Either Way It Sucks

“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.

3 thoughts on “Either Way It Sucks”

  1. I really love the point you made about how an emotion is unable to decipher its cause. That’s such a unique way of understanding pain because even if humans have the science to describe why someone is feeling something, that doesn’t lessen the hurt. Explaining something away doesn’t give it any less significance. I think this actually relates to one of our class discussions on the big pharmaceutical companies, and how their primary goal is money. They create pills that are supposed to help people, but a lot of times that’s not enough. There are some things that cannot be solved by science and are rather deeper emotional turmoil caused either inwardly or by society that will not go away with medicine or scientific explanation.

  2. I agree with you completely. As you said, a lot of theory only looks at the physical or social aspects, rather than the emotional when emotional aspects are, quite frankly, one of the biggest aspects in living a happy life. I’ve seen this in a lot of theory but I’ve seen it more in the queer theory writings that we have read in class. I wonder why that is though?

  3. I completely agree with you and the other comments. I think personally a lot about the differences between impairment and disability within the medical model and the social constructivist model and what they offer (and their subsequent influences on culture). I think that Clare does a nice job pointing out this tension within many disabled people, although I wish he discussed internalized ableism a bit more in this section. Disabled people are told their entire lives that something is wrong (or your function is impaired), to unlearn this requires theory… But I agree with Clare and with you, that theory can only get you so far.

    This also ties into how Clare is doing more than just theorizing, but is actively fighting against these interlocking structures of capitalism etc (that are detailed in The War).

    Theory can give you the toolkit and definitions to talk about how you’re feeling or what is influencing your emotions (such as why Clare felt so strongly about not being able to climb Mount Adams), but as you said, we must go further than just that and go towards direct action.

Leave a Reply