New Books Network: Contingent Figure

A masterful synthesis of literary readings and poetic reflections, making profound contributions to our understanding of chronic painIn this episode, I interview Michael Snediker, professor of English at the University of Houston, about his book, Contingent Figure: Chronic Pain and Queer Embodiment, recently published by University of Minnesota Press. At the intersection of queer theory and disability studies, Snediker locates something unexpected: chronic pain. Starting from this paradigm-shifting insight, Snediker elaborates a bracing examination of the phenomenological peculiarity of disability, articulating a complex idiom of figuration as the lived substance of pain’s quotidian. This lexicon helps us differently inhabit both the theoretical and phenomenal dimensions of chronic pain and suffering by illuminating where these modes are least distinguishable. 

Suffused with fastidious close readings, and girded by a remarkably complex understanding of phenomenal experience, Contingent Figure resides in the overlap between literary theory and lyric experiment. Snediker grounds his exploration of disability and chronic pain in dazzling close readings of Herman Melville, Emily Dickinson, Henry James, and many others. Its juxtaposition of these readings with candid autobiographical accounts makes Contingent Figure an exemplary instance of literary theory as a practice of lyric attention. Thoroughly rigorous and anything but predictable, this stirring inquiry leaves the reader with a rich critical vocabulary indebted to the likes of Maurice Blanchot, Gilles Deleuze, D. O. Winnicott, and Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick. A master class in close reading’s inseparability from the urgency of lived experience, this book is essential for students and scholars of disability studies, queer theory, formalism, aesthetics, and the radical challenge of Emersonian poetics across the long American nineteenth century.

Interview at New Books Network.