Happiness and Disability: Emilie de Châtelet’s Adaptive Worldbuilding
In her Discours sur le bonheur and Institutions de physique, Emilie du Châtelet is dismissive of the ailing and the disabled. In the Discours, for instance, she writes that happiness for the old and the ailing involves things such as being warm enough, digesting chicken well, and using the commode. Similarly, in the Institutions de physique, she describes those who refuse to believe in Newtonian physics using various metaphors of disability. In both works, she discusses disabled individuals almost as another species altogether. It may, therefore, seem out of place to include her in conversations on the power of disabled bodies. However, in spite of her disparaging comments toward the ailing and disabled, a closer analysis of her work demonstrates that centuries before new materialist critics were discussing the “intra-action” of bodies (Barad), or disability studies scholars were discussing the possibility of dependency and care (Kittay), du Châtelet was introducing the concepts and the language that make it possible to bring these discourses together. Particularly, the 18th-century physicist’s work on “elastic bodies” imagines bodies that engage with and are dependent on other bodies for life and happiness, allowing for an entanglement of bodies that produces new life (outside of sexual reproduction), as well as new modes of being in the world. These entanglements allow us to think about her work on health and happiness in ways that the philosopher herself might never have imagined. In this essay, I will examine du Châtelet’s Discours sur le bonheur through the lens of her earlier writings on physics to demonstrate that not only does her work allow for the possibility of happiness within the disabled body, but it also imagines a world of happiness made possible only by considering the interdependency of bodies and the diversity of embodied experience.
|Work Title||Happiness and Disability: Emilie de Châtelet’s Adaptive Worldbuilding|
|License||In Copyright (Rights Reserved)|
|Publication Date||December 2021|
|Deposited||August 18, 2022|
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