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  • Becoming Flesh of My Flesh:Feminist and Disability Theologies on the Edge of Posthumanist Discourse
  • Sharon V. Betcher (bio)

"Oh, you're one of those," the interviewing nurse summarily concluded, as I indicated that, no, in fact, I did not wear or own a prosthesis to "remediate" my left leg amputation. To be sure, my unprostheticized—or should I say, "unproselytized"?—body often receives social comment: really, Why would I, given the supposedly remediating wonders of technology, assume to go public so "unrehabilitated"? Given cultural encouragement for bodily health, but given that I am a more active person without what is, in my case, the encumbrance of a prosthesis, I suppose I am offending a social norm. More specifically, I suspect that the divergence in cultural aspirations social commentaries hold about my disability and my own lived capaciousness sit somewhere between body, to which we have all been encouraged to aspire given the politics of health, and the unrehabilitated flesh, which opens off the terrain of my amputation.

Body: feminists recuperated the term and its material terrain from the underside of an earlier cultural, dualistic management strategy that values the masculine spirit or mind more than the feminine body or physicality. Feminist theology contrarily argued appreciatively for human embodiment with and through an immanence of spirit. Yet feminism's recuperation of the undervalued body has not necessarily impeded either disability abjection or the ways in which cultural ideologies today capitalize upon the body. Given the cultural command performances expected of the body's ability, health, beauty, and productivity, I wonder if—just as Nature has proven to be "a transcendental term in a material mask"1—body, even loosed from any conscious religious scaling, might likewise hide its transcendental demeanor in a corporeal overcoat? [End Page 107] Whereas body can invite the hallucinatory delusion of wholeness, and thus the temptation to believe in agential mastery and control, flesh, I want to propose, admits our exposure, our vulnerability one to another, if also to bios. Flesh, the dynamic and fluid physics of embodiment, cannot as easily as the body submit to transcendentalist metaphysics, to the logic of the one. Flesh suggests that the capaciousness of a life resembles a teacup crackled with ten thousand veins. Spirit, lived in relation to flesh, might then not be so interested in wholeness as in passion.2

This essay celebrates the work of feminist and disability theologian Nancy Eiesland, who died in March 2009, and revisits the roundtable conversation between feminism and disability in which she first participated in 1994.3 Here, I think yet again from the ecotone of philosophical difference between body and flesh. Feminist and disability theologies might, I suggest, find in the flesh a shared religious agenda. From a disability perspective, thinking from the flesh challenges the naturalization or normalization of the body and thereby the sociocultural and economic value of ability. Flesh might comparably remind feminism that, whereas body has already been submitted to a cultural regime of wholeness—by way of hallucinatory imagistic totalization, as even Jacques Lacan insisted, corporeality differs with itself daily. Flesh, in other words, makes alterity central and might also, therefore, allow us to talk about that which metaphysics has often hidden from the sociocultural agenda, that which we know to be true of lives—pain, difficulty, disease, transience, aging, error, and corporeal limit, if even also the epiphanies and critical insights that come with illness, as Virginia Woolf insists.4

On Thinking Flesh without Recourse to "the Body"

In the 1994 Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion roundtable conversation, feminist disability theologians lamented the ways in which feminism, unconscious of its own valorization of ability, had joined itself to liberal humanist discourse: laying claim to the "fitness" of women's humanity, feminism—attempting to shrug off the note of "degeneracy" that "woman" had carried in philosophical discourse since Aristotle's time—unwittingly thereby also accepted [End Page 108] "patriarchal" ways of judging personhood.5 That feminism could align itself with body, while culturally concurring with the measure of the deficient flesh of disabled persons, suggested to women with disabilities that body itself had already and/or could easily be capitalized upon within the cult...


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