«A dissertation submitted in partial satisfaction of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in English In the Graduate Division Of ...»
Ability Underneath: Bodies in the Literary Imagination
A dissertation submitted in partial satisfaction of the
requirements for the degree of
Doctor of Philosophy
University of California, Berkeley
Committee in charge:
Professor Susan Schweik, Chair
Professor Elizabeth Abel
Professor Judith Butler
Ability Underneath: Bodies in the Literary Imagination
Dominika Bednarska Doctor of Philosophy in English University of California, Berkeley Professor Susan Schweik, Chair My dissertation explores conceptions of ability and ableization—a term I coin to describe the way in which ability norms can inform and influence and underlie conceptions of aesthetics—in trans-Atlantic twentieth-century literature. I contend that ability not only underlies fundamental understandings of aesthetics, but also of gender and sexuality as well as temporality. By ability, I mean the way that bodies are conceived or perceived as able. Constructions of ability can be relatively narrow, privileging those with specific kinds of bodies and limiting or discounting those without them. But they can also include a broad construction of ability that makes space for a variety of bodies: different ways of functioning and of using the body to perceive the world. I view ability (and its concomitant, disability) as a broad-reaching term which functions as a unifier for a range of practices, attitudes, and discourses around bodily and psychological variations in function or perceptions of those variations. My project is one of the few to explore multiple conceptions of ability and their impact on textual representation as well as on issues in queer and gender studies. Robert McRuer’s work in Crip Theory applies queer theory to concepts of disability, but focuses on how these ideologies are formed within and against neo-liberal capitalism. While I utilize queer theory, my work seeks to get at a more nuanced understanding of how disability and sexuality interact as well as how considering disability can reformulate our understandings of temporality.
1. A Cripped Erotic: Gender and Disability in James Joyce’s “Nausicaa” I argue that “Nausicaa” in James Joyce’s Ulysses produces what I call a “cripped erotic” through its counter-narrative to disabled sexuality, and alsochallenges ocularcentric constructions of desire and heternonormative constructions of sex itself. Past critical interpretations have focused on Gerty’s disempowerment and Bloom’s objectification of her, in a scene which describes, from both characters’ perspectives, Bloom watching Gerty on a swing while fantasizing about her. Moving beyond the view of Gerty as a passive victim, more recent critics have highlighted her agency in the scene. My reading looks at these most recent interpretations and examines how considering Gerty’s limp complicates the ways in which her objectification functions. When it is considered in relation to assumptions about the asexuality and undesirability of people with disabilities, Gerty’s objectification and seemingly narcissistic tendencies take on a very different meaning. Both Bloom’s and Gerty’s oscillations about disability’s relationship to desirability reveal that norms of gender are built upon norms of ability. The performative nature of both of these sets of norms allows for a gendered disabled subjectivity.
2. Cripping Time: From Woolf to Haraway
I use Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway and On Being Ill to examine how disability and queerness function in conjunction with one another to critique (hetero)normative temporal modes. I also consider how disability fails to conform entirely to queer time, perhaps suggesting that the embodiment of illness and disability reconfigures these theories. Mrs. Dalloway and On Being Ill lay the groundwork for theorizing disability and temporality. I argue for both the inextricability of gender and ability norms and how Woolf’s writing can be brought into conversation with contemporary theories on queer temporality and futurity.
Woolf’s work suggests that illness constructs an alternate sense of temporality that contradicts masculine norms of public time. Here, I build on and critique Judith Halberstam’s work on queer time and also draw on Donna Haraway’s work to theorize a disability or “crip” temporality.
3. Playing with Difference: Disability in Toni Morrison’s Novels
Toni Morrison’s novels The Bluest Eye, Beloved, Sula, and Tar Baby demonstrate a narrow conception of ability that stems from an appropriation of disability. As Morrison explores how racialization functions in texts by white authors, I examine how ableization functions in her own texts. Disability functions as a stand-in for other identities, specifically race and class. I apply Morrison’s writing on the under-acknowledgement and appropriation of race within white-authored canonical American literature to her own writing with regard to disability, arguing that her use of disability as a metaphor mimics the same kind of ideological strategies that she is critical of in relation to white-authored canonical texts. My extensive critique of Morrison differs dramatically from the celebratory way her novels have been read by major disability studies scholars, Ato Quayson and Rosemarie Garland-Thomson. I argue that she uses disabled characters to enable the plot and highlight nondisabled protagonists, and that when Morrison deemphasizes disability her characters are more fully developed.
4. Written on Several Bodies: Examining Ideologies of Gender, Sexuality and Ability in Jeanette Winterson My final chapter, on Jeanette Winterson’s Written on the Body, complicates the neat division between broad and narrow constructions of ability. In placing the novel alongside Winterson’s editorial about deaf lesbians attempting to have a deaf child, we can see the ways in which heteronormativity and ableism are linked as oppressive structures. The novel makes an extensive critique of the medicalization of the body and connects this critique to heteronormative logics and structures of reproduction. In contrast, Winterson’s public objection works by affirming rather than criticizing these same connections. Part of the reason for this reversal is seen in Winterson’s own writings about the nature of art and her perception that modernist writing relies upon an able body in order to be appreciated. Ironically, the authors that Winterson uses to support her claims include both Woolf and Joyce. Deaf poetics, I show, provides an alternative to Winterson’s conception of the aesthetic and helps to further theorize what possibilities a broader conception of ability might bring to our understandings of art.
Introduction – 1 Chapter One: A Cripped Erotic: Gender and Disability in James Joyce’s “Nausicaa” – 15 Chapter Two: Cripping Time: From Woolf to Haraway – 30 Chapter Three: Playing with Difference: Disability in Toni Morrison’s Novels – 53 Chapter Four: Written on Several Bodies: Ideologies of Gender, Sexuality and Ability in the Writing of Jeanette Winterson – 80 Endnotes – 99
EDUCATION MA/Ph.D., English, University of California, Berkeley, expected 2011
• Dissertation: “Ability Underneath: Bodies in the Literary Imagination” Committee: Susan Schweik (Director), Elizabeth Abel, Judith Butler (Rhetoric).
B.A., English Literature, Brown University, Providence, RI, With Honors 2002
• Holloway Postdoctoral Fellowship, UC Berkeley, 2011-2012
• Dean’s Normative Time Fellowship, UC Berkeley, 2008-2009
• Bergen Travel Grant – full expenses and tuition paid for an international 10-day course on disability, illness, poverty and gender at the University of Bergen in Bergen, Norway,
• Graduate Equal Opportunity Multi-Year Fellowship, UC Berkeley, 2003-2008
• Research-At-Brown Grant, Brown University, 2002
• Nomination by Honors Director to university-wide thesis competition, Brown University,
• Lotte Kaliski Scholarship, 1998-2002
PUBLICATIONS• “What They See is What You Get: How Perceptions of Disability and Queerness Shape Medical Treatment.” Journal of Medical Humanities. Submitted.
• “A Cripped Erotic: Gender and Disability in James Joyce’s ‘Nausicaa.’” James Joyce Quarterly. Submitted.
• Poetry published in Wordgathering (forthcoming), Ghosting the Atom: Reflections After the Bomb (2006), What I Want From You: An Anthology of East Bay Lesbian Poets (2006) and Bellevue Literary Review (2008).
• “Expanding Under the Radar: Reflecting on Jess Curtis’ Gravity.” Niet Normaal: Difference On Display. Eds. Ine Gevers et al. Amsterdam: NAI Publishers (forthcoming).
• “Rethinking Access: Why Technology Isn’t the Only Answer.” The Culture of Efficiency Ed. Sharon Kleinman. New York: Peter Lang Publishing, 2009. 158-169.
• “This Book Will Save Your Life by A.M. Homes.” (Book Review). Encyclopedia of Contemporary Fiction. Fact on File (forthcoming).
• “Passing Last Summer” Nobody Passes: Rejecting the Rules of Gender and Conformity.
Ed. Mattilda a.k.a. Matt Bernstein Sycamore. Emeryville: Seal Press, 2006. 71-82.
CONFERENCE PRESENTATIONSiii • “A Cripped Erotic: Gender and Disability in James Joyce’s ‘Nausicaa.’” Society for Disability Studies. San Jose, CA. June 2011.
• “Disability and Femme Identity.” Femme No Restrictions, Oakland, CA. August 2010.
• “Enabling What? Exploring Disability, Gender and Sexuality.” Butch Voices, Oakland, CA. August 2009.
• “Theorizing Crip Time.” Society for Disability Studies, Tucson, AZ. June 2009.
• “Temporality, Gender and Disability in Mrs. Dalloway.” Society for Disability Studies, CUNY Baruch. June 2008.
• “Landscape in James Joyce’s ‘Nausicaa’: Rethinking Desire in Ulysses.” Berkeley-Stanford Conference, UC Berkeley. May 2008.
• “Critique Through the City: Examining Ideologies of Gender and Disability in Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway.” (dis)junctions 2008, UC Riverside. April 2008.
• “Critique Through the City: Examining Ideologies of Gender and Disability in Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway.” Remapping Intellectual Spaces. Intermountain Graduate Conference, Logan, UT. April 2008.
• “Written on Several Bodies: Examining Ideologies of Gender, Sexuality and Ability in Jeanette Winterson.” Biocultures: Science, Technology, Culture, Humanity. UIC Chicago, IL. November 2007.
• “Written on Several Bodies: Examining Ideologies of Gender, Sexuality and Ability in Jeannette Winterson.” Northeast Popular/American Culture Association, Worcester MA.
• “Misappropriating Disability: The Limits of Morrison’s Novels.” Rewriting the Body, UC Riverside. April 2007.
• “Physical Disability as Metaphor in Toni Morrison’s Tar Baby.” Society for Disability Studies, Baltimore, MD. June 2003.
• “Breaking Down Binaries: Using Judith Butler to Theorize Disability.” Society for Disability Studies, Oakland, CA. June 2002.
READINGS AND PERFORMANCES
• Performer, “My Body Love Story.” Society for Disability Studies. San Jose, CA. June 2011.
• Performer, “My Body Love Story.” CounterPULSE. San Francisco, CA. May 2011.
• Performer, “My Body Love Story.” The Marsh. San Francisco, CA. November 2010.
• Performer, Readings by and About Lesbians with Disabilities. San Francisco, CA. October 2010.
• Performer, Modern Times Bookshow. Modern Times. San Francisco, CA. September 2010.
• Performer. “My Body Love Story.” Femme 2010 No Restrictions. Oakland, CA. August 2010.
• Artist in Residence. AIRspace Residency Program. Garage Theater. San Francisco. January 2010 – June 2010.
• Performer. “My Body Love Story” The Garage Allstars. San Francisco. June 2010.
• Performer. Krip Salon. LGBT Center. San Francisco, CA. June 2010.
• Feature. Queer Open Mic. Modern Times Bookstore. San Francisco, CA. May 2010.
• Reading. Contributing Artist for Lineage Project: Matchmaking in the Archives. LGBT Historical Society. San Francisco, CA. November 2009.
• Performer. Krip Salon. LGBT Historical Society. San Francisco, CA. June 2009.
• Feature. Works In Progress reading series. San Leandro Community Church. San Leandro, CA. March 2009.
• Performer. Krip Salon. Femina Potens. San Francisco, CA. November 2008.
• “Expanding Under the Radar: Reflecting on Jess Curtis’ Gravity.” Dance Under Construction, UC Berkeley. April 2008.
• “Expanding Under the Radar: Reflecting on Jess Curtis’ Gravity.” SF Marsh, San Francisco. May 2007.
• “Expanding Under the Radar: Reflecting on Jess Curtis’ Gravity.” Sins Invalid, San Francisco. April 2007.
• Feature. Holloway Poetry Series. March 2005.
TEACHING EXPERIENCECourses as Primary Instructor: Chose readings, designed syllabus, taught grammar and style, conducted discussion, and evaluated essays as principal instructor for composition course.
“The Power of I: Literary Constructions of the Self” (Introductory Composition) Fall 2009 – Fall Readings included Karr’s The Liar’s Club, Kincaid’s My Brother, Frankfurt’s On Bullshit, Hillman’s Intersex: For Lack of a Better Word.
“Getting Real: Exploring Passing and Authenticity” (Introductory Composition) Fall 2007 Readings included Larsen’s Passing, Morrison’s Tar Baby, The Crafts’, Running a Thousand Miles for Freedom, and Clare’s Exile and Pride.
Courses Taught as a Teaching Assistant: Conducted discussion sections and evaluated undergraduate essays under the supervision of a faculty member.