Disability: That Dangerous Supplement (ACLA seminar 2017)

Sarah Mann-O'Donnell's picture
Call for Papers
September 23, 2016
Subject Fields: 
Cultural History / Studies, Health and Health Care, History of Science, Medicine, and Technology, Literature, Philosophy

Disability: That Dangerous Supplement (ACLA seminar, July 6-9, Utrecht)

Note: Please contact the seminar coordinator at angelskinned@mac.com to determine if your work is a good fit for the seminar. However, you must submit your actual proposal through the ACLA portal at http://www.acla.org/disability-dangerous-supplement.

In the past three decades, disability has been variably cast as master literary trope and ultimate human modality. Bérubé writes that disability “demands a story”; Mitchell and Snyder insist that disability’s unknowability consolidates the very need for storytelling; Quayson goes so far as to frame disability as the defining feature of literature per se; and Blau defends literary portraits of the disabled because they force us to see that we are all, at some level, impaired. In a more ontological key, Davis suggests that, in their inherent incompleteness and dependency, all postmodern subjects are disabled; Wills points out that one cannot even write about prosthesis without engaging in a prosthetic relation; and the popularity of the TAB tag in disability scholarship, suggesting that able-bodiedness is always temporary, implies impairment as human inevitability.

The ethical implications of cripping literary and other perspectives remain at the forefront of critical disability work. Because the above claims of disability as literary and ontological supplement function through the deployment of metaphor, this seminar proceeds from a consideration of the uses and abuses of that deployment. Theorists have argued both for and against this metaphorization. Moving forward from Sontag’s critique of illness as metaphor, Tolan insists that “We are not a metaphor,” and Thurber identifies metaphoric uses of disability as “blatant and pernicious stereotyping.” Yet Mairs has been troping her own status as “cripple” since 1986. Lakoff and Johnson insist that metaphors cannot simply be stripped away, as they remain an integral part of literary and even cognitive processes. Rather than rejecting them, critical work needs, argues Vidali, to engage more closely with theories of metaphor, “working critically, ethically, transgressively, and creatively at the edges of disability metaphor.” Given these pros and cons, how far can (and should) we share, push or transplant the tools that disability studies offers? At what points does an intersectional taking-up of disability become reduction, negation, or colonization? At what points ought we to push even further? To give one such further push—what is the disabling capacity of metaphor itself?

We welcome papers and other types of presentation, addressing the following and other topics.  

  • The ethics of disability as metaphor
  • The possibility of embodied and/or material metaphor
  • Normalcy studies
  • Passivity, vulnerability, and dependency as sites for critical work
  • Derrida and disability
  • Physical, literary, and metholodogical care
  • The collapse of illness into disability in recent disability studies
  • "New realism” as a counter-movement to metaphorization
Contact Info: 

Sarah Mann-O'Donnell, Comparative Literary Studies, Northwestern University

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