Disorienting encounter with disability are those in which the meaning of disability is an open question, and in which our relation to it is questionable. This essay explores the relationship between disability and disorientation on conceptual but also concrete levels. First, I examine the connection between disability and disorientation within disability studies. Second, I provide a preliminary sketch of disorientation through what I call ontic disruption and ontological disorientation. Third, I take up Leder's (1990) articulation of bodily disappearance and embodied dysappearance to address ableist violence. Finally, I develop the notion of dysorientation — a prolonged, persistent or recurrent sense of disorientation — as a useful concept for understanding experiences of ableism but also as a significant meeting point between impairment and disability.


This essay explores the relationship between disability and disorientation on conceptual but also concrete levels. First, I provide a preliminary sketch of disorientation through what I call ontic disruption and ontological disorientation. Second, I take up Leder's (1990) articulation of bodily disappearance, and embodied dysappearance, to address ableist encounters with disability. Finally, I develop the notion of dysorientation - a prolonged, persistent or recurrent sense of disorientation — as a useful concept for understanding experiences of ableism but also a significant meeting point between impairment and disability.

Building on Ahmed's (2006) discussion of orientation, I argue that disorienting encounters with disability and, more specifically, experiences of dysorientation are vital. We need them. Disabled and non-disabled people need them to appreciate that (and how) meanings and experiences shape bodies and lives lived in proximity to impairment/disability and through disablement. Similarly, scholars working within and across disability studies, phenomenology and ethics need ontic/ontological disorientation and dysorientation as a way of appreciating that these encounters are not the occasion for prescription or even explanation but rather for reflection. Disorienting encounters put us—all of us—in touch with where we are (here and now) and what might unfold (the future), but they also put us in touch with how these encounters are each time (re)shaping the paths that led "here" just as they shape the paths we follow "there."

In Contours of Ableism, Campbell (2009) writes of, "a disorientation faced by all disabled people." (194) Building on Ahmed's (2006) articulation of orientation as "being about facing certain objects…that help us find our way," (1), Campbell describes this disorientation ontologically as, "the lived experience of facing at least two directions: towards a home that has been lost…and to a place that is not yet home." (194). By exploring disorientation phenomenologically as a lived experience we can understand disorienting encounters as more than moments of discursive violence but also as moments of productive exposure to multiple ways of knowing and being. A phenomenological approach is particularly useful for this project because it allows us "to describe," as Weiss notes, "the familiar after it has been rendered unfamiliar through the bracketing of the presumptions one usually brings to bear on one's everyday experiences" (2). By bracketing (or suspending) those aspects of perception or experience that otherwise seem to be "common sense," we can better describe how those experiences unfold. Here, performing this bracketing can help us appreciate disorientation as more than a lapse or lack of orientation by exposing the variety of relations that shape meanings and experiences of disability.

Ontic Disruption and Ontological Disorientation

In this essay, my argument is that disorientation is not merely the absence or lack of orientation (just as disability is not defined as the lack of ability); instead, it is through disorienting encounters that existing meanings of disability are revealed and new meanings generated. In this way, disorientation describes various ways of relating to the world and, here specifically, to disability. In this section, I use a phenomenological distinction to frame the range of disorienting encounters with disability as either ontic disruption or as ontological disorientation.

Ontic disruption includes small moments that may be surprising or unexpected but nevertheless leave the person involved relatively unchanged. Ontological disorientation entails life—and perspective—changing experiences. While it is tempting to say that this project is more concerned with one category of experience rather than another, the two are not so easily separated. In starting with ontic disruption and then moving to ontological disorientation I do not mean to suggest a causal link between the two. Rather, the relationship between ontic disruption and ontological disorientation, and the difference between them, is one of intensity. Both modes of disorientation are characterized by a dysappearance of the world and/or the body (Leder 1990), but ontic disruption ceases to be and recedes to the background relatively swiftly, while ontological disorientation leads to a turn in our orientation to the world as well as the body. Disorienting encounters with disability, and disorientation as a lived experience, can arise in social interactions but also in isolation. Both encounter and experience may play out in public or remain within one's innermost experiences.

In her essay "Blind Faith", Kleege (2010) gives an account of ontic disruption that is itself an encounter with disability. This story takes place in her home. "It had been a lowering, overcast day," Kleege writes, "but the clouds had lifted enough at the horizon to reveal the sun as an intense orange disk set off by the general grayness of the darkening sky" (57). She sits quietly to enjoy the view. Eventually, she notices how long she has been watching. The discrepancy between the time she had been looking and the usual time it takes the sun to set (when it is already orange) is her first clue that something is strange. Kleege writes:

It [the sun] remained in the same place I had first noticed it, and appeared to be the same size and shape. Also, the sky was growing steadily darker, even though the sun's light stayed at the same level of intensity. Still I continued to watch, thinking that if this seemed strange to me it was only because I had not been paying enough attention to sunsets lately and had grown unfamiliar with the natural course of the phenomenon. More time passed, and at last I recognized my mistake. The orange light I had taken for the sun was in fact only a sodium vapor street lamp. (57)

Kleege uses this experience to open up a larger discussion of blindness as a way of being that is informed by everyday uncertainties and not knowing. In turn, this discussion provides a working understanding of ontic disruption. According to Kleege, this incident is neither an error in judgment nor a lack of knowledge. Based on her experience of being blind for over forty years, she argues that blindness provides an epistemically rich position. Blindness renders a world that is at once know-able and full of meaning but also rich in meaningful unknowns. In this way, Kleege suggests an ontological dimension to blindness (and disability) that implicates disorientation as a way of being.

Kleege's account teaches us a great deal about ontic disruption. First, it demonstrates that disorientation can unfold in the course of everyday life in such a way that one becomes aware of experiencing without being "thrown" by it. Second, it shows disorientation as an experience of being turned around by everyday objects. Third, it emphasizes impairment/disability as generative of (an) orientation that can be disrupted rather than as a state of ongoing disorientation. Further, she suggests that disorientation, even when it is a common experience, is not analogous to being lost. For Kleege, blindness has been a starting point for the majority of her life and it is this orientation that is disrupted. Thus, she reverses the traditional sense of blindness as lack or loss of vision that is already disorienting, stressing, "my eyes always deceive me but my blindness never lets me down." (58) Importantly, Kleege's discussion moves beyond an understanding of blindness as a disruption of eyes that should see clearly. For her, blindness—as a lived experience—can be replete with uncertainty but this uncertainty, because it is a lived experience, need not be alienating.

In contrast, playwright Lynn Manning presents numerous examples of ontological disorientation that unfold in his semi-autobiographical one-man play, "Weights". Manning's account of ontological disorientation is rooted in a taken-for-granted orientation to the world that, once disrupted, can never be retrieved. The play is a mix of monologues and poetry reflecting Manning's experiences of growing up non-disabled, acquiring impairment, and the development of his sense of blindness. Manning's account, almost twenty years later, of the night he acquired impairment is full of affective and narrative description. Together, these details "set the scene" for an ordinary night in the life of a young artist who is finally enjoying some recognition. 1 Manning awoke in a hospital bed. A stranger who he had been arguing with earlier in the evening had shot him in the face. He could not see. This is a fairly straightforward account of violently acquired impairment. Manning, however, turns away from the traditional overcoming narrative. "Weights" is not the story of a slow but sure psychophysical recovery and acceptance of blindness. Instead, it is a story about coming to (live with) blindness, its embodied meaning(s), and the sense it makes. Although his injury was traumatic, it was still, at first, only an ontic disruption. This is evident in his early efforts at "recovery" and rehabilitation. Manning explains that he did not live "like a blind person" for some time after his injury. For weeks after he was shot, he had little to no independence and relied on his doctors and his family to take care of him. A regime of medical professionals and family members set (low) expectations and helped him meet them. At this point, he only knew what it was like to suddenly be without sight and not what it meant to be blind. His efforts to regain (re-orient to) his sighted sense of the world left his blindness at the level of ontic disruption. Rather than "coming to terms" with the loss of his sight as his rehabilitation counselor had suggested, he thought that the best way to adjust to blindness was to learn how to live as a blind person.

If, as Ahmed (2006) tells us, orientation describes the processes, practices, and starting points that shape experiences and meanings, Manning's account illustrates that orientations are in turn shaped by moments of disorientation. Manning describes his experiences of ontological disorientation as providing a new starting point. For him, the real experiences of disorientation begin on his first Orientation & Mobility lesson when he receives his first cane. He learns basic cane techniques quickly: "tap to the left when I step with my right foot and tap to the right when I step with my left foot…I can figure out how to make it look cool later" (Manning 2003). At this stage he relates to his cane as a simple tool with a singular purpose. Disorientation occurs during his first "homework" assignment: a trip around the block. He sweeps his cane from side to side as he moves forward. His cane bumps into something, then something else. Manning begins to feel assaulted by the unseen world. He gives up after his cane has connected with countless objects, not even half way around the block. Exasperated, he wonders, "Why the hell can't I walk straight?" His instructor explains, "that's what the cane is for; when you hit something you know where it is" (2007). This exchange encourages Manning to experience his cane, and the world, differently. He experiences what Merleau-Ponty (2004) and Leder (1990) call "incorporation". His cane is no longer simply a tool but becomes an extension of his bodily and embodied experience of the world. His bumping into things does not have the negative connotations of, say, a new driver bumping into something. The bumps are moments of interconnection shared between himself, his cane, and the world. Approaching his impairment and disability from this new perspective is itself ontologically disorienting. He writes:

A whole new way of knowing the world was opening up to me…through my nose, through my ears, through my feet, through my pores, lights and shadows took on physical dimensions, became solid bands of heat and coolness that swiped at me as I passed…. (2003)

Manning's account of ontological disorientation details an experience of the exposure of orientations to the world that, once disrupted, can never be covered over. Reflecting on this way of experiencing, Manning notes, "blind people had to have known all along" about this particular way of knowing the world. I consider Manning's account an example of ontological disorientation because he is unsure of his place in, and relation to, the world in his own body. Finally, Manning's story suggests that ontological disorientation occurs when one realizes that an encounter has led to a different sense of being in the world or, more accurately, the realization that they are already in the world differently.

The Absent Body: Disappearance and Dysappearance

As the above examples have shown, disorientation is about turning and being turned by the relatedness of bodies, things, and people. Now, I take up how encounters with disability occur in bodily, embodied, and social experiences of disorientation through a discussion of Leder's (1990) analysis of "the absent body". Specifically, I focus on his distinction between "disappearance" — the absence of the body and its parts to our everyday experience — and "dysappearance" — the uncomfortable self-presencing of (parts of) the body that otherwise go unnoticed. Extending Leder's work into the realm of social relations helps us understand how certain bodies are (made to) disappear and, in turn, dysappear.


Taking a phenomenological perspective, Leder begins with an understanding of the body as a source of experience and meaning. The crux of his argument is that Merleau-Ponty's articulation of the lived body emphasizes bodily presence within experience while largely ignoring the multitude of absences that condition the possibility of outward perception. "The body," he reminds us, "not only projects outward in experience but falls back into unexperience-able depths" (53). To illustrate this point, Leder imagines himself leaning against a fence overlooking a field with a tree at its center (11). As he looks at the field, his body disappears. While focusing on the tree, he is not aware of his legs holding him up, of the sensation of his arms or hands on the fence, or of the wind on his face. Somewhere in the background his heart pumps blood through his body while his eyes, optic nerves, and brain work together to facilitate "seeing". The absent body is just as significant to embodied experience as surface perception.

Leder provides a specific definition for his use of disappearance. Rather than describing something that was once present but is no longer available to perception or awareness (as in common usage), Leder uses disappearance to describe "that which never shows itself for structural reasons" (27). "To disappear," he explains, is "simply to not-appear" (Ibid.) What is important about this aspect of Leder's work is his argument that for specific perceptions and actions — both in the moment they occur and as a condition of their occurrence — something must disappear. When Leder observes the tree, his eyes disappear. I suggest that disability, as both the process and lived experience of disablement, is characterized by similar kinds of disappearance occurring on the bodily and social level.

Leder's sense of disappearance, as non-appearance, supports Campbell's (2009) use of disorientation to describe disabled embodiment, especially in the context of dissecting ableism. Her argument is that it operates (most effectively) through its own self-effacement. This is why "the disabled body" carries broad ranging yet largely unspoken corporeal and conceptual meaning while "the able-bodied" does not. The able-body disappears. Examining this disappearance through moments of disorientation serves to point out socio-cultural practices as well as to mark ontologies that "simply do not appear" (Leder 26). In defining ableism, Campbell forces us to dwell with its presence rather than simply acknowledge its appearance. This can be both uncomfortable and, in many senses, disorienting. Leder develops a phenomenological account of uncomfortable bodily self-presencing in his notion of dysappearance. His analysis offers a clear link between bodily and embodied (including social) experiences of impairment/disability. Specifically, he provides the foundation for my understanding of disorienting encounters with disability as, at least partially, the forced self-presencing of orientations towards disability.


For Leder, the body dysappears in and through dysfunction or abnormality precisely as dysfunctional and abnormal. As he articulates it, dys-appearance entails the self-presencing of the body as a body gone wrong—wrong in itself or wrong for a specific action. While it is a distinct mode of experience, dys-appearance exposes the otherwise non-apparent body and lays bare the relationship between bodily presence and disappearance. In and through dys-appearance, "the body appears to explicit awareness" effecting, as Leder understands it, "an attentional reversal" (86). Rather than going unnoticed in its normalcy, the body becomes the center of attention.

Perceptually speaking, dys-appearance simultaneously shrinks the world and enlarges the body in which we live. Dys-appearance can lead to a disruption of attention, intention, and movement. The dys-appearing body effectively cuts us off from the rest of the world such that the body takes on an "alien presence" (74). To illustrate this, he asks us to imagine a tennis player who is thoroughly engaged in a vigorous game until, in the midst of the match, he feels tightness in his chest. At first, he tries to ignore it. Then, he finds it difficult to breathe. Soon his focus on the game and his opponent are gone completely. The feeling in his chest is both all Leder's tennis player can think about, and all he cares about. Describing dys-appearance as a sense of the body as a body gone wrong thus means many things: a sign that something is wrong with some part of the body and that this "something" is making itself present as wrong (abnormal).

Dysappearance draws the attention of readers committed to understanding disability through social relations. Not only are Leder's primary examples reliant on a normative sense of the body but also his "common sense" claims explicitly render impaired bodies "out of play". Someone paralyzed from the waist down, for instance, is "mocked" (23) by out of reach objects. The problem with this way of understanding dys-appearance is that it almost necessarily leads to an ableist ontology. To be clear, dys-appearance is neither the cause nor effect of sudden or situational abnormality; rather, it is the lived experience of the sudden self-presencing of something (the body) that previously had not (ever) caught our attention. Such a body (part) does not appear neutral but instead as bad or "in the way". This problematic formulation of dys-appearance is further evidenced in Leder's characterization of the body present(ed) in dys-appearance as an "alien presence" (77) that is "opposed to the self" (4). By contrast, anyone informed by a political orientation towards disability might argue that the body (or parts) that cannot disappear is not the same thing as the dysappearing body. To this point, Overboe (1999) argues that the distinction between the lived body (leib) and the material or "merely existing" body (korper) that grounds Leder's analysis of dysappearance immediately negates the possibility of valuing impairment or cultivating a positive sense of disabled embodiment. Manning's account of his impairment, for instance, shows him turned around by his embodied relation to the world but not overwhelmed by his body's presence as a body gone wrong.

Leder's articulation of both disappearance and dysappearance also appears in contrast to Kleege's assertion that blindness never lets her down as well as to Manning's account of disorientation as opening up "a whole new world". This is because what these authors are describing is not dysappearance — the sudden presencing of the body as a body gone wrong — but rather an experience of what I will call dysorientation — the lived experience of being (or having been) turned around. Before analyzing dysorientation more fully, I will briefly illustrate the broader consequences of equating disability with dysappearance.

Impairment as Dys-appearance

How might we understand the social disappearance and dysappearance that characterizes disabled people's everyday lives? Kevin Paterson and Bill Hughes (1999) help us answer this question by examining dysappearance within social interactions between disabled and nondisabled people. Briefly, they contend that social oppression and cultural marginalization are a form of (non-biological) pain that cause the bodies of people with impairments to dys-appear. Whereas physical pain makes the body present to itself (because) something "is wrong", impairment dys-appears, making the body appear as a body that is wrong. "The impaired body 'dys-appears'", they write, "as a consequence of the profound oppressions of everyday life. It is stunned into its own recognition by its presence-as-alien-being-in-the-world" (603).

For Paterson and Hughes, impaired bodies dys-appear in (are disabled by) how they appear and are made to appear in a world of environmental, but especially sociocultural and attitudinal, norms. People with impairments appear (to others and to themselves) as though they are in the way. In this regard, impairment as dys-appearance retains Leder's sense of body as alien presence but extends the space occupied by this alien presence.

Paterson and Hughes's most significant insight on disablement as a kind of social dys-appearance is their claim that "an integral element of the 'dys-appearance' experienced by disabled people is the everyday reality of condescension" (606). To illustrate this point, Paterson recounts an encounter he had in his late twenties. Answering the door to his home, Paterson is met by a delivery person who almost immediately asks whether or not his mother is home. The delivery person assumes, he believes, that because he neither looks nor speaks "normally," he must not be a "responsible adult" (606). It is significant that this (value) judgment was made "instantaneously". In calling for a radical politics of time, Paterson and Hughes stress that experiences of dys-appearance last for moments while their consequences for disabled people can last a lifetime.

Ontological disorientation does not simply occur in a moment, nor does it last only moments. Rather, ontological disorientation is ongoing, always shaping how we go on. In this regard, Leder's dysappearance is insufficient both as a disability experience and as a way of relating to disabled/impaired bodies. Similarly, while Paterson and Hughes provide a convincing argument for considering disablement as, at least in part, a function of the social disappearance and dysappearance of disabled people, their analysis is limited insofar as disorienting encounters with disability may only be read as oppressive. To remedy this, I will now address another sense of disorientation that emerges in relation to disabled embodiment. I call this dysorientation. This dysorientation is the lived experience that Campbell invokes as an experience of the lost and not-yet home of disabled embodiment.

The Dysoriented Body

In this final section, I describe dysorientation through an analysis of French philosopher Jean Luc Nancy's (2008) essay "L'intrus" ("The Intruder") and Brian Lobel's (2012) collection of plays published as BALL and Other Funny Stories About Cancer. Although Nancy and Lobel identify precise moments of diagnosis and prognosis as well as receive treatment (Nancy has a heart transplant, Lobel has a cancerous testicle removed), this does not manifest as merely an experience of dysfunction but instead exposes a more fundamental relation to bodies. Upon hearing that he needs a new heart, Nancy writes, "something broke away from me, or this thing surged up inside me, where nothing had been before: nothing but the 'proper' immersion inside me of a 'myself' never identified as this body, still less as this heart, suddenly watching itself" (163). Similarly, Lobel reports thinking, "No, this isn't good, I should have this checked out" (23) when he first feels a lump on his testicle, but his performance centers on the social, sexual, and otherwise embodied implications of his cancer. Although, or perhaps because, Nancy and Lobel live through their experiences, their experiences do not resolve in the recovery of a normal body but instead turn away from a conceptualization of "normal" bodies because, for them, disorientation persists.

Several factors distinguish Nancy's and Lobel's accounts from Leder's. First, they give an account of bodies that accounts for, rather than discounts, disorientation. Second, their accounts are haptic, highlighting touch and (points of) contact between bodies as generative of meaning rather than as experience of a body gone wrong. Third, by beginning with (a sense of) disorientation and focusing on touch, Nancy and Lobel open up the question of sense in our relation to and with the world. This bears keeping in mind as we consider what it means to be disoriented. In "L'intrus" Nancy gives an account of ontological disorientation as a lived experience but, more significantly, as a way of being. Here, the value of Nancy's work is that, in contrast to Leder, he refuses to apologize for his disorientation or to imagine his body or embodiment as a problem. Nancy specifically rejects any notion of the body and Lobel concludes his play by embracing the realization that "bodies change a ridiculous amount over time" (85). These experiences contrast with Leder's description of dysappearance. Instead of bodies participating in disappearance, Nancy and Lobel begin with bodies that go unnoticed. The difference is illustrated in BALL and specifically in Lobel's self-discovery of his cancer. The lump was detected while he was masturbating. There was no pain or loss of function, and yet there was a lump. This echoes Nancy's relation to his unnoticed heart, which he describes as "hitherto as absent as the soles of my feet while walking" (143). Nancy never had a sensation of wrong-ness in regards to his heart; it simply went unnoticed, yet it needed to be replaced. This going unnoticed accounts for the reality that experiences and meanings of bodies are always already situated in particular personal, social and temporal contexts in a way that dysappearance does not. 2

Another feature of dysorientation that Lobel and Nancy illustrate is the centrality of touch. "The intruder," Nancy writes, "introduces itself forcefully, by surprise or by ruse, not, in any case, by right or by being admitted beforehand" (151). In other words, the intruder (Lobel's cancer, Nancy's heart — old or new) is not the dysappearing body that shows itself in times of dysfunction as a problem but rather a (part of the) body that has been around for who knows how long, going unnoticed. What dysorientation does, then, is expose, and leave us exposed to, the many, often strange, relations through which meaning and experience emerge. Nancy is moved to ask many questions in the face of this strange relation. Moving beyond (or at least extending) dysappearance to the realm of ontology, Nancy insists that his failed heart calls into question the very notion of the body, the proper and bounded body (le corps propre). Instead, the body written (about) in his essay, like the essay itself, entails multiple and overlapping interruptions and uncertainties. He demonstrates this at the start of the essay where he articulates the occurrence of his transplant surgery. Nancy writes:

I (who, "I"? This is precisely the question, an old question: who is the subject of this utterance, ever alien to the subject of its utterance, whose intruder it certainly is, though certainly also its motor, its clutch, or its heart) — I, then, received someone else's heart. (162)

"L'intrus" simultaneously refers to the transplanted organ and the one removed as well as the bodies/selves that are and must be lived-with. Also included under the name "intruder" are the myriad medical procedures Nancy undergoes, the immunosuppressant drugs he takes (and the lowered immune system they create), the countless medical professionals who carry out these operations and the lasting material trace of their intrusion. Rather than seeking resolution or a return to normalcy, he argues that the intruder must always, for as long as its intrusion persists, remain an intruder and a stranger. This insistence serves two purposes. First, it reflects the ongoing state of Nancy's lived experience (which is made possible by the living heart of another). Nancy purposely retains the sense of strangeness that he lives with and as. Derrida (2005) emphasizes this strangeness in his analysis of Nancy's philosophy:

he is touched by a strangeness that no longer has anything to do with the quasi-transcendental strangeness that refers us to all our "I's" or our own bodies. And yet, in their possibility, the two strangenesses keep making signs toward one another and implicating each other (97).

This strangeness—the intruder and intrusion, the strange body as well as the strange relation to body—Nancy writes about is always already disoriented specifically because it touches and is in touch with other bodies. Nancy's heart does not dysappear but rather is at the heart of his dysorientation because his hearts intrusion is ongoing.

In BALL, Lobel relates a similarly disorienting encounter with an ex-lover as the two sit side by side at a play. As they sit, their forearms touch. This touch — particularly its duration — elicits many questions: is this man interested in him despite earlier statements to the contrary? If so, is he interested? How can he be sure? Lobel soon suspects and then "knows" that this touch means something. Although the man smiles, looks away, and smiles again, the smile proves to be an insufficient source of certainty because, as Lobel notes, "it was so foreign" (72). Finally, a touch on the hand confirms what Lobel already "knows". While the pair remain seated, looking straight ahead at the play, their desires are in proximity, and this shared desire is evidenced by their touch. However, this certainty is shattered a few minutes later, when Lobel catches a glimpse of himself in the restroom mirror. "I saw," he explains, "why he was looking at me, the instant I walked into the bathroom. I looked at myself in the mirror and there it was. There I was, an it. A cancer patient…" (73-74).

The question of what this touch means for his burgeoning sex life then turns to self-directed questions about his intelligence, maturity, attractiveness and whether or not he is "in touch" with reality. Here, strangeness characterizes not only his ex-lovers smile but also Lobel's relationship with him and to himself. Echoing Manning, for Lobel, this touch initiates, "a whole new way of knowing" (Manning 2003) and, I would add, of being in relation to his body and the world.

The accounts provided by Nancy and Lobel illustrate a "strangeness" that simultaneously describes objects (including bodies) and ways of being in relation to them. Nancy's essay presents dysorientation as an ongoing turn or persistent being turned around by the body, the world and our relatedness to each while still being in touch with (and touching and being touched by) that relation. Disorienting encounters with disability are disorienting precisely because we remain in-relation with body and world rather than temporarily feeling cut off (as in dysappearance and ontic disruption). In writing the self and body characterized by strangeness through the "law of intrusion" that binds Nancy to himself, he exposes a related-to body whose relation is always already one of disorientation. Dysorientation does not remove one from his or her relation to the world but rather, as Nancy's essay concludes, explicitly puts one in touch with relation.

The ontological status of these dysorienting encounters is itself disoriented. Something (body, world or their relation) takes on a different sense. This includes, but is not limited to, the sense of having one's self questioned. Nancy's and Lobel's writings are dysorienting, as Derrida's comments suggests, because they themselves are dysoriented. Lobel acknowledges this in his introduction. After signing the Amateur Performing Rights clause that allows others to perform the plays, he comments that it is strange to think about—let alone to watch—someone else perform his work. "It is," after all, "my body that is being written about — my scars, my ball. And yet, it isn't" (20). The span of time between when he first wrote the plays and now is greater than the difference(s) between himself and the stranger performing his words. Moreover, Lobel emphasizes the intimate proximity between his body at age 20 (the one that had a lump) and his body at age 30 (the one who signed a publishing contract). This body is necessarily dysoriented. As he admits, "Sure, it shares the same scars, but they have different meanings now" (20).

Lobel enacts the disorienting character of dysoriented bodies in his final piece, An Appreciation. Here, he plays with the multiple meanings of the word appreciation. In a medical context it refers to visualizing or detecting, as when his cancer was "appreciated" through ultrasound. In everyday parlance it means to admire. After a brief explanation of these different meanings, Lobel takes off his pants and invites five audience members to appreciate, in either sense, his genitals. He provides these volunteers with rubber gloves and a shot of whiskey as well as a note card and pencil. After they drink the whiskey, they are asked to "appreciate" his genitals on a note card in a single word. As they appreciate and record their notes, Lobel explains that he never noticed much of a difference between having two testicles compared to one, except in the reactions of others. The point is that the meaning of bodies, even the meaning of one's "own" body, emerges in relation to others and to the world over time. Lobel's note cards—hundreds at this point—do not constitute distinct knowledges of his genitals, but rather represent not-knowings as appreciations of impairment, of difference and of Lobel himself. Throughout BALL and Other Funny Stories About Cancer, as within "L'intrus," we can appreciate the full impact of disorientation on the experience and meaning of bodies and especially bodies labeled and lived in proximity to disability.

Works Cited

  • Ahmed, Sara. (2006). Queer Phenomenology: Orientations, Objects, Others. Durham: Duke University Press, 2006. http://dx.doi.org/10.1215/9780822388074
  • Campbell, Fiona. (2009). Contours of Ableism: The Production of Disability and Abledness. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. http://dx.doi.org/10.1057/9780230245181
  • Derrida, Jacques. On Touching: Jean-Luc Nancy. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2005. Print.
  • Kafer, Alison. Feminist, Queer, Crip. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2013. Print.
  • Kleege, Georgina. (2010). "Blind Faith". The Yale Review 98, 3: 57-67. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-9736.2010.00623.x
  • Leder, Drew. (1990). The Absent Body. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • Manning, Lynn. (2003). "Weights". Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Retrieved from: http://www.kennedy-center.org/explorer/videos/?id=M1550.
  • Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. (2004). The Phenomenology of Perception. London: Routledge.
  • Overboe, James. "Difference in Itself': Validating Disabled People's Lived Experience,Body & Society 5, 4 (1999): 17-29 http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/1357034X99005004002
  • Paterson, Kevin and Bill Hughes. "Disability Studies and Phenomenology: The Carnal Politics of Everyday Life." Disability & Society 14. 5 (1999): 597-610. Print. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09687599925966
  • Weiss, Gail. Refiguring the Ordinary . Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2008.


  1. Though I will not summarize the events of the night, it is worth considering whether Manning would be able to recount them almost twenty years later, and whether his audience would be interested in those details, if not for the fact that the evening ended in an unforgettable moment of disorientation.
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  2. This notion speaks to and is, in part, influenced by Alison Kafer's Feminist, Queer, Crip. Kafer develops a "political/relational model" of disability that addresses the material-corporeal production and circulation of meanings of impairment/disability between people with and without impairments. She proposes this model as a way to "speak to the reality that disability is experienced in and through relationships, it does not occur in isolation" (8).
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Copyright (c) 2016 Ryan C. Parrey

Volume 1 through Volume 20, no. 3 of Disability Studies Quarterly is archived on the Knowledge Bank site; Volume 20, no. 4 through the present can be found on this site under Archives.

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ISSN: 2159-8371 (Online); 1041-5718 (Print)