“This frustration knows no neat theoretical divide between disability and impairment. Neither does disappointment nor embarrassment. On good days, I can separate the anger I turn inward at my body from the anger that needs to be turned outward, directed at the daily ableist shit, but there is nothing simple or neat about kindling the latter while transforming the former. I decided that Oliver’s model of disability makes theoretical and political sense but misses important emotional realities” (Clare 8).
This passage in Eli Clare’s “The Mountain” comes directly after his exploration of Michael Oliver’s definitions of impairment and disability and how they interact with Clare’s life. He describes his own experience with these concepts, illustrating disability with the unfair restrictions the school system places on test-taking and impairment with his body’s physical inability to climb Mount Adams. Earlier in the essay, Clare writes that “the first failure [his struggles with test-taking] centers on a socially constructed limitation [strict timing], the second [failing to climb Mount Adams] on a physical one [the slippery, steep rocks]” (Clare 7). Although Clare understands the difference Oliver suggested and is able to apply it to his own life, in the end it makes no difference in the pain and anger he feels. His awareness of the fact that the test issue is society’s fault and the mountain is merely nature does not weaken the blow of either failure. This is what begins the passage I selected to focus on. Clare writes, “This frustration [felt as a result of the struggles with both the test and the mountain] knows no neat theoretical divide between disability and impairment” (Clare 8). Although his brain can distinguish between the two phenomena according to Oliver’s theory, it makes no difference in his heart and the emotions he suffers. Another way to illustrate this is with the concept of being hit by a car. Being able to tell if the driver hit you by accident or if they were trying to hurt you may change your interpretation of the situation in your head, but it won’t have any effect on the pain you are experiencing. Essentially, Clare uses this moment to show that theory can only do so much. It is helpful to investigate, dissect, and theorize about how issues happen, such as disability and systematic oppression, but that intellectual process does not serve to fix or lessen the real physical and emotional pain felt by the affected people on a daily basis. Clare finishes this passage with, “I decided that Oliver’s model of disability makes theoretical and political sense but misses important emotional realities” (Clare 8). There is nothing wrong with theory, but sometimes this intellectualization becomes so far removed from the real-life experiences of humans that it is nothing more than words on a page. This feeds into the mental health concept of intellectualizing feelings and how this becomes an issue when it separates a person from actually feeling those feelings. Theorizing your emotions and discerning why they are happening don’t allow you to fully experience them and thus heal from them. This points to Clare’s broader argument about how queer theory and disability theory and every sort of intellectual work that relates to his life separate the mind from the body, disallowing the human as a whole to grow.