CfP: “Pre-modern Disabilities: Ambiguous Bodies, Texts, and Meanings” - Panel at SFS 2016

Panel title: “Pre-modern Disabilities: Ambiguous Bodies, Texts, and Meanings”

ConferenceSociety for French Studies 57th Annual Conference, University of Glasgow, 27-29 June 2016

Organiser: Alicia Spencer-Hall, French Dept., Queen Mary, University of London

In the last decade or so, pre-modern disability studies has emerged as a productive and important field of enquiry for scholars from a host of disciplines, including literary studies, history and sociology. The fallacy of any monolithic form of disability has been incisively critiqued by academics unpacking the specific historical context(s) of pre-modern narratives which feature disabled bodies. This represents a welcome dismantling of a paradigm of disability which continues to influence discussions of modern disability, whether these discussions take place in the academy or in the mass media and public consciousness. 

Illustration of medieval sign language, from Vatican, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Pal. lat. 1449, 118v. Via  @KarlSteel  on  Twitter

Illustration of medieval sign language, from Vatican, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Pal. lat. 1449, 118v. Via @KarlSteel on Twitter

The meaning accorded to being disabled by dominant society, and by the individuals living with disabilities themselves, is not fixed. Rather, what a given impairment “says about” a subject shifts according to multiple factors: gender, ethnicity, socio-cultural situation, historical moment and so on. Narratives showing disabled bodies, the attitudes of others to such marked bodies, and the disabled subject’s own intellectual and affective stance to his/her body, are not inert or solely reflective of “real life”. Rather, such narratives work to shape identities of those to which they speak, giving the disabled and non-disabled alike ways in which they might formulate a response to impairment in their lives. 

Impairment demands a response, as disability demonstrates the precariousness of “whole” or “normal(ised)” bodies. The non-disabled must thus take a stance in relation to the destabilising potentiality that the impaired body represents to abled society and culture. Often times, though certainly not always, responses fall between othering of the disabled body, enacting distance, or a fetishisation of the disabled body, a closeness which titillates because it is transgressive.  Reactions to disability are ambiguous just as much as disability itself represents an ambiguous state, defined by a host of socio-cultural, ideological, and historical factors. 

Disabled knight, from  Arthurian Romances , New Haven (CT), Beinecke MS 229 (ca. 1275-1300). Via  @DamienKempf  on  Twitter

Disabled knight, from Arthurian Romances, New Haven (CT), Beinecke MS 229 (ca. 1275-1300). Via @DamienKempf on Twitter

This panel brings methodological and theoretical approaches from pre-modern disability scholarship into the French context. “French”, in this case, refers to both geographical area (i.e. France as a region) and linguistic identity (i.e. francophone texts produced outside of France). How do French pre-modern texts deal with disability? Can we discern a specific approach to disability used by French authors, or in francophone texts? What kinds of meanings are given to disabled bodies? What kind of language is used to describe disabled bodies, and how does this language mould reader responses? What kind of narratives are offered to the disabled, and why? 

Relevant topics for this session include:
•    Differences between pre-modern and contemporary understanding of disabilities
•    Linguistic choices for denoting disabilities, and the ways in which such choices shape readers’ attitudes, in both modern and pre-modern periods
•    Reactions of readers to disabled characters in narratives, and reactions of those around a disabled character in the text
•    Social constructions of disability and their contexts, including permutations relating to specific locales, politics, ideologies
•    Differences between interpretations of disabilities in religious (e.g. saints) and more secular (e.g. wounded knights) frameworks
•    Differences in depictions of invisible and visible impairments
•    The ways in which French pre-modern texts can contribute to developing the field of pre-modern disability studies

 

If you’re interested in speaking on this panel, please submit an abstract of roughly 250-300 words and a brief bio, containing your postal address. Deadline for submissions: 1 September 2015. Please email your abstract and bio to the panel organiser, Alicia Spencer-Hall (a.spencer-hall [at] qmul.ac.uk).

Internet Bibliography #2

This week, I’ve mostly been enjoying the delights of Cardiff at the SFS annual conference. Much coffee, bara brith, and stimulating Frenchy chat. Also, the HEAT, which has felt like a thousand suns’ worth of irritation thrown strategically at our fair isles. The picks below have helped to distract me from melting into a puddle and/or violently calcifying into a pile of caffeine. Enjoy!

 

-          On women, representation and film:

o   The Dissolve team spell out the 50 most daring movie roles for women since Ripley of Alien fame. I’m vaguely annoyed that the need to have such a list exists – can’t women just have interesting movie roles as standard now, please? In any case, I like the bite-size chunks of comments that anchor each entry, and there’s not an entry that made me choke on my toast or anything. Feels a bit like the beginning sketches of a decent film/gender syllabus…

"Chola" by Koala MeatPie. Via  Flickr .

"Chola" by Koala MeatPie. Via Flickr.

-          On appropriation:

o   Obviously, I have binge watched Orange is the New Black’s season 3. If you haven’t seen it, hold all your calls and go and watch it now. NOW. This season, I’ve been particularly enamoured of Flaca and Maritza’s killer eyeliner. At some point, somebody mentioned “chola style”, and I had to look it up. “Chola” refers to a highly specific Mexican-American form of female representation, of which one part may be the kind of eyeliner Flaca and Maritza rock. So, I’ve been thinking about issues of appropriation in this context, particularly after reading Barbara Calderón-Douglass’s recent piece for Vice, The Folk Feminist Struggle Behind the Chola Fashion Trend; Phillip Picardi’s comments on Givenchy’s autumn 2015 “chola Victorian” runway show; and a personal response to “cholafication” on the Cultural Appropriation on Tumblr site.


-          On history:

o   @AfAmHistFail anonymously chronicles the things tourists say when touring the historic plantation that she works on. Nicole Cliffe’s interview with @AfAmHistFail for The Toast is painfully eye-opening as to how far we still have to go to achieve racial equality, and the necessity of quality history teaching to show the horrors perpetrated in the past that shape everyday experiences for large swathes of the population.

"Le Mundaneum à Mons (Belgique) " by Jean-Pierre Dalbéra. Via  Flickr .

"Le Mundaneum à Mons (Belgique) " by Jean-Pierre Dalbéra. Via Flickr.

o   It turns out, Belgium invented the (paper only) internet in 1895 in their facility Mundaneum in Mons. (With this, TinTin and Lambic beer, why don’t the Belgians rule the world?) French-language Nouvel Obs has a fascinating interview with one of Mundaneum’s directors, which unpacks the history of the place and the ovewhelming obsession of its two founders. Plus some great pictures and drawings relating to the place’s history.

 

-          On academic matters:

o   Peter Dayan gave a great plenary lecture at this year’s SFS discussing the role of creativity in modern language studies. He cited persuasively from Stephen Benson and Clare Connors’ (eds.) 2014 volume Creative Criticism: An Anthology and Guide, showing that creative writing is a part and parcel of our working lives. I’ve wishlisted the book myself, and am looking forward to getting my hot little hands on it.

o   Relatedly, UCL has a “Creative Critical Writing” PhD pathway which directly targets the kind of self-consciously innovative academic work that is possible if we accept that we have always been “creatives” all along.

o   Rice University’s Joshua Eyler has written a breath-taking piece, “The Grief of Pain”, which interweaves a meditation on the deeper resonances of his teaching and a reflection on the sorrow of chronic illness, the joy of boundless love for another. I’m really struck by its blend of intellectual and emotional honesty, leaving me inspired and moved. Eyler is a founder member of the Society for the Study of Disability in the Middle Ages, and edited a brilliant book on medieval disability, published in 2010.

"The Gift of Pain" by wackystuff. Via  Flickr .

"The Gift of Pain" by wackystuff. Via Flickr.