Sick Woman Theory

Johanna Hedva’s 2015 lecture and essay 2015 My Body Is a Prison of Pain so I Want to Leave It Like a Mystic But I Also Love It & Want it to Matter Politically (Sick Woman Theory) was immensely impactful for me last semester, and as the semester ends I think it would be useful to bring it to bear upon the work we did and the discussions we had this semester. In this light, I am particularly compelled by her politicization of chronic pain within a radical disability framework. Her contestation of the meaning of “political [public] space,” and her locating of pain within embodied legacies of racism, colonialism, capitalism and misogyny modifies existing critiques of the social model, repoliticizing chronic pain while simultaneously reorienting radical disability activism in the body and in spaces not conventionally considered “public.” Her mobilization of feminist mystic histories and practices additionally refigures the guiding embodied philosophy and approach of disability activism. Hedva demands an end to the isolating individualism of the myth of independence and argues for a future in which “we are all ill and confined to the bed,” engaged in a collective dynamic of care, vulnerability and dependence that might undo the productive motor of capitalism.


body/Horror:Yours/mine by Lyric Seal

This is a performance piece by Hampshire College graduate Lyric Seal, performed in September of 2014. I wanted to post this to place it in conversation with the performances we watched in our last class, and also to extend conversations we’ve had in class about the relationship between sex, trauma, disability, queerness, time, consent and agency. Lyric Seal questions the embodied meaning of consent or nonconsent in the context of surgery/sexuality, as all but one of their surgeries were performed before they could or could not choose: “There is a difference between agency in consent. One I have, the other I do not have. In surgery, art, and sex, much of the sex is implied. This surgery, this last one, was the only elective surgery I have ever gotten. I have choices, not consent. My body’s trauma and recovery has no awareness of what I did and did not choose. The temporary psychosis that is produced by seeing your own flesh turned purple and green, loosening not only at the edges, bleeding from what might be pores, or new ports, is not alleviated by the words, ‘you asked for this.'” They probe feelings of (body) horror, revulsion and sex, and asks that we face and experience these feelings directly: “you are committing to the body that you occupy, or the body that you have given your attention, allowing it to turn you, turn your stomach, turn you on, move you around, pull you down, pull you in, make you come when called.” Their physical performance, with its repetitive choreography, pulling scraps of paper from inner thighs and under their dress, draws visceral attention to the body in a manner that recalls the burlesque of one of the Sins Invalid performances, but with a different erotic affect and towards new ends.