- Crip Times. Disability, Globalisation, and Resistance by Robert McRuer
Despite what one might assume from the title (and indeed deduce from the deliberate invocations of Dickens's Hard Times and the British Marxist New Times movement contained therein), Crip Times is an optimistic book. It is not an easy or naïve optimism, and McRuer is explicit that, following Foucault, this optimism should not be conflated with hope, since hope imperils activism. He argues instead for a Gramscian optimism of the will that should always keep us "pointing towards the possibilities for new connections and coalitions" that aspirate and "conjure up" a world beyond austerity (233). Aspiration is one of the keywords McRuer uses to underpin the four main chapters of the book. He wants to reclaim, reappropriate, or perhaps re-signify aspiration from its neoliberal codification as "an individualist libertarian concept organised around personal achievement and merit" (176), with property (home) ownership as its apogee, to a crip rendering. Crip Aspiration calls for collective resistance to the depredations of austerity; for people to work together to improve their communities, and is summed up by a kind of mini-manifesto that concludes the main body of the book: "attend to those who are not you, to those who are different from you (different embodiments, different minds, different behaviours), and attempt in that interdependent attending to apprehend the web of social relations in which we are currently located […] and that can (of course) be changed" (217).
This "working together," or willingness to combine, is fundamental to the texture of the book in significant ways beyond optimism, academic interdisciplinarity, and calls for activism. One of the words that appears frequently throughout the book is valence. The literal meaning of valence, as I learned in my school Chemistry, is the combining capacity of an atom. McRuer regularly undertakes etymological excursions during his expositions, and in this spirit I note that valence has its roots in the Latin valentia meaning strength or capacity. So in one sense, the recurring use of the word valence continually implies strength in togetherness. Continuing with Chemistry for a moment, though, suggests another kind of significance for this term. "Valence electrons" [End Page 379] are the ones available in an atom for combining with other atoms, and they circulate in the outer orbits; this sense of availability to other spheres aligns with the nature of McRuer's layered analysis of the way ideas and meanings circulate through culture in complex ways, opening up some possibilities while precluding others in contemporary neoliberal societies.
As Alison Kafer has already said (back cover), McRuer's skills as an analyst and writer are formidable. They are perhaps most evident in the ways he weaves together apparently disparate narratives to move us through individual, local, national, and global perspectives on disability and austerity. Each chapter in the book includes a "meditation" on a keyword alongside the analysis of texts and issues, and in chapter 3, "Inhabitable Spaces," that keyword is displacement. Much of the chapter discusses the work of Mexican photographer Livia Radwanska. Toward the end of the chapter, McRuer analyses four of Radwanska's portraits of displaced inhabitants of the Mérida90 tenement block in Mexico City. Close textual analysis of the photograph of Carlitos brings our attention to his t-shirt, which promotes the film Trainspotting. As the analysis proceeds there is an almost cinematic sense of ellipsis, zooming into the portrait, then into the t-shirt to be magically transported into the deprived area around Edinburgh where Trainspotting is set. The thematics of Trainspotting resonate with those of Crip Times, and the fact that the film's director, Danny Boyle, was later commissioned to produce the opening ceremonies for London's 2012 Olympic Games, at the time when austerity, privatization, and cuts to the NHS were really beginning to bite, is just one of the threads—or perhaps valences—McRuer works with as he attends to the ways in which disability is central to (yet insufficiently acknowledged in) diverse micro- and macro-level...