Two books to add to my reading list, courtesy of this excellent review and analysis
Illness, I think, is a temporality — and not, as Susan Sontag famously posited in Illness as Metaphor, a place, where everyone holds dual citizenship between the kingdoms of sickness and health and can pass between the two. The truer statement, it seems to me, belongs to Gilda Radner, who died young of ovarian cancer: “It’s always something.” Constantly dealing with those somethings takes time, and you can no longer even pretend that your life will go along in an orderly, productive way. But does anyone’s? I’ve come to realize that the bifurcation between the sick and the well, the disabled and the able-bodied, is capitalism’s intervention. In reality, there are just bodies, just us.
Two books published this fall trouble the binary between sickness and health. Health Communism, by Beatrice Adler-Bolton and Artie Vierkant, wholly refutes the possibility of being healthy under capitalism. The Future is Disabled, by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, argues that to meet a future full of catastrophe, we need to think and act like disability activists. These books want to talk about sickness as a source of solidarity, and a way forward out of our current, very unwell state.
Separating out the well and worthy workers from the sick and unproductive surplus class is one of capitalism’s more insidious divide-and-conquer tactics. We all know the person who brags about not taking one sick day in 20 years. But if capital separates the workers from the unwell, capitalists still manage to profit from both. The state, which could sustain the sickened surplus, instead neglects them, and the private health care sector steps in to profit. Adler-Bolton and Vierkant coin the term “extractive abandonment,” (a variation on Ruth Wilson Gilmore’s description of the carceral system as “organized abandonment”) to describe how public subsidies flow to privatized facilities offering substandard care, from for-profit nursing homes to prisons. As a result, those in need of care are less likely to receive it where they could thrive, let alone exercise their self-determination. Instead, they are shunted into a “warehouse” of care, a “public-private partnership of pure immiseration.”