Academic journal article Journal of Literary and Cultural Disability Studies

The Inarticulate Post-Socialist Crip: On the Cruel Optimism of Neoliberal Transformations in the Czech Republic

Academic journal article Journal of Literary and Cultural Disability Studies

The Inarticulate Post-Socialist Crip: On the Cruel Optimism of Neoliberal Transformations in the Czech Republic

Article excerpt

The article proposes a cripistemologlcal reading of post-socialist rehabilitation in Czechoslovakia in the early 1990s. It discusses the ways in which disability semantics and ideological structures of compulsory health and able-bodiedness served to fuel the optimism of the first post-revolutionary years, and reveals the ways in which the possibility of crip epistemologies and politicized crip horizons were foreclosed. The example of Czechoslovakia in the early 1990s facilitates a more capacious inquiry into the toxicity of attachments to optimism-an affective politics of positivity more generally, and for disability theory specifically. The article also argues for more intense engagement with disability in theories of neoliberalism and formulates a crip critique of the affective politics of neoliberalism for which Lauren Berlant coined the term "cruel optimism."

Crip Signing

In 2009, twenty years past the collapse of the Czech communist regime and state socialism in 1989, Jan Potmësil,1 disabled in a car accident during protest work in that same year, is reported to have said, "If I was to choose between the rule of communists and being able to walk again, I would take the chair" (qtd. in Remesová). The quote is illuminating even if its tabloid source may make us doubt its authenticity. It reveals that discourses of post-socialism were rich with prosthetic narratives of disability, rehabilitation, and cure. It also reveals the importance of discourses of post-socialist "transformation" for shaping political consciousness in the Czech Republic of today. This short anecdote foreshadows some of the central questions of my article: What does the symbolic juxtapo- sition of dis/ability and "the rule of communists" mean for the introduction of (neoliberal) capitalism into Czechoslovakia? And-most importantly-how did this juxtaposition influence epistemologies of disability and the im/possibility of what we might term, adapting José Muñoz, crip horizons?

The possibility of critical imaginaries and visions of the political are central to my exploration here. In my reading of the early years of post-socialist transformation, I am looking for a "structure of feeling," the term Raymond Williams uses for the residue of shared historical experiences, or what Lauren Berlant calls "affective attachments" and "a structure of relationality" (13). The structure of feeling I pursue here reflects how much "[i]t matters how we arrive at the places we do" (Ahmed, Queer, 2), individually as well as collectively. The affective politics of the post-socialist transformation leads me to explore the conditions for intelligibility of political and social concepts and imaginaries; this is one of the meanings I invoke with the concept of horizon. The affects, I argue, help to pose questions of "political horizon":

What are the factors that make political action conceivable at all, or that make some forms of activism thinkable while others are, or become, wholly unimaginable? How do attitudes within a social group or collectivity about what is politically possible, desirable, and necessary-what I call a political horizon-get established, consolidated, stabilized, and reproduced over time, and with what sorts of effects on political action? (Gould 3)

The following discussion traces two lines of argument. First, I reveal how disability metaphors and broader ideological structures of health and compulsory able-bodiedness were appropriated to fuel the optimism of the post-revolutionary years. I argue that a curative logic smoothed the way and provided legitimation for neoliberal transformations. Second, I cruise through the disability journalism of the early 1990s (1990-1992) to explore the disability positionalities articulated there.2

The larger question that underlies my ruminations on the 1990s addresses the cultural and contextual contingencies of toxic attachments to optimism, progress, and an affective politics of positivity in the present moment of austerity. …

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