Brilliant Imperfection by Eli Clare

Brilliant Imperfection by Eli ClareBrilliant Imperfection: Grappling with Cure by Eli Clare
Published by Duke University Press Books on February 3, 2017
Pages: 240
Source: I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley for review consideration.
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In Brilliant Imperfection Eli Clare uses memoir, history, and critical analysis to explore cure—the deeply held belief that body-minds considered broken need to be fixed. Cure serves many purposes. It saves lives, manipulates lives, and prioritizes some lives over others. It provides comfort, makes profits, justifies violence, and promises resolution to body-mind loss. Clare grapples with this knot of contradictions, maintaining that neither an anti-cure politics nor a pro-cure worldview can account for the messy, complex relationships we have with our body-minds. The stories he tells range widely, stretching from disability stereotypes to weight loss surgery, gender transition to skin lightening creams. At each turn, Clare weaves race, disability, sexuality, class, and gender together, insisting on the non-negotiable value of body-mind difference. Into this mix, he adds environmental politics, thinking about ecosystem loss and restoration as a way of delving more deeply into cure. Ultimately Brilliant Imperfection reveals cure to be an ideology grounded in the twin notions of normal and natural, slippery and powerful, necessary and damaging all at the same time.


Able-bodied cisgender people, forget everything you think you believe about health and cure and disability politics, and listen to Eli Clare. It’s going to get uncomfortable. There will be things he says that will shock you, that bump up against everything society teaches us. Clare covers politics, history, ethics, ableism, gender identity, and more. He doesn’t shy away from criticizing systems that manipulate the disabled, and he doesn’t shy away from messy, contradictory intersections that cannot be ignored. He teaches us that, somehow, we have to embrace that mess before we can truly respect and empower individuals.

The prose in Brilliant Imperfection is dazzling. The way Clare phrases his points is so beautiful that the book feels like a mix of nonfiction and poetry. It took me almost an entire month to read this, even though it’s not terribly long. I needed extra time to set the book aside, to sit with its points and absorb them.

Clare is white, disabled, and genderqueer. He shows great sensitivity to intersectionality, and takes special care to spotlight the voices of POC and Native people throughout the book. Brilliant Imperfection should be required reading for us all.

  • Ooo, this sounds super interesting! Disability politics is an area I’m relatively new to, but I definitely want to expand my horizons. Adding to the list — thanks for sharing this!

  • This sounds very complex! I can see where in some cases treating someone as needing to be ‘cured’ would be offensive, but I think there’s a lot to that idea that I’m probably unaware of and could learn from this book.

  • Alright, let’s do this!