Digital Project

A Note on Risk Pool

To an insurer, a risk pool is a group of individuals whose projected medical costs are combined in order to calculate their premiums. Ideally, these pools are wide and deep, so that the burden of risk—the expense of illness—is diffused among the overlapping spheres of the healthy and the sick. We might view a risk pool as a deep, still place in a river. It reflects our shared existence: the precarity of health, our innate vulnerability.

Risk Pool asks: How are sickness and wellness defined today, and by whom? What are the effects of these definitions, these acts of naming and describing? How do various conceptions of malaise and deficiency mark us—as useful or useless laborers; consumers of essential oils, medical procedures, and pharmaceuticals; narrators of our own lives and the systems in which they are enmeshed; providers and recipients of care; political actors and community members? Risk Pool seeks to understand sickness not so much as a singular event or immediately identifiable state, but as a continual and nearly ubiquitous process.

This changes how we think about our methods and strategies for representing sickness. The images and metaphors that predominated decades ago remain with us, yet our task is not so simple as to recognize the regular passage of individuals between kingdoms of the well and sick, or recuperate the individuality and agency of the patient. This issue seeks modes of narration in which testimony does not automatically supply reparation, and resists the valorization of the author who assumes full personhood through the production of images and words, if only to emphasize that persistence often looks more like laziness, boredom, distraction, endurance—and not only for the afflicted individual.

Risk Pool considers sickness as expressed in attrition (the gradual reduction of a person’s strength and resources); “body burdens” (the accumulation of toxins, whether chemical or historical in nature, in a body over a lifetime, as described by the scholar Vanessa Agard-Jones); wellness (an ideology and economy that shadows—and promises, at a cost, escape from—illness); and betrayal (the body revolting and exposing a person to the practitioners, and potentially invasive protocols, of medical science).

We are especially interested in how the vulnerability of our bodies, and the illnesses that occasionally or continually seize them, reveal structural aspects of our societies. What do the realities of illness betray of the pitfalls of the status quo—successful normativity—toward which the sick are encouraged to heal? What does the fascination and obsession with wellness tell us about individuals and groups who have abandoned (or have been abandoned by) hegemonic ideals of health and, more generally, the prevailing anxieties and drives of our time? Furthermore, might we understand the pursuit of wellness to be the sign of some deeper sickness, a failure to come to terms with what the scholar Lauren Berlant calls “slow death”?

Corrine Fitzpatrick is collaborating with Triple Canopy as the guest editor of Risk Pool. (William S. Smith, who is now an editor emeritus, also shepherded the issue in its early stages and is contributing an essay on cybersickness.) The issue’s visual identity, Arial All, designed by Cary Potter, confronts the inaccessibility of typography online. Arial All makes a series of extensions and adjustments to the omnipresent typeface Arial, which improve legibility for readers with dyslexia and impaired vision.

Risk Pool includes essays, letters, poems, artworks, and performances by Vanessa Agard-Jones, Salome Asega and Ayodamola Okunseinde, Fia Backström, Gregg Bordowitz, Michelle Boulé, Johanna Hedva, Sheree Hovsepian, NIC Kay, Kia LaBeija, Carolyn Lazard, Tiona Nekkia McClodden, Prageeta Sharma and Ragna Bley, and Pak Sheung Chuen, among others. In the words of Fitzpatrick’s “Illness as Festival,” a report from Aspen on perceptions of illness, these works address how “health is always in relation to power.”

Accompanying this note is a detail of Les Pivoines (1988), by the French writer and photographer Hervé Guibert. The peony is named for Paeon, the divine physician and student of Asclepius, the Greek god of medicine and healing. When Paeon incurred the wrath of his teacher, Zeus saved him by turning him into his namesake flower. Guibert—whose roman à clef To the Friend Who Did Not Save My Life (1990) revealed that he as well as Michel Foucault, his friend and mentor, had AIDS—died in 1991 at the age of thirty-six. An exhibition of Guibert’s photographs, along with slide projections by Luther Price, is on view at Callicoon Fine Arts in New York City until February 18, 2018.