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Companion Prosthetics: Avatars of Animality and Disability

Part of the Palgrave Studies in Animals and Literature book series (PSAAL)

Abstract

One of the most commercially successful films of all time, Avatar (2009) is a blockbuster hit that provides a good example for investigating how disability and animality are far more intertwined and complicated than they might appear at first glance. We identify key scenes in Avatar in order to explore what we call “companion prosthetics”, in which transhuman and posthuman interactions and becomings have the potential for being more symbiotic, helping to deconstruct simplistic binaries such as able/disabled and human/animal. Different kinds of prosthesis need to be considered, such as the distinction between those with compensatory and augmentative goals, and the possibility for prosthetics to be associated with pleasure at times, rather than simply negative aspects of impairment. Jake’s fantasy-made-“real” of transcending his wheelchair by transforming into his avatar body by the end of the film can be seen as both an example of “narrative prosthesis” and a more interesting alternative. Choosing “companion prosthetics” over a “cure”—particularly in terms of the interspecies relationship required for the Na’vi to fly—has the potential for modelling utopian, posthumanist, and anti-speciesist visions.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    “All Time”.

  2. 2.

    See, for example, Molloy, “Animals” and Adamson, “Indigenous”.

  3. 3.

    Mitchell and Snyder, Narrative Prosthesis.

  4. 4.

    Haraway, When Species Meet.

  5. 5.

    For more on distinctions between these terms, see Lundblad, “Introduction”.

  6. 6.

    Oliver, The Politics of Disablement; and Understanding Disability.

  7. 7.

    Thomas, Female Forms; Shakespeare, Disability Rights and Wrongs Revisited.

  8. 8.

    Davis, “Constructing Normalcy”; Garland-Thomson, Extraordinary Bodies.

  9. 9.

    Norden, The Cinema of Isolation; Shakespeare, “Cultural Representation of Disabled People”.

  10. 10.

    Palmer, “Old, New, Borrowed and Blue”.

  11. 11.

    Wetherbee, “The Cinematic Topos of Disability”, 42.

  12. 12.

    Galli et al., “The Wheelchair as a Full-Body Tool”.

  13. 13.

    See also Neumann and Gundersen, “Care Parading as Service”.

  14. 14.

    This desire could be seen as resonating with the kind of critique that Ingold makes in “When ANT meets SPIDER”. Ingold argues against the principle of symmetry in actor-network theory which, in his view, “ignores the real complexity of living organisms as opposed to inert matter” (214).

  15. 15.

    Knappett and Malafouris, “Material and Nonhuman Agency”, xi; with reference also to John Law, “After ANT”.

  16. 16.

    This edited collection as a whole provides a useful survey of genealogies and debates in various fields in relation to the concept of agency, and whether or how to theorize it in non-anthropocentric ways. The fields covered include archaeology, anthropology, sociology, computer science, cognitive science, philosophy, and human geography.

  17. 17.

    See, for example, Haraway, When Species Meet and Staying with the Trouble; Derrida, The Animal That Therefore I Am.

  18. 18.

    See Lundblad, The Birth of a Jungle.

  19. 19.

    Chen, Animacies, 106.

  20. 20.

    Law and Mol, “The Actor-Enacted”, 74.

  21. 21.

    The language of “passive entities” can also be found in Asdal and Ween’s useful brief history of the concepts of the actant, agency, and “liveliness” in “Writing Nature”, the introduction to an interesting and important special issue on the topic in Nordic Journal of Science and Technology Studies 2.1 (2014), 6.

  22. 22.

    Shakespeare, Disability Rights and Wrongs, 51.

  23. 23.

    Anastasiou and Kauffman, “The Social Model of Disability”, 452.

  24. 24.

    For an important study of guide dogs, including when and how they become positively desirable, see McHugh, “Seeing Eyes/ Private Eyes: Service Dogs and Detective Fictions”, in Animal Stories, 27–64.

  25. 25.

    See Krech, The Ecological Indian.

  26. 26.

    Molloy, “Animals”, 179.

  27. 27.

    For more on the phenomenological techniques and technics of the experience of flying in this film, see Richmond, “On Learning to Fly”.

  28. 28.

    Adamson, “Indigenous”, 154.

  29. 29.

    For Haraway’s cyborg manifesto, along with her companion species manifesto, see Manifestly Haraway.

  30. 30.

    Zola, “Toward”.

  31. 31.

    Davis, Bending over Backwards.

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Lundblad, M., Grue, J. (2021). Companion Prosthetics: Avatars of Animality and Disability. In: McHugh, S., McKay, R., Miller, J. (eds) The Palgrave Handbook of Animals and Literature. Palgrave Studies in Animals and Literature. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-39773-9_39

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