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Review by SK Sabada, Email: sk97@yorku.ca

In For a Pragmatics of the Useless (2020), Erin Manning further develops the critical research she developed in The Minor Gesture (2016), with particular attention paid to autistic perception in the latter half of the text. This work on autistic perception and in general, nonsensuous perception, is further developed and structured by the integration of prominent scholarship from Black Studies, particularly in dialogue with Stefano Harney and Fred Moten’s theorizations of fugitive planning and the undercommons, Katherine McKittrick’s troubling of the category of the human being positioned alongside or central to white/colonial logics, and Saidiya Hartman’s work on writing history that inherently collaborates with those who have been largely illegible to the registers of the archives. One of the central tenets to this ongoing project to decenter whiteness/neurotypicality and expand the categories of being is the understanding that all black life, as Moten says, is neurodiverse and further, the poetics of neurodiversity and of difference generally is critical to mobilizing collectivity. It is not enough to be one person working toward liberation if one is only thinking about how their work transfers directly from their subjective, bodied self to another subject. To create tangible change, as Manning encourages us to remember, we must move beyond our bodies and toward something greater than the self. 

In addition to this work, Manning introduces Marcel Duchamp’s concept of the “infrathin”, which refers to a force that cannot be framed nor directed but has the potential to reveal the more-than qualities of a given thing, by structuring her understanding of it through an engagement with Whiteheadian philosophy. This is significant because Whiteheadian philosophy has much to offer in terms of how the infrathin can be used as a theoretical tool not only for mapping the systems that constrain marginalized people, but also how marginalized people and their allies use and can fugitively plan in spaces of the undercommons. 

In some sense, the practicality of this material is twofold: while what Manning names in terms of building collective or noticing and anarchiving registers in the infrathin is intimately familiar to those who are or operate in Blackness (think Black sociality) and Neurodiversity, this text not only serves to familiarize those who are unfamiliar with Black Studies, Black radical traditions at large, and Neurodiversity and Critical Autism Studies, but it also acknowledges and puts these experiences of illegibility into an anarchive. This kind of application is important because the anarchive is a material mode that pushes against the constraints of valuing that have grave effect for those illegible. As Manning discusses in her work with SenseLab (Chapter 3), the power of the anarchive is “in generating techniques for sharing the work’s potential, the speculative edge of its pragmatic propositions” (76). The material composition of tracing the hidden contests the valuation systems inherent within the archive. It refuses to assign value to processing/tracing/ knowing of the supposed unknowable. 

This mode of theorization is also further concretized in the most helpful sections of the text, Manning’s “pocket practices”. These sections take the theory in the previous chapters and put them into dialogue with the “real” material conditions of life through a series of questions, meditations, experiments, and analyses of different performance art pieces. Though at times the theory is hard to wade through, these pocket practice sections give insight on how the theory moves in materiality. 

This review was published as part of Disability Studies Quarterly, Spring/Summer 2022.

Beginning with Volume 36, Issue No. 4 (2016), Disability Studies Quarterly is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives license unless otherwise indicated.

Disability Studies Quarterly is published by The Ohio State University Libraries in partnership with the Society for Disability Studies.

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