Disability in Literature (Fall 2014) Class Lecture and Discussion Notes

I'll be putting info & handouts on assignments up at the top here. Beneath the handout links, you'll find notes for lecture and discussion in class. I'll keep the most recent material at the top.


Here is a link to the News Articles found by your classmates.

Here is a link to the film log.

Here is a link to the handout about the one-page response papers.

Here is a link to the mid-term paper assignment, which is due Tuesday, October 14th.

Here is a link to the final project handout.

Here is the list of pre-approved books for the final project (you should still check w/ me for approval to make sure someone else hasn't chosen your book!).

Recent/Current Events Articles for discussion

I will update these as things come up; older articles we discussed in class are down at the bottom of the page.



For our dicussion of Still Alice

Big news! Still Alice is now a feature film starring Julianne Moore, Alec Baldwin, and Kristen Stewart. It has been playing at film festivals to critical acclaim.

There's a recent(Feb 2012) interesting New York Times Wellblog post about how our culture copes with Alzheimer's here.

Retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor wrote a New York Times Opinion piece that you can read here.

O'Connor speaks from experience; her husband suffered from Alzheimer's, and during his later stages, while he was in a nursing home, he fell in love with another patient. There are some details on her story here and here. The New York Times Story, "Love in the time of Dementia" has an excellent discussion of the O'Connors and the larger questions involved.

Pat Summit, the coach of the University of Tennessee's women's basketball team, was diagnosed in the summer of 2011 with early onset Alzheimer's. The Pat Summit Foundation works to raise awareness of Alzheimer's. The University of Tennessee will be dedicating Pat Summit Plaza to celebrate the coach. You can read an earlier story about her situation here. There's another story (December 2011) at the Washington Post. There's a more recent (April 2012) follow-up to this story, including at least one commentator who thinks that Summit should step down from her position. Summitt stepped down from her position in . On April 16th, 2012, she stepped down from her position. In an October 2012 article, she claims that she felt forced to step down from the job.

There are other related forms of dementia that are the focus of recent articles. You may be interested in this New York Times story about Frontotemporal dementia.


For our discussion of "The Yellow Wallpaper" and "What's Wrong with Me?"

Here's a link to "The Yellow Wallpaper."

Here's a link to "What's Wrong with Me?"

To get into "The Yellow Wallpaper," we need to think a bit historically about how mental illness has been treated. Let's take a look at images by Théodore Géricault.

PBS created a timeline exploring some of the earliest treatments for mental illness.

The National Institute of Mental Health has a comprehensive guide to depression, including symptoms, diagnosis, treatments, and other useful information.

A 2004 NPR story discussed the treatment of depression, in a discussion with Andrew Solomon, the author of Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression.

Mental illness and depression specifically are increasingly common issues on college campuses, as described in this NPR story from 2011.

Here on our own campus, resources are available if you need help. Stop by the Counseling Center; it's free and confidential.

For our discussion of Harriet McBryde's excerpt from "Too Late to Die Young"

McBryde is probably most well-known for her public debatein 2002 with philosopher Peter Singer. There's a very good discussion of it at the New York Times called "Unspeakable Conversations."

Here is Harriet Mc Bryde Johnson's NYT obituary (she died in 2008).

The New York Times Magazine later that year published another obituary/story about McBryde Johnson that was actually written by Peter Singer; many of McBryde Johnson's friends and fellow activists were very upset about this.

McBryde was involved with the group Not Dead Yet, which opposes legalization of suicide and euthanasia, which they believe discriminates against the disabled.

There is a long interview with her on "It's Our Story."

In 2006, she gave a book talk/interview about Too Late to Die Young at the Holocaust Museum.

For our discussion of Jillian Weise's essay on Disability & Poetry (and her poems)

Here's a link to to the video I mentioned last time with a group of Deaf students at a summer camp doing Pharrell's "Happy."

Jillian Weise's main page is here: http://www.jillianweise.freeservers.com/

There is video of her reading from one of her poems here: http://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poet/jillian-weise (she comes on about 4 minutes in after the introduction). We should listen to "Cafe Loop" (6:08-9:05)

Weise has a great essay on "Going Cyborg" (about getting a new prosthetic leg) in the New York Times Magazine from 2010.

You can read her poem "Semi semi dash" and a brief essay (or is it a short poem) about the poem at the Poetry Society of America.

She has a great esssay -- "Cloning Disabled Subjects" -- about speaking at a conference, and how she identifies as a cyborg. Here's a brief quote from that essay that I find particularly notable:

Because my daily routine depends on an electrically charged knee—which sometimes misfires, runs out of power, and dies—I identify as a cyborg. This word is preferable to the other words I have been prescribed such as patient, handicapped, physically challenged, or even person with a disability. The word cyborg functions as both description and rebellion.

Weise's essay that we read -- "The Disability Rights Movement and the Legacy of Poets with Disabilities" -- is also online at the National Poetry Foundation.

Weise's poems from The Amputee's Guide to Sex will certain set us up for some discussion about sexuality and sexualized images (and desexualized images) of disability. On that topic, you might check out these American Apparel ad parodies featuring a model with a physical disability. The project, called American Able, is from 2010. Here's a statement from the photographer, Holly Norris:

‘American Able’ intends to, through spoof, reveal the ways in which women with disabilities are invisibilized in advertising and mass media. I chose American Apparel not just for their notable style, but also for their claims that many of their models are just ‘every day’ women who are employees, friends and fans of the company. However, these women fit particular body types. Their campaigns are highly sexualized and feature women who are generally thin, and who appear to be able-bodied. Women with disabilities go unrepresented, not only in American Apparel advertising, but also in most of popular culture. Rarely, if ever, are women with disabilities portrayed in anything other than an asexual manner, for ‘disabled’ bodies are largely perceived as ‘undesirable.’ In a society where sexuality is created and performed over and over within popular culture, the invisibility of women with disabilities in many ways denies them the right to sexuality, particularly within a public context.

There's a good article discussing both the strengths and problems of this installation here.

You might be interested in an editorial article at The Guardian by a woman with cerebral palsy: "Sex and Disability: Yes, the two can and should go together"

In our last session on poetry, we read a couple of poems by Cheryl Marie Wade ("Cripple Lullaby" and "I am Not one of the..."). Here is a link to a video she made -- "Disability Culture Rap" -- that includes her reading some of her work. There is also a video about her and her work here: http://disabilityhistorywiki.com/leadership/presentationpage.asp?presentation=9


For our discussion of Lynn Manning's play, "Shoot!"

You might want to take a look at Lynn Manning's website, which details his work.

Here's a video interview with Manning where he talks about how he became blind and his life in a sighted world.

There's more info about Manning's well-known play and performance, Weights, here.

You may also be interested in the theater group, Theater Breaking Through Barriers (formerly the Theater by the Blind) to learn more about this more than 30-year-old acting & theater group that performs Off-Broadway with an integrated cast of actors with a range of disabilities.

There are also numerous blind photographers; HBO recently did a documentary on them, called Dark Light: The Art of Blind Photographers.

Regarding Victimization & Disability (relating to Shoot! but also to other texts for the course)

According to the most recent crime statistics from the Department of Justice, the disabled are more likely to be the victims of violent crimes. A few notable stats:
-->Age-adjusted rate of nonfatal violent crime against persons with disabilities was 1.5 times higher than the rate for persons without disabilities.
-->Females with a disability had a higher victimization rate than males with a disability; males had a higher rate than females among those without a disability.

Here's a link to an NPR story about this (2009): http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2009/10/disabled_people_frequent_victi.html

Here's a link to some of the DOJ study: http://bjs.gov/index.cfm?ty=pbdetail&iid=2238

Here's a recent (September 2013) article about a new law in Iowa that allows blind people to carry guns in public.

The US Office for Victims of Crime (OVC) has resources specific for dealing with crime victims who have disabilities: http://www.ovc.gov/publications/infores/ServingVictimsWithDisabilities_bulletin/crime.html


For Discussion of Blindness and Sight Impairment and our visit to the Lowell Association for the Blind (L.A.B.)

Helen Keller

Following up on our discussion of Helen Keller, you might be interested to hear/read her "This I Believe" essay from circa 1951. The opening audio features Keller's own voice.

There are also videos on Youtube of the real Helen, including this one with her interpreter/companion, Polly. There is also newsreel footage of Keller with Annie Sullivan from 1930. Many people primarily know Keller's story from the very popular film The Miracle Worker. Here's the classic "water" scene from that film.

Blindness: Definitions:

"Blindness is the condition of lacking visual perception due to physiological or neurological factors."

Specific terms:

Organizations related to Blindness

Lowell Association for the Blind (LAB)

American Foundation for the Blind

National Federation of the Blind

From the NFB website: " The real problem of blindness is not the loss of eyesight. The real problem is the misunderstanding and lack of information that exist. If a blind person has proper training and opportunity, blindness can be reduced to a physical nuisance."

NFB is involved in advocacy for the blind; for example, they were involved in public objections to the film, Blindness (2008), for its portrayal of the blind as incompetent and immoral.

Did you know that October is "Meet the Blind Month"?

You may also be interested in an exhibit "Dialog in the Dark" that has been travelling the world.

Stories of Interest:

You may be interested in the story of Wanda Diaz, a blind astrophysicist who is working on non-visual ways to represent what is going on in outer space. You can listen to a fascinating story (and some cool music) in the story about her here.

Starbucks has a gift card featuring Braille (this is not meant as an ad! A friend of mine saw them in the Starbucks on campus and sent me a photo!)

You MUST check out Seeing Beyond Sight, an online exhibit and companion book (I'll have it in class) about sight-impaired photographers. The group is currently developing a documentary film; you can see some clips here.

On the issue of whether a blind person can own a gun, you might be interested to read about Carey McWilliams, author of Guide dogs and guns: America's First blind marksman fires back. See his website here. You may also enjoy the Daily Show feature from a few years ago, "A Shot in the Dark," where they interview McWilliams.

You may also be interested in the story of David Paterson, who was governor of New York (2008 - 2010), and as of 2014 was appointed Chairman of the New York Democratic Party. For a brief time, he hosted a drive-time radio show. In September of 2010, Paterson appeared on Saturday Night Live alongside Fred Armisen, the man who played him in sketches. In previous sketches, Armisen portrayed Paterson as bumbling and incompetent, drawing criticism from advocates for the blind and disability rights groups. The video of Paterson's appearance is here.



For discussion of Temple Grandin's work (and the film about her), and ASD more generally:

Here's a link to an article about a local school using robots to help young students with ASD develop social schools.

Here's a link to a quiz from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) about the signs of ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorders).

Here's the link to Temple Grandin's web page, which focuses on her work in the cattle industry . You may be interested in her other page, which is focused specifically on autism.

Here's a link to a useful (short) documentary by one young man on the spectrum called Autism Reality.

A recent 60-Minutes story -- Apps for Autism -- focuses on how the ipad has allowed people on the autism spectrum to develop new ways to communicate.

Take a look at the Making of Temple Grandin short video provided by HBO.

Here's HBO's main site about the film.

You may also enjoy the BBC's show, The Woman Who Thinks Like a Cow, about Grandin.

After the Clare Danes film was made, Gradin became very popular in the media. I’ve collected some quotes from and about her and the movie from different sources here; I hope that they will help inform our conversation. The links will take you to longer versions of the stories; I have also posted this handout online so that it is easier to follow the links.

From Grandin interview on MSNBC http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/35150832/ns/health-mental_health/

Temple Grandin: I am much less autistic now, compared to when I was young. I remember some behaviors like picking carpet fuzz and watching spinning plates for hours. I didn’t want to be touched. I couldn’t shut out background noise. I didn’t talk until I was about 4 years old. I screamed. I hummed. But as I grew up, I improved.

What help do you think most people with autism need?
Little kids, especially ages 2 through 5, need one-on-one interaction with an effective teacher. I don’t care who that teacher is. It could be the mother, an aunt, a grandma, someone from a church, a synagogue, maybe a student. You just need someone who clicks with that kid. The worst thing you can do is nothing. You can’t let these kids sit and watch TV all day.

The other thing is, teach these kids manners. I was raised in the ‘50s and ‘60s, and manners were drilled into me. I see kids [on the spectrum] today that have no manners. That’s going to hurt them. You can’t punish a child who is acting out because of sensory overload. But it’s unacceptable to see kids throwing things and slapping people. I see kids with Asperger’s [a mild form of autism] who can’t hold a job because they are constantly late. Teach kids to use an alarm clock. This is common sense and sometimes we forget about common sense. Autism is used too much as an excuse for bad behavior.

“Autism pride” or neurodiversity is a growing movement. Do you think there needs to be a “cure” for autism?
I believe there’s a point where mild autistic traits are just normal human variation. Mild autism can give you a genius like Einstein. If you have severe autism, you could remain nonverbal. You don’t want people to be on the severe end of the spectrum. But if you got rid of all the autism genetics, you wouldn’t have science or art. All you would have is a bunch of social ‘yak yaks.’

What was it like to see someone portray you?
It was like going in a weird time machine. The movie was set in the ‘60s and ‘70s, and I was very severe back then, very anxious. This was before I went on antidepressants for the panic. Puberty and high school were horrible for me. I spent time with Claire [Danes], and her portrayal of me back then is very authentic. She was me.

Another interesting Grandin interview and story can be found on NPR here: http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2010/01/temple_grandins_improbable_jou.html

In one comment in response to the NPR story, jaynee salinger (jsalinger) wrote:

Temple Grandin's story is inspirational but she represents a very small percentage of individuals with autism who are very, very high functioning. What about those who are on the other end of the spectrum. Their story rarely gets told. The best account I ever read, and in my opinion an overlooked gem, is The Accidental Teacher: Life Lessons from my Silent Son. http://www.press.umich.edu:80/titleDetailDesc.do?id=1403971
Temple Grandin's life is like a fairytale with a happily ever after ending. But reality? Think again.

A few notes from the Wall Street Journal article here: http://blogs.wsj.com/speakeasy/2010/08/09/temple-grandin-a-chat-with-the-woman-who-inspired-the-film/

Grandin spent a lot of time with Danes, giving the actress 9 hours worth of old VHS tapes of her during the 80s and 90s. Danes had the tapes digitized and put on her iPod Touch for study. “She really nailed that part of me,” says Grandin. “She became me.”

Grandin also worked closely with the writers, directors and the 30 cows that had been purchased specifically for use in the movie. She made sure everything was portrayed perfectly. “You remember that movie City Slickers with Holstein cattle on the ranch?” Grandin asked me. “That movie was stupid and I told them we had to have cattle accuracy. I had a lot of input with that and it turned out really right.”



For our discussion of Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time:

The novel has been adapted to a play that is running in London with great reviews. You can see a "trailer" for the play here: http://www.curiousonstage.com/

As we think about Christopher Boone, first note that we never get a specific diagnosis. Nonetheless, there are many obvious overlaps with issues on the autism spectrum. I think it's worth watching the trailer for last year's PBS POV special called Neurotypical.

We'll be careful in our conversations not to assume Christopher is autistic, but I know that this comparison will come up, and that issues of autism will be a part of our discussion.

Need some background info on autism? Here's a link to a useful interactive quiz that tests your knowledge and provides some background. The CDC also has a quiz here. The CDC also has a short video overview explaining ASD.

Here's a link to a wonderful interview with Mark Haddon.

Some of what he says also appears on his blog entry, where he talks about how he's NOT an expert on autism.

Here's a link to one article by someone on the spectrum who objects to claims that Haddon understood or portrayed autism in the book.

If you like this book or are interested in this topic, here are some books that may interest you for the final project:



For our Discussions in class on Day 1:

Here is a link to the first reading assignment, Nancy Mairs' essay, "On Being a Cripple."

Here is a link to the story "Clearly, Frankly, Unabashedly Disabled."

Here are some links that give more information on people and programs mentioned in the article "Clearly, Frankly, Unabashedly Disabled":

Comedian Josh Blue's website

Robert David Hall (coroner character on CSI: Crime Scene Investigation): An article in the Telegraph on Robert David Hall and an article in Ability Magazine.

Jillian Weise, poet, bio at the Poetry Foundation, and a funny essay from her about getting a new leg in the New York Times Magazine,

Vital Signs: Crip Culture Talks Back video (from 1995), Director's Cut. Includes video interivew with Cheryl Marie Wade (we'll read her work later this semester).

The National Arts and Disability Center (NADC) website.

Website for Danny Murphy, quadriplegic actor and business marketing expert.

Link to preview for Cinemability, a documentary about representations of disability in film.

Webstite for Sarah Reinertsen, Ironman triathlete with a prosthetic leg.


Older current evens articles:

Echoing stories about Oscar Pistorius's prosthetics, here's a story about Markus Rehm, a long jumper who uses a prosthetic leg and is raising questions about competition eligibility in high-level athletics.

I thought this article on an internet meme that features a person in a wheelchair was interesting, and raises exactly the sort of issues we'll discuss in class.

You might also be interested in Stella Young's TED talk, "I'm Not Your Inspiration, thank you very much."

August 2014: Down Syndrome has a moment in the news:

News reports claim that an Australian couple refused to take home one of their two twins when they found out he had Down Syndrome. But other articles (also this one) contest this version of events.

See this opionion piece "Is Down Syndrome Comedy Fodder?"

Here is a link to Cenac's piece on This American Life.

Here is a follow-up conversation with Wyatt Cenac.

Need some basic info on Down Syndrome? Check out the info from the National Down Syndrome Society (NDSS)