Saturday, February 20, 2010
Medieval Disability Studies
In the comments to an announcement that reaffirms for me, once again, the revolutionary promise of postmedieval, Michael Pryke mentioned that his "postmedieval reading group" at York University (about which he was supposed to guest post at ITM, but never did, the lying bastard) might turn to medieval disability studies next.
I've been thinking quite a bit about that topic lately because I have a formerly disabled student undertaking an independent study with me on disability theory and the Middle Ages. We've been, quite to my surprise, unable to find a satisfying corpus of criticism in the field. Vigorous outside of medieval studies, disability studies seems always to be about to arrive in the discipline, but never quite has accomplished a full advent. We've noted work in the area many times here at ITM: guest posts by Greg Carrier and Alison Purnell; I blogged Chris Baswell's disability studies plenary at NCS Swansea; MOR has reminded us that work in the field tends to get forgotten, so that disability studies keeps being hailed as 'field-inaugurating'; Charlotte Allen had a tizzy over the subject; it figured (as it should) in our discussion of race; I wrote a piece on monsters and disability for a conference in Salerno, but threw it away in the wake of Sept. 11; MIMs is not a disability studies book per se, but wouldn't have developed as it did without the field (and without the reading group I once belonged to along with Rosemarie Garland Thomson and Robert McRuer).
So, disability studies makes frequent appearances on this blog, as it has at medieval studies conferences, and in some journal articles, but outside of Irina Metzler's under-cited, overpriced book and Edward Wheatley's forthcoming monograph on medieval blindness (from the press description it is very difficult to tell how cognizant this book is of the greater field) ... well, what is there? My student and I have been reading some classics in the field and then seeing if they travel back in time or not. So this weekend I've been perusing -- and very much enjoying -- Georgina Kleege's memoir of 'coming out as blind,' Sight Unseen. What I didn't realize until I began the volume is that Kleege was married to the medievalist Nick Howe. He has left an evident imprint throughout her work ... and what I'd like to do next with this book is to follow Kleege's influence on Howe's own scholarship, which -- now that I think about it -- has much to say to the topics of vision, cognition, identity, beauty and perception.
So maybe disability studies arrived in medieval studies quite a while ago, only I wasn't looking for it in the right place.