Just after I turned fifty, I broke my neck in a cycling accident. In the rehab hospital and for months afterwards, as my body tried to recover from the shock to my central nervous system, I suffered terrible neurological pain that lingers to this day. Drawing on theories of melancholia, on literary readings, disability studies, and understandings of loss, in this article I make an argument for exploring feelings of chronic pain and the temporal dislocations of grief as a way forward, remembering what has irretrievably happened in the hopes of making a transformative future. I consider the ways in which disability studies has understandably been hesitant to consider pain, especially the psychic pain of grief, in relation to disabled bodyminds, and turn to the work of Eli Clare and Alison Kafer, both of whom are now “grappling” (Clare’s verb) with phenomenological experiences of pain. To theorize these events and remain true to suffering and grief, I consider psychoanalytic understandings of melancholy, then turn to Walter Benjamin. In his theses on the philosophy of history, he writes against the forgetting that is required by a belief in history-as-progress, and warns that “not even the dead will be safe from the enemy, if he is victorious.” Analyzing sixteenth-century German “mourning plays,” he studies the allegorical poetics of the form to explore how a human world that seems inescapably mournful, is, in the end, transformed through a narrative and poetics of redemption. Benjamin considers this redemptive turn a “betrayal,” and I agree. I consider how that betrayal matters to my own account of living on after a major spinal cord injury and significant paralysis transformed my life.
Faithful to the Contemplation of Bones: Disability and Irremediable Grief
Christina Crosby is a professor of English and feminist, gender, and sexuality studies at Wesleyan University. She is the author most recently of A Body, Undone: Living on After Great Pain (2016), a memoir written in the wake of spinal cord injury, pain, and paralysis. Her first book, The Ends of History: Victorians and the “Woman Question” (1991), explores Victorian historicism and the ways that “women” must be exempted from the trials of “history “ in order to secure it as a public, masculine domain of progressively unfolding events. She has also published essays and reviews in Victorian Studies, PMLA, College English, Journal of Humanities in Rehabilitation, Guernica, a Magazine of Global Art and Politics and elsewhere.
Christina Crosby; Faithful to the Contemplation of Bones: Disability and Irremediable Grief. South Atlantic Quarterly 1 July 2019; 118 (3): 615–641. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00382876-7616187
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