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Disability and Contemporary Performance: Bodies on Edge

Author: Petra Kuppers
Publisher: New York: Routledge, 2003
Review Published: June 2008

 REVIEW 1: Adi Kuntsman

Many thanks to Adi Kuntsman for a thoughtful and useful review. It is always a pleasure to be heard, and to see how readers go on their journeys with my texts, with the performances I discuss in them, and with the different ways of understanding disability's place in the world.

Sometimes I read comments about my work such as "this writing is too theoretical." I had a grant reviewer once who noted in dismay that I put Derrida together with the supposedly tragic life of disabled people, and found this unacceptable. The deeply serious play of theory did not seem open to that person. As Adi Kuntsman perceives, the act of calling for unknowability, for an opening in the fixed stereotypes of disability, is at the heart of Disability and Contemporary Performance. Art practice can shake the frames representation and habit erect around us. How can we remain open, beautiful, and emergent in our art practices? I employ critical theory as performative writing in this book, for I believe that theorists are well placed to conceive of our life worlds as changeable, improvisational practices. My critical and creative work is part of this stream of thinking about the relations between language, embodiment, political change, and poetic practice.

So I wrote The Scar of Visibility: Medical Performances and Contemporary Art (University of Minnesota Press, 2007), where I am extending many of the arguments I began to make in my first book. I had a thoroughly good time thinking through the computer graphics and AIDS narrative in episodes of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, the exhibit Body Worlds, performances by cancer survivors Pam Patterson and Angela Ellsworth, migraine art, outsider art, performances about pain, Bob Flanagan's work, David Cronenberg's Crash, Marina de Van's film about a woman cutting herself, Kira O'Reilly's performance involving leeches, Stelarc's laugh, sci-art experiments like the dance performance AtaXia, and again, my own Olimpias community art practice. In The Scar of Visibility, I again speak about the linkages between phenomenology, performance, and representation, and about the different ways of knowing evident in these art and writing practices. I show how different senses of embodiment emerge in the interplay of lived experience and both everyday and specialized discourses, how life happens in the roiling of different knowledges.

Now, I am working on a book tentatively titled Touching Time: Body Histories, Disability Culture and Performance. I am exploring how far I can push my interest in the intersection of critical theory and creative writing, and how touch can find presence in writing. Digital projects are part of this move towards finding new ways of knowing through writing, as is collaboration, and one of the chapters in Touching Time discusses the Anarcha Sticky Web, a collaborative on-line art/historiographical experiment at the intersection of black culture, crip culture, and medical history (forthcoming in Summer 08 in the on-line journal Liminalities). Another book, this time a poetry collection, is forthcoming in August with Homofactus Press: Cripple Poetics: A Love Story, a collaboration by Petra Kuppers and Neil Marcus.

For many people working in disability studies and performance studies, the boundaries between creative production, activism, and academic production are there to be transgressed. Together with fellow crip performance people such as Carrie Sandahl, Terry Galloway, and Vicki Lewis, we keep putting our money where our mouths are, and (try to) risk ourselves in the kind of practices that I witness as a critic in these books. We all hope to grow together: artists, critics, audiences, witnesses, and people who struggle to find breath, touch, and voice in our world. An attention to the multiple critical and creative ways we can intervene and find space fuels my work, and I am thankful for the reviewer for finding the traces of this commitment.

Thank you again.

Petra Kuppers


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