“Reading Loop” is a close reading or discussion by an invited contributor.
by Stephen David Ross
Prosthiche in No Acts
Verses Without Poems
To celebrate an ontology, and epistemology1, against domination—call that prosthetic. Full of material things, and more. Human and otherwise.
Call it cryptology, and crypstemology. With a prosthetic y. Inaudible, obscure, organic, intimate.
To celebrate nonconforming prosthetic bodies, gender, race, ethnicity, humanity, and more. Identity nonconforming, intermediary2—call that betraying: the nonidentity of every identity with itself. Revelation and violation.
Opening the world.
The being of being is prosthetic—call that supplementary.3
The other that makes something the same, obliquely.
That gives it identity, and more.
Inexhaustibly betraying the other in the same.
Affirming and questioning every we.
Making and unmaking every us.
The being of being is broken—call that cryptology.
The truth of being is untruth—call that crypstemology.
Call them both supplementary.
The supplements that enable us to be ourselves.
The prostheses that enable anything to be different in itself.
Intermediary things, moving, crossing.
The inexhaustibilities of prostheses, call that praustibility.
The prosthetivities of human being—call that more than human.
The prosthetivities of more than human activities.
The generosity and giving of corporeal things—call it promissivity, promistibility, intermediary stories of the world to come.
The hypotheticality of every story.
Full of bricolage and portmanteaux.
Full of surprises.
I mean to write inexhaustibly of inexhaustibility.
I mean to think prosthetically of prosthetivity.
I mean to imagine too many obliquely in every one.
That is to say—supplementing my other words:
The untruths of truth. The un- is truth’s prosthesis, enables it to be true.
Writing is language’s prosthesis. Whatever is excluded, the supplement, prosthetically returns.
Humanity is nature’s prosthesis. Nature’s cryp.
The untruths of dysabilities, with their supplements, un and dys.
The dysabilities of abylities. Where the dys and abyl are prosthetic. More than themselves. Betraying their nonidentity.
The prosthetivities of prosthetivity.
The possibilities of prosthetivity, their promissivity.
If dysybylyty is a problem—what kind of problem?
Attending to the problems instead of the poetics, the poieses, the stories, and the promises.
Including promises of harshness and cruelty, suffering and pain.
To which one might add—one can always add, to every story:
In its nature truth is untruth.4
In its nature abylity is dysabylyty.
In its nature inexhaustibility is prosthetivity, praustibility, full of supplements, possibilities and impossibilities, as well as impossible possibilities, interruptions.
And so I interrupt this mediation on praustibility—meditating on first, and last philosophy (and everything in between) (what I mean by prosthetivity, promising, for later, the democracy of things), recalling that praustibility rhymes with inexhaustibility—and you can tell by now that I mean to suggest that the dys in dysybylyty is inexhaustible because it is prosthetic, through and through, that being through and through—able, or disabled, or something else—is inexhaustibly supplemental, not least because of the additions that define it by delimiting its borders.
One could think of this today as migrativity, or migrantivity, or immigrandiosity.
That is to say, praustibility, which rhymes with inexhaustibility, evokes prosthability, the ability of a being (some being, perhaps every being) to be prosthetic.
To be supplemental.
To be a different being, different for itself.
A cyborg for example, different of and in itself.
Full of promise, filled with pain.5
To be different in itself, beyond itself, other to itself.
Intimate in itself, with others.
To betray, where betraying is the nonidentity of every identity with itself. Intimately.
To be surprising, enchanting, in disenchanting.
To be wounded in overcoming.
I would now take this prosthetic technology to consider the Americans with Disabilities Act, the following summary sentence in particular:
The ADA defines a person with a disability as a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.
Noting, in particular, the words person, disability, and impairment, to consider a few questions:
Can an animal or nonliving thing be disabled? A coronavirus for example. Can a virus or thing be able? Or dysable?
Can a person be prosthetic, can they be supplemental, enabling another person or thing to be able, or dysable?
Can it promise to do so? Can they fulfill that promise? Is such a promise prosthetic? And for whom?
For example—and what would not be an example?—is the ADA a prosthesis attached to federal law that corrects an impairment, both in a person (but perhaps not an animal or thing) that falls under it but also in federal law and practice itself?
Does the ADA promise to unimpair such an impairment? And what kind of impairment is that? Or unimpairment?
Is it possible, and even probable, that such a promise makes evident what is silent—and perhaps has to be silent—in the ADA, that such an impairment in relation to human possibilities and prosthetibilities reveals that they are inexhaustible, that the prosthetization of things expresses their promissivity, that the very reality of an impairment is the revelation of an enhancement? Of an enchantment? Of unimagined promisings? Of inexhaustible fulfillments and wounds?
That might be what I would want to say about persons, and animals, and the rest of things, coronaviruses included. At least for humans, the ADA functions prosthetically to undo the very conditions it addresses. Not to unimpair, to eliminate a defect, but to undo its own defectiveness and impairment, transforming them into a celebration of …who knows what?
Time for an interruption in the name of my life, to mark the inexhaustibility of its prosthetivity.
I was born.
I almost died before I was born.
I was born too early, 6½ months, 2½ months early.
I spent my first few weeks on a hot plate, working on becoming my mother’s child.
I was prosthetic, supplemental in my parent’s life
I was aided in my supplementarity by the hot plate, keeping me alive.
I spent nine weeks in the hospital with scarlet fever, when 2½ years old, reexperiencing my supplementarity, my prosthetibility.
I learned to read when I was 3, in the hospital, full of those prostheses.
I wore glasses to see and read, beginning when I was 4. Today my vision aids are buried in my eyes.
Throughout my life I struggled to hear what others said, especially what others sang.
I, myself, could hear well enough to perform music, sing, and dance.
Today my hearing aids dangle noisily off my ears.
I became a philosopher, reading, and writing, composing the rest of my life, as a philosopher, full of reading and writing, becoming ever more full, of them, of being, of singular prostheses.
I am Jewish, supplementary for many Christians, and other folks, now throughout the Middle East.
I strongly support the BDS movement, itself prosthetic in Israeli history, a history that is not mine.
Full of too many wars, each prosthetic, promising what remains broken, to come.
Some insist that that history is mine, they make it my prosthesis, no matter my resistance.
And perhaps this pairing of insistence and resistance is the most visible mark of prosthetibility, of its impairing:
I insist on being myself,
I resist your insistence that I be for yourself.
I stumble, fall under your gaze.
I rise from my fall.
I arise in the body I was born into, a body prosthetic through and through.
I arise in my strength.
I arise from my fall.
I betray myself, in the light.
My body betrays who and what I am, no matter what I do, or believe.
I promise to betray.
I betray every promise.
My body changes through time, I age, adding prostativity to my prosthetibility.
Today my aging body is empowered by prosthetic medications, not to overlook my prostatic struggles—another meaning perhaps of prostativity.
I am older, full of age, perhaps more prosthetized than impaired.
I look forward to death, in my life, not to enjoy it but perhaps as not an impairment.
Driving to the beach the other day, on Cape Cod, I met up with a coyote, limping quickly along a busy street, going somewhere I could only guess. Had it been shot? Had they been living with the wound for long? I was closer than 12 feet away as I drove by and the animal seemed very large. Everyone around us looked astonished. What we didn’t know transformed the world.
Time for some philosophy, and a few philosophers.
All prosthetic, mine if not yours. Philosophy is my prosthesis.
And what makes a prosthesis mine and not yours? Is your identity not supplemental of my identity, do we not betray each other, are we not full of one another, in this material, ethical, democratic universe, in which we all count even when we cannot vote?
I believe these philosophers have something to say of dysybylyty even when they did not address it directly. I am not alone in these beliefs.
So, Baruch Spinoza: no one has determined what bodies can do, the body does many things the mind wonders at.6
This world of bodies is absolutely infinite, expressing itself in inexhaustible ways. All finite things partake of this absoluteness and this inexhaustible difference.
I call this abundance, prosthetic through and through.
Jacques Derrida writes of difference with a different spelling, in a different language. The verb “to differ” [différer (in French)] seems to differ from itself. On the one hand, it indicates difference as distinction, inequality, or discernibility; on the other, it expresses the interposition of delay. We provisionally give the name differance to this sameness which is not identical.7
This is said of writing, Derrida says that writing is the supplement8, différance is said (silently) in writing to reveal the prosthetic nature of language. I hope to express the prosthetivity of nature and bodies as well as language and writing, full of supplements and remainders.
I give the name betraying to nonidentical identity.
That is to say, to inexhaustibility and prosthebility.
Derrida adds: the future offers itself in the form of an absolute danger.
An absolute danger. Of what? The future? The prosthesis. All perhaps.
The absolute danger, perhaps, of perhaps:
[As he says]: What is going to come, perhaps, is not only this or that; it is at last the thought of the perhaps, the perhaps itself. What is to come will arrive perhaps, for one must never be sure when it comes to arrival; for what is to come could also be the perhaps itself, the unheard-of, totally new experience of the perhaps. Unheard-of, totally new, that very experience which no one may yet have dared to think.9
Unheard of, totally new, nonidentical with itself.
Leading him, in 1982, to imagine the multitude we know as gender, as an:
indeterminable number of blended voices, this mobile of nonidentified sexual marks whose choreography can carry, divide, multiply the body of each “individual,” whether he be classified as “man” or as “woman” …10
where I, today, would reimagine, prosthetivity as:
a mobile of nonidentified marks whose choreography can carry, divide, multiply any body.
David Wills continues:
Prosthesis, perhaps prostheses and prosthetics in general, mean nothing: ne veut rien dire (again, in French).
According to the logic of the prosthetic, there is no human pre-prosthetic condition.11
I might add, perhaps no nonhuman pre-prosthetic condition (if the human and nonhuman are prosthetic).
All of which may mean nothing. Or perhaps everything.
In my language:
Nonidentity with itself is betraying.
Everything is nonidentical with itself.
The democracy of things is yet to come.
A nonidentity renamed prosthetivity.
That is to say, the more, the supplement, the perhaps, that inhabits every being.
I insist, not just humans, not just animals, not just machines.
As Elizabeth Costello reminds us in J.M. Coetzee’s eponymous book:
To be a living bat is to be full of being; being fully a bat is like being fully human, which is also to be full of being. To be full of being is to live as a body-soul.
To be alive is to be a living soul. An animal—and we are all animals—is an embodied soul. This is precisely what Descartes saw and, for his own reasons, chose to deny. An animal lives, said Descartes, as a machine lives.12
I say—fully, prosthetically, dysably, intimately—perhaps some—or many—machines live. Like you and me. If not all.
For Elizabeth Costello, this fullness is ethical.
I understand it to be expressed in the Anaximander fragment:
All things make reparation to one another for their injustice according to the ordinance of time.
All things inexhaustibly matter, in themselves and in relation to others. All things human, animal, etc., in the midst of others, intermediarily. Reparations in the midst of endless injustices.
Supplemented by Emmanuel Levinas’s words:
in its expression, in its vulnerability, the face before me summons me, calls for me, begs for me…. as if I had to answer for the other’s nonbeing before being.13
As if I had to answer to the other, before everything, intimately.
Composing the democracy of things:
Minds are but the most gifted members known to us in a democracy of things. In respect of being or reality all existences are on an equal footing. (Samuel Alexander)14
Keeping in mind that democracy is ethical and political. Resisting domination, paying reparations for injustice.
In Michel Foucault’s words:
humanity installs each of its violences in a system of rules and thus proceeds from domination to domination.
The nature of these rules allows violence to be inflicted on violence and the resurgence of new forces that are sufficiently strong to dominate those in power.15
Unknown, invisible knowledge liberates but also dominates. Liberation from others’ dominations requires liberation from one’s own.
Coruscating images of world and sky.16
Wearing some of the shapes and colors of dysybylyty.17
Summarizing the philosophical prostheses that make me who and what I am, keeping these prostheses in mind:
Abundance, inexhaustibility, betraying, enchantment: all prosthetic. Intimately interrelated.
My writing here, of course, this bricolage of supplements and attachments, is prosthetic. Full of adding, subtracting, and divagating. I hope it is surprising.
Leading to conclusion:
What I call prosthetivity, what others might call dis-ability, or just ability, is the materialities of mortal, wounded, broken things, the intimate, intermediary, fullness of (their) being: that is to say, ethically and politically speaking, activism, resistance, and poiesis.
Celebrating an indeterminable number of blended voices, a mobile of nonidentified prostheses whose choreography carries, divides, multiplies any body.
In a different register, perhaps, the perhaps of perhaps:
Things inexhaustibly promise themselves beyond themselves than can be dreamed in any exposition.
Alexander, Samuel. Space, Time and Deity [STD]. Vol. I. London: Adamant Media Corporation, 2007.
Braidotti, Rosi. Nomadic Subjects: Embodiment and Sexual Difference in Contemporary Feminist Theory [NS]. New York: Columbia University Press, 1994.
—–. Patterns of Dissonance : a Study of Women and Contemporary Philosophy [PD]. Trans. Elizabeth Guild. New York: Routledge, 1991.
—–. The Posthuman [P]. Cambridge, Cambs and Malden, MA: Polity, 2013.
Coetzee, J.M. Elizabeth Costello [EC]. New York: Penguin, 2003.
Derrida, Jacques. “Choreographies” [Ch] Diacritics (Summer 1982: 66-76. Reprinted in Nancy Holland, ed. [Ch(H)] Feminist Interpretations of Jacques Derrida. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1997.
–––. Of Grammatology [OG]. Trans. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1974.
–––. “Différance” [D(MP)]. In Margins of Philosophy.
–––. “Différance” [D(SP)]. In Speech and Phenomena.
—–. Margins of Philosophy [MP]. Trans. Alan Bass. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982.
–––. Speech and Phenomena, and Other Essays on Husserl’s Theory of Signs [SP]. David B. Allison. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1973. [La Voix et le phénomène: Introduction au problème du signe dans la phénoménologie de Husserl. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1967.]
Heidegger. What is Called Thinking? [WCT?]. Trans. Fred. D. Wieck and J. Glenn Gray. New York: Harper & Row, 1968.
Irigaray, Luce. An Ethics of Sexual Difference [ESD]. Trans. Carolyn Burke and Gillian C. Gill. Ithaca N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1993. Originally published as Éthique de la Différence sexuelle [ÉDS] (Paris: Les Éditions de Minuit, 1984).
Levinas, Emmanuel. “Ethics as First Philosophy” [EFP]. Trans. Seán Hand. In Levinas Reader.
–––. The Levinas Reader [LR]. Ed. Seán Hand. Oxford: Blackwell, 1989.
Lorde, Audre. “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House.” 1984. Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches. Ed. Berkeley, CA: Crossing Press. 110-14. 2007.
Roelens, Nathalie. HOMO ORTHOPEDICUS: Le corps et ses prothèses à l’époque (post)moderniste (Ouverture Philosophique) (French Edition) Paperback
Ross, Stephen David. A Philosophy Fiction [APF]. New York and Dresden: Atropos Press, European Graduate School, 2013.
–––. Asking, for Telling, by Doing, As if Betraying [ATDB]. New York and Dresden: Atropos Press, European Graduate School, 2012.
–––. Betraying Derrida, for Life, Perhaps [BDL]. New York and Dresden: Atropos Press, European Graduate School, 2013.
–––. Enchanting: Beyond Disenchantment [E]. International Studies in Philosophy Monograph Series in Interdisciplinary Studies in Philosophy, Interpretation, and Culture, State University of New York Press, 2012.
–––. Ethical Fullness: Thinking of Animals, Believing in Things [EF]. Amazon Publishing. North Charleston, SC: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, Paperback and Kindle edition, 2017.
–––. The Gift of Beauty: The Good as Art [GBGA]. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1996.
–––. The Gift of Kinds: The Good in Abundance [GKGA]. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1999.
–––. The Gift of Property: Having the Good [GPHG]. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2001.
–––. The Gift of Self: Shattering, Emptiness, Betrayal [GSSEB]. Binghamton, NY: Global Academic Publishing; International Studies in Philosophy Monograph Series–Interdisciplinary Studies in Philosophy, Interpretation, and Culture. Binghamton: Binghamton University 2005.
–––. The Gift of Touch: Embodying the Good [GTEG]. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1998.
–––. The Gift of Truth: Gathering the Good [GTGG]. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1997.
–––. Inexhaustibility and Human Being: An Essay on Locality [IHB]. New York: Fordham University Press, 1989.
–––. Injustice and Restitution: The Ordinance of Time [IROT]. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1993.
–––. Plenishment in the Earth: An Ethic of Inclusion [PE]. Albany: State University of New York, 1995.
–––. The Ring of Representation [RR]. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1992.
–––. Un-forgetting: Re-calling Time Lost [U-F]. International Studies in Philosophy Monograph Series in Interdisciplinary Studies in Philosophy, Interpretation, and Culture. Binghamton: Binghamton University, 2009.
–––. Unsettling: Asking, Telling, Doing, Betraying [U]. New York and Dresden: Atropos Press, European Graduate School, 2012.
–––. The World as Aesthetic Phenomenon [WAP]. International Studies in Philosophy Monograph Series in Interdisciplinary Studies in Philosophy, Interpretation, and Culture, 2 volumes. Binghamton: Binghamton University,2008.
Spinoza, Baruch. Collected Works of Spinoza, Vol. I. 2nd printing with corr. Ed. and trans. Edwin Curley. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1988.
–––. Ethics [E]. In Collected Works,Vol. I.
Trinh, Minh-ha T. Woman, Native. Other: Writing Postcoloniality and Feminism [WNO]. Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1989.
- I speak of cryptology and crypstemology to express a being and truth lived and known to those with differently enabled experiences. My spelling and terminology mark the prosthetivity of such experiences, including joy and wounding, life and death. Cripistemology, under a different spelling, already exists, see for example, http://www.cripqueer.com/2015/10/match-cripistemologies.html, posing questions of how queer, feminist, and disability epistemologies are interrelated. These, and other related questions are the inspiration for this discussion.
See also, https://www.researchgate.net/publication/265980286_Cripistemologies_Introduction, https://amodern.net/article/the-crip-poetics-of-pain/, and Robert McRuer, Crip Theory: Cultural Signs of Queerness and Disability, New York: New York University Press, 2006.
- Echoing Luce Irigaray, evoking the intermediary intervals between men and women, heaven and earth, life and death, angelic messengers endlessly in motion: “These swift angelic messengers, who transgress all enclosures in their speed, …proclaim that such a journey can be made by the body of man, and above all the body of woman” (Irigaray, ESD, 16). Angelic bodies beyond themselves. Intermediary intervals, material figures of bodies, colors, skins, desires, powers, acts, and wounds, all ethical|political. Intermediary and prosthetic.
“Each age inscribes a limit to this trinitary configuration: matter, form, interval, or power, act, intermediary-interval” (Irigaray, ESD, 8).
- In OG, Jacques Derrida speaks of the prosthesis of writing to mark a difference in language of difference.
- Martin Heidegger, WCT.
- See for example Jillian Weiss, “Common Cyborg” (https://granta.com/common-cyborg/).
- Spinoza, E, 3, P2, Sch. See also Rosi Braidotti.
- Derrida, D; in SP.
- Derrida, OG.
- Derrida, PF, 29.
- Derrida, Ch, 39-40.
- Wills, Homo Orthopedicus, 119.
- Coetzee, EC, 78.
- Levinas, EFP, 83.
- Alexander, STD, 7.
- Foucault, NGH, 150–1.
- The story never stops beginning or ending. It appears headless and bottomless for it is built on differences. Its (in)finitude subverts every notion of completeness and its frame remains a non-totalizable one. (Trinh, WNO, 1-2)The West is painfully made to realize the existence of a Third World in the First World, and vice versa. The Master is bound to recognize that His Culture is not as homogeneous, as monolithic as He believed it to be. He discovers, with much reluctance, He is just an other among others. (Trinh, WNO, 98-9)We are therefore triply jeopardized: as a writer, as a woman, and as a woman of color. (Trinh, WNO, 28) Recalling Audre Lorde’s famous words (speaking as “Black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet”):The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. (Lorde, S/O)
- Summarizing her readings of gay blind men with dogs as protagonists in mystery fiction, Susan McHugh describes the worlds they populate:“animal” and “disabled” refer to a broad range of bodily configurations. Each of these terms anchors powerful points of contrast to the singular sense of self-in-the-world as the norm whereby individuals are represented as the baseline for membership in the community of human beings, let alone as subjects of rights. When this privileged sense of individuality is approached instead as a relationally produced effect, rather than an essential quality or fundamental element, it affords a glimpse of a much longer history in which animals have worked with (and against) people with disabilities (PWDs). (McHugh, AS, kindle loc. 421-6)I recapitulate her readings in my own words as follows:In her readings, McHugh “troubles” and “problematizes” endless meanings that can be presented to express human identity, animal identity, human-animal identity, etc. Literature and art are sites at which the fullness of being is most visibly betrayed.Again, this takes place in human stories, and reveals how stories are more than themselves at the same time that they reveal how animal and other identities are more than themselves. Possibly, even, stories reveal and betray and make possible and enact. Stories here are doing and undoing.With this understanding that in literature and art, in fable and story, in different realms of culture and imagination, animals are not just “animals,” humans are not just “humans,” that living and nonliving things are not just “living” or “things,” we envisage a dense and fascinating, strange world in which things are always more than themselves because they are entangled with others, thereby others themselves. (Ross, EF, 257-8)
About the Author
Stephen David Ross is Alfred North Whitehead Fellow of the European Graduate School at Saas‑Fee, Switzerland, and Distinguished Research Professor of Philosophy, Interpretation, and Culture and Comparative Literature at Binghamton University (State University of New York at Binghamton). He has written over 30 books on different subjects, many around the themes of ethical uncertainty, impossibility, and unaccountability.