not just another umw blogs weblog

ESA Conference 2012

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Written by cfoss

March 7th, 2012 at 8:02 pm

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620. Autism/Text

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Saturday, 8 January, 5:15 – 6:30 p.m., Atrium I, J. W. Marriott

 1. “Literary Autism by Literary Autistics: Beyond the Destructive Presumption and Paternalism of Neurotypicals,” Ralph James Savarese, Grinnell Coll.


2.  “Reading in Pictures: Re-visioning Autism and Literature through the Medium of Manga,” Chris Foss, Univ. of Mary Washington

Foss (Long Version)  [This is the 18-pg. version, from which I will excerpt my 20-min. presentation

3.  “Autistic Aloneness and Social Space: Robinson Crusoe and Narrative Architecture,” Julia Miele Rodas, Bronx Community Coll., City Univ. of New York


Rodas handout

Rodas PowerPoint slides

Written by cfoss

January 1st, 2011 at 11:47 pm

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Linguistic’s Final Research Paper

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There are some minor focus/organizational flaws in this paper, but the first three paragraphs about the OED’s definitions of “retard” are very interesting–check it out if you guys have a minute. Have a good break!

The Evolution of “Retard”

Language changes.  We assign different meanings to words everyday by shifting a word’s connotation—it is expected.   But layering a word’s semantics creates a tension between the denotation and connotation of a word because a word can then encompasses a group of ideas, things, or people, whether it be depicted as pejorative or ameliorative.  This tension manifests within both reference frames because denotation, a word’s literal definition, and connotation, the implications given to a word by past and present culture, form a semantic relationship that reflects the values of its community.  Because of this relationship, and because semantic shifts are inevitable, words are used differently in different contexts.  The term retard has gone through semantic shifts, pejoration, and generalization, and, because of its often slang use, misrepresents the neurodiverse community.

According to the OED, the term “retard” was originally used as a verb.  “Retarder,” the word’s first form, immerged from 12th century Old French as “to put off, delay (something), or to hesitate” (The Oxford English Dictionary).  The verb had temporal value, as in to delay an original point in time for a later point in time.  Not until the 13th century did the verb begin to refer “to slow[ing] something down, to delay or slow down the course or progress (of something),” or to “go more slowly” (The Oxford English Dictionary).  These definitions refer to the act of delaying time—it is not defined by the sense of something that is delayed. If it were, of course, that implication would be the word’s connotation, not what the word denotes.  As a verb, it was not until 1344 until it was denoted as “to be slow, or to act slowly,” which further shifted by 1690 as “to be delayed” (The Oxford English Dictionary).

Formed in the early 16th century, the noun “retard” avoided referring to the body or development for over a hundred years.  The etymology of the noun “retard” traces its origin to 1629 French.  The French defined “retard” as meaning a “delay” that eventually came to mean the “retardation (of the movement of a body)” in 1752 (The Oxford English Dictionary).  Because the noun form of the word was created close to the same time as its verb’s semantic shift—from “to delay” to “to be slow”—one can infer that the noun’s origin of “delay,” if it does not share the same meaning shift of its verb, shares a same pejorative connotation.  Regardless, a noun formation formed after centuries of using its verb only proves that the word “retard” once denoted an action that then came to denote a specific object (and/or person).  This is especially important because, as per 19th and 20th century medical classifications, “retard” was never, nor is it defined, as medical.  The noun is currently defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as “the fact of being slowed down or delayed with respect to action, progress, or development […]”  In regards to its educational connotation, “retard” denotes “a child whose educational progress or level of attainment has fallen behind that expected for his or her age” (The Oxford English Dictionary).

The current connotations of “retard” are unfortunately the most used.  The educational connotation includes the failing attempts of attainment experienced by what should be an equally intelligent person.  This reference disables the person or object the noun is classifying, and “is generalizing not just to a group that shares a particular impairment, but to all people with significant limitation due to impairment—people with disabilities” (Anderson 1043).  This is especially pejorative to the cognitively impaired community because it reduces their neurodiversities to a word that denotes and connotes a slowness, as opposed to their brains working in contrast to what is defined as normalcy.  These generalizations or phrases “like ‘wheelchair bound,’ ‘retarded,’ or ‘deaf and dumb’ are no less oppressive than the lack of physical access since they mark how certain bodies [or minds] are interpreted and read” (Davidson 119).  Davidson’s article “Universal Design—The Work of Disability in an Age of Globalization” highlights this verbal oppression and how the government can assist its use’s victimization:

“Much of [his article] is reinforced by language in the Americans with Disabilities Act (1990) that recognizes that a person in a wheelchair becomes disabled when he or she encounters a building without elevators or when a sight impaired person tries to use an ATM machine without Braille signage.  It also recognizes that one may be equally disabled by social stigma” (Davidson 119).

Semantic shifts are governed by society and furthermore shed light to our societal values and structure.  As Davidson continues to argue, this “social model locates disability not in the individual’s impairment, but in the environment—in social attitudes, institutional structures, and physical or communicational barriers that prevent full participation as citizen subject” (Davidson 119).  Calling a person a “retard” or referring to something or someone as “retarded” uses this social model and the act of generalization.  This process of categorizing persons with disabilities creates “the development of specialized treatments and residential and educational services, but also [establishes] and [reinforces] notions of the boundaries between normalcy and aberrance in Western society” (Braddock, and Parish 13).

Not only has the term “retard” been used to classify and/or categorize the neurodiverse, it is also used as a slang term.  The OED’s current slang definition, or also described as the colloquial definition, defines “retard” as “a person (or occasionally a thing) regarded as being mentally or physically deficient, stupid, or incompetent.”  This definition, and its overuse, has the most pejorative connotation regarding the cognitively impaired community because it undoubtedly attempts to “arrange people in ways that are socially and economically convenient to the society” (Linton 9-10).  We see this “convenience” in generalizing within the current medical terms used to label autism and asperger syndrome. Because autism and asperger’s fall under the umbrella of neurodiversity, it is often generalized by the word “retard.”  Because of the stigmas attached to the term “retard” and the similar stigmas attached to autism and asperger’s, the Diagnostic & Statistic Manuel of Mental Disorders is (ironically) generalizing the two terms by embedding them both in the Autistic Spectrum Disorder. Reassigning meaning—or a word’s semantics—is an attempt to “wrest control of the language from the previous owners, and reassign meaning to the terminology used to describe disability and disabled people” (Linton 9).

Because the term “retard” is unjust to the cognitively impaired community, Simi Linton—as well as other allies who are attempting to create a consciousness regarding the language used to depict the disabled community—wants a “new language.”  This new language “conveys different meanings, and, significantly, the shifts serve as metacommunications about the social, political, intellectual, and ideological transformations that have taken place over the past two decades” (Linton 9).  Though this modification is specific to disability words, some shift is expected in all words.  Every word—whether through linguistic processes such as amelioration, pejoration, narrowing, etc.—has connotatively altered from its origin.  Not only is it expected, it is inevitable. However it is up to the community to replace generalizing and pejorative terms with applicable, appropriated terms that accurately depict the neurodiverse and physically impaired communities.

Works Cited

Anderson, Jill C. “Just Semantics: The Lost Readings of the Americans with Disabilities Act. (Cover story).” Yale Law Journal 117.6 (2008): 992-1069. Academic Search Complete. EBSCO. Web. 8 Dec. 2010.

Braddock, David, and Susan Parish. “An Institutional History of Disability.” Handbook of Disability Studies. (2008): 11-68. Print.

Davidson, Michael. “Universal Design; The Work of Disability in an Age of Globalization.” Disabilities Studies Reader. 2. (2006): 117-128. Print.

Linton, Simi. “Reassigning Meaning.” Claiming Disability: Knowledge and Identity. (1998): 8-33. Print.

“retard” The Oxford English Dictionary. 2nd ed. 1989. OED Online. Oxford University Press. 4 Apr. 2000

Written by Matthew

December 9th, 2010 at 11:54 am

Masters in Education

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I talked to my older sister this afternoon about this semester and the books on my syllabi and whatnot, and while I was going over some of my favorites, she informed me that her masters in education program at GMU is also reading Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. She said her program loves the book and that they’ve been having frequent rich conversations about autistic narratives and the adolescent literature genre. I was very pleased– I directed her to our blog! Good luck this week guys!

Written by Matthew

December 6th, 2010 at 1:11 am

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in case anybody’s interested at this late stage in the game, here’s a link to some short blog posts on disability in the media

Written by cfoss

December 1st, 2010 at 5:07 pm

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One more message from Keith Banner

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“All of this took me by surprise. Obviously I appreciate your work… I’m going to be teaching a disaiblities studies class at Miami U here in Ohio next fall, and I definitely will be talking about your work, and the work of the others in your class. Inspiring! Keith”

I think this is a testament to how much effort we’ve put into this blog, and I think we should be proud of what we’ve accomplished as a class.

A side note, has anyone else noticed how high up on Google searches this blog comes up when you type in a title of one of our readings + disability studies?

Written by gormanda

December 1st, 2010 at 2:15 pm

Amazing gift

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We have all know that those with an autism are sometimes limited to certain activities and tend to be pushed out of social groups for there differences. Hikaru does not do things like others do. He has been significantly different his entire life from birth. He really does not like change but to me that is a characteristic of many people who are not autistic. What is amazing about people with autism is that we sometimes concentrate so much on their disability that we automatically assume they are incapable of doing anything. In Hiharu’s case, he can cook. I think that is amazing because people who have no disabilities cant even boil water. I just think that it is time for society to stop underestimating the abilities of those who we deem disabled.

Written by mayallday

December 1st, 2010 at 12:35 am

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abstract foss

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Here is the abstract for my upcoming conference paper presentation on With the Light; I’m counting on you all to help me out!

In his paper “Reading in Pictures: Re-visioning Autism and Literature through Keiko Tobe’s With the Light: Raising an Autistic Child,” Chris Foss argues that Tobe’s multi-volume manga series is a crucial set of texts for any (re)consideration of literary autism.  Building off of the work of Donald Ault and W. J. T. Mitchell, Foss insists that one particular function of the “imagetext” these manga stories embody is the foregrounding of multiple discursive codes and of the multiple sensory and cognitive modes required to mediate them.  This sort of dialectical reading experience (one which highlights the imbrication of verbal and visual experiences, as well as the range of possibilities for disjunctive and/or synthetic relationships between them) encourages a broadening of one’s understanding of/approach to both autism and literature from the standpoint of form in much the same way that Savarese suggests the poetic language of Baggs and Mukhopadhyay opens up a more comprehensive conception of literary autism by literary autistics.  Indeed, according to Foss, attentiveness not only to the interplay of narrative and graphic elements but even more so to all the various components of the visual gestalt (abstract background effects, bleeds, captions, motion lines, panel shapes/sizes, sound effects, speech balloons, splash pages, symbolia, etc.)—including the particular iconography unique to manga, which employs set artistic conventions (including facial features and other character design traits) to express emotions or communicate internal character states—ultimately allows for a more complex, heterogeneous, and interactive literary experience of autism.

Written by cfoss

November 29th, 2010 at 11:02 pm

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where did the major papers/projects go?

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click here, or on the page link for major papers/projects in the top right corner of the blog

Written by cfoss

November 29th, 2010 at 1:41 pm

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Correspondence with Keith Banner

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As some of you know, while writing my major paper on The Wedding of Tom to Tom, I stumbled upon Keith Banner’s Facebook page, and sent him an email telling him how much I liked his short-story, letting him know about our course, and directing him to this blog. At his request, I thought I would share his correspondence with me.

His initial response: Wow. I love when this happens. It does not happen a lot, of course, but that story has a few fans, and truthfully it’s one of my own faves of what I’ve written. So glad you are “using it.” Thanks so much for your kind words and I look forward to reading your paper… Keith

Then last Wednesday: Amanda, someone sent me a link to your paper about my story. Just out of blue I read it yesterday. Wrote this blog about it. Thank you so much and please relay the thanks to your prof and other students… Keith

Here’s is the link to the blog he wrote about the experience of reading my paper: http://twoplustwoequalsfive-tskyinc.blogspot.com/2010/11/tom-tom-bliss.html

He apparently was very touched by my analysis, but also was impressed with what we’ve been doing as a class.
Here’s an excerpt from the blog-post that also acknowledges the monologue project!

A true example of 2 + 2 = 5: me the writer writing something wholeheartedly dedicated to reinventing the way people view characters with developmental disabilities in literature, and ten years later a writer takes what I did and gives it back to me fully reinvigorated. Wow. Another example on the same blog is four students in the class creating monologues based on some of the characters in my story that I did not give a lot of voice and agency to. Reading those monologues made me cry too.
Maybe I’m just some overemotional freak (well wait a minute: yes I am that), but also I think that this is probably a pretty normal thing that happens to writers all the time. This is just my first time. It was Amanda and the other students’ thoroughness that got me.
Thanks to ENGL 375A2 at the University of Mary Washington in Virginia…

Written by gormanda

November 29th, 2010 at 11:26 am