English 175

Literature and Disability

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
1 Spring 2011 Langan, Celeste
Langan, Celeste
TTh 3:30-5 note new room: 106 Moffitt

Other Readings and Media

Haddon, M.: Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time; Keller, H.: Story of My Life; Kleege, G.: Blind Rage: Letters to Helen Keller; Oe, K.: A Quiet Life; Snyder, S. (et al.): Disability Studies: Enabling the Humanities; Shell, M.: Stutter; Wordsworth and Coleridge: Lyrical Ballads, 1798


Rather than focus simply on literary representations of disability, in this course we will try to think about the concept of literature via the category of disability. We are told that "poems make nothing happen" (Auden); for speech-act theory, fictional utterance is a peculiarly "parasitic" form of speech (Searle). Noting the negativity of these definitions, we will consider how literature (like religion for Feuerbach) presupposes a "contradiction between will and ability, desire and satisfaction, intention and success, imagination and reality, thought and existence."

The course will have several components. An introductory section will provide students with a grounding in disability theory, with special attention to the attempt to provide a common theory of disability categories (sensory, cognitive, motor; illness/injury; ugliness/fatness/queerness; legal disabilities of race/gender/class/religion). We will then shift to an examination of the role of literature in the "humanization" of disability, beginning with Enlightenment attempts to teach language to the deaf, dumb, and blind. We'll then read a series of texts that work at once to represent disability and to "disable" generic norms. Finally, we'll consider the extent to which print literature is a medium "disabled" by the advent of new media (film, record, computer)--which will give us a chance to consider ways media and other designed objects produce as well as neutralize disabilities.

Students will write 3-4 short essays; there will be no final exam, but regular attendance is required. There will also be at least two film screenings (probably Majidi's The Color of Paradise and von Trier's Idiots).

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