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  • Brilliant Imperfection: Grappling with Cureby Eli Clare
  • Chloë Taylor
Eli Clare, Brilliant Imperfection: Grappling with CureDurham, NC: Duke University Press, 2017, 240pp. ISBN: 978-0-8223-6276-0

E liC lare describes his latest book, Brilliant Imperfection: Grappling with Cure, not as a series of interconnected essays but rather as a "mosaic," "a swirling, multibranched pattern of histories, ideas, and feelings," a volume composed of "fragments and slivers" (xv). The pieces of Clare's mosaic appear in many genres, including short essays; scintillating tirades; letters to friends—some estranged, some deceased; family stories and poignant memories; illness narratives; and imaginative reconstructions of the lives of people institutionalized and sterilized due to intellectual disability. These multifarious components form a coherent pattern because each reflects on the complex topic of cure.

Clare's initial and abiding position on cure is a crip pride refusal and repudiation of many cure discourses and practices. Clare insists that—except on very bad days—he, like many disabled people, does not want to be cured or normalized. For Clare, disability pride and self-acceptance are akin to the black pride of African Americans who refuse skin lightening and hair-straightening treatments, and the fat pride of fat people who refuse weight-loss surgeries and perpetual diets. In each case, Clare insists that society must change rather than individuals. Clare thus accepts and loves what he describes as his lopsided and tremoring body, his slow movements and slurred speech. Many slivers of his mosaic show the ways that the quest for cure does violence to disabled people, [End Page 105]as well as to other oppressed groups of humans and the more-than-human world. For example, the quest for cure has frequently been a eugenic project, in which doctors, scientists, charities, and fundraising spokespersons strive for a future without disabled people, rather than investing their resources and energies in improving the lives of disabled people. For example, Christopher Reeve campaigned tirelessly for stem cell research rather than using his influence as a privileged, affluent, white disabled man to fight against disability discrimination, to raise awareness about ableism, or to seek greater accommodation, access, health care, affordable housing, and meaningful employment for disabled people. In so doing, Reeve reinforced the stigmatizing view of disability as a tragedy and misfortune that the world would be better off without.

Cure is understood as the "fixing" of disabilities and defects. As Clare shows, race, the effects of poverty, and gender-queerness have each been seen as such disabilities and defects. Indeed, the language of defect and cure have justified enslavement, racism, and colonialism through the pathologization of nonwhite people. The quest for cure has also been enacted through unimaginable violence to billions of more-than-human animals. When Clare thinks of the centuries of medical experimentation done on more-than-human animals, he writes, " I feel … I feel great turmoil … I feel great turmoil about being human" (30–31, emphasis in original). As Clare recognizes, the anthropocentrism that has allowed Western scientists to sacrifice untold numbers of more-than-human animals to cure has also underpinned the West's destruction of the environment; nature, like animals, has been treated as nothing more than a means to human ends, with the human understood as white, male, heterosexual, able-minded, and able-bodied.

While Clare's fury over the harms done by cure motivated his writing of Brilliant Imperfection, he also recognizes that cure is complicated, and cannot be dismissed as a simple evil. For instance, Clare acknowledges that he is alive today because of cure, and that many disabled people desire and seek out cures for their disabilities, or for some of the symptoms associated with their disabilities. Clare describes his own gratitude for Ibuprofrin and antibiotics, and times in his life when he desperately wanted cure. The motivating question behind Clare's book is therefore: How can we recognize, respect, and respond to the voices and experiences of those disabled people who seek cure, without supporting the many forms of violence that cure inflicts on disabled people, and on many other human and more-than-human others?

Particularly complicated cases discussed in Brilliant Imperfection...


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pp. 105-109
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