Disability Studies Quarterly
Spring 2006, Volume 26, No. 2
Copyright 2006 by the Society
for Disability Studies


Krieger, Susan. (2005). Things No Longer There: A Memoir of Losing Sight and Finding Vision. Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press. 0-299-20864-8. 238 pages. $19.95.

Reviewed by Natalie Wilson, California State University San Marcos

Experimental in its structure, Susan Krieger's Things No Longer There: A Memoir of Losing Sight and Finding Vision draws on various narrative, autobiographical, and fictional forms to explore three combined themes: how 'inner' subjective vision meshes with the 'outer' world, how lesbianism is rendered (in)visible, and how the loss of physical sight impacts wider vision.

The book is organized into four parts, each of which has its own particular focus. The first part, "Vanishing Landscapes," successfully introduces the text's overriding concern with lesbian invisibility while the remaining chapters focus on natural landscapes in an attempt to convey a dialectical relationship between outer and inner, between world and self. From this reader's perspective, while the exploration of clarity and vision in relation to changing environments usefully suggests the permeability of our ways of seeing and knowing the world, the pervasive focus on landscape moves the text too far away from its more intriguing subjective theoretical base.

Part Two of the book is far more successful at infusing the personal with the political, at unpacking lesbian invisibility in a way that suggests more fruitful ways of defining ourselves, our sexualities, and the spaces we inhabit. Chapter five examines the conundrums of identity in our 'post-identity' world, asking if "the category of lesbianism" has "disappeared into a postmodern amorphousness of identity" (50). Grounded in a narrative which details Krieger's attendance at a lesbian music festival, the author documents her frustrating attempts to 'see' the lesbians in attendance. Her meditations on the visible markers (or lack thereof) of lesbianism intriguingly segue into a consideration of how lesbians could become more personally (as well as politically) visible. Noting "the need to protect a lesbian world, of the need for a lesbian separation," Krieger interrogates the ways in which identity can unite or segregate, empower or disenfranchise.

Chapter six moves into a consideration of why lesbian relationships "are full of attempts by women to be more to each other than anyone expects," and explores both the possibilities and limitations of thinking relationships otherwise (75). Krieger enthrallingly details the 'irregular' nature of lesbian relationships, yet, in a sense, fails to account for the 'irregular' nature of all relationships (75). Defining lesbian relationships as avowedly different problematically shores up ideas of heteronormativity, rather than unpacking the ways in which 'hetero' relationships are not so 'normal' or 'regular' either. From a queer theory perspective, Krieger's musings sometimes verge towards lesbian essentialism, rendering visible only very particular notions of what lesbianism, or sexuality for that matter, is. This tendency, to the text's credit, is corrected in the wonderful closing section of the book, an autobiographically based novella that richly conveys the difficulties of trying to forge relationships that fall outside what society considers 'normal.'

Chapter seven details Krieger's experiences with 'lesbophobia' in both her personal and academic life. Her discussion of the subjective aspects of academia is a welcome relief in a profession that seems to forget that professors are people too, with accompanying bodies and sexualities.

In Part Three, questions of disability take center stage. In chapters eight through ten, readers are taken on an intimate, revealing journey that details Krieger's worsening physical vision, and her accompanying expanding 'inner' vision. Moving from seeing her eye condition as a 'loss of sight' to a condition that actually affords her valuable new ways of seeing and living, these chapters enact a useful praxis of disability theory. Krieger, in the tradition of Nancy Mairs or Lennard Davis, usefully personalizes disability in a way that does not problematically champion individual 'survival,' but rather opens out new ideas of how we define the body, its abilities, its visions, its loves. Refusing to succumb to a medicalized version of her loss of eyesight as failure, Krieger instead details her journey to see herself as "a whole person" rather than "as a set of failed eyes" (99).

A stated attempt to "come to terms with loss," the book ultimately suggests that her loss of vision is easier to manage than the loss of a lover, of a landscape, of others' conception of her as 'normal' (3). Noting the many architectural structures and daily realities that shape our lives as if we were all able-bodied, as well as the very tendencies of language to define disability as lack, Krieger's personalized account of her own coming to terms with finding vision while losing sight is a moving, unique account of 'overcoming' not so much disability, but rather the ways in which our culture and its landscapes define disability as loss. Further, by equating the 'othered' category of lesbianism with disability, the book suggests how anything outside of the norm in American culture is pathologized. While this reader feels Krieger could have unpacked the linkages between lesbian invisibility and disabled identity a bit more, the book certainly suggests the useful alliances that could be forged between these two categories of identity and the growing body of theory that surrounds them.

Copyright (c) 2006 Natalie Wilson

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