Displaying items by tag: Disability Studies

As March approaches, so does my favourite conference: ICFA. After a successful presentation on disability in Star Trek last year, I thought I would stick with the film and television track of the conference. Not only do I thoroughly enjoy analyzing popular films, but it seems that everyone loves watching movie clips during conference papers. Win-win.

This year I am presenting on Rupert Wyatt's reboot of the Planet of the Apes franchise, Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011). I've seen all of the Apes movies--was alternatively amused and appalled--and went to see Rise in the theatre (by myself) because I was extremely curious about how Wyatt's film would deal with the offensive racial politics of the earlier Apes films. Rise of the Planet of the Apes did not fail to deliver a similarly problematic narrative of the primate other. And so another academic conference was born. Here is my proposal for my paper/clip show with analysis:

“Some Things Aren’t Meant to be Changed”—Disability in Rise of the Planet of the Apes

In Rupert Wyatt’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011), the Planet of the Apes franchise goes high-tech—both in terms of the films extensive use of CGI to create the lead ape, Caesar, and in its key plot device of the creation and misuse of a “neurogenesis” drug. Referred to as “the cure” for Alzheimer’s disease, the drug ends up significantly transforming the primate mind. Like most cure narratives in science fiction, the film speaks to Western culture’s preference for an idealized “wholeness” and imagines a scenario where only the most physically dominant and intellectually capable survive (represented by the technologically-enhanced chimpanzee, Caesar). As Elaine Graham writes in Representations of the Post/Human, however, it is essential that we interrogate such narratives of the future “ideal” body: “What is at stake, supremely, in the debate about the implications of digital, genetic, cybernetic and biomedical technologies is precisely what (and who) will define authoritative notions of normative, exemplary, desirable humanity into the twenty-first century” (11). As a way to distance itself from the overt racist politics of the original Planet of the Apes series, I argue that Rise of the Planet of the Apes instead emphasizes a normative humanity predicated on the erasure of the “undesirable” ill and disabled body.

Disability studies scholars Sharon Snyder and David Mitchell observe the tendency to frame the disabled body as “primitive throwback” to an earlier time in human development: “In a culture that endlessly reassures itself that it is on the verge of conquering Nature once and for all, along with its own ‘primitive’ instincts and the persistent domain of the have-nots, disability is referenced with respect to these idealized visions. As a vector of human variability, disabled bodies both represent a throwback to a human prehistory and serve as the barometer of a future without ‘deviancy’” (Cultural Locations of Disability 32). With its focus on “curing” Alzheimer’s disease and improving “natural” (but limited and “primitive”) cognitive abilities through medical testing on apes, along with a sustained focus on the animals’ institutionalization in “care” facilities, Wyatt’s film makes problematic ableist connections between primates and people with disabilities. Reading Rise of the Planet of the Apes with disability studies in mind, I want to address issues of agency, compassion, and the drive to “overcome” physical and cognitive differences. While there is a claimed desire to “cure” people, the lone female in the film, Caroline, nevertheless tells the (white, straight, able-bodied, and male) protagonist Will, “some things aren’t meant to be changed.” Where does this line of thinking—as well as the imagined apocalyptic consequences of creating “the (failed) cure”—situate people with disabilities both in the present and in the imagined future?

 

Published in Kathryn Allan's Blog
Monday, 12 August 2013 17:21

Disability in Science Fiction: Cover Talk

My edited collection, Disability in Science Fiction: Representations of Technology as Cure, is available for sale August 14th (Google for your choice of internet bookseller)!

I received my author copies late last week and the book looks beautiful. I love the cover (thanks to Andrew Holden and Tom Pepper)--I think it perfectly reflects the critical analysis going on inside. When I was brainstorming ideas for the cover, I wanted an abstract image of a person being dissected, or broken down into their physical parts. The shearing away of the mid-section stands in for the ways in which the disabled body is often medicalized into its "problem" parts (instead being viewed as a functioning whole). I also wanted to express the impact of technology on the body--the "+" and "Ø" signs represent binary code (1s and 0s). And since there is an emphasis on prostheses in book, the arm in red both marks the simultaneous absence/addition of such technology to the body.

The image can be read in a number of interesting ways, relevant to both science fiction and disability. In the design, there is a sense of transcendence from the fleshy body that I didn't anticipate coming through. I like that the figure appears to continue off the left side--no arm is visible there but the person nevertheless feels complete. Overall, I think the cover nails the focus of the content of the collection.

I hope that people enjoy Disability in Science Fiction and decide to take up their own responses to the ways in which disability and people with disabilities are represented in science fiction (and fantasy, horror, romance, mystery, and all the other understudied genres). There is a lot of critical ground to cover, images to unpack, and new stories to be written. Disability in SF is only one piece of a larger, on-going conversation and I'm excited to be part of it!

Published in Kathryn Allan's Blog
Thursday, 16 May 2013 13:13

CFP - Gothic and Medical Humanities

Even though I'm not a gothic studies scholar, this CFP really caught my eye. A perfect opportunity to use a disability studies framework! I don't think I'll have the time to propose a paper, but I'm certainly going to consider it.

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Gothic and Medical Humanities Call for Papers

Proposals are invited for a special issue of Gothic Studies exploring intersections between the Gothic and medical humanities.

Gothic studies has long grappled with suffering bodies, and the fragility of human flesh in the grip of medical and legal discourse continues to be manifest in chilling literature and film. The direction of influence goes both ways: Gothic literary elements have arguably influenced medical writing, such as the nineteenth-century clinical case study. In this second decade of the twenty-first century, it seems apt to freshly examine intersections between the two fields.

The closing years of the twentieth century saw the emergence of medical humanities, an interdisciplinary blend of humanities and social science approaches under the dual goals of using arts to enhance medical education and interrogating medical practice and discourse. Analysis of period medical discourse, legal categories and medical technologies can enrich literary criticism in richly contextualising fictional works within medical practices. Such criticism can be seen as extending the drive towards historicised and localised criticism that has characterised much in Gothic studies in recent decades.

Our field offers textual strategies for analysing the processes by which medical discourse, medical processes and globalised biotechnological networks can, at times, do violence to human bodies and minds – both of patient and practitioner. Cultural studies of medicine analyse and unmask this violence. This special issue will explore Gothic representations of the way medical practice controls, classifies and torments the body in the service of healing.

Essays could address any of the following in any period, eighteenth-century to the present:

· Medical discourse as itself Gothic (e.g., metaphors in medical writing; links between case histories and the Gothic tradition), and/or reflections on how specific medical discourses have shaped Gothic literary forms

· Illness narratives and the Gothic (e.g., using Arthur Frank’s ‘chaos narratives’ of helplessness in The Wounded Storyteller).

· Literary texts about medical processes as torture/torment in specific historical and geographic contexts (including contemporary contexts)

· Doctors or nurses represented in literature as themselves Gothic ‘victims’, constrained by their medical environment

· Genetic testing; organ harvest; genetic engineering; reproductive technologies; limb prostheses; human cloning, and more.

To date the links between Gothic and psychiatric medical discourse have been the most thoroughly explored, so preference will be given to articles exploring other, non-psychiatric medical contexts in the interests of opening up new connections.

Please email 500-word abstract and curriculum vitae to Dr Sara Wasson, s.wasson[at]napier[dot]ac[dot]uk. Deadline for proposals: 1 October 2013.

The official journal of the International Gothic Studies Association considers the field of Gothic studies from the eighteenth century to the present day. The aim of Gothic Studies is not merely to open a forum for dialogue and cultural criticism, but to provide a specialist journal for scholars working in a field which is today taught or researched in almost all academic establishments. Gothic Studies invites contributions from scholars working within any period of the Gothic; interdisciplinary scholarship is especially welcome, as are readings in the media and beyond the written word.

For more information on Gothic Studies, including submission guidelines and subscription recommendations, please see the journals website: http://www.manchesteruniversitypress.co.uk/cgi-bin/scribe?showinfo=ip022

 

Published in Kathryn Allan's Blog

Good news! My proposed paper was accepted for the Science Fiction: The Interdisciplinary Genre conference at McMaster this fall. I'm particularly excited about writing and presenting this one, since it will be my first try at crafting a theoretical framework in a conference paper (more than simply presenting an analysis). Here is my proposal:

Backwards and Beyond: Neuroscience and Disability in Robert J. Sawyer’s WWW Trilogy

In Robert J. Sawyer’s WWW trilogy (Wake, Watch, Wonder), Caitlin Decker is a blind teenager who is given technology that enables her to see both the physical world and the virtual realm of the internet. She becomes a figure that stands between a human past where intelligence is characterized as singular and “primitive” (represented by the apes Hobo and Virgil) and a “posthuman” future where intelligence is multi-faceted and supported by a great number of organic and inorganic technologies (i.e,. the spontaneous AI, Webmind). Framing my reading of the books within Disability Studies, I propose that Caitlin’s prosthetic enhancement, as well as the novel kinds of intelligence displayed by both the apes and Webmind, disrupt the Western cultural construction of disability as a biomedical condition that can be known, contained and controlled.

In Cultural Locations of Disability, Sharon Snyder and David Mitchell contend that the disabled body is often characterized as temporally in flux: “As a vector of human variability, disabled bodies both represent a throwback to a human prehistory and serve as the barometer of a future without ‘deviancy’” (32). Given that current neuroscience demonstrates that the brain is far more complex than previously understood--moving away from the study of the single neuron to positing that “communities” of neurons act together to complete a task, allowing for the direct integration of prosthetic technology into the brain (see Miguel Nicolelis’ Beyond Boundaries)--the Western biomedical model’s conception of disabled bodies as “primitive” or limited must be reconsidered. I will theorize how the threats to normative human embodiment displayed by the “enhanced” disabled/deviant bodies in Sawyer’s WWW trilogy reflect the advancements in neuroscience that have disrupted the distinction between the “primitive” and “human” being. My reading of the science fiction series will address the necessity of changing our Western understanding of what constitutes intelligence and ability, and which bodies are therefore entitled to autonomy and self-determination.

Works Cited

Nicolelis, Miguel. Beyond Boundaries: The New Neuroscience of Connection Brains with Machines -- And How it Will Change Our Lives. New York: Times Books, 2011. Print.

Sawyer, Robert J. Wake. Toronto: Penguin Canada, 2009. Print.

– –. Watch. Toronto: Penguin Canada, 2010. Print.

– – –. Wonder. Toronto: Viking Canada, 2011. Print.

Snyder, Sharon L. and David T. Mitchell. Cultural Locations of Disability. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2006. Print.

Published in Kathryn Allan's Blog

My edited collection, Disability in Science Fiction: Representations of Technology as Cure, will be published by Palgrave Macmillan August 8, 2013. It is available for pre-order from most major North American and European booksellers!

Book description: In science fiction, technology often modifies, supports, and attempts to "make normal" the disabled body. In this groundbreaking collection, twelve international scholars – with backgrounds in disability studies, English and world literature, classics, and history – discuss the representation of dis/ability, medical "cures," technology, and the body in science fiction. Bringing together the fields of disability studies and science fiction, this book explores the ways dis/abled bodies use prosthetics to challenge common ideas about ability and human being, as well as proposes new understandings of what "technology as cure" means for people with disabilities in a (post)human future.

Additional note: I edited this collection for both scholars and serious fans of SF. The analysis is academic, but the language accessible (i.e., we avoid esoteric terms & explain any complex theoretical ideas).

For anyone interested in what's inside, here's a sneak peek:

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Introduction: Reading Disability in Science Fiction, Kathryn Allan

Theorizing Disability in Science Fiction

1. Tools to Help You Think: Intersections between Disability Studies and the Writings of Samuel R. Delany, Joanne Woiak and Hioni Karamanos

2. Freaks and Extraordinary Bodies: Disability as Generic Marker in John Varley’s “Tango Charlie and Foxtrot Romeo,” Ria Cheyne

3. The Many Voices of Charlie Gordon: On the Representation of Intellectual Disability in Daniel Keyes’s Flowers for Algernon, Howard Sklar

4. The Metamorphic Body in Science Fiction: From Prosthetic Correction to Utopian Enhancement, António Fernando Cascais

Human Boundaries and Prosthetic Bodies

5. Prosthetic Bodies: The Convergence of Disability, Technology and Capital in Peter Watts’ Blindsight and Ian McDonald’s River of Gods, Netty Mattar

6. The Bionic Woman: Machine or Human?, Donna Binns

7. Star Wars, Limb-loss, and What it Means to be Human, Ralph Covino

8. Animal and Alien Bodies as Prostheses: Reframing Disability in Avatar and How to Train Your Dragon, Leigha McReynolds

Cure Narratives for the (Post)human Future

9. “Great Clumsy Dinosaurs”: The Disabled Body in the Posthuman World, Brent Walter Cline

10. Disabled Hero, Sick Society: Sophocles’ Philoctetes and Robert Silverberg’s The Man in the Maze, Robert W. Cape, Jr.

11. “Everything is always changing”: Autism, Normalcy, and Progress in Elizabeth Moon’s The Speed of Dark and Nancy Fulda’s “Movement,” Christy Tidwell

12. Life without Hope? Huntington’s Disease and Genetic Futurity, Gerry Canavan

Published in Kathryn Allan's Blog
Wednesday, 06 March 2013 13:58

Disability in Star Trek Papers

In the next two months, I will be delivering two papers on disability in Star Trek. I am officially living the geek dream! I have wanted to present on Star Trek for many, many years now, but always felt like I should choose more literary or "high-culture" examples to discuss at academic conferences. Then I remembered: I'm an independent scholar! I can talk about whatever I want. Enter: Star Trek. Since a few people have expressed interest in my papers, I am posting the abstracts for them here. If I have the time and inclination, I also would like to post the completed full papers once I have delivered them.

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For ICFA

Blink Once for Yes: Remaking Disability in Star Trek

From reproduction technologies that seek to eradicate and limit the reproduction of disabled people, to prostheses that replace missing limbs and extend the function of the body, technology is an essential component of cure narratives in many science fiction scenarios. We can see an evolution of the representations of “cures” or “fixes” for disability on the SF screen, for instance, through the figure of Star Trek’s Captain Christopher Pike. In the Star Trek: The Original Series episode, “The Menagerie” (1966) Captain Pike (played by Jeffery Hunter) is severely injured during battle, leaving him confined and dependent on a wheel-chair unit (operated by his brain waves) that encases his body, leaving only his badly burn-scarred face visible. To communicate, Pike’s chair is equipped with one large light which blinks once for yes and twice for no. This Original Series Captain Pike is pitiable, and Captain Kirk – the very embodiment of masculine health and vitality as played by William Shatner – struggles to gaze upon his old mentor. Fast forward to 2009 when director J. J. Abram’s glinting reboot of the Star Trek franchise hit the screens and reimagines the iconic disabled figure of Pike (now played by Bruce Greenwood). While still injured in battle, Pike clearly earns his wounds as a hero, and is shown in the final scenes of the movie in a low-key wheel-chair, smiling, and fully functioning aside from his inability to walk. 2009’s Captain Pike is a far cry from 1966’s – the representation of his character’s disability demonstrates the change in cultural attitudes towards people with disabilities (i.e. less monstrous, more heroic), as well as highlighting the advancement of the technological “fixes” for disability. Despite the gains we see through the figure of Captain Pike, the desire to cure his injuries and return him to – or get him closest to – the idealized vision of the perfect/normal body remains. In a wheel-chair, he is a deviant body and portrayed as being no longer in a position to be the active leader of a starship (and therefore must pass off his role to the able-bodied Kirk).

In a utopian vision, like that played out in the Star Trek universe, when integrated into the able body, technology makes the human body better, an idealized version of itself. When technology is applied to the disabled body, however, all too often it is in an attempt to cure or normalize what is deemed “wrong” with the body. Take the technology away and the disabled body’s supposed lack remains. In this paper, I will analyze the ways that the two representations of Captain Pike speak to a shift in our (Western) cultural understanding and acceptance of the disabled body and its relationship to the technologies that attempt to cure and contain it.

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For Eaton/SFRA

Shadow of the Man: Reading Disability in the Star Trek Universe

From Star Trek: The Original Series to J.J. Abrams’ filmic reboot, Star Trek in 2009, the Star Trek universe is rich in its representations of disability. Throughout its forty-six year history, the space opera franchise has reflected the Western cultural attitude towards disability and people with disabilities, a vision that, while well-intentioned, is often contradictory and ableist. As Tobin Siebers argues, “the ideology of ability makes us fear disability, requiring that we imagine our bodies are of no consequence while dreaming at the same time that we might perfect them. It describes disability as what we flee in the past and hope to defeat in the future” (Disability Theory 9). While I will touch on examples from across the series, for the purposes of this paper, I will focus my main analysis on the last Star Trek: The Next Generation motion picture, Stuart Baird’s Nemesis (2002). This film is an excellent example of the two main disability narratives prominent in Star Trek: first, the positioning of disabled peoples as exploitable bodies, and second, the potential of disability to be a positive, transformative experience once it is eliminated or “cured.” I will draw on key Disability Studies theorists to frame my analysis, notably Siebers, Rosemarie Garland-Thomson, and Sharon Snyder and David Mitchell.

In their foundational work, Cultural Locations of Disability, Snyder and Mitchell state: "In a culture that endlessly reassures itself that it is on the verge of conquering Nature once and for all, along with its own “primitive” instincts and the persistent domain of the have-nots, disability is referenced with respect to these idealized visions. As a vector of human variability, disabled bodies both represent a throwback to a human prehistory and serve as the barometer of a future without 'deviancy'” (32).
These two parallel disability narratives play out in Nemesis within the dominant storyline of Shinzon, Picard’s ailing clone, and the subplot of B-4, an early prototype of the sentient android (and as “good as human”) Data. Reading the film through the lens of disability studies, I am interested in examining the ways the audience reads both the fleshy Shinzon and the synthetic B-4 as inauthentic, primitive versions of the “real” Picard and Data. Each “copy” carries out different responses to living with their deviant bodies: the unevolved B-4 is unaware of his limitations and is therefore exploitable, while Shinzon, on the other hand, is fully aware of his status as other (he says, “I am the shadow of the man. The echo of the voice”) and chooses to enact his limited agency through violence and redirected repression. I am particularly interested in how the divergence between the two representations (B-4 is pitiable, yet expendable, while Shinzon is offensive and deserving of death) speak to our current cultural anxieties about expanding rights and visibility for people with disabilities. Star Trek explores not only what it means to be human, but who gets to be counted as human.

Published in Kathryn Allan's Blog
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