Alison Kafer, Feminist, Queer, Crip

In her book Feminist, Queer, Crip, Alison Kafer looks to develop a way of talking about disability that recognizes its status as a political identity, and that also imagines a future for disabled people. Attitudes towards disability link the present with the future: “one’s assumptions about the experience of disability create one’s conception of a better future” (2). Rhetoric about disabled peoples’ reproductive rights, intellectual ability, and quality of life shape not only current quality of life but (through eugenics that get classed as necessary interventions for the “health” of society) the possible existence of disabled people in the future. Therefore, Kafer argues, conversations about disabled people are and should be treated as political. When disability is seen as a non-political category, its value in the future is obscured, and it becomes impossible to imagine disability futurity. When disability is political, this imagination can happen.

As a follow-up to this sentiment, she offers a hybrid political/relational model of disability that moves disability away from being an individual problem that can be accessed by, for example, wearing a blindfold for an hour to simulate blindness, and towards a framework in which the “problem” of disability is in inaccessible buildings and other collective, societal systems. In contrast to the medical model, which she calls the individual model, the political/relational model treats disablement as something that occurs because of ideological systems that disenfranchise disabled people, not individual needs or choices. (She distinguishes this from the social model, the distinction between impairment and disability of which she doesn’t find useful, because both rely on social understandings– what we see as being an impairment changes based on our context. This point reminds me of Rosenwein and Orlemanski– the shifting collective agreement of what a disability/emotion “is” and whether it exists, and the basis of an “average” figure onto which medical discourse is based, but who doesn’t actually exist.)

This book sees Kafer use the phrase “crip time”, which in a similar way to nonheteronormative time exists outside of usual modes of experiencing time. She situates her project in imagining the obscured future of disability as similar to the struggle of queer activists to examine compulsory heterosexuality and imagine otherwise. In contrast to curative time, which is interested in when people will get better or when disability will end, crip time both offers flexibility and imagines a world where “wanting” disability to be eradicated is not a foregone conclusion. Currently, there is “no future for crips”; crip time exists to create this future. Importantly, she both uses Lee Edelman’s concept of reproductive futurity and diverts from it: since Edelman’s critique is about a symbolic Child who is white and able-bodied, divesting from futurity does not look the same for everyone, and certain kinds of futurity, Kafer argues, can exist without becoming normative. “The task then is not so much to refuse futurity as to imagine disability and disabled futures otherwise” (34). She asks directly (37) what it would look like to have a temporality of depression or anxiety, or PTSD: what reactions now might push you into the past or future?

In the latter part of the book, Kafer extends her explanation of crip time to narratives about utopia. Utopian visions tend to be powerfully normalizing: through prostheses, technology, and cultural changes, utopias strive to eradicate disability or even destroy disabled people. She wants to theorize another kind of future that is inclusive of disabled people without subjecting them to normalization. Her solution to this is to make alliances across queer theory, environmentalism, and the reproductive movement, among others, in order to “find disability everywhere” and begin to make a more accessible future.

I’m glad that I am reading Kafer right now because I’ve had some ideas this week about how my own project is related to non-normative time. (See my post on Arrival for more.) I think crip time is useful for thinking through my ideas about how melancholy functions in medieval romance, in a way that has not usually been examined. When something stretches on ad infinitum, without a definite end, how do texts respond to it– and what assumptions do we as analysts of the texts make about the nature of melancholy as one-way, curable, or inherently undesirable?