James Gillray, “"The Cow-Pock-or-the Wonderful Effects of the New Inoculation!-” (1802)

James Gillray, “"The Cow-Pock-or-the Wonderful Effects of the New Inoculation!-” (1802)

1. A book-length study entitled Insecure Immunity: Inoculation and Anti-Vaccination, 1720-1898, which explores the long history of inoculation insecurity, a term I use to refer to a constellation of political and cultural anxieties surrounding the legitimacy, safety, and efficacy of a developing medical procedure used to preserve the health of its subject in advance of infection. This project considers how inoculation practices from earlier variolation to later vaccination were politicized through ties to national identity as defined by national health and population security. My book challenges the model of pro- vs. anti- vaccination by tracing how both sides of this debate depended on a shared cultural imaginary about insecure health to imagine radically different British futures. I locate now-familiar rhetorics of childhood vulnerability, particularly ableist tropes (i.e. anti-autism discourses within anti-vaccination communities), within a much longer history of cultural insecurities about bodily permeability and infection. Insecure Immunity recovers this understudied cultural history to reveal that inoculation was never purely a matter of medicine but a political act from its inception with consequences for both the individual and social body.

Gaspare Travers, “The Operation” (1753-1754)

Gaspare Travers, “The Operation” (1753-1754)

2. A second book project that explores historical models and theories of chronic pain in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. This project begins with the issue of pain’s relationship to disability. Disabled people have frequently been figured as being afflicted by both psychic and somatic pain, states of abjection that are often exceed or destroy language’s ability to represent them. Elaine Scarry’s seminal 1985 The Body In Pain emphasized the irreconcilable division between the body in pain whose singular experience cannot be communicated and those witnessing it. As “pain is regularly theorized as an experience that isolates and individualizes,” disabled bodies in pain are often seen as localized cases of “individual misfortune rather than a social or political identity, and pain as private suffering rather than socially produced condition.” Disability and the emerging field of pain studies have thus tried to emphasize that living with a disability does not necessarily entail pain, nor does pain necessarily have to be experienced as part of a disability or a disability in and of itself.

Allis’ Ether Inhaler (1896)

Allis’ Ether Inhaler (1896)

Margaret Price has called for a “need to think and talk more carefully about pain—not in order to overcome it, but in order to overcome the many oppressions that attempt to annihilate us for feeling pain.” My project draws on my own poetic engagements with my scoliosis-related disability and chronic pain to contribute to what Alyson Patsavas has called a “cripistemology of pain”: “It is my hope that cripstemologies materialize in ways that permit us to think pain otherwise, to produce painful new knowledge, but also to construct analyses about pain that are less painful, and less dangerous to those of us in pain, and, in doing so, to re-imagine our (shared, pained) futures.” Can there be a carefully historicized standpoint theory of pain that can offer us means of understanding the potentially queer chronicites of pain while also enabling new forms of care and interdependence?

The consistent desire to eliminate or suspend pain demands rethinking. The common temporal framing applied to disability is what Alison Kafer calls “curative time,” or a linear progress narrative in which disability is expected and assumed to be ameliorated, cured, or even eliminated. The dominance of this narrative, particularly in medicine, has contributed to “an understanding of disability that not only expects and assumes intervention but also cannot imagine or comprehend anything other than intervention.” Especially as social Darwinism feeds into eugenic arguments for the correction or elimination of the disabled, disabled bodies in pain become figured as always “out of time,” “out of sync with time–deviations in the progress narrative toward cure. In this project, I examine how transformations in pain management also gave rise to writers who resist this curative temporality by inhabiting and describing the queer temporalities of pain.

Handcrafted incense holder from Shanghai.

Handcrafted incense holder from Shanghai.

3. A chapbook of poems called Listening to Incense, which explores the relationship between depression and masculinity within the context of my family’s immigrant experience. The collection asks how mental health stigma has contributed to the silencing and harm of some of the most vulnerable members of my family. What is at stake for these men in their refusal to disclose and seek support? To begin answering these questions about the deeply affective experience of immigration, I turn to scholarship in Asian American studies and psychoanalysis, particularly Anne A. Cheng’s The Melancholy of Race: Psychoanalysis, Assimilation, and Hidden Grief, David Kazanjian and David Eng’s Loss, The Politics of Mourning, and David Eng and Shinhee Han’s Racial Melancholia, Racial Dissociation: On the Social and Psychic Lives of Asian Americans.

4. A collection of minimalist charcoal sketches and studies focusing on motion, light, and gesture.

Study of a Lee Woodman sketch.

Study of a Lee Woodman sketch.