Seminar Report: Literary, Cultural, & Disability Studies: A Tripartite Approach to Postcolonialism

Article excerpt

Held at Lancaster University's Centre for Disability Research (CeDR) in June 2009, this seminar was the first of a summer series designed to foster in-depth exploration of topics within Cultural Disability Studies and promote dialogue with other areas of research.1 A Tripartite Approach to Postcolonialism began with a keynote presentation by Dr. Clare Barker (University of Birmingham) and Prof. Stuart Murray (University of Leeds), guest editors of the forthcoming special issue of JLCDS on postcolonialism. Their presentation, "Postcolonial Literatures and the Materiality of Disability," offered a survey of the relationship between postcolonial scholarship and Disability Studies, while also making a series of critical interventions. In particular, the speakers stressed the need for a close engagement with the local conditions of production of the text, arguing that the "transcultural applicability" of key theories and concepts from Cultural Disability Studies cannot be assumed. For example, they suggested that David T. Mitchell and Sharon L. Snyder's seminal concept of narrative prosthesis- developed in Narrative Prosthesis: Disability and the Dependencies of Discourse (2000)-invites analysis focusing on the metaphorical meaning of the individual character, neglecting the idea of community central to many postcolonial narratives. The speakers also argued that issues of care and cure may function very differently in postcolonial texts.

Offering brief readings of works from a range of postcolonial contexts (including texts by Salman Rushdie, Ben Okri, Sahar Khalifeh, Ngugi wa Thiong'o, and Patricia Grace), "Postcolonial Literatures and the Materiality of Disability" made a compelling case for the contribution Disability Studies can make to postcolonial scholarship, and vice-versa. As with the best work in Cultural Disability Studies, this presentation actively sought to advance our understanding of not one but two fields. Drawing on but not requiring familiarity with previous work by both speakers-particularly the notion of "autistic presence" and the argument that a shift in reading strategies is required when engaging with postcolonial texts2-their presentation successfully balanced conceptual sophistication with accessibility for those less familiar with postcolonial studies.

Sparking the most discussion during the post-presentation question session was the issue of metaphor. Among the points raised were whether there is a difference between metaphor and metaphorization, and the need to ask what a character communicates about disability before the level of metaphor. In fact, while postcolonial texts may make the issue of metaphor a particularly pressing one, metaphor has been keenly discussed at various recent events, suggesting that, in UK Cultural Disability Studies at least, it is a hot topic. This was illustrated in the next presentation, "Shifting Perspective, Heightening Awareness: Weaving Dialogues Between Postcolonial Theory and Disability Studies" by Ana B. Pereira, a postgraduate student at Lancaster University. Her paper drew out parallels between postcolonial theories and Disability Studies, before offering an in-depth reading of a classic text in postcolonial theory, Frantz Fanon's "The Fact of Blackness" (included in the 1952 collection Black Skin, White Masks). Noting the extent to which imagery of the impaired body is used in Fanon's essay-in terms reminiscent of, though without reference to, Mitchell and Snyder's writing on disability as "the master trope of human disqualification" (3)- she stressed the importance of bearing in mind "the existence of interlocking systems of oppression."

In the same panel, Beatriz Miranda-Galarza of the University of Leeds presented a paper examining the relationship of disability to postcolonial issues from a Latin American perspective. Drawing upon both fieldwork and personal experience, "'Between a will to write and a body to be written': Disability, history and things that the West forgot to say" was an invitation to rethink the western historical and theoretical account of disability that, she argued, has "disabled" the contribution of those from other milieus. …


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