hand in hand

by clara beccaro-lannes

and miranda tuckett

How can we learn from a bodily experience that is lived unequally? Can it be shared? And to what extent might this practice of interdependency teach us how to care?

Guided by an experience of chronic pain, Hand in Hand is a four-month-long collaborative project which remaps the relationship between body, pain, and landscape. Joining feminist literature on embodied care and vulnerability — and resonating with sentiments such as “the personal is political”¹ — our project imagines intimacy as a necessary academic and political space. By de-centering biomedical interpretations of pain, we understand our project to trouble who the “expert” of pain is. Against an academic impulse to lose the materiality of the body in favor of analytical concepts, we have used our bodies to produce a counter-knowledge.

This project draws on academic lines of thought² but is shaped most importantly by our relationship as lovers. We relied on walking as a method of inquiry. In the course of walking, we produced a series of images to explore the materiality of the physical and geographical terrains we were negotiating. These were then juxtaposed with x-rays’ unsuccessful plotting of pain in the body. We combined these cartographies with visual metaphors, medical imaging, and sonic narratives, to assemble a short film. Lying precisely in the narrative-of-the-intimate, this research is an effort to apprehend what the anthropologist Elizabeth Povinelli calls an “uneven social terrain.”³

The film we present is the culmination of this experiment. We took the materiality of our queer and disabled bodies to engage in an ethics of care in which interdependency is valued rather than diminished.⁴ In doing so, we have offered a space in which the pain felt by one of us, but not the other, transcends the boundary of the individual body and occupies a shared terrain.⁵ The film’s central scene is a conversation between the two of us: one speaking in French, the other in English. Though both of us speak English, only one of us knows French, so this scene — the words of which may remain opaque for some viewers — is an attempt to communicate without translation. At stake in this project is not to identify a set of truths about pain, or even to come up with a diagnosis. Rather, it is to reflect on a condition — disability — which one can come to embody at any time; and as such, to cultivate a bodily encounter through which the experience of pain escapes its place as a signifier of otherness and becomes instead the basis of a possible mutuality.

¹ hooks, bell. 2000. Feminist Theory: From Margin To Center. London: Pluto Press.
² Basso, Keith H. 1996. Wisdom Sits in Places: Landscape and Language Among the
Western Apache. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press.
Crosby, Christina. 2016. A Body, Undone: Living On After Great Pain. NYU Press.
Luciano, Dana, and Mel Y. Chen. 2015. “Has the Queer Ever Been Human?” GLQ: A
Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 21 (2–3): 183–207.
Povinelli, Elizabeth A. 2011. Economies of Abandonment: Social Belonging and
Endurance in Late Liberalism. Duke University Press Books.
Takemoto, Tina. 1997. “Performativity and Difference: The Politics of Illness and
Collaboration.” The Journal of Arts Management, Law, and Society 27 (1): 7–22.
Zigon, Jarrett. 2018. A War on People: Drug User Politics and a New Ethics of Community.
University of California Press.
³ Povinelli, Elizabeth A. 2011. Economies of Abandonment: Social Belonging and
Endurance in Late Liberalism. Duke University Press Books, p. 17.
⁴ Butler, Judith. 2004. Precarious Life: The Power of Mourning and Violence. New York:
Verso Books.
⁵ Scarry, Elaine. 1985. The Body in Pain: The Making and Unmaking of the World. New
York: Oxford University Press.

Clara Beccaro-Lannes is a gender-queer anthropologist working on zones of contact with HIV/AIDS in France. Clara is a Master’s student at the New School. Clara relies on mixed media — from video to graphic modeling — to examine the place of the body and its entanglements with pain, pleasure, and loss. Clara’s methods are rooted in speculative anthropology, crip performance studies, and queer critical theory.

Miranda Tuckett is an anthropologist working on issues of death, intimacy, and aesthetics. Her work focuses on care and aid-in-dying in the United Kingdom. Her research draws on ethnographic, participatory, and arts-based methods.