assertion that there is always a remainder that exposes contradictions and haunts the limits of thought, will pose the greatest challenge to, and undo, both neoliberal capitalism and the category of disability itself. In taking the differences and similarities of our sufferings seriously, critically, and reflectively, we open up spaces, cracks, and possibilities for the difference of uncomfortable crip communities to come.

I would like to thank Shelley Tremain, Aaron Gordon, and two anonymous reviewers for their contributions to this paper.


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Kelly Fritsch is a PhD Candidate in Social and Political Thought at York University in Toronto. In her dissertation, she explores disability as a social-material practice of the human and non-human and considers the implications of approaching disability in this way for fighting against capitalism. Her work intersects disability studies, feminist philosophy of the body, science and technology studies, and biopolitics. Her work appears in Critical Disability Discourse and Upping the Anti: A Journal of Theory and Action.


  1. Adorno's fight against simplification makes his work difficult to read insofar as he both chooses to write in a challenging way and refuses recourse in existing categories. Because Adorno's writing can be difficult to understand, I offer a simplified story about Adorno (rather than quote him at length) with the aim of placing negative dialectics in a productive constellation with feminist philosophy of disability.
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