Queerness, Disability, and the Remaking of American ManhoodCynthia Barounis
Amputation need not always signify castration; indeed, in Jack London’s fiction, losing a limb becomes part of a process through which queerly gendered men become properly masculinized. In her astute book, Vulnerable Constitutions, Cynthia Barounis explores the way American writers have fashioned alternative—even resistant—epistemologies of queerness, disability, and masculinity. She seeks to understand the way perverse sexuality, physical damage, and bodily contamination have stimulated—rather than created a crisis for—masculine characters in twentieth- and early twenty-first-century literature.
Barounis introduces the concept of “anti-prophylactic citizenship”—a mode of political belonging characterized by vulnerability, receptivity, and risk—to examine counternarratives of American masculinity. Investigating the work of authors including London, William Faulkner, James Baldwin, and Eli Clare, she presents an evolving narrative of medicalized sexuality and anti-prophylactic masculinity. Her literary readings interweave queer theory, disability studies, and the history of medicine to demonstrate how evolving scientific conversations around deviant genders and sexualities gave rise to a new model of national belonging—ultimately rewriting the story of American masculinity as a story of queer-crip rebellion.
“ Barounis offers a fresh look at a terrain most critics have written off in disability studies and elsewhere. Vulnerable Constitutions takes the common notion of masculinity as privilege and site of authoritarian cultural space of normativity and shows—through a series of largely canonical literary readings—how masculinity has been reworked through queer-crip readings of key American novels. Her robust, meaningful, and unapologetic approach to white/black male masculinities through a crip/queer studies lens allows a new entry into valuable texts.”
—David Mitchell, Professor of English at George Washington University and author of The Biopolitics of Disability: Neoliberalism, Ablenationalism, and Peripheral Embodiment
"Vulnerable Constitutions embarks upon a breathtaking illumination of lost queer and crip entanglements. Barounis guides us through a world of disabled masculinities and homosocialities, and urges us to rethink the relationship between disability, sexuality, gender, and the nation.... Wide-ranging in a scope that includes film, visual art, literature, and contemporary events, Vulnerable Constitutions’ examination of queercrip masculinities has much to offer.... (T)his oracular book is essential reading as we navigate a porous new world."
—Journal of Modern Literature
"Barounis not only commits to working in and through the tensions and contradictions at the intersection of disability and masculinity studies, Vulnerable Constitutions is also a deft, imaginative exploration of radical forms of democratic community and biosociality.... Ultimately, Vulnerable Constitutions is a versatile text that will prove important to both masculinity and disability studies, and essential to any discussion of disabled masculinities in twentieth and early twenty-first century America."
"Barounis’s Vulnerable Constitutions demonstrates how a theoretically forward-looking conception of masculinities and their complex social resonances can reinvigorate the field. The most groundbreaking book under review here, Vulnerable Constitutions theorizes masculinities in relationship to a range of different subject positions and embodiments, from the ostensibly straight, white male to Black, crip, queer, and/or trans masculinities.... (Barounis) should be praised for returning feminist ideological critique to the center of discourses around gender, sex, and sexuality, which have become, with their affirmation of all nonnormative desires, identities, and embodiments, almost immune to critique."
—American Literary History
"Barounis’s work is laudable.... Vulnerable Constitutions is an important book...that also brings theory to life through various 'real-world' examples. Scholars in masculinity studies, critical disability studies, gender and sexuality studies, and literary and cultural studies, especially, will appreciate this book."
—Men and Masculinities