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  • Disability and the Emotions, Seminar Series, Phase Two, Centre for Culture and Disability Studies, Liverpool Hope University
  • Amy Redhead (bio)

Between October 2017 and July 2018, Liverpool Hope University was host to a fascinating second phase of the Disability and the Emotions Seminar Series. Chaired by David Bolt, attendees were introduced to speakers from across the globe, who explored theoretical connections between emotions and disability. The theme brought together many disciplines and media, from visual culture to science fiction, using foundational theory, such as crip theory, to interrogate the way in which emotion and disability come together to challenge ableist assumptions. Underpinning the papers in the series was an insight into society's responses to disability (Barden; Davis; Dalla Torre), the emotional engagement with disability (Stokes; Parrey), representations of disability (Stokes; Wegner; Forrest), or a critical look at disability studies itself (Parrey).

The 1959 science fiction novel, All You Zombies, and the film based on the Heinlein novel, Predestination, formed the focus of Michael Stokes's (independent scholar) paper, the first in this phase of the series. "All you Zombies: Using Scars to Question the Connections of Emotion, Body, and Identity," looked at those who identify as trans and disabled as communities that could work in tandem to challenge expected notions of ableism. Taking forward Robert McRuer's seminal Crip Theory (2006), Stokes explored trans and queer identity, as well as disability, through the medium of science fiction. He demonstrated how the physical and sexual transition of the main character in Predestination was a good example of how disability and emotion can come together in order to alter or reaffirm perceptions of identity and non-normative bodies. His use of metaphors, of scarring and suturing, offered attendees the chance to think about the way in which traditionally non-normative identifications can be stitched (sutured) together in order to create a "community of scarring" (Stokes), a potentially redemptive idea that involved healing and [End Page 115] bringing together those who have been scarred through exclusions relating to their identification as non-normative.

In his paper, "Sorrowless Lamentation: Viewers' Emotional Response to the Disabled Poor in Art," Lennard J. Davis (University of Illinois at Chicago) questioned both how disability is recognized in art and what emotional responses representations of disability elicited in an audience. This seminar involved presenting attendees with a chronological selection of images relating to disability. The visual culture covered a broad expanse of artists, styles, and chronologies, ranging from twelfth to sixteenth-century religious paintings, to Riva Lehrer's painting of the disabled artist, Alice Sheppard. Davis queried how disability was being documented in each of these works of art and noted that, typically, there are a limited number of ways in which disability is displayed. Many of the images being presented, particularly in the religious paintings, depicted disability as a sin, with several images showing Christ healing "broken" people, prompting emotions such as sadness or pity. Davis also suggested that feelings of curiosity, fear, or disgust could be connected to some of the "grotesque" images of disability: the aesthetic goals in many of the images involved disabled people positioned in somewhat undignified poses. He suggested the paintings by and of disabled people were likely to prompt different emotions to works of art with the same subject but created by non-disabled people. Questions about what is being represented in this image and what emotions are connected to this image recurred throughout the seminar. Understandably, Davis did not attempt to provide definitive answers, recognizing that the emotional reactions to art are, by their nature, changeable and subjective.

Ryan C. Parrey's (Eastern Washington University) seminar, "Embracing Disorientation in the Disability Studies Classroom," explored moments of confusion or uncertainty. Feelings of uncomfortableness among students were what he termed "disorienting encounters" (Parrey). He examined how these moments unfold, as well as reactions to them. Engaging the audience from the outset, he began his talk by asking three attendees to define disability. He was quick to point out that, while all three answers were valid, none was the absolute "truth"—the idea of disorienting encounters is about questioning your relation to disability, and realizing that these are often moments in which meaning...