“Crip Temporalities” (Special Issue of SAQ, edited by Ellen Samuels and Elizabeth Freeman)

Reviewed by Shahd Alshammari

“Crip Temporalities,” a special issue of the South Atlantic Quarterly (published in April 2021), highlights the urgent need to rethink time through a disability studies lens.  During the past year, the pandemic has shifted people’s focus toward what time feels like for disabled people. The editors contend that the “COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020 would transform the social and temporal landscape in ways that are still ongoing and impossible to fully predict. As we write this, we don’t yet know exactly when the pandemic began or when it will end, or what the world ‘after’ COVID-19 will look like” (246). Samuels and Freeman call this sudden change of how we perceive time a “universalization of crip time,” giving the U.S. academy as an example, with professors having barely any time to learn new ways to teach, negotiating with time’s constraints, and relying on unreliable computer systems, along with arranging everything according to the “normal” timeline of the semester. This is no surprise to disabled academics and those living with chronic conditions, who have learned to manage crip time and know the tediousness of adaptive technology which usually takes extensive effort. As the editors suggest, “In the time of COVID-19, those who had lived previously with the privilege of normative ability began to learn what sick and disabled people have known forever: that crip time isn’t easy, it isn’t fair, it cannot be reasoned with” (247).

What did come as a surprise was the sudden ability of academia to accommodate faculty, students, and allow more flexibility with time management, course deadlines, pass/fail options, and a focus on the mental and emotional health of everyone under the grief of the pandemic. Destigmatization of mental stress and frustrations due to the pandemic entered academia’s conversations; previously, many disabled faculty struggling with mental health would have remained closeted. The editors consider the discussion of crip time and lived bodyminds especially necessary today:

The stories of disabled people show…crip time as paradoxically both liberating and confining, because it breaks open rigid socioeconomic structures of time and affords others, and because that breaking is not a choice but a necessity, an enforcement issued by the physical and mental strictures of the crip bodymind (249)

The entire issue offers a broad variety of thought-provoking pieces, including  research articles, personal lived experiences of disability, poetry, and visual art. I approached this volume with excitement and a desire to read about how crip time is now more universalized. As a disabled academic, crip time is how I experience, envision, and understand time. Considering pre-pandemic times, crip time was one way I managed to negotiate and survive the frustrations of the pandemic. Like most of the scholars in this volume, I read crip time as both limiting and freeing. As the editors note, “Crip temporalities seem to have given broader access, at least for some of us, to the kinds of compassion, empathy, and relationality that have regularly structured disabled communities” (251).

I appreciated scholar Margaret Price’s contribution and succinct survey of the field in her article, “Time Harms: Disabled Faculty Navigating the Accommodations Loop.” Rather than considering ways that time heals, Price looks at the multifaceted meanings of time. She calls for “not just collective action but collective accountability… the only way forward” (273). But this work won’t happen easily nor quickly, and the editors place Christine Sun Kim’s series, Six Types of Waiting in Berlin, to center the visual displays of waiting and time.

María Elena Cepeda’s captivating article, “Thrice Unseen, Forever on Borrowed Time: Latina Feminist Reflections on Mental Disability and the Neoliberal Academy” complicates the intersectional approaches to identity and academia. Deeply moving and personal, written within the frameworks of Latina feminist testimonio, it engages with other scholars in this important volume. Immediately after, we move to Michael Snediker’s four poems, which look at pain both visually and psychically. Every word and its spacing matters. “Reclaiming the Radical Politics of Self-Care: A Crip-of-Color Critique” is co-authored by scholars Jina B. Kim and Sami Schalk, who tactfully engage disability and its lived experiences with self-care. They utilize a “crip-of-color” critique, “a concept developed by Jina B. Kim that models potential affinities between feminist of color/queer of color and disability theorizing” (327).

Jake Pyne’s “Autistic Disruptions, Trans Temporalities: A Narrative ‘Trap Door’ in Time” is carefully written and well-researched, arguing for “cripping trans time through autistic disruption” (345). Mimi Khúc’s contribution allowed me to think about unwellness in “Making Mental Health through Open in Emergency: A Journey in Love Letters,” where she formulates a “pedagogy of unwellness: a disability studies, disability justice, and ethnic studies approach that I developed while thinking specifically about Asian American mental health…grounded in the understanding that we are all differentially unwell” (370).

Jasbir K. Puar’s “Spatial Debilities: Slow Life and Carceral Capitalism in Palestine” is a much needed reminder—and, ironically timed, given the current massacre in Palestine. Puar’s work has always considered maiming as “justified as moral because it doesn’t kill, is a mode of producing value from disposable bodies while all but ensuring a slow death” (396). Puar’s work considers border control, bodies and occupation, again, allowing us to think about the personal and political. Alison Kafer’s “After Crip, Crip Afters” asks, “Can we tell crip tales, crip time tales, with multiple befores and afters, proliferating befores and afters, all making more crip presents possible?” (418). She argues that we need to think about what crip time does, its possibilities for the future, and imagine a different future.

All of the contributors to this special issue offer engaging and reflexive inquiries into what the pandemic’s current times can offer us, what disability studies can add to this thinking, and how we move from the present to a future through cripping time. The vagueness of time, and its fluidity, lack of clarity, and porosity, are explored and articulated throughout the collection. The fusion of the textual and visual is an addition I loved about this issue and hope that others will too. There is a lot to reflect on and conversations that have just begun with cripping time and the current state of our world. Scholars, students, writers, and readers would appreciate the amount of time taken into compiling this issue and its universal relevance today.

Title: Crip Temporalities. Special Issue of the South Atlantic Quarterly. Issue 120, Volume 2
Editor: Ellen Samuels and Elizabeth Freeman
Publisher: Duke University Press
Date: 2021

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About the Reviewer

Shahd Alshammari is assistant professor of literature at Gulf University for Science and Technology. Her work includes Notes on the Flesh, a collection of stories about disability in Kuwait, and a disability memoir, Head Above Water (Neem Tree Press, 2022). Her essays and poetry have appeared in Wordgathering.

Editor’s Note: Read Shahd Alshammari’s fiction in this issue of Wordgathering.