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  • The Right to Maim: Debility, Capacity, Disability by Jasbir K. Puar
  • Stephen Sheehi (bio)
The Right to Maim: Debility, Capacity, Disability
Jasbir K. Puar
Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2017
267 pages. isbn 978082269189

Jasbir K. Puar’s acclaimed book The Right to Maim: Debility, Capacity, Disability carefully progresses, chapter by chapter, to construct a multifaceted argument that considers how disability as an individual identity is an effect (and affect) of ways neoliberalism atomizes individual relations to the state and corporate functions as well as liberal discourses of bodily, subjective, social, and economic potentiality and capacity. Debility, she shows, is a condition of neoliberal economic order that structures the everyday life of the global South and global North, targeted by the imperialist war machine and labor machine as readily as it “produces debt as debility” (17). Debility and disability are two interlocked terms within a political economy of capacity (the capacity for potentiality, labor, and production) within a neoliberal order that “promotes disability empowerment at the same time that it maintains the precarity of certain bodies and populations precisely through making them available for maiming” (xvii).

Chapter 1 adroitly marks how the neoliberal biopolitics of disability, particularly enacted through the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), establishes forms of gender normativity that hail trans subjects along with disabled subjects to claim selfhood through metrics of capacity and productivity. Puar’s departure here is that the ADA “reifies standards of bodily capacity and debility through the reproduction of gender normativity as integral to the productive potential of the disabled body” (38). In other words, liberal (qua neoliberal) discourses on trans rights function along the same operational, institutional, juridical, ideological, and social processes that hail subjects to their “humanity” through their capacity, their ability to rise out of debility in order to achieve selfhood, and a nondiscriminatory place in society where their “able nationalism” (Sharon Snyder and David Mitchel, quoted on 39) binds them to their “equality” in a society where they can realize their potentiality for maximum productivity. [End Page 72]

Chapter 2 reveals how “the work machine and the war machine both need bodies that are predated for injury and maiming” (65). Because capitalism, settler colonialism, and forced migration generate disabilities, they also need to generate and propagate discourses surrounding empowerment and visibility (65). For example, Puar tells how the ADA characterizes the logic of this neoliberal economic order and mode of governmentality. It maintains and regulates debility while identifying disability as an “equal” disabled body within the criteria of capacity (i.e., potentiality for productivity) and/or a profitable object of health-care regime. The biopolitics of an ever-present potentiality for disability in relation to capacity, productivity, profitability, and debility structures not only the logic of disaster capitalism (87–88) but the very notion of a normative body that is “never healthy enough” (82).

In chapter 3 Puar critically examines the full implications and effects of Israeli pinkwashing; namely, how Israel projects itself as a democratic, liberal, “inclusive” state that welcomes all its citizens and, in this case, gay Palestinian noncitizens, in contradistinction to “backward” and “homophobic” Palestinian society and “culture” (96). Puar’s contribution surpasses the realization that “pinkwashing’s unconscious appeal to US gays is produced through the erasure of US settler colonialism enacted in the tacit endorsement of Israel’s occupation of Palestine” (97). Rather, she adds that pinkwashing “obscures the persistent downplaying of the woman question” and feminist struggles, subordinating them to the “homosexual question” within Israel (99). Moreover, replicating ways in which women, too, have been hailed to militarism, “the homosexuals hailed by the nation-state are not gender queer or gender nonconforming” but “the ones re-creating cisgender norms through, rather than despite, homosexual identity” (99).

I am not convinced that Israeli militaristic homonationalism does not also hail Israeli Jewish trans subjects. To the contrary, Israel’s hasbara has promoted its “able-bodied” trans soldiers in recent years. However, Puar is arguing that the “liberal” military war machine of Zionism pinkwashes precisely through recruiting/hailing Jewish Israeli LGBTQ+ subjects. In doing so, the state reproduces a capacitated, “rehabilitated,” productive, and reproductive (117) post-Shoah heteromasculinist Jewish Zionist body: the New Jew...


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