For those unfamiliar with posthumanist theory, this collective work provides a fascinating, if at times daunting, journey. In The Matter of Disability: Materiality, Biopolitics, Crip Affect, editors David T. Mitchell, Susan Antebi, and Sharon L. Snyder build upon their previous work on posthumanist disability theory with eleven essays broken up into four parts. The editors provide a strong context of posthumanism in their introduction while also having what feels like a dynamic conversation about posthumanist disability theory and possibility. Mitchell, Antebi, and Snyder weave the essays together while simultaneously highlighting their uniqueness, giving a strong sense of cohesiveness and versatility I do not often feel in collected works.

A strong case for posthumanist disability theory is presented in the introduction, citing scholars from posthumanist theory while skillfully melding critical disability theorists. The editors discuss the post Enlightenment Western man and the many failings this image holds in today's world; specifically, how the image of the Vitruvian Man reifies the heteronormative, White, male, able-bodied ideal. Posthumanist disability theory dissects this image and emphasizes the importance of "mattering" (Barad, 2007): the inseparable forces of dynamics and performativity, of discursive practices and material. Included within this fluid intra-agency are organic and non-organic matter and the critique of the Anthropocene.

Authors were tasked with evolving posthumanist disability theory via the "most lively manner possible" (Mitchell, Antebi, & Snyder, 2019, p. xii), which rings true as each author utilizes literary, theatrical, film, and historical examples to analyze. Scholars think through disability to unearth the matter of disability. In this collection, disability is conceived "beyond its diagnostic positioning…as a depreciated socially inscribed deviant surface" (Mitchell et al., p. 9). Instead, the authors think through disability as complex embodiment (Siebers, 2019), dis-affection (Smith, 2019), or tropological confusion (Oswald, 2019).

Tobin Seibers's (2019) final written work is the first essay of this collection, providing a map for the journey ahead. Using Shakespeare's character Falstaff, Seibers posits the theory of complex embodiment, a way of knowing and experiencing the world as only a disabled person can. Siebers calls for an update to the social model that positions the disabled person as a producer of knowledge, wherein disability and environment actively transform each other. This update of the social model, which Siebers claims disallows agency because the environment is everything, demands active participation of subjects because they are defined "by their ability to produce and share knowledge" (p. 42). Complex embodiment, therefore, creates a way to think through disability that is echoed throughout the book.

It is this shared knowledge that Angela M. Smith refers to when identifying how films fail when using digital FX to perform "disability drag" (p. 122), specifically when Lieutenant Dan from the film Forrest Gump pushes himself (as a double leg amputee) onto a chair instead of hauling himself (p. 128). This embodied knowledge uncovers the façade, rendering the digital FX flawed and begging the question: why not use an actor who is an amputee? Beyond these questions, though, Smith introduces us to dis-affection: the moment one knows the performance of disability is inauthentic and flawed. From this moment, a call for disability authenticity may lead to "agential adaptations" (p. 131) that rely on the embodied knowledge of disabled actors. This embodied knowledge leads to true representation within films without the need for digital FX while revealing this knowledge to nondisabled people.

This call for embodied knowledge to be recognized continues in one of my favorite essays of the book by David Oswald. Oswald discusses the character of Lennie Small in John Steinbeck's Depression era novella Of Mice and Men and why interpretations of this character "matter – in both senses of the word" (p. 210). He introduces the concept of tropological confusion wherein the trope of the rational human subject versus other animals is then confused when this same trope is refracted to ultimately challenge the presumed anthropocentrism as evident. Oswald pulls in the work of Mel Chen's (2012) Animacies to unpack how Lennie is paralleled to a dog throughout the novella. Dogs are often used to highlight humanity, illustrating love for an animal that is irrational, exploring the idea that perhaps, George is not the hero, but just a man. This analogy climaxes when George, Lennie's only friend, chooses to kill Lennie as a form of "sacrifice and responsibility" (p. 212) after Lennie accidentally kills a woman. Does humankind need this "other," often via animals, but also ability, to justify our humanity, therefore, erasing the presumed hierarchy of humans? This essay articulates the miasma of emotions and thoughts I have struggled with throughout my life for which I now have a touchstone.

Every essay in this collection provides, if not a new way of thinking, perhaps a new way to form ideas that seem to live outside mainstream discussions of disability. The presentations of posthumanist disability theory exhibit the strength and "rhizomatic ancestry" (Jones, 2019, p.244) of Karen Barad's (2007) concept of mattering: disability is understood as corporeal, embodied, and transformative. This book pushes disability studies to think through disability, unveiling deeper analysis and possibility.

References

  • Barad, K. (2007). Meeting the universe halfway: Quantum physics and the entanglement of matter and meaning. Durham, NC: Duke University Press. https://doi.org/10.1215/9780822388128
  • Chen, M. (2012). Animacies: Biopolitics, racial mattering, and queer affect. Durham, NC: Duke University Press. https://doi.org/10.1215/9780822395447
  • Jones, B. (2019). Mattering. In R. Braidotti & M. Hlavajova (Eds.), Posthuman glossary (pp. 244-247). London, UK: Bloomsbury Academic.
  • Oswald, D. (2019). Why Lennie can teach us new tricks: Reading for idiocy, caninity, and tropological confusion in Of Mice and Men. In D. T. Mitchell, S. Antebi, & S.L. Snyder (Eds.), The matter of disability: Materiality, biopolitics, crip affect (pp. 204-226). Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press. https://doi.org/10.3998/mpub.9365129
  • Siebers, T. (2019). Returning the social to the social model. In D. T. Mitchell, S. Antebi, & S.L. Snyder (Eds.), The matter of disability: Materiality, biopolitics, crip affect (pp. 39-47). Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press. https://doi.org/10.3998/mpub.9365129
  • Smith, A.M. (2019). Dis-affection: Disability effects and disabled moves at the movies. In D. T. Mitchell, S. Antebi, & S.L. Snyder (Eds.), The matter of disability: Materiality, biopolitics, crip affect (pp. 118-140). Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press. https://doi.org/10.3998/mpub.9365129
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