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Sunday, February 5, 2012

Future of Disability Studies, Spring 2012 Events at Columbia University


Columbia University

Spring 2012 Event Schedule

“Showing Spine,” A Lecture/Performance by Alice Sheppard, Response by Chris Baswell
February 9, 6-8pm | James Room, 4th Floor Barnard Hall

Put your back into it.  Show some spine.  Embodying metaphor in a disabled dancing body.  Spine comes either from the Latin or Old French words for “thorn,” “prickle,” or, yes, “spine.”  Botanically speaking, it is, “[a] stiff, sharp-pointed process produced or growing from the wood of a plant, consisting of a hardened or irregularly developed branch, petiole, stipule, or other part; a thorn; a similar process developed on fruits or leaves.”  Anatomically, it is, “[o]ne or other of several sharp-pointed slender processes of various bones.”  Eventually, the dictionary slides down to “any natural formation having a slender sharp-pointed form” (OED: subscription only).

Before you get to the definition or, more accurately, the list of usages for the word for the backbone of vertebrates, the dictionary descriptions stress not the rigidity of the backbone itself – though rigidizing and stabilizing are some of what a backbone does – but the relationship between the outgrowths, the thorny processes, and the word itself. I'm caught here. Intrigued.

Alice Sheppard has been a musician and professor of medieval literature; she grew up in England and moved to the United States in 1991.  Alice came to dance late in life; she began to explore movement in response to a dare from disabled dancer Homer Avila.  She soon discovered that dance was a passion.  Alice made her professional debut in New York with Infinity Dance Theater as a wheelchair dancer.  She loves to explore a wide variety of dance forms; she is particularly interested in work that challenges conventional understandings of the relationship between dance and disability.  She joined the AXIS Dance Company in 2006.

“Pregnant Men: Modernism, Disability, and Biofuturity in Nightwood,” A lecture by Michael Davidson, Response by Mara Mills
March 8, 6-8pm | Sulzberger Parlor, 3rd Floor Barnard Hall

This talk investigates the idea of biofuturity within modernism, focusing specifically on the figure of male maternity in Djuna Barnes’s Nightwood. Although the figure of the pregnant male occurs in ancient and classical literature it surfaces significantly among modernist works–Joyce’s Ulysses, Pound’s Cantos, Freud’s Schreber case–at a moment when biological life was being re-imagined through the optic of eugenic science and comparative anatomy. The talk extends Lee Edelman’s critique of reproductive futurity in No Future to suggest that dystopic biological futures were being imagined around figures such as Dr. O’Connor whose desire, as he says, to “boil some good man’s potatoes and toss up a child...every nine months”  reinforces his queer identity and annexes the importance of disability in many of the novel’s characters. Modernist cultural representations of the pregnant male foreground the spectacle of reproduction loosed from its putative organic site in the female body and displace it elsewhere–the test tube, the surrogate womb, the male body–and, not insignificantly–the novel. This displacement is both a queering and cripping of normative attitudes toward reproductive health and the futures that such embodiment implies. It also warps traditional narrative attitudes towards biological futurity when the family romance no longer reproduces the heterosexual body. Barnes’s novel is not as a baroque anomaly among stream of consciousness narratives but as perhaps the representative modernist novel by offering an inside narrative of individuals interpellated within biological and racial science.

Screening and Discussion of Girlfriend (Justin Lerner, 2010)
Discussants Elizabeth Emens and Maura Spiegel
April 26, 6-8:30pm | 104 Jerome Greene Hall

Evan is a young man with Down Syndrome who lives with his mother in a poor, working-class town hit hard by the recent economic recession.  When he unexpectedly comes into a large amount of money, Evan uses it to romantically pursue Candy, a girl from town whom he has loved since high school.  Candy, now a barely-employed single mom, is facing financial debt, possible eviction, and the inability to rid herself of Russ, her abusive and volatile ex-boyfriend.  In no position to turn down Evan’s offers of financial support, Candy hesitantly accepts his gifts, which causes the pair to enter a complicated emotional entanglement.  When Russ catches on to Candy and Evan’s relationship, all three of them become intertwined in a complex triangle of secrets, jealousy and revenge.  Despite his many hardships and the seeming impossibility of Candy being able to return his love, Evan struggles to remain a resilient, pure embodiment of human compassion.

These events are sponsored by The Columbia University Center for the Critical Analysis of Social DIfference, The Wilen Seminar of the Barnard College Center for Research on Women, Columbia Law School, and the Columbia Program in American Studies.

The venue is wheelchair accessible. If you need other accommodations related to disability, please contact Lindsay Van Tine:

All are welcome!

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