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De-Privatizing Self-Harm: Remembering the Social Self in How to Forget


This article reads Malu De Martino’s 2010 film Como Esqueçer (How to Forget) as a case study in self-harm as a mode of expression and self-inquiry. Drawing on disability and queer theory, psychoanalysis, and sociology of medicine, the author argues that How to Forget charts a “crip” epistemology of self-harm and theorizes a “social self.” That is to say, the film models an orientation towards self-harm that offers a coalitional and social therapeutic understanding. Based on this reading, the author suggests the application of practices of knowing-with, or knowing-in-relation as “cripistemology” to a broader therapeutic, research, and lay context.

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  1. 1.

    In the context of global neoliberal practices, Jasbir Puar has used the term “debility” to describe disability that comes about from degradation and exploitation (Puar 2009). “Affective debility” is a perhaps then a pertinent descriptor to the situation of minorities within a given state.

  2. 2.

    Borderline personality disorder, in particular, is characterized by self-harm, and etiology of the disorder cites domestic and social invalidating environments among its triggers.

  3. 3.

    Broadly, his theory could be explained as the haptic equivalent of the Lacanian optically-based mirror-stage, whereby there is a certain primary trauma of subject-formation that comes with the realization of being autonomously enclosed in one’s own skin, separate from others, starting with the mother.

  4. 4.

    The current official English-language translation of the title of the film is So Hard to Forget, but a more literal translation of Como Esqueçer is How to Forget, which serves the purposes of my analysis better, so I have taken the liberty of using the more literal translation here. It is worth noting that How to Forget: Nearly English Notes is the English translation of the title of the novel by Myriam Campello (2003) on which the film is based.

  5. 5.

    When inquiring as to whether she might have recourse to any financial assistance from her ex, Julia is informed that the Brazilian government has “no pension guarantees for homo-affective relationships” (De Martino 2010).

  6. 6.

    Film stills are courtesy of the director, Malu De Martino.


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Correspondence to Theodora Danylevich.

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Danylevich, T. De-Privatizing Self-Harm: Remembering the Social Self in How to Forget . Bioethical Inquiry 13, 507–514 (2016).

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  • Body studies
  • Critical health studies
  • Medical sociology
  • Self-harm
  • Skin ego