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Marquard Smith

"It is no longer the case that conversations around prosthesis begin and end with the question of deficiency. But this was not always the case. To stress this, David Wills, for instance, in a forthcoming article entitled ‘Preambles: Disability as Prosthesis’ points to ways in which the genealogy of prosthesis is so often conceived of as a discourse of deficiency. Here Wills argues that the matter of identity in disability studies as well as the identity of Disability Studies itself, along with the place of prosthesis within these discourses, has previously been organised, unlike most other ‘minority studies’, around ‘lack or deficiency’. That is, the form of the discipline of Disability Studies, the identity of its figures of articulation, and those prosthetic bodies of enunciation are always already found wanting. Prosthesis is the mark of this deficiency. As such a mark, it registers itself as a substitute for something that is no longer there, thereby drawing attention both to what is missing and the absence remaining. Wills goes on to remark, somewhat caustically: ‘[d]isability cannot ever be other than deficiency, incompletion, inadequacy, terms which, within the metaphysics of presence as transcendent positivity, not only are by definition negative, but, more pertinently, explicitly connote non-integrality. The disabled are thus by definition “incapable” of identity inasmuch as identity refers to an uninterrupted-organic-sameness-present-to-itself-in-its-wholeness-and-singularity’.

But as Wills contends, and rightly so, since the deconstruction of the metaphysics of presence, a deconstruction that has been ongoing arguably since the inception of metaphysics, this kind of argumentation is neither efficacious nor for that matter valid. In this instance, the dismantling or taking apart of the edifice of what he names this ‘metaphysics of plenitude’ is grasped through a realisation of the constructed nature of the human body, what that body is, and does, and what and how it means. Against the myths of the essentialist and organicist conceptions of the body proper, or proper body, disability studies can present a body that is a structuring principle, a lacuna, and a constituting part of this metaphysics of plenitude, thus ironically laying bare the deficiencies of this very metaphysics. Dismantling and assembling are inseparable. The organically integral body is itself, as Wills goes on to say, ‘always already imperfect, mechanical, in relations of dependence, originarily disabled or incomplete; what I, in short, would call prosthetic’.

There are two definite and tangible consequences of how such a reconsideration of prosthesis refutes discourses of deficiency. The first is the dawning realisation that a prosthesis is never simply the addition of a foreign element, an attachment, an extension, an augmentation of the body as such – as Immanuel Kant would have it in the second part of his Critique of Reason. Rather, to designate and define the form of the prosthetic body is to show that the organic and the artificial, meat and machinery, like the normal and the pathological and the ordinary and the monstrous, are always and already of one another. An originary technicity. To distinguish between the inside and the outside of the body misses the point. What matters is the continuous articulation of the ever-changing contours of these heterogeneous surfaces. This, then, is not a question of deficiency but simply a matter of how bodies as assemblages arrange themselves, differently. The second consequence is to grasp not only that the human body was never whole but that the body per se, and not just the disabled body, must be conceived of as a body that is always and already fragmented, in bits and pieces (corps morcelĂ©)."


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