The Syracuse University Humanities Center, in partnership with the Cornell Society for the Humanities, welcomes author and social justice educator, Eli Clare, as a Distinguished Visiting Fellow in the Central New York Humanities Corridor. A leading thinker at the intersection of homosexuality, race and disability, Clare is widely recognized for his work highlighting the interplay of mental and physical processes. It will engage faculty, students and a wider audience with two presentations on October 28 and 29.
Lois Agnew, one of the organizers of the events, a professor of writing, rhetoric and composition studies and associate dean of program innovation and pedagogy at the College of Arts and Sciences, said the lectures de Clare would examine the systems and motivations that inform public health decisions and shape people’s experiences and understandings of health, disease and disability. Personal opinions about illness and disability vary widely depending on cultural context. Clare’s work confronts mainstream Western thought, which has long assumed that the body must be disciplined in order for intellectual work to flourish.
“Illness and disability are not the same, but they are related in that the cultural value placed on normality, which often includes qualities such as vigor, productivity and sound health, tends to assume that sick or disabled people are deficient. , says Agnew. “Eli’s work resists power structures that suppress particular bodies and minds, and explores the complexity surrounding efforts to ‘heal’ body-minds that fall short of the expected standard.”
Clare’s work draws on her personal experience with cerebral palsy. In an excerpt from his presentation, “Faulty, Deficient and Distressing: Thinking About Wrong Bodies,” he describes how people approach him regularly with the intention of curing his disability. “Complete strangers offer me Christian prayers or crystals and vitamins, always for the same purpose: to touch me, to heal me, to heal my cerebral palsy, if only I obey myself. They cry over me, wrap their arms around my shoulders, kiss me on the cheek. Even now, after five decades of these kinds of interactions, I still don’t know how to push back their pity, how to tell them the simple truth that I’m not broken.
Vivian May, Director of the Syracuse University Humanities Center, is delighted that the CNY Humanities Corridor, Health Humanities: Medicine, Disease, Disability, and Culture working group presents Clare’s groundbreaking work challenging curative medical practices, challenging the way we design categories to describe our reality and structure our knowledge, and challenge a myriad of forms of violence, especially in the contexts of ableism, classism, heteronormativity and racism. May notes: “Clare’s work is particularly compelling as it artfully weaves poetry, cultural analysis and first-person narrative to convey her ideas and challenge our everyday assumptions.
Clare’s mind-body concept postulates that human experiences are shaped by a fusion of mental and physical processes. In the case of illness and disability, this means recognizing the person as a whole and the many dimensions of their embodied experience, including, but not limited to, their physical embodiment. It also means recognizing and challenging systems of power. Such an approach, placing the body in broader social contexts, is at the heart of the emerging field of health humanities, where future health professionals learn to take a more humanistic approach to medicine. In 2020, the College of Arts and Sciences at Syracuse University launched an Integrated Learning (ILM) major in Health Humanities, which introduces students to a range of courses including humanities, philosophy, sociology, psychology and anthropology. The goal of ILM is to help students understand that health issues arise in a complex world and that people’s experiences with disease are shaped by many factors.
Clare’s first event, Prevention, Treatment, Cure: Thinking About Survival, Availability, and Benefit Beyond COVID-19 Vaccines, will take place on Thursday, October 28 at 4 p.m. ET. Clare will explore the complexities and contradictions of prevention, treatment and healing in the midst of capitalism. Using storytelling and critical thinking, he will tackle questions such as: who has access to medical technology – vaccines, effective pharmaceutical treatments, etc. How is this access motivated by profit? This virtual event is organized by Syracuse University and is open to the public.
Her second event, Friday October 29 at 11:30 am, is a workshop focused on her recent article, “Creating Categories”. Clare will discuss the power of categorization, using subject headings, diagnoses, binary gender designations, and nation-state names from the Library of Congress as examples. Answers to Clare’s work will be provided by Meika Loe of Colgate University and Julia Chang of Cornell University. Then the participants will engage in a discussion. This virtual event is hosted by Cornell University and attendance is limited to 30.
Event co-organizer Stacey Langwick, associate professor of anthropology at Cornell University, said Clare’s visit was particularly timely during the pandemic. “We have all witnessed how COVID-19 has drawn the fault lines of historic violence and fed on inequality. In the midst of the ongoing pandemic, his incisive sense of history and staunch commitment to justice are needed. We’re excited to be able to host Clare virtually for two events that promise to build on her broader arguments and talk about the issues of the day. “