Book Review: The Minority Body

BookReviewLogoReview by Heather Stewart

In The Minority Body: A Theory of Disability (Oxford University Press, 2016), Elizabeth Barnes (associate professor of Philosophy at the University of Virginia) offers an insightful philosophical analysis of disability. Her work calls into question pervasive intuitions and assumptions that mark disability as inherently bad or problematic, and instead advances (quite compellingly) a theory of disability that is in fact neutral with respect to well-being. Utilizing the tools of analytic feminist philosophical analysis, Barnes’ examines the concept of “disability” (what it is and what we mean by it), the social implications of disability, and how disability interacts with other features of one’s life to affect one’s well-being. Along the way, she affords a significant degree of deference to the testimonies of disabled folks themselves, a unique strength of her examination. Barnes, a disabled woman herself, draws both on her personal experiences with disability, as well as her technical expertise as a feminist philosopher working in the areas of social philosophy, metaphysics, and ethics, to inform her analysis.

27309856Barnes opens her work by articulating many ways in which philosophical engagement with disability theory has been flawed, with particular attention to the ways in which philosophical analysis with respect to disability has marginalized, obscured, or silenced the viewpoints and narratives of the disabled themselves. She hopes to correct for this both by theorizing in a deeply personal way—she herself is disabled—as well as defending the reliability and credibility of positive testimonies of the disabled. At the outset, Barnes clarifies that in the interest of simplicity, she is restricting the scope of her analysis to physical disabilities, though she is not foreclosing the possibility that what she has to say could be extended to other types of disabilities (5). She also categorizes her philosophical aims as falling within the domain of social philosophy, as opposed to applied ethics or bioethics (2). She sees her work as addressing more fundamental and foundational questions—those which ought to be clarified prior to considering applied concerns (2). Continue reading “Book Review: The Minority Body”

Book Review: Thinking Sex with the Early Moderns

BookReviewLogoReview by Sarah Parker

Is sex good to think with?

Valerie Traub poses this question to her reader at the opening of Thinking Sex with the Early Moderns (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016) and goes on to show how thinking with sex rather than talking about sex may offer clues that help us to interpret literary works of the early modern period. Though Thinking Sex uses literary works as source texts, Traub’s approach is primarily a historical one. She also describes the thorny relationship between historicist approaches to sexuality studies and the discourses of queer theory in an attempt to find points of reconciliation between these two equally valuable academic disciplines. Sex as an object of study is decidedly elusive; it is characterized by “opacity, absence, gaps, blockages, and resistances” (3). Rather than trying to get around this problem in order to pose a decisive reading about what early moderns did, Traub’s work embraces the sites of unknowability that characterize sex, both in the archive and in the present. This is what she means by thinking with sex.

26722986First and foremost, Traub makes it quite clear that she wants to do “something other than identity history” (11), a project that is in keeping with her previous book, The Renaissance of Lesbianism in Early Modern Europe (Cambridge, 2002). As in that work, Thinking Sex locates sexual acts as indicative of erotic desires rather than retroactively fitting those acts into modern identity categories. That said, Traub launches a smart and incisive political critique of historians who would describe academic research into the history of queer sexuality as mere projection. Inspired by Dominick LaCapra’s argument that a theoretical approach to history must look at the way history has been studied in addition to the historical objects of study themselves, Traub opens the main of her book with an overview of Alan Bray’s path breaking work on early modern homoerotic friendship. Arguing against scholars who have accused Bray’s work (and that of other historians of sexuality) of projecting the identity politics of the present onto the past, Traub counters that “it is not just that leveling a charge of projection in this way is inaccurate and offensive: more important, it circumvents, and thereby obscures, questions tacitly raised by Bray’s scholarship but not resolved in it: namely, the relations between emotional and bodily intimacy, and what we make of them” (47). In other words, this early scholarship brought much needed attention to the difficulty (or even the impossibility) of identifying what sexual acts accompanied the traces of “emotional and bodily intimacy” that are evident in the literary and historical texts available for our analysis. Continue reading “Book Review: Thinking Sex with the Early Moderns”