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Welcome to the course blog for ENGL 375A2, Disability and Literature.  This course takes for its focus the complex intersection(s) of disability and literature.  Proceeding from an understanding of disability as a sociocultural construct, throughout the semester we will be considering the various ways in which literary representations of disability from the nineteenth century to the present have embodied a range of pejorative, enabling, and/or ambivalent possibilities for how disability may be understood. 

 In our first unit, Disability and Theory, we will read a wide array of the most significant work by the leading theorists in the field of disability studies, positioning our own voices in the vibrant critical discussions about disability and literature.  During the course of our second and third units, we will read and analyze literary texts from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries respectively, applying and qualifying the theoretical models we studied in the first unit.  Both of these units will concentrate primarily on fiction, but each will sample dramatic and poetic offerings as well. 

 Finally, in our fourth unit, we will extend our examination of disability and literature into the current century with a more narrow focus on autism in order to explore how an immersion-experience with the emergent field of autism studies might yield insight into how the more general disability studies perspective fruitfully may be applied  to the literary representation(s) of one particular disability—and, simultaneously, how such concentrated study might contribute toward a comparable consideration of other specific disabilities or toward a broader understanding of disability in general.

 In her ENGL 376JJ: Women and Modernism course (a.k.a., GynoMod), Professor Mara Scanlon tells her students that their task might be articulated broadly by Rita Felski’s questions: “How would our understanding of modernity change if instead of taking male experience as paradigmatic, we were to look instead at texts written primarily by or about women?  And what if feminine phenomena, often seen as having a secondary or marginal status, were given a central importance in the analysis of the culture of modernity?” 

 For this course, we will ask, what if disabled phenomena, often seen as having a secondary or marginal status, were given a central importance in the analysis of literary texts?  How does our understanding of literature (and the study of literature) change if, instead of taking the able-bodied experience as paradigmatic, we were to look instead at texts written primarily by or about individuals with disabilities?  I think you will find that, by the end of the semester, you never will approach, read, and respond to literature in quite the same way again—and, perhaps most importantly, you will find that you have a much more profound awareness, understanding, and appreciation of all human variation and difference, including (indeed, especially) disability.

Additionally, on this website we will attempt to reenvision our academic practices.  To reinflect Felski’s questions a second time, how would our understanding of a college course change if, instead of taking individual performance and competitive practice as paradigmatic, we were to conceive of our learning instead primarily collaboratively?  And what if collaborative knowledge-building, often seen as having secondary or marginal status, were given a central role in our study of disability and literature?  If, collectively, we can begin to conceive of the blog as a vital piece of that collaborative practice, a fluid record of our accumulating knowledge and a place for the active exchange of ideas, then this course already will have been a success.

For visitors to this weblog, please feel welcome to join our conversations.  All I ask is that you always remain civil in your attitudes towards and interactions with others, and therefore that you always engage with our learning community only in a mature, sensitive, and tolerant manner.  Any posts that I deem as in any way disrespectful will be immediately deleted, and any repeat offenders will be denied access to the site thereafter.

Also, if you have any feedback for me (about the blog, the course, the readings, etc.), please do not hesitate to send an email off to cfoss@umw.edu.  Thanks!—Dr. Chris Foss

Written by cfoss

March 29th, 2010 at 7:19 pm

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