Abstract

Noticing the recent trend in disability studies to entertain essentialism in an attempt to capture the efficacy of identity politics, this essay articulates the reductive implications of doing so. By way of a meta-theoretical synthesis that guides a reading of The Unnamed by Joshua Ferris - a novel that defies categories precisely by defying the categorization of its protagonist's fictional disability in which he is unable to stop himself from walking - disability theory merges here with a range of speculative realisms to expose how the dangers of essentialism are reflected even in the very term "ableism."


Recent contributions to disability theory highlight relations between words and worlds in ways that not only help literary theorists to think about disability in literature, but also in ways that connect to other theoretical conversations. Disability theory thus engages with developments ranging from narrative theory to neuroscience to speculative realism to a posthumanism that continues in the tradition of postmodern feminists, their explorations of embodiment, and their returns to materiality (just to name some points of contact that this paper initiates). Consider, for instance, what must be involved in answering James Berger's expansive question with which he introduces The Disarticulate: Language, Disability, and the Narratives of Modernity (2014): "After the world, a world, ends, what is left, and what words will we have to articulate what seems a state of absolute damage and loss?" (3). It is a massive question, invoking not only each of the engagements mentioned above but also the apocalyptic analyses that animate Berger's earlier work; Berger explains that his concern is "with the limits of language and the relations between language and all that is not-language" (3) – an old concern that predates and has hardly been confined to the relatively new field of disability studies. Nevertheless, Berger and others find in disability new ways to come at older questions, a nexus in which many theoretical strands converge and which provides the advantage and opportunity of seeing Berger's question in new light.

As an illuminatory nexus, however, disability may be too inviting. Along with these advantageous convergences of diverse scholarly traditions, disability theory seems to have readmitted and seriously entertained essentialism, even as essentialism has been or is being eradicated wholesale even from what Timothy Morton describes as "the two most progressive physical theories of our age, ecology and quantum theory" (Hyperobjects 113), and certainly from each of the lines of inquiry that I have earmarked as informative of the elusive relations between words and worlds. Peggy Phelan, for instance, echoes Lennard Davis's call for reconsiderations of essentialism in an effort to reconnect with the successful modes of identity politics that launched "strategic essentialisms" in favor of women and minorities before postmodernist thought gained its hegemonic currency (Bodies in Commotion 321-322), and Tobin Siebers carries the torch for identity politics in a panegyric that views embodiment "complexly" in order to understand

disability as an epistemology that rejects the temptation to value the body as anything other than what it was and that embraces what the body has become and will become relative to the demands on it, whether environmental, representational, or corporeal. (Disability Theory 27)

Coming as it does in 2008, Siebers's statement is sandwiched between work done by posthumanist theorists ranging from N. Katherine Hayles (1999) to Arthur Kroker (2014), who certainly understand embodiment "complexly." Morton, Hayles, and Kroker gesture toward the subversions (and not the reinforcements) that "embodied minds" enact on essentialisms, and toward neurodiversity as the last remaining subversion to be enacted, respectively. These notions of embodiment constitute an epistemology that rejects the temptation to categorize human beings by way of ideologically reduced subjectivities.

For those, like Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, who are rightfully suspicious that an antiessentialist agenda puts "the politics of difference" in the service of the new global sovereignty that "thrives on" antiessentialism (Empire 138) as the very ideology that allows the "world market" to be "realized ever more completely" (150), there is the very real worry that a wholesale repudiation of (especially biological) essentialisms finds theorists "pushing against an open door" (138). Yet my response to this concern does not lead me to take an atavistic step backward; it strikes me as much more productive to understand that there "is no need to doubt the democratic, egalitarian, and even at times anticapitalist desires that motivate large segments of these fields of [antiessentialist] work," and, instead, to recognize that these antiessentialist "theories are important effects that reflect or trace the expansion of the world market and the passage of the form of sovereignty" (138-139, emphasis in original). In other words, we need to be moving forward more quickly (not retreating) to jump ahead of "[t]his new enemy" that proves adeptly "resistant to the old weapons" (138).

Hardt and Negri's militaristically inflected language of a weapon-resistant enemy is intended to reveal the dilemma that is posed when the new global sovereignty severs hierarchy from binary (Enlightenment thinking and modern sovereignty had them linked), so that power no longer resides in essences as contained by racist, sexist, ableist and other dualisms. Hardt and Negri demonstrate how theorists ranging from bell hooks to Homi Bhaba unleash hybridity, difference, and fragmentary subjectivities to disrupt "the very power of binaries" and "to play across boundaries" (141), only to see their subversive concepts subsumed and neutralized by a new, nondialectical logic of sovereignty.

What Hardt and Negri miss as they theorize Empire is that Empire's putative deactivation of essentialist binaries actually activates the most sinister binary of all: binary vs. non-binary. Under this banner falls a set of binary oppositions (purity vs. hybridity, sameness vs. difference, cohesion vs. fragmentation; and, yes, essentialism vs. antiessentialism) in which the latter terms of each pairing are frequently deployed by theorists to mask the fact that they "oppose" anything at all. So even in a regime that appears to draw power by plugging into the antiessentialist grid, itself supposedly reflective of a non-binary ideology, the grid is itself "nondialectical" only insofar as it lights up against its dialectical precursor. As proof, I offer the continued existence of everyday violence perpetrated on racist, sexist, ableist, heteronormative, and other essentialist grounds. On the other hand, the simultaneous toleration and non-toleration of hybrid or fluid identities – say, transgender – in an age of Empire perfectly illustrates the confusion bound up in the terms that play off of an essentialist logic while pretending not to.

Of course, the theoretical side of disability is not the only illuminator; there is also the literary side, in which disability figures in manifold ways, and while much of the theory has been preoccupied with analyzing literary representations of disability, Michael Bérubé leverages the less explored realm of "intellectual disability" in order to advance a new mode of analysis – that of the deployments (over and against "representations" or "depictions") of fictional (over and against "actual" or "real") disability (Stories 2). In doing so, Bérubé "establishes the parameters of the world we can hope to live in" (PMLA 575), a world that we can think about relating not just to words but to Berger's empty craters of damage and loss in the wake of ended worlds. In this other world,

disability is part of a larger narrative that includes an indeterminable number of characters, only some of whom have the capacity to narrate but all of whom shed light on the mechanics of narrative and narration. Rereading narrative from the perspective of disability studies, then, leads us to reread the role of temporality, causality, and self-reflexivity in narrative and to reread the implications of characters' self-awareness, particularly in narratives whose textual awareness is predicated on the portrayal of cognitive disability. (576)

So long as deployments of fictional disability announce themselves as eligible for thinking about Bérubé's better world, and therefore about how words relate to and articulate such a world, then literary scholars also have their warrant for interrogating that world for traces of essentialism. Joshua Ferris issues an intriguing warrant along these lines with his second novel, The Unnamed. Published in 2010, The Unnamed joins the ranks of the kinds of works by "[a] novelist who takes seriously the claims of neuroscience and its ideology" (Berger 189). Citing an oeuvre of recent American novels in the vein of Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections (2001), Berger sees "in these recent fictions explorations of possible consequences for narrative of a neurological perspective on mind and impairment" (Berger 189).

The utility of placing The Unnamed alongside something like The Corrections, however, is not merely to extend but to complicate Berger's contributions – easily done given that Ferris leaves room for interpreting The Unnamed through a lens of neurological disability as one decidedly indefinite possibility for explaining his protagonist's predicament. Yet, even if we decide that neurology does not directly apply to The Unnamed's disabled Tim Farnsworth, it provides enough of a meditation on what neuroscience could mean for the protagonist that any other interpretation will be colored by these potential ramifications. In other words, The Unnamed invokes neuroscience precisely as a way of thinking about non-neurological possibilities as well. 1

As we shall see, a synthesis of Berger, Bérubé, and Morton 2 allows for just such an invocation of something (personhood, mice, Theory of Mind, language) to think about a corresponding non-something (non-personhood, non-mice, non-Theory of Mind, Berger's not-language). The result is a methodology that subtends the theoretical ligature of this diatribe against essentialism. Not quite dialectic, this is what happens whenever anything gets trans-ed, and ultimately, Joshua Ferris, by "transing" a mind-body dualism, manages also to trans the entire category of disability in such a way that I am led to flip disability's regressive terminology so that "ableism" will be transed into an intentionally-clunky "disabilityism" (as if ableism weren't already clunky enough), as will be made clear in my conclusion. 3

To this end, I adopt Bérubé's Of Mice and Men leitmotif that opens and closes his study with considerations of Steinbeck's intellectually disabled Lennie. But whereas Bérubé selects Lennie as a connecting-of-the-dots deployment that links formal narrative analysis to questions of justice, I select Lennie as a way of simultaneously affirming Bérubé's project of "radical individuation," and of extending such a project from intellectual disability to physical disability. Bérubé's notion of radical individuation, itself an extension of Berger's "radical alterity," is predicated on "a truism in the intellectual disability community that when you have met one person with autism, you have met…exactly one person with autism. The range of behaviors and possible positions on the autism spectrum are simply too bewilderingly diverse to admit of generalization" (Stories 49-50). To affirm and extend radical individuation is to agree not to admit of generalization in the case of autism (affirmation), and to agree not to admit of generalizations outside of autism (extension); that is, to resist the inherent reductivity of such categories. 4 The result of affirming and extending Bérubé's radical individuation is that disabled figures become more legible and less reduced all at once.

Reading Steinbeck's Lennie and Ferris's Farnsworth together is thus a useful demonstration that the differences which are obvious across categories are in fact just as puissant as differences within categories; or, vice versa: that even though differences within categories tend to be hidden, they are just as meaningful as the obvious differences that span (or even that serve as the basis for creating) categories. Precisely because Tim Farnsworth's condition can be read as mental and/or as physical, as neurological and/or as non-neurological, The Unnamed sets up as a radically individuating novel that facilitates a profound meditation on the interaction between textuality and materiality, between language and embodiment, between words and worlds.

Of Non-mice and Non-men

The ending of worlds preoccupies many theorists beyond just Berger. Timothy Morton comes at worlds and their endings by way of an object-oriented ontology that accounts for the inherent "flimsiness" of any world, a flimsiness that in turn accounts for the end of the world as we know it. According to Morton, "[w]orld is an aesthetic effect based on a blurriness and aesthetic distance. This blurriness derives from ignorance concerning objects. Only in ignorance can objects act like blank screens for the projection of meaning" (Hyperobjects 104). He goes on to illustrate, by way of something that he colorfully calls "The Lord of the Rings vs. The Ball Popper Test," that "the idea of world depends on all kinds of mood lighting and mood music, aesthetic effects that by definition contain a kernel of sheer ridiculous meaninglessness" (105). The idea is that, by playing the scene that Morton "consider[s] to be the absolute nadir of horror" 5 simultaneous with the cartoonish soundtrack of a toy called the Ball Popper, "[y]ou will notice the inane tunes that the Popper plays instantly undermine the coherence of Peter Jackson's narrative world" (105).

Morton is playful in this moment, but his point that "only in ignorance can objects act like blank screens for the projection of meaning" is important not because it exposes fragility, but because the fragility exposed opens a window for us to glimpse the terrifying irreducibility of reality, to see that the fragility or flimsiness actually resides in our many ingenious attempts to represent reality as manageable by way of reduction. The test that Morton prescribes is humorous, but it also unsettles. We are unsettled not because of what the test reveals about a film or a toy, but because of what such revelation implies about ourselves, that the soundtracks that we play to cue up our identities and our self-constructions are likely to begin sounding like noises – not necessarily human, not necessarily of our choosing, not necessarily coherent. Through Morton's test, we intuit something about reality that threatens to make us strangely incoherent even to ourselves.

There is a philosophical realism at play here that is frequently mistaken for essentialism itself. Realists invoking the nature of reality, or "the nature of nature," tend to be read automatically as essentialists because people confuse nature, essence, and reality, and because people assume wrongly that ontology does not account for social constructivist viewpoints. Karen Barad explains how a "view that the world is composed of individual entities with separately determinate properties" is partly responsible for the confusion (Meeting the Universe Halfway 55). "Indeed," she continues,

most forms of realism presuppose a metaphysics that takes for granted the existence of individual entities, each with its own roster of nonrelational properties. As such, realism is often saddled with essentialism. But realism need not subscribe to an individualist metaphysics or any other representationalist tenet (indeed, I would argue that any realist account worth its salt should not endorse such idealist or magical beliefs). Realness does not necessarily imply "thingness": what's real may not be an essence, an entity, or an independently existing object with inherent attributes. (55-56)

Barad's useful defense of realism 6 serves also to define an essentialism that depends on things like "determinate properties" and "inherent attributes," which is the version of essentialism at issue here. 7 Morton's test is an essentialist-assumption-finder, and it works in the way that Morton describes so long as we go into it assuming that a film and a toy are defined entirely by determinate properties and inherent attributes, which is the same as saying that they are reducible to and recognizable as these properties and attributes. Within such a low-stakes context, these feel for all the world like safe enough assumptions…yet a revelation of flimsiness ensues. Assumptions about the sturdiness and defining qualities of each object fall so flat that even the objects' performative possibilities are undermined. Essentialism is outed, safely enough here, as the so-called properties and attributes of Lord of the Rings and the Ball Popper are revealed as projections enabled by a screen-clearing ignorance.

This is not to say that properties, attributes, and essences do not exist. They exist just as surely as a Ball Popper is fun and a Peter Jackson film is entertaining, which is to say, as effects. Effects (and yes, even projections) have their own ontologies – just not reducible ones, and not free-standing ones. "It's not essence that's the trouble," writes Morton, "so much as the positing of it in some beyond, some distant dimension over yonder" (Hyperobjects 150). Neither are properties and attributes the trouble. Biological facts are not the trouble, even though I was told, in the seminar for which I originally wrote this essay, that "essentialism is just a biological fact" (which is another way of saying that essentialism is not the trouble). The trouble comes in the positing each of these things in a certain way, though I am more explicit than Morton 8 when I denounce the positing of them ideologically; that is, when they are projected through an -ism. A biological fact may or may not be problematic, but biological factism – an ideology driven solely by biological facts – is hugely problematic. Any given (dis)ability may (or may not) constitute a biological fact in the same manner that phenotype and sex constitute physical attributes or the properties of any given person. But to say that this fact or that attribute is "inherent" and "determinate" is, by definition, the foundation of a reductionist ideology.

The flimsiness of Peter Jackson's world matters because, even when worlds are shown to be flimsy, they still relate to words in ways that require analysis (whether words themselves comprise the aesthetic effects of world-making, or whether it falls to words to describe the aesthetic effects of non-words). Interpretation is still on the table. It is also the case that essentialism and disability attempt to be their own worlds (just as the Ball Popper does), respectively – a point corroborated by Stuart Murray's reading of The Unnamed when he unpacks "disability aesthetics," "the aesthetics of disability," and the "masterful destabilizing of the world of contemporary work" when the world of disability intrudes (online 2017). And when essentialism or disability, or disability qua essentialism, succeeds in its world-making endeavors, usually to the detriment of other worlds (such as the world of contemporary work, or just the world of neoliberal normativity more broadly), then they present themselves as candidates for interpretation.

As always, there are options for interpreting the worlds of disability, essentialism, and especially the world of disability as the newest paragon of essentialist espousal. Morton's test provides grounds for a unique audio-visual experience in which "seeing and hearing" serve as metonyms for interpretation. For the sake of convention, I'll shift now to the more usual idiom of "interpretive lenses," cutting out the audio and going wholly visual, as it is more straightforward and less confusing to discuss "ways of seeing" essentialism through a variety of lenses. Depending on the interpretive lenses, we can wreck these worlds (Ball Popper-style) or we can validate them; we can magnify or shrink them; we can clarify or obscure them. We can translate, mediate, represent, or project. My method is pretty simple: I run these worlds through theories reflecting my own values to see how they hold up, as we are about to see. My choice of lens amounts to my choice for Bérubé's better world. In all cases, though, it bears mentioning that to theorize is to interpret one world through the lens of another, such as when essentialism or disability gets filtered through the lens of embodiment (in fact, this is an excellent example, though other examples would include filtering gender through affect, nationhood through primordialism, or nonlocal phenomena through quantum theory), which effectively means a superimposition of discreetly packaged aesthetic effects. When this happens, hierarchies are created, as one world slides beneath the luminatory powers of another, such as the sliding of essentialism beneath embodiment. In some cases, these superimpositions render a new legibility for the subjugated world according to the logic of the top world – but not always. A case can be made that such readings are nothing more than propagandist strategies (as in "strategic essentialism") that retrofit the top world to give the appearance of matching up exactly, or at least compatibly, with the bottom world (perhaps we could call this something like "ideological tracing" or "tampering").

Because these retrofittings in which two discretely packaged aesthetic effects are made to appear naturally integrated are themselves aesthetic effects, it becomes difficult to separate the modified aesthetics from the original aesthetics as encountered by theorists. Indeed, theory and art intersect where such modifications are desirable and thus actively pursued (this essay is an example). There are times in which the very complexity of the top world obscures or clarifies meaning below, but I might tentatively go so far as to say that the flimsiness of superimposed worlds is a baseline from which all such art or theory proceeds. Which is another way of saying that we might just as easily view essentialism through embodiment, but without the "strategy." This is what Katherine Hayles does when she slides essentialism-under-embodiment under yet another lens – that of posthumanist correction – so that essentialism becomes the bottom layer of an interpretive lens stack. Her view:

Indeed, it is difficult to see what essentialism would mean in the context of embodiment. Essentialism is normative in its impulse, denoting qualities or attributes shared by all human beings. Though it is true that all humans share embodiment, embodied experience is dispersed along a spectrum of possibilities. Which possibilities are activated depends on the contexts of enactment, so that no one position is more essential than any other. For similar reasons, embodiment does not imply an essentialist self. As Francisco Varela, Evan Thompson, and Eleanor Rosch argue in The Embodied Mind, a coherent, continuous, essential self is neither necessary nor sufficient to explain embodied experience. The closer one comes to the flux of embodiment, Varela and his coauthors believe, the more one is aware that the coherent self is a fiction invented out of panic and fear. In this view, embodiment subversively undercuts essentialism rather than reinforces it. (How We Became Posthuman 201; emphasis added)

Just as the Ball Popper undercuts Lord of the Rings, "embodiment subversively undercuts essentialism." This posthumanist account that Hayles pioneered in 1999 is, of course, its own aesthetic effect, but her world endures not so much because it is less flimsy, but because it is hard-wired to accommodate and adjust to practically anything that you can slide under it – except essentialism. Consistently and increasingly, aesthetic fields ranging from posthumanism to ecology to quantum theory render essentialism illegible. Essentialism is just too flimsy to pursue in any ethically or socially meaningful sense, even when fortified with the steroid injection of the word "strategic." Hence Arthur Kroker's observation in his own survey (in Exits to the Posthuman Future, 2014) of the many worlds that have been slid under Hayles's How We Became Posthuman: "Socially, ethical consciousness has already been expanded in terms of concepts of biodiversity, sexual diversity, cultural diversity, so is neuro-diversity one of the final prohibitions that must be brought into the realm of ethical intelligibility" (41). Kroker's use of "diversity" here puts the normative discriminations of essentialism under erasure, even when the discriminations are themselves attempts to strategically reverse hegemonic and oppressive norms. To this end, he hopes (like Bérubé, like Morton) that one can distinguish between differences in how various worlds are constructed. Just because all worlds are flimsy does not mean that some are not more worthy than others to pursue. Thus, "[w]hen reality is seduced by fiction, only counter-fictions can seduce the real back to its ethical claims" (120). Essentialism is the seduction; an embodied mind lodged in a posthuman subjectivity is the counter-seduction.

Kroker's Exits comes on the heels of his Body Drift: Butler, Hayles, Haraway (2012). In Body Drift, Kroker tracks the development of Haraway's postmodern feminism as a hybrid and therefore antiessentialist force (118). Haraway certainly views embodiment complexly. But what is remarkable about Body Drift is not just that it could serve as an alternative title for The Unnamed (as the plot is predicated, overtly and literally, on a drifting body). Rather, Body Drift brings Haraway's renowned cyborg figure into conversation with Morton's meditations on what constitutes personhood. Drawing on Alan Turing and his famous test for determining consciousness based on interactions between human beings and computers, Morton takes seriously the implications of consciousness or mind as aesthetic effect. This is a world worthy of pursuit, as I think Bérubé would agree. But whereas Bérubé's tone is generally altruistic, Morton has a knack for making good news sound at first like lamentation (this is an intentional part of his own aesthetic effect). The Turing test for artificial intelligence, roughly paraphrased by Morton, is that "[a] human and a computer running some software are hidden from view. They feed an observer answers to questions posed by the observer. If the observer reckons that the answers come from a person, then they come from a person" (84). So, when Morton resigns himself to accepting Turing's basis for artificial intelligence, he appears to relegate humanity: "Such a form of personhood is quite attenuated: it means, in effect, I am not a nonperson, since no distinction can be made between the answers given by a machine and answers given by a person. Personhood then is also an effect…– it may look solid from a distance, but as we approach it we find that it is full of holes" (84). Morton's performative account of personhood maps nicely to Hayles's fictional identity, insofar as each are attached to an illusory solidity ("full of holes") and an instability ("flux"), respectively.

Morton's description of the Turing test bears a striking resemblance to Bérubé's description of Simon Baron-Cohen's Theory of Mind (ToM) tests, not only in that they are both highly problematic methodologies that get imported into literary studies, but also that they each make the point that developments in the cognitive sciences can be extrapolated to make an ontological point about subjectivity; namely, that whatever is at stake is affirmed through negation. And what if being itself is at stake? This is why some worlds are more durable than others: slide anything at all under negation, and when it spits out affirmation, its staying power is cemented. Instead of being undermined, the essence of a Peter Jackson film would actually prove more integral against the backdrop of some kind of non-version of the same film than against the Ball Popper. Through an erasure of what we consider to be its essential traits, those traits emerge legibly, just not inherently nor determinately. Morton says, "Don't think of a pink elephant." Violà, affirmation through negation. As a world of aesthetic effects (if nothing else), it works. Morton adds the "non-mouse" to the pink elephant and the non-person:

Mice are surely mice no matter what we call them. But mice remain mice as long as they survive to pass on their genome – it's what neo-Darwinism calls satisficing. Satisficing is a performative standard for existing. And there is no mouse-flavored DNA. There isn't even any DNA-flavored DNA – it's a palimpsest of mutations, viral code insertions, and so on. There isn't even any life-flavored DNA. DNA requires ribosomes and ribosomes require DNA, so to break the vicious cycle, there must have been an RNA worlds of RNA attached to a nonorganic replicator, such as a silicate crystal. So there is a mouse – this is not a nominalist nor is it an idealist argument. But this mouse is a non-mouse, or what I call a strange stranger. Even more weirdly: this is why the mouse is real. The fact that wherever we look, we can't find a mouse, is the very reason she exists! Now we can say this about everything in the universe. (129)

Performativity reemerges here in the biological concept of satisficing (the condition of possibility for the mouse's existence is precisely the possibility that it might not have existed…by satisficing), but look what happens: now it is an ontological performativity that – since it extends to "everything in the universe" – includes human subjects of all kinds, such as those embodying physical and/or mental disabilities. If we make this application consistent from start to finish (if our world is sturdy enough to withstand it), then disability theory is reminded that not only does humanity not come with human-flavored DNA, but neither do disabled subjects come with some disabled-flavored essence.

Moreover, there is an interesting twist here in what Morton is doing. Morton attributes a sort of deconstructive methodology to the hard sciences that give us knowledge about DNA and RNA and genomes that Bérubé cites, and which he employs against Lisa Zunshine. Zunshine utilizes Theory of Mind (ToM) in order to demonstrate that narrative operates according to most readers' ability to attribute minds to characters (as well as to "track" and "conceal" minds of characters); that is, to "mind-read" character behavior as a way of interpreting character motivation – an interpretation that assumes character mentality from the outset. Bérubé takes issue with both the form and the content of Zunshine's reliance of ToM. "Moments like these," Bérubé begins his critique,

are why deconstruction was invented. The argument here…is that we know we have Theory of Mind because some people don't. In other words, the existence of X is predicated on the not-X; the exceptional condition becomes the condition for the non-exception. (168)

Based on this, Bérubé charges Zunshine with a "serious underreading" (169) of Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. It is an interesting complaint in that it weirdly validates Zunshine's logic. Zunshine's argument rests on her explanation of why "we need this newfangled concept of mind-reading, or ToM, to explain what appears so obvious" (Fiction 7), which is that cognitive evolutionary psychology's relatively recent understanding of autism puts the entirely new possibility that some readers may not have ToM (or not as much of it as normative readers, anyway) on our narratological radars. Her baseline of interpretation, Bérubé seems to be saying, sets a lowly ontological bar that merely registers the existence of an obvious human trait, which is another way of confirming Morton's mouse/non-mouse. Bérubé hints at the logical fallacy of a strawman ("Zunshine is adducing autism here only to cast it aside and get to the important stuff") without ever really saying that she is incorrect, just underwhelming ("underreading").

The fact of the matter is that, deconstructive quibbling aside, the existence of X is predicated on the non-X, just as the mouse is predicated on the non-mouse, the person is predicated on the capacity to not be categorized as a nonperson, the meaning of language only gains purchase against the possibility of inarticulability, and, finally, the disabled subject is predicated on the non-disabled subject (or, the able-bodied, and/or able-minded subject). This is a basic ontological tenet with deep Heideggerian roots and its currency spans disciplines, traversing literature in the humanities and quantum theory in physics. The disciplinary overlap is significant, because it takes us from baseline existence (as in the case "of mice") to normativity (as in the case "of men" – or rather, "of men, women, and transgendered persons who may also be disabled subjects"); thus, Zunshine's ontological insight, in which an attention paid to something that would otherwise be obvious and therefore ignored (viz. ToM) is based on a relatively recent discovery of that something's non-obvious condition of negation (viz. autism; specifically, Asperger syndrome), has to inform her interpretation of Haddon's novel. So Bérubé's critique of the form of Zunshine's argument – in its unwitting and counterintuitive way – really does advance disability theory beyond essentialist categories precisely because it shows how a normativity that is ontologically traced amounts to a normativity that is ontologically transed, and thus effaced: deconstruction depends on an intimate and sober assessment of construction.

It is nothing short of fascinating, relevant, and to my point that one reading of The Unnamed takes the protagonist's disability as "a metaphor for narrativity" (Ludwigs 2015), whereas another reading, which engages similar narratological concepts and modes of discourse, goes in exactly the opposite direction, basing the novel's "counter narrative" precisely on the way that the protagonist's thematized deterioration of coherence is formalized by the "the disintegration of the [novel's] chapter divisions that bring order into the first three sections of the narrative" (Reiffenrath 2014). Countering (literally) Ludwigs's reading in which walking itself lends narrative coherence, Reiffenrath's reading demonstrates how the world of the mind impinges so thoroughly on the world of the body that it undermines it radically, similar to the effect of the inane tunes of the Ball Popper on Peter Jackson's meticulously crafted Osgiliath set.

Indeed, moments like these are why deconstruction was invented. At issue is not the ability to know something by what it's not, as would seem to be the case that Bérubé makes, prima facie, when he takes Zunshine and, separately, literary Darwinists (ToM's "second cousin") to task for their reliance on ToM; rather, it is merely that "the interpretative stakes are always high when the subject is intellectual disability, because the stakes are ultimately about who is and who is not determined to be 'fully human,' and what is to be done with those who (purportedly) fail to meet the prevailing performance criteria for being human" (192). Bérubé cites the difference between Lennie's "inability to understand his own narrative" as "quite another thing" from predicating the legality of executions of inmates in Texas who are intellectually disabled on an interpretation in which "an understanding" of Lennie's cognitive abilities serves as a basis "for exempting some people with intellectual disabilities from the Supreme Court decision in Atkins v. Virginia – and killing them" (191-192). While these are indeed very different things, there is no knowing of Lennie-type inmates from not-Lennie-type inmates. Instead, there is a very "interesting matter of literary criticism" (191), and "a simple and utterly reprehensible" idea (192), attributable to a pernicious interpretation of a literary figure by non-literary professionals.

In fact, this pernicious interpretation validates itself precisely by refusing to know the Lennies according to the non-Lennies who happen to be incarcerated on death row. Rhetorically: "But does a consensus of Texas citizens agree that all persons who might legitimately qualify for assistance under the social services definition of mental retardation be exempt from an otherwise constitutional penalty?" (Bérubé citing the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, 191). In other words, the state of Texas, in its ontological incompetence, prefers to let the category of criminality overshadow the category of disability as a way of not properly dealing with the latter, and the possibility of knowing Lennies by the non-Lennies is effaced. None of this is particularly helpful to parse (even if Texas did deal with disability as a category in its own right, capital punishment remains a grossly inhumane and atavistic practice, regardless of the inmate in question) except to say that Bérubé's ire does not actually lie with the identification of something by what it is not, or by what it fails to perform as, or by how it satisfices. Instead, Bérubé's beef is with the inherent unknowability of minds that lead to misrepresentations, sinister interpretations and, ultimately, injustice, and it is this very unknowability that ToM is ill-equipped to deal with, which is quite different from ToM's inexistence. Indeed, as with a Texas Court of Criminal Appeals and the havoc it wreaks, ToM's vast problems are a big part of how we know it exists, and identifying what each of these are not is productive on those grounds alone. Just as there is no Lennie-flavored penal system, neither is there a particularly mindblind-flavored ToM, as Bérubé would be the first to attest. And that (along with its damaging effects) is how we know that it exists!

Of Naming and Non-Naming

"Benign idiopathic perambulation" is the closest that Ferris comes to actually naming the unnamed condition that besets his disarticulated Tim Farnsworth and which drives the narrative of The Unnamed (41). It is an attempt to diagnose the utterly undiagnosable. Without diagnosing, perhaps we can characterize: benign idiopathic perambulation is the moniker that one Dr. Klum ascribes to Tim's inexplicable tendency to walk – a tendency coupled with the inability to stop walking, no matter the circumstances, until a given bout ends itself. Akin (perhaps) to the real-life condition of "restless leg syndrome" (a disorder that the medical community considers neurological without being mental), Tim Farnsworth's legs are so undocumentably restless as to render benign idiopathic perambulation a purely fictional deployment, à la Bérubé's usage of deployment. Ferris imagines a way for walking, traditionally a classic trope of masculine ability (as in the figure of the flâneur), to be transed into disability – to be conceived of as working for and against power, and by allegorical extension, a way that walking works for and against narrative. 9 In other words, walking becomes precisely that which non-walking would otherwise represent, in Ferris's brilliant deployment. Of course, to say that Ferris refrains from naming the unnamed condition of Tim Farnsworth is to recognize "benign idiopathic perambulation" for the farce that Ferris intends. Benign idiopathic perambulation? Ah, cruel language!

[Tim Farnsworth] had to look up idiopathic in the dictionary. "Adj. – of unknown causes, as a disease." He thought the word, divorced of meaning, would have suited Klum and her associates. Idiopaths. He also took exception to the word benign. Strictly medically speaking perhaps, but if his perambulation kept up, his life was ruined. How benign was that? (41)

Indeed, "his perambulation kept up," the conditional becomes the condition for Tim Farnsworth, and his life unravels to that point that, without actually being dead, he approaches a situation reminiscent of Coetzee's Michael K, described by Bérubé as "the condition of narrative absolute zero" (Stories 67). With benign being "maligned," so to speak, we begin to get a sense of the relationship between Tim Farnsworth's world and the words that describe it.

Ferris's build-up to the narrative equivalent of absolute zero is a gradual process, however, involving the expenditure of many poignant and experimental words beyond "benign." The novel opens with a happily married and highly successful Tim Farnsworth returning to his wife, Jane, "still beautiful" after more than twenty-five years of marriage (5). In this opening episode, a distraught Tim surprises Jane with an early return from his prestigious law firm, where he has been a partner for nearly two decades. Jane is in deep concentration over a crossword puzzle in their bedroom when Tim enters:

She looked at him as he entered, surprised to see him home so early. "Hello, banana," she said. He took off his suit coat as if it were a T-shirt, thrusting the back over his head and turning his sleeves inside out. Then he found himself grabbing the hem, and hand on each half of the parted tail, and ripping the thing in two. Hard to break the seam at first, but once the first thread snapped, it went. Jane opened her mouth but nothing came out. He dropped the tattered coat and climbed onto the bed and hunkered down on his hands and knees like a man waiting for an explosion. "What is it?" she said. "Tim, what is it?" His head was lost inside his sheltering arms. "Tim?" She moved over to him and put her arms around him, hugging him from above as if they were about to engage in a wrestling match. "Tim?" (5)

The economy of this passage exceeds the work of stage-setting and goes well beyond inaugurating the novel's premise to establishing the novel's internal logic and textual operations. Jane, placed in the position of the curious and uninitiated reader, is unsure as yet of how to read the situation; her stunned silence transfers inarticulation from the disabled subject to those equally invested in the search for meaning; her repetition of "what is it?" describes a moment in which words and worlds fail to relate; the repetitive formulation also indicates a double entendre by asking for the name of the nameless, as "what is it?" can be interpreted both as "what can we call this condition?" as well as "what's the matter with you, Tim?"; finally, when Tim's own name goes from a stated term of address to a question ("'Tim?'"), then the spread of aporia from what begins as a localized, unreadable situation to the novel's central subjectivity mirrors the outward flow of inarticulation from this central subject to an occupation of the entire textual field. Tim? Is the attachment of this name to this formerly-known subject still adequate, or accurate? If not, what will that mean for this world of words that is the novel?

But even as a characterization of Tim Farnsworth's benign idiopathic perambulation is nearly beyond the scope of the novel (which is, of course, the entire point), inarticulable and therefore eliciting a torrent of descriptors and symptoms, the condition's very non-existence is precisely how we know that The Unnamed most certainly exists: the unnamed is to the named as the non-mouse is to the mouse, just as a questionable Tim ensconced in a shattering world is to a stable and competent Tim in control of his personal and professional life, and as benign is to not-benign. Ferris therefore spends three hundred and ten pages naming a world into existence by attaching, and then by questioning, and finally by removing those very words (or effacing their meanings) from his fictional deployments.

As much as this method is crucial to answering Berger's question about "the end of the world, a world" – in this case, Tim Farnsworth's world – and how "to articulate what seems a state of absolute damage and loss" as an apt description of what ultimately befalls Tim, I think it is significant that Tim's attempts at articulation are also occasion for joy, humor, tenderness, and love. In a passage that brings together the mental and physical symptoms of Tim's condition (it matters, neurologically and non-neurologically, that both mental and physical symptoms are present), as well as his negotiations of literality and metaphor, we are afforded a smile along with our understanding that Tim Farnsworth playfully exhausts contemporary American English:

He had complained of brain fog. Neither Jane nor Becka [Tim's daughter] understood what brain fog was but neither did they disbelieve he was suffering from it. He had earned the right to say he felt a certain way and be taken at his word. He said he felt mentally unsticky. The description was unhelpful, but he insisted that he suffered from a lack of mental stickiness. His nerves felt "jangly." He told Becka to imagine a guitar whose strings had all gone slack. The image was vivid but she had trouble applying jangly to her own nervous system. The physical pain was easier to describe, but this, too, he did in a private way. His muscles felt hyperslogged. His left side was floaty. Some days his breath was all bunched up. They could only approximate for themselves how those words made him feel when he translated them into metaphor, as with the guitar strings, but he insisted on identifying them in these nonmedical and not very useful ways because to him there was no adequate substitute. They offered the most precise descriptions, the ones that aligned best with his inner experience of being.

"So when you say all bunched up," Becka had asked him, "you mean to say you can't catch your breath?"

"No," he replied. "I mean to say my breath is all bunched up."

Jangly, hyperslogged, all bunched up – he spoke a language only he understood. (126)

Thus, Tim Farnsworth is a man who means what he says and says what he means, even when (or, especially when) his intended meaning evades his creative, defamiliarizing, and at times neologistic words. In addition to the compression of mental and physical descriptions (juxtaposing "brain fog" with "a floaty side"), this passage also puts the literal-sounding right up against the metaphorical (his breath being "all bunched up" alongside the "jangly guitar strings" of his nervous system), as if to express that all linguistic options are thoroughly exhumed. Rather than "tried and true," Tim's humorous descriptions turn out to be "tried and false" (at least from Jane and Becka's perspectives, and here again the reader shares the limitations of perspective with the characters), which is exactly what earns him his credibility: Tim's wife and daughter (and now, readers) do not "disbelieve" him. Why not? Because "[h]e had earned the right to say he felt a certain way and be taken at his word," even (or especially) as his word fails.

That there is no adequate way to describe his feelings is what makes Tim Farnsworth radically individuated. At this point, we begin to detect something totalitarian about a word that categorically applies to all subjectivities in all contexts. Universally understood words, if such things exist, may sound accessible and democratic, and insofar as democracy is totalizing, they are. But when we see in Tim Farnsworth's radically individuated language the basis from which to hope for his eventual liberation from a condition that threatens everything that he is, are we not also understanding that, without our own radically individuated forms of expression, we are equally subject to the terms and conditions that prescribe how words and worlds are to be bound, even if we do not share his specific disorder? Or to take it further (in the spirit of Bérubé): should we not say that this is the case especially because we do not share his disorder, since, literally, the only possible way to share this experience with Tim Farnsworth would be to create an essential category with the hope that it would spawn a "common" – that is to say, essential or categorical – language that could mediate the category, that could "approximate adequate translations"? It strikes me that such a return to essentialism would be motivated not by any glimpse of genuine freedom but by a recognition of the limits not only of metaphors with their strained applications, but of even the most literal language possible, in which case the "strategy" of "strategic essentialism" is to cope not with the failure of regimes of subjugation in providing all subjects with their due freedom, but with the failure of subjects within those regimes to at least attempt to carve out their own freedoms with words like "hyperslogged" and "floaty."

A major aspect of Tim Farnsworth's character is that even as he quits (arguably) on a number of very significant fronts (his belief in God, his marriage), he never quits on language and self-expression, presumably because he intuits the ontological danger of doing so, which outstrips all else. "Tim?" What referential power is there in a name followed by a question mark? If Tim cannot be sure of what Tim/Tim? means, then what could it possibly mean to be in relationship with Tim(?), to be his wife or his maker? What world does the word Tim(?) describe? How can Tim(?) commit to any theology or marriage without any assurance of an identifiable referent for "Tim"?

The foregoing passage also teases out an "insistence" on "identifying" Tim(?)'s feelings in "nonmedical" terms, which rubs right up against an equally pervasive insistence, throughout the novel, on a medicalization of Tim's experience in order to "validate" it, much in the same way that we see how the mental and physical, or the literal and metaphorical encounter each other right at their respective limits. Here, we see that attempts at articulation are charged with competing motivations. Nonmedical terminology, we see, is selected for its accuracy, whereas medical terminology is preferred for social reasons. Competing motivations mean that we are still a long way from narrative absolute zero, and that the narrative is warmed by a modicum of hope that medical science can "exonerate" Tim Farnsworth from "the charge of being mentally ill" (65). Dr. Bagdasarian, on the brink of a neuroscientific breakthrough, offers a hesitant Tim the opportunity to experiment with a prototypical device:

"I know how you've struggled to validate your condition," said the doctor. "I know you've fallen into depression because no empirical evidence had emerged to exonerate you – I use your word, which I have remembered many years – to exonerate you from the charge of being mentally ill. You hate it when people say this is something all in your head. You place great importance on having your condition regarded as a legitimate physical malfunction, something that members of the medical establishment like myself must take seriously. That is the very requisite of a real disease – that it's taken seriously. We have a few tools to do that now – possibly, possibly. Wouldn't it be satisfying to prove to the world that your unique condition is as you insist it is, a matter of organic disease, and not something – a compulsion, or a psychosis – for which you, for personal reasons – and perfectly naturally so, Tim, perfectly naturally – feel you must be ashamed of? Wouldn't that be, in its humble way, some measure of progress?" (65)

Validation and exoneration, then, are at the forefront of Dr. Bagdasarian's persuasive pitch to Tim (who accedes that "Bagdasarian was good"), while shame and stigma lurk in the background. Aside from Dr. Bagdasarian's allusion to Tim's own usage of the word "exonerate" many years ago, however, there is some ambiguity surrounding Tim's desire: "Why should it be so important to him to prove that he was suffering from a legitimate medical disorder and not a mental illness? He didn't know, except to say that it was" (66). Tim Farnsworth is neither vain nor insecure, but neither is he immune from the desire for legitimacy and understanding on the part of his community. The desire to medicalize his condition is bound up with the notion of "a legitimate medical disorder," even though the disorder remains "unique" (individuated) even if Dr. Bagdasarian can legitimate it, and even though his own descriptions to his wife and daughter demonstrate that medical language does not occur to Tim as the best expression of what he experiences. Thus, what appears mysterious to Jane when Tim tells Dr. Bagdasarian that "[i]t's something I'll have to think about" (67) exposes a layer of tension between Tim's competing motivations, and thus between the usage of medical and nonmedical language.

Intriguingly, this passage concerning a medicalized exoneration of Tim's condition runs counter to what some take to be the contribution of "the medical model" of disability. Chingshun J. Sheu, for instance, understands the medical model as locating "disability in the person" in a way that "emphasizes the possibility of a cure, reinforcing the idea that disability is the fault of the disabled person, their body, their genes, and/or their upbringing. The social model, formulated as a response to the medical model, presents disability as a failure of the surrounding environment to accommodate differently abled bodies and minds" (online 2018). Sheu's reading of the medical and social models actually introduces an essay in which he also reads The Unnamed with a view toward "examin[ing] a novel that…features a change not in environment but in body." But Tim's desire to regain a foothold on social legitimacy is medically driven. When this desire prevails, however, another layer of narrative tension is revealed. Accepting Dr. Bagdasarian's offer means wearing a "common bicycle helmet" "retrofitted to perform an extraordinary purpose" (86). Having shaved his head to the skin in order to don the awkward contraption, Tim

was thinking about the consequences. He could not go into work now, and he didn't think it was an equitable trade-off, his life in exchange for a shot in the dark. But the choice had been made, and so it had to be said that above all, above living itself, he just wanted some measure of understanding, some small answer that might stand in for the clarification of all the mysteries in the world. (88)

Now Tim encounters the highly visible marks of medical experimentation and must therefore manage the stigma that comes with it, as he does when he welcomes a friend named Fritz into his home while wearing the helmet. When "Fritz showed up in the afternoon and asked about the shaved head and bicycle helmet," Tim "mumbled something about a mild case of vertigo and Fritz didn't pursue the matter" (92).

How dishearteningly futile that the very medicalization that would "exonerate" Tim Farnsworth is also the institution that brands and stigmatizes him to the point that he must evade and deflect social inquiry, even from an understanding and long-time friend; thus a shaved head and a curious helmet deploy Tim's liberation as his non-liberation. That medical validation is what holds Tim Farnsworth hostage is how we know that it can set him free. This language of liberation and captivity (non-liberation) figures prominently as we creep toward narrative absolute zero.

By the time that the entropy of Tim Farnsworth and his movements through time and space bring us as close to the narrative equivalent of absolute zero that we'll ever get, the language of liberation begins to assume the timbre of holy war rhetoric, which at once heightens the sense of Tim's degenerative cognition (bordering, perhaps, on schizophrenia) while also, ironically, heightening a sense of meaningful "distinction" (229) between mind and body that had remained fuzzy during Tim's more lucid moments. In a set piece that sees Tim call Jane from a roadside telephone booth, his seeming incoherence (incoherent to Jane, but no longer to readers; at this stage, the Jane-reader perspective has bifurcated) brings his separate mental and physical experiences into sharp relief. By this point, Tim Farnsworth has decided that "he" equals his mind, which he believes is being held captive by his body, and "he" has declared war on "it" (this distinction is revealed cryptically: When asked in a hospital, "Who are you?", Tim responds, "Depends on what you mean by 'you'"; When asked, "Were you trying to kill yourself?", Tim tells them that it "depends on what you mean by 'yourself'" [226-227]). In trying to explain this interior warfare to Jane, from an unknown location, Tim describes a pitched battle in terms of the tactical importance of not allowing "the blood-brain barrier" to be breached:

"Do you remember that doctor one time, he told us about the blood-brain barrier? Now, that's a distinction. On the one hand, you've got the blood, just dumb as a train full of rocks, important rocks but dumb dumb dumb, and on the other hand the brain, which is where, you know, the me and the you, where the me and the you come from, and with this barrier in place, you keep the bastard out, you see. Integrity is maintained. There's a beautiful sanctity, when you think about it, a really holy and reverent sanctity that keeps the pure godlike parts from mixing with the rank and baser stuff, the rot, the decay, the blood, the rocks. That's where the real armies of God are, right there on that blood-brain barrier, doing God's work. I mean, that is the real frontline in the battle between the two –"

"What two?"

"The body and the soul. The blood-brain barrier and the synapses are the two main fronts. You've got both sides fighting for control of the dendrites and the axons and what all else I don't know." (229-230)

Granted, this dialogue conflates mind, soul, and brain. Nevertheless, it serves to locate a distinct personal essence unequivocally on the side of things opposite the physical body for this one fictional subjectivity animated by this one fictional deployment. Which means that, even if we were to admit an essentialism, say, for the strategic purposes that Davis and Phelan champion, Tim Farnsworth is at least one deployment suggesting that locating essence in the body would be a mistake. Tim Farnsworth says that his essence is mental, not physical – that it is to be found in a mind held captive by a body that he cannot and will not endorse.

I read Tim Farnsworth's declaration of war on his own body as the opposite of indifference, even as indifference – or resignation – certainly threatens to overtake the narrative, to bring the narrative to absolute zero at last. For instance, the final chapter of the book is entitled, "Then the Letting Go" (245), and it showcases moments in which Farnsworth "discharged the walks with dutiful resignation, the way a busy hangman leaves for the day without scruple or gripe, and then he turned around and walked back" (286). Still others may be tempted to read Farnsworth's probable death that would come after the end of the narration as the condition of narrative absolute zero. The Unnamed resists such readings, however, by refusing to tell "a story that has no temporality and no desire" and by blocking interpretations in which "disability become a motive force that drains the narrative of motive," to fall back on Bérubé's descriptions of what narrative absolute zero looks like in Life and Times of Michael K (Stories 67). Bérubé footnotes these descriptions with an illustration, saying that he is reminded "of the screenwriting seminar in the film Adaptation, in which the renowned script doctor Robert McKee (played by Brian Cox) tells an auditorium with aspiring writers, 'You cannot have a protagonist without desire—it doesn't make any sense, any fucking sense.'" (Stories 199n14). The scene reminds me, in turn, of the famous line by Kurt Vonnegut: "Make your characters want something right away even if it's only a glass of water. Characters paralyzed by the meaninglessness of modern life still have to drink water from time to time."

As it happens, Tim Farnsworth "wanted a drink of water. It was deliciously painful, his thirst, a thought to relish quenching" (308). The intensity of the desire impresses; it also closes out the narration. In the final line of the novel, the implication is that Tim Farnsworth dies, but as he dies, "the exquisite thought of his eternal rest was how delicious that cup of water was going to taste the instant it touched his lips" (310).

Heartbreaking, yes. But the novel, for all its considerable heartbreak, is ultimately a subversive victory. By the end, Tim Farnsworth is enveloped in "stillness" and "silence," but in addition, "he realized that he was still thinking, his mind was still afire, that he had just scored if not won the whole damn thing…" (310). As readers, we share a parallel victory precisely because The Unnamed is less conclusive than its protagonist regarding the nature of benign idiopathic perambulation. Herein lies our insight. It would be one thing for the novel to counterweight Steinbeck's Lennie with a clear-cut case of physical disability, as this would provide obvious grounds for extending Bérubé's project of radical individuation beyond intellectual disability. But Ferris's restraint is what makes the search for new words so compelling, and relating these new words to such a darkly imagined world expands Bérubé's project even more effectively by allowing Tim Farnsworth's condition to remain undiagnosed. The Unnamed thereby exceeds not just mental and physical categories, but disability itself as an essentialist category.

Conclusion: Transing the -ism

Either Tim Farnsworth's condition is neurological, in which case we should heed Bérubé and ascribe a situation of radical individuation, or his case is not neurological…in which case, we should ascribe a situation of radical individuation. As Berger says, radical alterity is present even within a single self: "As Derrida transposed the dictum, 'l'autre que je suis': I am/is another" (190-191). Morton tells us that "our current categories are not set in stone" (Ecological Thought 19), perhaps momentarily forgetting that even if they were, stones are neither discrete nor static objects. There is nothing that you can pin a category to such that it sticks. In fact, the most enduring category is probably that of the -ism, which, once we triangulate it as such and quarantine it, can demarcate the boundary between the eradication of essentialisms to date and a final frontier that stretches out along a neuroscientific horizon (indeed, it fits the characteristics of a hyperobject quite well; it satisfices). The trick, however, will be to stop at the anti-ism and not go meta- (as Morton says, "anything you can do, I can do meta" is "the syndrome of going meta" [Hyperobjects 146]), for an anti-ismism would breach radical individuation and circle back toward universalization in much the same way that ableism is pointed exactly backward: following the path toward the final frontier, and taking note of the landmark liberations along this path, we see a healthy fight against racism, not whiteism; against sexism, not maleism; against ageism, not youngism. Being on the right side of history is to bracket the category and not the category's privilege – this is our quarantine that allows us to correctly trans a bracketed term. Thus, answering Berger's call for neologism and answering the bell for Bérubé's injunction to find a new language, shifting into a new mode called disabilityism simultaneously spins us back toward the frontier and strips the category of its essentialist tendencies.

Works Cited

  • Berger, James. The Disarticulate: Language, Disability, and the Narratives of Modernity. New York University Press, 2014. https://doi.org/10.18574/nyu/9780814708460.001.0001
  • Bérubé, Michael. The Secret Life of Stories: From Don Quixote to Harry Potter, How Understanding Intellectual Disability Transforms the Way We Read. New York University Press, 2016.
  • Coetzee, J.M. Life and Times of Michael K. The Viking Press, 1983.
  • DeLanda, Manuel and Graham Harman. The Rise of Realism. Polity Press, 2017.
  • Davis, Lennard (ed.). The Disability Studies Reader (4th edition). Routledge, 2013. https://doi.org/10.4324/9780203077887
  • Ferris, Joshua. Then We Came to the End. Little, Brown and Company, 2010.
  • ---. The Unnamed. Little, Brown and Company, 2010.
  • Ferry, Peter. Masculinity in Contemporary New York Fiction. Routledge, 2015. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781315793986
  • Frank, Nathan. "The Mind of Then We Came to the End: A Transmental Approach to Contemporary Metafiction." In Explorations of Consciousness in Contemporary Fiction. Edited by Grzegorz Maziarczyk and Joanna Teske. Brill Rodopi, 2017. https://doi.org/10.1163/9789004347854_016
  • Franzen, Jonathan. The Corrections. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2001.
  • Grosz, Elizabeth. Space, Time, and Perversion: Essays on the Politics of Bodies. Routledge, 1995.
  • Hardt, Michael and Antonio Negri. Empire. Harvard University Press, 2000.
  • Hayles, N. Katherine. How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics. University of Chicago Press, 1999. https://doi.org/10.7208/chicago/9780226321394.001.0001
  • Johnson, Gary. "Consciousness as Content: Neuronarratives and the Redemption of Fiction." Mosaic 41.1 (2008): 169-184.
  • Kroker, Arthur. Exits to the Posthuman Future. Polity, 2014.
  • ---. Body Drift: Butler, Hayles, Haraway. University of Minnesota Press, 2012. https://doi.org/10.5749/minnesota/9780816679157.001.0001
  • Ludwigs, Marina. "Walking as a Metaphor for Narrativity." Studia Neophilologica. Vol. 87 (2015): 116–128. https://doi.org/10.1080/00393274.2014.981962
  • Morton, Timothy. The Ecological Thought. Harvard University Press, 2010.
  • ---. Hyperobjects: Philosophy and Ecology After the End of the World. University of Minnesota Press, 2013.
  • Murray, Stuart. "Reading Disability in a Time of Posthuman Work: Speed and Embodiment in Joshua Ferris' The Unnamed and Michael Faber's Under the Skin." Disability Studies Quarterly, Vol. 37.4 (2017). https://doi.org/10.18061/dsq.v37i4.6104
  • Phelan, Peggy. "Reconsidering Identity Politics, Essentialism, and Dismodernism: An Afterword" in Bodies in Commotion. Eds. Carrie Sandhahl and Philip Auslander. University of Michigan Press, 2005.
  • Reiffenrath, Tanja. "Mind Over Matter? Joshua Ferris's The Unnamed as Counternarrative." [Sic]. Vol. 5.1 (2014). https://doi.org/10.15291/sic/1.5.lc.10
  • Sheu, Chingshun J. "Forced Excursion: Walking as Disability in Joshua Ferris's The Unnamed." M/C Journal. Vol. 21.4 (2018).
  • Siebers, Tobin. Disability Theory. University of Michigan Press, 2008. https://doi.org/10.3998/mpub.309723
  • Steinbeck, John. Of Mice and Men. Penguin, 1993.
  • Strauss, Joseph. "Autism as Culture." In The Disability Studies Reader, 4th ed., edited by Lennard Davis, 460-84. New York, Routledge, 2013.
  • Sundén, Jenny. "Technologies of Feeling: Affect Between the Analog and the Digital." Networked Affect. Eds. Ken Hillis, Susanna Paasonen, and Michael Petit. MIT Press, 2015.
  • Zunshine, Lisa. Why We Read Fiction: Theory of Mind and the Novel. The Ohio State University Press, 2006.

Endnotes

  1. Tanja Reiffenrath draws from Gary Johnson's neologistic "neuronarratives" (2008) and applies the tag to The Unnamed to indicate that it is a novel concerned with cognitive science. For Reiffenrath, the value of a neuronarrative is in its ability to "elucidate that the seemingly robust categories and the relationship between body, brain, and mind are anything but clear and stable" (online 2014).
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  2. This matrix depends on showing Bérubé's theoretical connections with Morton. Berger and Bérubé's connections are obvious enough: Berger's radical alterity lends itself to Bérubé's radical individuation. Similarly, Berger and Morton connect rather overtly in their contemplations of worlds ending. A Bérubé-Morton intersection is more difficult to locate, probably because Bérubé's object-oriented ontology is just as hidden as Morton's antiessentialism, which I describe at one point as cagey. I thus draw out Bérubé's latent OOO tendencies and Morton's latent anti essentialism in a demonstration of what they can accomplish together.
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  3. Derived from a synthesis of Timothy Morton and Jenny Sundén, "transing" is my mode of identifying "a logic between logics" in order to "describe something according to its competing characteristics." This mode was developed in pursuit of "a transmental approach to contemporary metafiction" that used Joshua Ferris's debut novel, Then We Came to the End (2007), as its primary text (Frank 2017).
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  4. Technically, Bérubé already extends the "truism" beyond autism by invoking Down Syndrome, and he further extends beyond intellectual disability by invoking "the underlying biochemistry, the chromosomal nondisjunction and…the genetic consequences" of "the expression of trisomy-21" (Stories 50), meaning that he's well aware that the categorization of either of these disabilities as essentially and exclusively mental or physical is fraught from the outset. Such awareness is reinforced by his footnote, in which he cites Joseph N. Strauss's suggestion that "autism might follow the path of neurasthenia and hysteria into quaintness and irrelevance," and "that this process may be hastened by the increasing incoherence of the category" ("Autism and Culture," 465; qtd. in Stories 197n4). Strauss's article, from 2013, appears in the Lennard Davis-edited volume, The Disability Studies Reader, and as such, it problematizes the essentialist stance of that editor just as it finds affinity with the thrust of Hayles and Kroker's posthumanist projects mentioned above – that is, with discourse that directly impacts questions of disability though it is not considered "disability theory" per se. My point in affirming and extending radical individuation, then, is rhetorical: I aim to be categorical about the incoherence of the category, and I aim to achieve this in meta-discursive fashion.
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  5. The scene, as described by Morton, is "when Frodo, captured by Faramir, is staggering around the bombed-out city Osgiliath when a Nazgul (a ringwraith) attacks on a 'fell beast,' a terrifying winged dragon-like creature" (Hyperobjects 105).
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  6. Barad's defense of realism comes in advance of her articulation of "agential realism," a relationist attempt to account for Neils Bohr's quantum insights without succumbing to subjective idealism. Precisely because it is relationist (that is, it questions traditional realism's reliance on individualism and representationalism), agential realism is frequently criticized for not being properly realist at all, for example by Graham Harman and Manuel DeLanda in The Rise of Realism (2017).
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  7. Elizabeth Grosz sketches another useful articulation of this brand of essentialism in Space, Time, and Perversion: Essays on the Politics of Bodies (1995): essentialism "refers to the existence of fixed characteristics, given attributes, and ahistorical functions that limit the possibilities of change and thus of social reorganization" (48).
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  8. Readers familiar with Morton know that he is outspoken about ideologies (e.g., "Ideology isn't just in your head. It's in the shape of a Coke bottle." [The Ecological Thought, 10]), but he is a little cagey when it comes to essences and essentialism. I am more explicit specifically about essentialism as an ideology.
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  9. The most commonly cited reading of The Unnamed as a novel that "(re)introduces" the figure of the flâneur is Peter Ferry's "Reading Manhattan, Reading Masculinity: Reintroducing the Flâneur with E.B. White's Here Is New York and Joshua Ferris' The Unnamed" (2011). Chingshun J. Sheu (2018) agrees with Ferry that Tim Farnsworth's identity is predicated on Farnsworth's uncontrollable walking, but he departs from Ferry insofar as he (Sheu) claims that Farnsworth's identity is grounded in disability, not in Farnsworth's supposed overturning of "conventional understandings of masculinity." But this is somewhat misleading, as it suggests that Ferry's reading of Farnsworth-as-flâneur is steeped in an understanding of the flâneur as a trope of male ability, when in fact Ferry maintains that the "flâneur has existed, and continues to exist, as a counter-hegemonic methodological tool through which the discourses of power that shape American masculinity are dramatized and, crucially, made visible" (Ferry 9). Stuart Murray similarly reads Farnsworth's condition as debilitating, but rather than focus on an ironic attenuation of male strength, Murray focuses on the way that "Farnsworth's syndrome" "offers a specific critique of the culture of work" – in particular, a critique of posthuman and neoliberal culture of work (online 2017). The tendency, then, is to read The Unnamed in counterhegemonic terms even as its central figure appears on the surface to bear the hallmarks of hegemony. The subversions are thus enacted within a category of ability (walking) and across a category of no more categories (posthuman and neoliberal work culture), and they extend to the form of the novel itself, as walking can be read alternatively as metaphor for narrativity (Ludwigs 2015), or precisely its opposite, as counternarrative (Reiffenrath 2014).
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