Sep 25, 2020  

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ENG 494 - Seminar: A: Disability in Literature or B: Multicultural Literature

Check schedule to determine which section is being offered.

494A Disability in Literature


The literary tradition in Engish is rife with representation of disability.  These representations are sometimes used metaphorically, as representations of extreme innocence or evil.  Likewise, they might reduce the experience of the disability to a conquerable challenge, or to a fate worse than death.  Disability Studies asks us to reframe our understanding of disability history, question socially defined categories of normalcy and ability, and understand and learn about the presence of “disability culture” and its widely diverse members are also using literature to tell their own stories in a vibrant new artistic tradition.  Literature is and has been obsessed with the disabled body, both as metaphor and actual subject – an extension of the degree to which disability has loomed in the larger societal imagination in one way or another across centuries.

Rather than trying to catalogue all the examples of disability in literature, this seminar seeks to use disabililty studies as a genesis point and theoretical framework through which to examine several core questions about disability, literature, and the problems and opportunities arising from the intersection of the two.  We will:

  • Recconsider representations of disability in literary, artistic, and cultural texts.  We’ll ask how these are used as “narrative prosthesis.”  How are such depictions used as literary devices?  What beliefs do these images promote about disability?
  • Examine how “disability” and “normalcy” are culturally constructed categories like race, gender, class, and sexuality.  How does disability intersect with these other identity categories?
  • Study contemporary writing, performance, and art from disability culture. This writing establishes history, explores identity, refutes/reclaims stereotypes, and promotes discourse within the disability community.  We will look at genres ranging from memoir to fiction to performance to film.
  • Consider how a “disability aesthtic” of literature might be conceived.  How can disability contribute to the reconsideration of the processes and products of literary creation?

Therefore, while our course has a loose chronological frame, it’s more appropriate to think of it as organized conceptually.  The survey here will be of the questions to which the intersection of disability and literature gives rise.  While this is a senior English seminar, disability studies is a very interdisciplinary field.  Junior and senior students in other majors with an interest in the course topic are very welcome to join; the course does not presuppose a familiarity with disability studies.

Fulfills the Cultural Diversity requirement as well as the Diversity requirement for the English major. 


494B Multicultural Literature


Beyond just teaching children letters, counting, and shames, children’s literature teaches individuals how to interact with one another based on their similarities and differences.  This seminar will explore how what is accepted and promoted as “appropriate” multicultural representation in literature for children and adolescent changes over time.  At a moment of intense American debates about immigration, demographic shifts, and marriage equality, we will explore issues of power and representation-who has the right to write, whose stories are worth telling, what version of those stories should one tell through focusing on literature for children, including picture books, stories, comics, and short novels.

Fulfills the Cultural Diversity requirement.

Prerequisites & Notes
Juniors and seniors only.

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