- Literary, Cultural, and Disability Studies: A Tripartite Approach to Poststructuralism
The second of two events hosted by Lancaster University’s Centre for Disability Research (CeDR) in June 2009, A Tripartite Approach to Poststructuralism offered a chance to reconsider what poststructuralist theory (in all its varied forms) can offer Literary, Cultural, and Disability Studies. Organised by Hannah Morgan and David Bolt, with help in the chair from their CeDR colleagues Carol Thomas and Donna Reeve, the event attracted participants from America, Canada, and mainland Europe, as well as scholars from the UK, representing a wide range of disciplinary perspectives.
The event opened with the first of two keynote presentations, “Theorising the Psyche in Disability Studies: The Poststructuralist Contributions of Deleuze and Lacan.” In this paper Dan Goodley (Manchester Metropolitan University) explored what psychoanalytic theory can offer Disability Studies, suggesting that Lacanian theory, in particular, offers insight into the way disabled people are subject to misrecognition, and can help expose particular ideologies about disability. However, he identified a more productive way forward in the work of Deleuze and in particular the concept of the body-without-organs. His argument is developed further in the article “Bringing the Psyche back into Disability Studies: The Case of the Body with/out Organs,” which is included in this special issue.
The first panel began by heralding another article in the issue, “Against Interpretosis: Deleuze, Disability, and Difference” by Phil Bayliss (University of Exeter). Focusing on Deleuze and Guattari’s concepts of interpretosis and facialization, this complex presentation moved from Mitchell and Snyder’s narrative prosthesis to the importance of counter-cultural narratives via Kristeva’s signifiance. Next in the panel, John Marris (Trent University) focused on particular representations of disability in “Cripping the ‘Gift’: Exploring Representations of the Autistic Spectrum and Autistic Savant in Cinema.” Using the work of Robert McRuer and Rosemarie Garland-Thomson to examine the films Rain Man, Mercury Rising, and the more recent Snow Cake, he argued that, despite [End Page 295] its attempts to offer a representation of autism not defined by savantism, Snow Cake still suffers from “the Rain Man effect.” In an engaging presentation, he argued that ultimately a more constructive critique of autistic representation may be found in films that do not seek to define their characters as autistic.
The afternoon session began with another keynote presentation, from Robert McRuer (George Washington University). “The Pleasure of the Disabled Text: Crip Theory and Poststructuralism” was a fascinating exploration of the different ideologies and perspectives at work in Disability Studies today. Taking his own book, Crip Theory: Cultural Signs of Queerness and Disability, and Tobin Siebers’ Disability Theory as emblematic, Professor McRuer analysed the similarities and differences between poststructuralist approaches to disability (or those sympathetic to poststructuralism), and the post-positivist realism favoured by the Future of Minority Studies Group in the US. Suggesting that poststructuralist theory is often misrepresented or misunderstood, a topic explored further in the subsequent discussion, he argued that poststructuralism and social constructionism are often conflated by critics. Noting that Disability Studies has at times been stalled by too much consensus—a point perhaps more applicable to the US context than in the UK—his clear and thorough exploration of the issues was, at least for this reviewer, the high point in a day that demonstrated the quality of the work being done in contemporary cultural Disability Studies.
The concluding panel featured two papers that, like John Marris’s presentation, illustrated the value of poststructuralist approaches to cultural representations. Both presenters focused on disability representation in literary texts, arguing that their chosen narratives challenge conventional representations of disability, albeit in different ways. In “The Issue of Frivolity and a Man with a Bad Leg: On Coetzee’s The Slow Man,” Kateřina Kolářová (Charles University, Prague) offered a polished analysis of J. M. Coetzee’s 2005 novel. Dr. Kolářová argued that in combining metafictional features with disability stereotypes and clichés, Coetzee’s novel actually performs fiction’s inability to narrate disability, thus opening up the whole question of representation. Tom Coogan (Leicester University) mapped the changing reception to (and framing of) the work of Irish novelist, poet, and playwright...