52. Introduction: Illusio

It is Maya, the veil of deception, which blinds the eyes of mortals, and makes them behold a world of which they cannot say either that it is or that it is not: for it is like a dream; it is like the sunshine on the sand which the traveller takes from afar for water, or the stray piece of rope he mistakes for a snake (Schopenhauer, 1819/1907, p. 9).1

It is a matter of a discordance between what people are effectively doing and what they think they are doing — ideology consists in the very fact that the people "do not know what they are really doing," that they have a false representation of the social reality to which they belong (Žižek, 2008, p. 27).2

I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia (FMS) before entering my doctoral program and officially diagnosed with myalgic encephalomyelitis while writing my dissertation. Medical names confer legitimacy and distinguish symptom from condition. Chronic fatigue exists not only as a symptom, but also as a syndrome. Fatigue is an academic commonplace, the ordinary consequence of our culture of overwork. Myalgic encephalomyelitis is no ordinary fatigue. Its feature is post-exertional malaise (PEM), the worsening of symptoms after physical or mental exertion. For most of my disabled life, I didn't "officially" have this condition, but in the academy, I claimed chronic fatigue as a symptom; it explained how my peers easily rebounded from thought-intensive discussions and writing sessions, while my bodymind demanded rest. I'm usually critical of medicalized terminology, but I prefer ME. Chronic fatigue is an easily understood term, but the fact that I'm an academic undermines its medical significance. Before I was ABD, I titrated on and off medications with profound side effects three times. A benign pathological ovarian cyst bloomed and burst in my second semester of coursework. For reasons of pain and suspected cancer, I underwent a partial axillary lymph node dissection in my second year. I subluxed my shoulder before my qualifying exams and did my oral defense with my arm in a sling. My appendix ruptured and was medically dismissed for months that year as well, and I spent the following academic year recovering from surgery, relearning how to eat and breathe, and aggressively treating the scar tissue with acupuncture. Throughout all this, I complied with academia's pressures to overwork, produce my yearly quota of academic publications, conform to the disciplinary conventions of communication scholarship, and perform respectability politics, including the bourgeois revulsion to evidence of corporeality. (Enna seyrathu?, as Amma would say.) Few of my peers and professors were fully aware of my fragile health. I kept Jack and Susan apprised of my situation, with permission to tell upper administrators if needed, and I had to disclose to several peers because my limited participation in social activities revealed that I had incapacities more readily disguised in the classroom.

It's a slow death of the spirit, ingratiatingly performing a nondisabled academic identity to prove I belong in the academic field at large — which broadly values teaching excellence, research activity, classroom and conference participation — and the academic subfields in which I find myself, like my communication doctoral program at an R1 university.

The academic field, particularly in its corporatized, managerialized, and instrumentalized reformulation, is set up to reward the nondisabled, while chronically ill and disabled agents in the field struggle with internalized academic ableism and the risks of accidental exposure or intentional disclosure (Brown & Leigh, 2018, p. 988). Disabilities like FMS and ME are poorly understood, medically and socially, and carry stigmas of attention-seeking and malingering in both settings, necessitating a fair amount of impression management (Goffman, 1990). I've never had a professor who designed their syllabus around the question, "Will my policies and schedule of work harm my students?," but I've had plenty ask if I belonged in the field if those harms noticeably diminished my capacity to perform. Paralleling my experiences in the clinic, the socialization processes of the academic field are laced with symbolic violence, which operates inside institutions by imposing social norms on agents who occupy less powerful positions hierarchically (Bourdieu, 1984/1988; Bourdieu & Wacquant, 1992). To survive, I've had to adapt to the rules of the academic field and its relevant subfields, balancing pain management and access needs against professional impression management, expected research output, and the modes of thought and expression prescribed by my doctoral program.

In Bourdieu's account of social reproduction and stratification, resources and rewards (or capital) engender a set of dispositions, orientations, and behaviors (or habitus) particular to the context of a social game (or field). The field is where the game of power is played, defining boundaries, ranks, social roles, attitudes, and admission requirements with specific rules that delimit the actions and expressions of agents in the field as well as the symbolic and material conditions of participation and reward. If "your mind is structured according to the structures of the world in which you play, everything will seem obvious and the question of knowing if the game is 'worth the candle' will not even be asked" (Bourdieu, 1994/1998, p. 77). Habitus comprises the ingrained habits and pre-perceptive anticipations generated by the field, a "feel for the game" arrived at through enculturation, the observation of knowledgeable agents, and inference. Systems of relations in the field depend on the amount of capital that agents embody, such as social capital (kinship networks, friends, and colleagues), economic capital (financial resources), cultural capital (knowledge and skills), and symbolic capital (status and prestige) (Bourdieu, 1984/1988; Bourdieu, 1994/1998).

Bourdieu's theory of illusio, the conceptual prism of this kandam, is the collective "belief in the game and the value of its stakes, which makes the game worth the trouble of playing" (Bourdieu, 1992/1996, p. 228). The "enchanted relation to the game" that keeps the game going, illusio is simultaneously the precondition and product of the operation of the game, inscribing the field's values and dispositions into players subjected to the illusio (Bourdieu, 1994/1998, p. 77):

Having deeply internalized the regularities of a game, [the player] does what he must do at the moment it is necessary, without needing to ask explicitly what is to be done. He does not need to know consciously what he does in order to do it and even less to raise explicitly the question (except in some critical situations) of knowing explicitly what others might do in return. (p. 98)

Sri Lankan cricket bowler Muttiah Muralitharan has a congenital deformity of the elbow that prevents him from straightening his bowling arm, as well as hypermobile wrists and an atypically wide rotation of the shoulder. The rules of cricket state that the bowler can't straighten their bowling arm during delivery, but when Muralitharan bowled, he appeared to throw. He was cited multiple times until biomechanical testing demonstrated that his disability created the optical illusion of throwing. In place of Bourdieu's (1994/1998) analogy of the tennis player whose sense of the game lets him go not where the ball is but where he anticipates it will be, I offer this crip/decolonial figure: a disabled upcountry Tamil cricketer who adheres to the illusio of his field but whose body challenges strict interpretations of the rules. Revealed as arbitrary, the rules are changed.3

Illusio denotes how agents are interested participants in the game, invested in the field's habitus and logic of practice, imparting personal significance to the field's values and goals. Each field, "through the particular form of regulation of the practices and representations imposed by them, provides to agents a legitimate form of realization of their desires, based on a particular form of illusio" (Bourdieu, 1992/1996, pp. 258-259). Illusio, in a real sense, imbues the game with social value, even when players disagree about its rules, stakes, and rewards. Players are engaged in maintaining or improving their social position by increasing the capital they possess, or, if they are equipped to do so, adjusting the rules of the game, its vectors of power, or the forms of its capital (Bourdieu & Wacquant, 1992). Thus, the field is characterized by competition, tension, and conflict, all of which plays out based on the involved parties' interest and investment in the game (Bourdieu, 1994/1998, p. 82).

Behind these interrelated concepts is symbolic violence, "the violence which is exercised upon a social agent with his or her complicity" (Bourdieu & Wacquant, 1992, p. 167). Symbolic violence operates through misrecognition, how agents in a field "forget" that they are enthralled by the game, perceiving its rules as normal and necessary. Misrecognition is the default mode of engaging in the illusio of the field: individuals participate in their own domination by (mis)apprehending their misfortunes as personal failings, mystifying the underlying class relations and mechanisms of social control that are the preconditions for symbolic violence. We take the situation for granted because "of all forms of 'hidden persuasion,' the most implacable is the one exerted, quite simply, by the order of things" (Bourdieu & Wacquant, 1992, p. 168). Together, illusio and symbolic violence perpetuate history and power in the field by reproducing in initiates the field's established practices, values, and styles of thought, ensuring the continuation of "correct" practices over time. Winning the game, so to speak, means accumulating more economic, cultural, social, or symbolic capital than your rivals.

That said, even assuming adherence to the field, agents are capable of perceiving symbolic violence and comprehending their subjugation. Aporias, breakdowns, mismatches between schema and experience, and reflexivity can and do prompt individuals or groups to push back against the status quo. What does it mean to be a disabled bodymind for whom this game was not designed? To have to create alternate, accessible relations to rules and conventions that resemble able-bodyminded capacity to avoid sacrificing the appearance of belonging in the academic field? How do the micro-politics and micro-negotiations of power in the academic field bear down on the non-apparently chronically ill academic, given that "our working practices and »psychic habitus« . . . constitute us as self-regulating, calculating, conscientious and responsibilised" (Gill, 2016, p. 47) in ways that the disabled bodymind can't consistently enact? Newcomers who enter the field with different expectations about the field's societal mission may modify these practices to better suit their purposes, and veteran members who feel disenchanted with the field's illusio — and poised to safely challenge it — might transmit this disposition to newcomers. Specific forms of illusio emerge from the illusio of the professionals who train us, the peers we train with, the experiences we've had, the levels of emphasis on practical experience or theoretical learning, the personal expectations we have, the disillusionment we experience.

The conceptualization of academic work as a game and of these shifting investments as illusio permits an exploration of the operation of symbolic violence on the chronically ill graduate student. The academy is a reproduction machine of class and cultural capital, and certain of my doctoral courses, peers, and professors reinforced existing power matrices by promoting a specific kind of scholar: one with lightning recall, linear thought, a "wholeness of grasp" (Chen, 2014, p. 172), a neutral style of writing, a collegial demeanor, respectable fashion, and a willingness to overextend and suffer in silence — traits that are necessary to survive professionally.

Hidden behind the symbolic capital of friendly, prestigious, tenured faculty is an instrumental rationality: this is just how it is; this is what you must do and endure if you wish to advance in an academic career.

Academic power and symbolic violence inhere in academic expectations around intellectual prowess, research output, teaching excellence, careerism, professionalism, overwork and busyness, a non-somatic approach to teaching, research, and service (Bourdieu, 1984/1988, p. 89). Despite the heterogeneity of the field, the academic habitus presumes a "scholastic posture," a shared "institutionalized situation of studious leisure" that elicits a propensity to neutrally theorize or intellectualize, to perform "the academic exercise as a gratuitous game, as a mental experience that is an end in and of itself" (Bourdieu, 1984/1988, pp. xiii, 128-129). This is especially true of graduate degree programs, where students are meant to dedicate themselves to the "life of the mind" irrespective of their bodily needs or material circumstances. Beginning in degree programs, the academic field trains its members to misrecognize a work ethos that perpetrates symbolic violence on all of its members, but especially the precariat, especially non-apparently disabled graduate students, who must cope with academic ableism on top of everything else.

For instance: Like my nondisabled peers, I had 10 days to write my qualifying exams; unlike them, I was taking medication that requires restorative sleep, so I skipped four doses to pull two all-nighters. By the time I submitted my answers, I was twitchy, agitated, vaguely aphasic. Before my quals defense, scheduled shortly before Mullivaikkal Remembrance Day, other students told me which bathroom was best to cry in, and despite Jack's attestation that I "passed with flying colors," I hid in that bathroom afterwards and sobbed. Post-exertional malaise and residual withdrawal symptoms — and likely, though I didn't know it at the time, my purulent, leaky appendix — destroyed me for months. I'm meant to misrecognize this as a benevolent socialization process meant to habituate me into doctoral candidacy and an academic career, but the damage to my health insists it is an exertion of symbolic violence, reproducing an inaccessible research culture that glorifies sleepless nights, perpetual multitasking, and swift productivity, while minimizing the corporeal costs.

According to Bourdieu (1984/1988),

The agents themselves have a psychological stake in becoming party to the mystification of which they are the victims — according to a very common mechanism which persuades people (no doubt all the more so, the less privileged they are) to work at being satisfied with what they have and with what they are, to love their fate, however mediocre it may be. [But] we may doubt whether these representations can ever fully succeed, even with the complicity of a group, and it is probable that the enchanted image always coexists with the realistic representation. (p. 167)

I have hollowed myself trying to be satisfied with low income, long commutes, long classes in uncomfortable chairs, an unrelenting workload that exceeds my adaptive capacities, professors who aren't thinking of me when they enforce an attendance policy or require memorized presentations or onboard me to a new role at the last-minute, peers who accuse me of laziness, malingering, and attention-seeking, who imply I'm too slow a reader to be smart, too sick and not sick enough for all the accommodations I need, coasting on the pity and favor of my professors.

Disabled people don't have a place in the rational organization of social life in the academy. When pain is apparent where it doesn't belong — the classroom or conference room, as opposed to the clinic or private domestic space — I become irritatingly cathectic to others. It echoes Yergeau's (2018) observation: "When I enter a social space, the electricity of the other, intervening bodies recedes in my presence. Dynamics have shifted, not to accommodate my presence, but to redirect the electricity elsewhere, towards the not-me" (p. 36). My presence is vexing because it's inconveniencing. To play by the rules of the academic game, I need accessible environments, streams of accessible information, extra time to work and rest. I expend energy anxiously making requests that I fear could be grounds for dismissal from my program or my teaching positions. My nondisabled professorial allies have never denied me an extension or a car ride or cold-called me in class, but being nondisabled, they can't anticipate my access needs; they don't know how to preemptively enable me.4 And even these allies have told stories at colloquia — "official" forums that reproduce specific values in doctoral students/future academics — that romanticize or normalize sleepless nights, poverty, hunger and malnutrition, marathon sessions of deep thought, vigorous discussion, and intensive writing. Doctoral programs are saturated with this idea: everyone else did it this way, so you will too if you want to progress.

I possess the Brahmastra, but you'd never know it for the conditions generated by the field, which arm all my nondisabled peers and professors with Anjalikastra and the weight of the universe in their chariots.

The ineluctable facts of FMS and ME clash with the illusio of the field. Enchantment does not account for the daily survival of academics like me, who are misaligned with the expectations of the field and have counterfactual encounters with its systems of illusio and capital. I can't be satisfied. I can't just walk away, despite recommendations that I do, as though ableism isn't pervasive under capitalism. I'm not aware of alternative approaches to illusio until my appendectomy saps me of the ability to perform and forces me to figure out a dissertation proposal that complies with my bodymind, and not the other way around. I must be resigned to a game I understand and can't always play. I tell myself to be satisfied with the idea that, though I'm distanced from it in many ways, my participation helps collectively reshape the illusio of the field, as professors and peers alike question and renegotiate its rules along my trajectory to completion. My investment in academic illusio is a matter of daily survival more than enchantment, despite how I misdoubt the collective faith in these social fictions that makes the game into reality.

So what does it mean to undergo decades of rigorous training in a field (academia) that has trained me to misrecognize the hallmarks of my disability — slowness, lateral thinking, post-exertional malaise — as personal flaws, grounds for flaying and ejection? Or to be viewed in a field (medicine) whose expert eyes — hundredfold in their human-nonhuman assemblages — see me in language that isn't mine? Both say, You have no place in the field as you are. Those of us who deviate from illusio become marginalized, while those who are able and willing to conform advance.

How many chronically ill academics exit the profession for reasons like these?

As long as this degree has taken me, as accommodating as my committee is, this program has subjected me to symbolic violence and, consequently, embodied harm. I will leave with a Ph.D., and my bodymind will never recover from the cognitive exertion and stress, because the game is rigged against scholars like me.

(–98. The Jar That Can Never Be Filled)

1 See also: The Upanishads, or the Ashtavakra Gita, in which the disabled rishi Ashtavakra expounds on maya, ātman, non-dualistic philosophy, and how the shape of the body does not bind the self.

2 I hesitate to cite Žižek, who, despite his useful articulation of ideology and illusion above, uses disability as a metaphor — stating that "radical psychotic autism, the destruction of the symbolic universe" will offer a glimpse into the Lacanian Real (p. 75), figuring "autism as a defusion of drives, as impulses that unfold rather than intend" (Yergeau, 2018, p. 35). However,

Summoned to defend [herself] with words in a combat wherein not all words are permitted, what can the student do but turn to the rhetoric of despair, revert to the ritual use of language, to the mechanical reiteration of ideas presumed dear to his professor, to a caricature of learned discourse . . . The propitiatory ritual of erudite citation pays homage to celebrated masters or to culture, and intellectual words play the part of 'sesame.'" (Bourdieu et al., 1965/1994, p. 20)

I play the game.

3 And yet, as an Eelam Tamil, I can't mention Muralitharan without also acknowledging that he celebrated the end of the Sri Lankan war in 2009 and supported Gotabaya Rajapaksa's presidential candidacy despite his involvement in war crimes against Tamils.

4 In addition to the #WhyDisabledPeopleDropOut hashtag, the Disabled Academic Collective (@DisabledAcadem), a self-described group of disabled undergraduate and graduate students, faculty members, and independent researchers, articulates this experience as one common to chronically ill graduate students.