1. A book-length study entitled Prophylactic Fictions: Immunity and Biosecurity, which traces a prehistory for what I term inoculation insecurity, by which I mean 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. I read a collection of pamphlets, poetry, plays, essays, and novels that witness the evolution of this procedure from early eighteenth-century variolation (inoculation by smallpox matter) to late eighteenth-century vaccination (inoculation by cowpox matter). The culture wars inaugurated by Edward Jenner’s revolution of preventative medicine through vaccination grappled with the right of the government and the medical establishment to literally puncture the bodies of its citizens on the grounds that England was “threatened,” be it by French radicalism or by foreign bodies and objects crossing English borders. Bringing to bear this rich archive on readings of canonical novels like Defoe’s Journal of the Plague and Bram Stoker’s Dracula resituates them at the locus of intense debates about the relationship between the body (individual and social) and the state.
Attention to the transitions in the co-constituent domains of medicine and literature during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries reveals how inoculation’s preventative function has never been purely a biological issue. At stake was not only the changes in medical technology and practice but the professionalization and institutionalization of medicine itself. My project recalibrates the axes by which we tend to narrate the history of medicine: vaccine skepticism was not simply a refusal of medical innovation but a direct challenge to the state’s cooptation and misuse of medicine in the name of “national security.” Can and should the state be able to monitor, regulate, or even make compulsory health interventions based purely on the need to prevent imagined threats? Literary and cultural production in this period captures the conflicting ways in which health threats were recognized, contained, and mitigated.
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.
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.
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.