Communication and Construction of Monstrous Embodiment
June 15-16, 2012

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Holiday Blog Break in December

We're not sure about you but we are certainly shocked to find that November is almost over already! Due to the usual winter holiday madness, we're sorry to say that we won't be able to maintain our usual blog post schedule. There will therefore be fewer posts throughout December and early January, especially around Christmas/New Years Eve. Hopefully you won't really notice because you will all be too busy having a wonderful holiday season yourselves!

However, by mid-January we will be back to our three-posts-a-week(ish) schedule, and I'm sure we will have many new articles, films, and online finds to share. Just don't forget about us completely - if we find anything fantastic or have any exciting news over the holidays we'll be sure to pull ourselves away from the mulled wine long enough to keep you in the loop!

Just a reminder that the deadline for paper abstracts is 31 January 2012, and that we will continue to reply to all submissions and queries (though you might see a slower response time). Once the deadline has passed and we have put together a schedule, we can look at posting specific information about fees, registration, travel, accommodation, and the like. So keep watching this space!

Once again, we are so grateful to have received such a wonderful reception of our conference, and such fantastic support all around! Thank you all for your interest and your kind words. Although it's still well in advance we'd like to wish you all a fantastic (and fantastically grotesque) holiday season and a wonderful new year!

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Sensuality as Disability - Victorians and Precocious Puberty

Since this week (22 November to be precise) marked the start of Disability History Month here in the UK, we thought that it was a  good time to draw your attention to a special issue of Nineteenth-Century Gender Studies from 2008, which explores the subject of "Critical Transformations: Disability and the Body in Nineteenth-Century Britain". Best of all, the issue, guest edited by Mark Mossman and Martha Stoddard-Holmes, is available free online in full.

Pieter Paaw, "Skeleton and Skull of a
Child." (1633), © University of Toronto
Library, 2003 
The journal offers a number of interesting articles exploring the intersection of gender and disability, such as Joyce L. Huff's "The Domesticated Monster: Freakishness and Disability in Fitz-James O'Brien's 'What Was It?'". Yet what is perhaps most interesting within the context of this conference (and this blog) is the inclusion of M. Jeanne Peterson's "Precocious Puberty and the Victorian Medical Gaze".

Peterson's article considers the responses on the part of Victorian medical reports to cases of precocious puberty and the way that they were tied to anxieties surrounding conceptions of gender, bodily normalcy, even the state of childhood itself. In so doing, she demonstrates, to quote Mossman and Stoddard-Holmes's introduction to the issue, "the fecundity of visual and structural disruptions of “normal” masculinity and femininity for narratives of pathology and normalcy." The introduction goes on to note that the article
"work[s] on the continuum on which the normal and the extraordinary both reside, noting the various points (and convergences) of discomfort, apprehension, attraction, and wonder these “extraordinary cases” produce"
In consciously choosing to place early-onset puberty within the discourse of disability, Peterson acknowledges that her decision may raise some questions, given that,
"precocious puberty would seem more a case of early ability rather than disability. But early puberty can also be understood as deviance, as straying from norms of bodily development. In the phenomena of early puberty doctors found amazement, desire, and dread."
In Peterson's study, then, the precocious development of physical markers of puberty, those undeniable indicators of the body's eroticism, its sensuality, become in and of themselves an illustration of disability. This definition of the preciously pubescent body would seem to bind Victorian constructions of disability, of exceptional bodies, to the sensual body in a way which is often overlooked. Sensuality here stands at the very core of disability, in stark contrast to a traditional conception in which the senses,  if not deliberately removed, are at the very least forgotten.

Monday, 21 November 2011

XXY: Meditating Beauty

We already posted on the upcoming Biomedical Ethics Film Festival taking place in Edinburgh from the 25th to 27th of November (this weekend!), which will feature numerous films exploring the topics of medical ethics and alternative bodies.

In today's blog post, we would like to recommend a fascinating film which deals the human body, rights of an individual and the oppressive medical gaze: the 2007 Argentinean film XXY written and directed by Lucia Puenzo. This coming of age drama about Alex, a 15 year old intersex teenager, is a deeply moving and atmospheric tale focusing primarily on love, family and acceptance. The film is also a meditation on beauty, as the story is permeated by images of the seaside, various sea animals, and human bodies, creating a stunning natural visual mosaic. The film has received widespread critical acclaim and won a series of awards. In the words of one film critic, Emanuel Levy, the film reportedly broke a cultural silence or taboo surrounding intersex, but did not “unfold as a medical or clinical case, or even documentary based on facts or medical realism.” Instead, the film offers an emotional and penetrating exploration of teenagers' lives, their parents, nature, a small community and ultimately - humanity.

Click here to view the trailer for this enchanting story.

Friday, 18 November 2011

Examining Connections: Postcolonialism and Disability Studies

Bringing a critical disability studies perspective into postcolonial literature presents a particular critical challenge since postcolonial and disability Studies frequently differ, intersect and/or overlap. Mark Sherry's intriguing article (Post)colonising Disability examines this complex intersection, by questioning categories of disability, postcolonial subjects, concepts like hybridity, ambivalence, exile, diaspora and others - within disability studies. The paper argues, in Sherry's words, ''that researchers need to be far more thoughtful and careful in theorizing of this relationship. Postcolonialism should not be understood as simply a metaphor for the experience of disability; nor should the terms “colonialism” or “disability” be rhetorically employed as a symbol of the oppression involved in a completely different experience.''

After discussing the definitions of postcolonialism and disability, Sherry examines the extensive metaphorical connections present in both discourses by closely looking at specific scholarly works and their connotations and finally offers more productive approaches to these issues, to increase awareness of using complex metaphors and thus avoid conflating certain concepts.
Sherry concludes that disability studies "need to examine the subtle forms of resistance that can be theorized in more complex ways than a simple model of unilateral oppression would suggest'' and postcolonial literature needs to focus more on issues of embodiment, creating a "more theoretically rigorous approach to both the study of postcolonialism and disability."

The recommended article is free access; however, if you have problems opening it, feel free to contact us, we love hearing from you as well as share! The same goes for any of our recommended readings!

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

A Monster Observatory

One of our keynotes, Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, shared this fantastic link with us via his Twitter account, and we wanted to pass it along to our readers as well (share and share alike - it's a good motto).

With a name like A Monster Observatory and a tagline that runs "Cultural Teratology: Freaks, Monsters, the Grotesque", it should be pretty clear why we've taken an interest in this blog. However, if you needed convincing, we would refer you to the most recent post as of today, "Thinking About Monster Theory (Seven Theses)" - ten points if you can guess what it is about.

The site is managed by Dr Ian McCormick, and so far features a wealth of posts on mangled torsos, disability and the fourth plinth, and conjoined twins amongst other topics - in other words, every fascinating aspect of monstrosity, disability, and the grotesque body. If you're reading this blog, then A Monster Observatory probably deserves a spot on your bookmarks toolbar.

We'd also like to take this opportunity to remind everyone that we do acknowledge all inquiries and submissions, so if you have sent in a proposal or a question and haven't heard back, do get in touch. Likewise if you think there's something that our blog readers might find interesting or useful - articles, books (ideally available online), art or museum exhibitions, other blogs, even other conferences. You can send it our way via e-mail, Facebook, or Twitter (all information on the sidebar to your right). Pick your poison - we'd love to hear from you on any platform!

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Monstrous Mothers in Old English Literature

If you are passionate about Old and Middle English Literature and monstrosity, take a look at Dana Oswald's illuminating article Unnatural Women, Invisible Mothers: Monstrous Female Bodies in 'Wonders of the East', reflecting on the Anglo Saxon mother as an 'object of shameful excess' which 'exceeds the understanding of literate monks and noblemen' and is rarely featured in Old English literature. More specifically, the article addresses mothers in Wonders of the East, an Old English prose piece written around AD 1000, which either remains invisible or function as gender hybrids, challenging 'the integrity of the sexed and gendered body and also reconfigure the very nature of reproduction and maternity.' Wonders of the East is a text populated with monsters, especially those posessing human and animal characteristics like fauns, sirens and hippocentaurs - still considered as human, 'visibly monstrous through lack, excess or hibridity.'
Oswald writes on monstrous mothers:

Their monstrosity relies upon their sex and gender status, and therefore, by definition, men cannot be part of their communities. Although motherhood is suggested and then occluded frequently in this text when we are told monsters are born in the East, such is not the case for the two female monsters in 'Wonders'. Rather, I argue that their specific kinds of monstrosity rely on their possession of bodies that are both masculine and feminine, and indeed, on the very dangers such hybrid bodies suggest. Although the text does not say so explicitly, it subtly suggests that, because there are no male members in these exclusively female communities, perhaps what is most monstrous about these women is that to become mothers, they do not require men.

Dana Oswald is also author of Monsters, Gender and Sexuality in Medieval English Literature, where she reflects on monstrosity and Wonders of the East, Beowulf, Mandeville's Travels, Morte Arthure, Sir Gowther and many others.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Code of the Freaks: forthcoming feature-length documentary

We were quite interested to hear about the upcoming film, Code of the Freaks. The feature-length documentary being developed by a group of film-makers based in Chigago aims to explore the depiction and construction of disability in Hollywood movies. Their website sets out the film as "an irreverent project" seeking to "stimulate critical discussion among diverse movie lovers. Tracing themes of representation from the 1920's to the present, we examine how movie images shape the public's understanding of disabled people":
Production still from Code of Freaks
"Audiences have internalized these coded images. Their narratives are ultimately projected onto disabled people in everyday life. It’s hard to find a disabled person who doesn’t have an absurdly ridiculous story about experiences with total strangers while simply walking down the street. These experiences to a great extent mirror what the public learns about disability through movies.
Our goal is to produce a feature-length documentary that will deconstruct, lampoon, and critique uses of the disabled character in film... Our process involves conducting these discussions with diverse disabled and non-disabled audiences to learn just how images of disability shape the social consciousness of disability."
The project also involves several events, public discussions organised around themes illustrated by Hollywood film montages cut with critical questions. Each month, the project's blog will feature a clip about a selection of films, and a trailer is already available online.

The film will no doubt offer a fascinating exploration into the larger cultural representation of disability as well as the Hollywood depictions, and hopefully will raise some discussion about the mutual influence that the two have on historical and contemporary constructions of disabled bodies. We would be especially interested to consider what role the sensualisation/eroticisation of extraordinary bodies might play in these filmed representations, if at all, and its significance.

Friday, 4 November 2011

Curious Pursuits Exhibition, Manchester

For the Victorianists amongst you, we would like to direct attention to a new Art Historian collective based in Manchester, Porter & Jenkinson. Their mission statement should prove intriguing not just to scholars focusing on the nineteenth century, but also artists, art historians, and those interested in the medical humanities:
Vegetable Lamb from The Museum of Garden History, London
"Art Historian collective Porter & Jenkinson aim to showcase the best contemporary art of a curious and unusual nature. Through exploring the dark, strange and depraved themes of the Victorian era they curate exhibitions of works that respond directly to these ideas. They intend to bring to the foreground these forgotten aesthetics and to explore the responses and reactions in contemporary society."
Porter & Jenkinson's first exhibition, Curious Pursuits, will be taking place from the 2-29th February 2012 at the Portico Library in Manchester, and they are still accepting submissions until 31 December if you happen to be of artistic skill. If you are not so lucky, it should still prove a fascinating exhibition, well worth a trip to Manchester if you're not based in the area.

If Manchester seems a bit far to go, then their website - while still relatively new - is already exhibiting some interesting content, and we look forward to seeing what other finds they will post next.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Male Monsters and Phallic Panic

What is the role of monsters in contemporary culture and cinema? How do we connect them to current issues of sexuality (sensuality) and gender?
Barbara Creed explores these issues in Phallic Panic: Film, Horror and the Primal Uncanny (2005) through figures like Frankenstein, Jack the Ripper, Freddy Krueger, the Fly, Dracula and others, using Freud's notion of the 'uncanny' and focusing on sources of horror like the woman, death and the animal.
Panizza Allmark reflects on the idea of phallic panic in her illuminating review of the work:
The uncanny male monster arouses dread and horror and unsettles the symbolic order. Thus he disturbs identity, disintegrates meaning and is a point of resistance and rebellion. This is what Creed terms as 'phallic panic'. It is generated from an uncanny form of anxiety about the disruption of the phallocentric symbolic order in which the monster is constructed by and within. Hence, significantly, Creed highlights that the male monster sometimes registers a cry not of the victim but of the monster itself. It is a cry that alludes to the fragile concepts of masculinity. Significantly, it is a cry that resonates a phallic panic.
This fragility of masculinity and its constructions is reflected in the work's questioning of phallic power ans shown in horror films. Annelike Smellik examines these issues in her Senses of Cinema review of the work:

Through a type of analysis that is typical of early 1990s film theory, Creed advances her main argument that the horror film questions phallic power by undermining the notion of a coherent, stable, and civilised masculinity. By collapsing boundaries between inside and outside, man and woman, man and animal, life and death, the horror film points to the possible collapse of patriarchal civilisation or, at least, to the desire for such a collapse. The horror film thus foregrounds the knowledge that civilisation is a myth. This raises an uncanny form of anxiety that she terms “phallic panic”. For Creed, the horror film discloses a fundamental anxiety about phallic masculinity in contemporary society.

Smelik's review also discusses the binary oppositions present in the work, concluding that 'although Creed obviously argues that the horror film questions and even undoes this binary opposition, the book unwittingly ends up reinforcing it.' However, the work also 'brings horror back to the primal uncanny' and thus represents a useful source for reflecting and discussing the modern male monster, the psychoanalytical approach, issues of masculinity, castration anxiety and power relations as depicted in horror films and popular culture.