Neither Weak Nor Obtuse (Jake Goldsmith)

Reviewed by Kate Champlin

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this review appeared in Chronically Lit. The revised version appears in Wordgathering with permission.

Neither Weak nor Obtuse avoids false positivity and paints a very realistic portrait of life with certain chronic illnesses. Goldsmith writes honestly about hospital treatments and coughing fits, about living with the knowledge that he will almost certainly die young, and about the isolation and pain that he experiences because of his cystic fibrosis. As Goldsmith puts it:

Say I go to the coast. I walk alone or with a friend along a stretch of cold beach, frequent a café, or try an ice-cream despite the crisp air. This is an ordinary thing but one I somehow struggle with. What am I to say of this? At once, there is an immense gratification at the simple, yet also a bitterness—and when I speak of my strange quandary, the subtle differences in a chronically ill life, of how I am not nor ever can be satisfied with myself in a simple setting at the day’s end—is it alien to those I say it to (5-6)?

Goldsmith places particular focus on the constant burden of interacting with those who do not understand his lived experience. As Goldsmith notes, these people fail to understand his perspective or limits—and also fail to place their own impending deaths in context. Goldsmith is left to interact, constantly, with people who feel that they are immortal simply because they don’t feel their own mortality. As Goldsmith says:

No one properly appreciates the cliché of urgency to life because vehicles could hit and kill you; they can live and ignore and be young and free and it is enviable. I am crudely poetic here, rather than attesting to psychological realities to substantiate the claim that death, illness and dying are not often confronted. I have done that before, I guess.

The Denial of Death will hold true, with the heroic sense of immortality still vibrant and gripping. Since birth my body was known to fall short, where most would have a far greater chance to thrive and protected from the commonplace alarm at disability. Few conduct themselves on the ’what if’ of remotely possible accidents tomorrow, and less tormented are they by darkness visible (90)1.

The chasm separating Goldsmith’s perspective from the ideas of those around him is exhausting to negotiate. The discrimination that he faces from a world that determines human worth by productivity makes this chasm seem even deeper. It is no wonder that Goldsmith describes himself as “weary” throughout his book.

Goldsmith also discusses other facets of his experience, including his love of philosophy (particularly Albert Camus, Bernard Williams, Hannah Arendt) and his thoughts about the Disability Justice (DJ) movement. His take on the Disability Justice movement is a bit unusual because he proposes satisfaction with minor victories. He states:

Again, I’m simply pessimistic about justice being achieved, with the strength and brutality of the enemy. With how little others care, with the weight of injustice being so heavy. Especially with disability justice, with the sustained and persistent cruelty enacted upon us, with all the backward steps, it is little surprise that one might not think bigger things are possible, and that our best, real, or even our only hope would be some mild reform. This pessimism is more controversial or harder for others to accept than apparently radical measures (50-51).

Overall, Goldsmith definitely shows the link between body and mind in action2. His philosophical roots are deeply connected to his lived reality, and his lived reality is deeply linked to his politics, philosophical approach, and approach to his own illness. His work is an evocative portrait of a philosopher with an advanced sense of the links between philosophy and the physical and social worlds.

Title: Neither Weak Nor Obtuse
Author: Jake Goldsmith
Publisher: Sagging Meniscus Press
Date: 2022


  1. Goldsmith refers here to The Denial of Death (1973) by Ernest Becker, a work of philosophy/psychology that discusses death-denial as a cultural foundation.
  2. Read the definition of Bodymind at

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About the Reviewer

Kate Champlin (she/her) is a late-deafened adult and a graduate of Ball State University (Indiana). She currently works as a writing tutor and as a contract worker for BK International Education Consultancy, a company whose aim is to normalize the success of underserved students.