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Disability and the Avant-Garde

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The formal turn is well underway in Critical Disability Studies. Inaugurated by David Mitchell and Sharon Snyder’s Narrative Prosthesis, Robert McRuer’s Crip Theory, Tobin Siebers’ Disability Aesthetics, and Robin Blyn’s The Freak-Garde, the formal analysis of works by disabled artists and about disabled subjects seeks to analyze and taxonomize disability aesthetics in their manifold structures, modes, and styles. As Siebers persuasively argues, “disability aesthetics” both “names a critical concept that seeks to emphasize the presence of disability in the tradition of representation” and “refuses to recognize representation of the healthy body—and its definition of harmony, integrity, and beauty—as the sole criteria of the aesthetic.” The refusal of “normative” formal values that Siebers and others see as so fundamental to disability aesthetics is also a defining feature of the avant-garde, which Timothy Yu argues is “an aesthetic and a social grouping, defined as much by its formation of a distinctive kind of community as by its revolutionary aesthetics.” But though avant-garde art and literature of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries are filled with what Michael Bérubé calls “deployments of disability”—that include both characterization and narrative form—and though many of history’s most famous avant-garde artists and writers have been disabled, the centrality of disability to the avant-garde remains undertheorized.

Earlier Event: March 1
2019 EGSA GWU Symposium: "Passing"
Later Event: March 10
Spring Travel