David Mitchell Lecture: "The Capacities of Incapacity: Disability and Neoliberal Novels of Embodiment"
David Mitchell, 2012 Norman G. Freehling Visiting Professor at the Institute for the Humanities
As a response to liberal disability representational strategies born in the wake of the civil rights era, portrayals of people with disabilities under neoliberalism have increasingly tended to approach “deviant” bodies as sites of invention. Rather than rehabilitate disability on the basis of social constructivist claims that disability is in the environment and not in the person (the founding insight of disability social models), neoliberal novels of embodiment explore disability as sites of radical human mutation wherein much of the creativity of the species lay. Here I call these surprising representational reversals of disabled peoples’ innovation: the capacities of incapacity. In anti-normative novels, portrayals of alternative embodiments demonstrate ways in which a material engagement with disability may offer ways out of the social constructivist impasse: i.e. not only are bodies imprinted by environments, but also that environments are imprinted by bodies as well. At the fore of this argument is the anti-normative novel’s challenge to disability rights movements as complicit in neoliberal homogenization processes at work in late Capitalism – namely, those aspects of global fetishization that threaten to rid more radical formulations of disability of the promise they hold for fashioning alternative lives.
David Mitchell is the 2012 Freehling Visiting Professor at the Institute for the Humanities, University of Michigan, and associate professor in the College of Education at Temple University. His background and interests in American Cultural Studies include: U.S. literary history, U.S. minority cultures, representations of people with disabilities in film, media, literature and art, documentary film art, and youth subculture movements. His publications include 3 books The Body and Physical Difference (1997); Narrative Prosthesis (2000); Cultural Locations of Disability (2006)], dozens of journal and review articles, four award-winning documentary films: Vital Signs: Crip Culture Talks Back (1995); A World Without Bodies (2002); Self Preservation (2005); Disability Takes on the Arts (2006), and the five-volume Encyclopedia of Disability (2005). David has also curated two international disability film festivals and an exhibition for the National Vietnam Veterans Art Museum on disability history. Currently, he is completing work on two new book-length manuscripts; the first, Ablenationalism and the Geo-Politics of Disability, analyses the developments of global disability culture under neoliberalism, and the second, The Capacities of Incapacity: Disability and the the Anti-Normative American Novel, examines shifts in liberal and neoliberal portrayals of people with disabilities in the wake of U.S. Civil Rights Movements.
Part of Integrating disability: multi-sensory translation, bodies of dis/color, and neurodiversity, a year-long collaboration between the U-M Institute for Humanities, National Center for Institutional Diversity, and the University of Michigan Initiative on Disability Studies.