- Disability Studies and Spanish Culture: Films, Novels, the Comic and the Public Exhibition by Benjamin Fraser
comic, cultural studies, disability studies, documentary, film, graphic novel, Benjamin Fraser, Matthew J. Marr, novel, public exhibition, representation, political, social, visual arts
The fifth installment in the Representations: Health, Disability, Culture and Society book series first launched by Liverpool University Press in 2008, Benjamin Fraser's Disability Studies and Spanish Culture: Films, Novels, the Comic and the Public Exhibition (2013) offers a smart, engaging, and welcome scholarly incursion into a critical space which has gone largely overlooked in contemporary Peninsular cultural studies, if not (with a few noteworthy exceptions, some of which are noted by the author) within Hispanic studies more broadly construed. Accordingly, the critical task at hand in this monograph is as vital as it is formidable. Indeed, the scope of Fraser's book—notwithstanding its efficient design, which measures in at just under 200 pages (including the bibliography and detailed index)—is conceptually expansive: an observation applicable to this study not only by virtue of the range of cultural materials considered in its eight main case studies (selections covered in pairs over four main body chapters), but also vis-à-vis the array of definitions (medical, social, legislative) and actual manifestations (bodily, cognitive, emotive) which the term "disability" encompasses in and of itself.
In the face of such multivariable complexities, Fraser's volume delivers to a genuinely satisfying degree, fulfilling its overarching objectives as stated in the book's initial pages, where the author explicitly sets out to follow scholar-activist Lennard J. Davis's lead in advocating a conception of Disability Studies as both an academic project and a political movement. Perceptively framing Davis's formulation as "yet another way of embracing the critical aim of cultural studies" (ix) as defined by one of the field's founding voices, Raymond Williams—who promoted a vision of cultural studies as an area of critical inquiry ideally attentive to both diverse discursive materials and their context of production—Fraser proceeds to [End Page 122] pitch his study as an "attempt to bring a Disabilities Studies perspective to bear on selected Spanish materials as diverse as fiction films, documentaries, novels, and even the sequential art of the graphic novel/comic" (ix). At the level of methodology, he promises a "central focus" keenly attuned to matters of representation (ix), while at the same time underscoring his broader goals of forging an interdisciplinary "dialogue with existing research on disability"—scholarship which spans "a wide spectrum of approaches (philosophical, historical, social)" (ix). Once beyond these foundational remarks, the remainder of the introduction stands out as a notable achievement, comprised as it is of a highly readable synthesis of a complex body of theory that lies at the heart of disability studies as a scholarly discipline and social project. Fraser nimbly negotiates this point of departure for his discussion by way of a superbly researched and up-to-date explication of the "general dimensions" of the field (of use, in the most general sense, to readers unfamiliar with the terrain in question), a portion of the text in which he makes apt use of insights drawn from a host of interdisciplinary thinkers. These include, given the field's only incipient development in Spain and Latin America, critics almost exclusively from the English-speaking world: Harlan Lane, Licia Carlson, David T. Mitchell, Sharon L. Snyder, Tobin Siebers, and (once more) Lennard J. Davis, among others.
In subsequent chapters, the author's close readings of specifically Spanish cultural products of recent years—analyses buttressed by frequent supporting reference to issues surrounding disability at the level of public policy in Spain—act as a counterbalance to the introduction's residence in a space which may strike certain readers as overly detached from the contemporary Peninsular milieu. Moreover, in all of his readings, Fraser opts to foreground cultural materials that have remained relatively underexamined to date by academic critics. In the first chapter, he offers a terrific section on Álvaro Pastor and Antonio...