Archive for Papers / Abstracts

‘Whose Tragedy?’ – Abstracts

Papers / Abstractson January 21st, 2013No Comments


Sur mes lèvres, Deafness, Embodiment:Towards a Film Phenomenology of a Differently Ordered Sensorium

Jenny Chamarette (Queen Mary, University of London)


This paper sets out to explore the relationships and contacts between a film phenomenology that rethinks the ordered sensorium of the audiovisual, and the persistent issue of situated bodiliness, in particular with regard to differently abled bodies. More specifically again, it aims to explore embodied representations of deafness in Jacques Audiard’s 2003 feature film, Sur mes lèvres (Read my Lips) and also in Nicolas Philibert’s 1992 documentary, Au Pays des sourds (In the Land of the Deaf). Drawing on feminist phenomenological theories of embodiment (Young 1989, Sobchack 2004) and recent work in disability studies and performance studies (Siebers, 2010, Kuppers 2003), this paper engages with cinematic presentations of bodies that experience sound and sight differently, and how those representations might challenge existing cultural delineations of ability and disability. Beyond the ethics of representation, my paper also returns to French film theorist and musicologist Michel Chion’s claim that film is primarily an art of sound, to challenge the bodily-normative implications of such a claim, and to examine the possibilities that a film-phenomenology of deafness might have for rethinking cinema’s connections to the embodied sensorium. 



Butler, J. (1989), ‘Sexual ideology and Phenomenological Description: A Feminist Critique of Merleau-Ponty’s Phenomenology of Perception’ in in J. Allen and I.M. Young (eds) The Thinking Muse; Feminism and Modern French Philosophy, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, pp85-100.

Chion, Michel (2005 [1991]), L’Audio-vision (son et image au cinema), Paris: Armand-Colin.

Chivers, S. and N. Markotic (2010), The Problem Body: Projecting Disability on Film, Columbus: Ohio State University Press.

Corker, M. and T. Shakespeare (eds) (2002), Disability/Postmodernity: Embodying Disability Theory, London: Continuum.

David, L. J. (ed.) (2010) The Disability Studies Reader (3rd edn), London: Routledge

Ince, K. (2011) ‘Bringing Bodies Back In: For a Phenomenological and Psychoanalytic Film Criticism of Embodied Cultural Identity’, Film-Philosophy, 15.1, 1-12.

Kuppers, P. (2003), Disability and Contemporary Performance: Bodies on Edge

McRuer, R. (2006), Crip Theory: Cultural Signs of Queerness and Disability, New York: New York University Press.

Paterson K. and B. Hughes (1999), ‘Disability Studies and Phenomenology: The Carnal Politics of Everyday Life’, Disability & Society, 14.5, 597-610.

Siebers, T. (2006), ‘Disability Aesthetics’ Journal for Cultural and Religious Theory, 7.2, Spring/Summer, 63-73 URL:

________ (2010), Disability Aesthetics, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

________ (2008), Disability Theory, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

Snyder S.L. and D.T. Mitchell (2006). Cultural Locations of Disability, London: University of Chicago Press.

Sobchack, V. (2004), ‘Is Anybody Home? Embodied Imagination and Visible Evictions’, in Carnal Thoughts, Berkeley: University of California Press, pp. 179-204.

Young, I.M. (1989), ‘Throwing Like a Girl: A Phenomenology of Feminine Bodily Comportment, Motility, and Spatiality’ in J. Allen and I.M. Young (eds) The Thinking Muse; Feminism and Modern French Philosophy, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, pp. 51-70.


Sur mes lèvres  (dir. Jacques Audiard, France 2003)

Au pays des sourds  (dir. Nicolas Philibert, France, 1992)


Telling, not seeing: blindness and travel writing

Charles Forsdick (University of Liverpool)

The paper is part of a larger project on travel writing and the senses. It draws on recent work in the field of the sensory humanities in order (i) to move beyond the now conventional criticism of the dominance of the gaze in travel literature, and (ii) to analyse the role of additional senses in the genre in the recognition of soundscapes, smellscapes and other reconfigurations of space. Taking as its focus a small corpus of travelogues in French produced by blind and visually impaired travellers since the early nineteenth century, the paper will explore the wider critical implications of exploring this material. Its aim is to highlight a residual discursive normativity in travel literature associated with the experience of the sighted traveller, but it will at the same time suggest the ways in which the travelogues of the blind and visually impaired often reveal sensory dimensions of the travel experience, and provide reflections on alternative modes of engagement with other places and their inhabitants, that are absent from narratives that privilege the visual. Attention will be paid to questions of class and genre, as well as of the historico-technological niche in which the journeys occurs. The French-language corpus will also be supplemented by reference to a number of English-language texts in order to permit comparative reflection on differing national and linguistic traditions. The paper will accordingly constitute a preliminary attempt to outline the wider implications for studies in travel writing more generally of increased critical attention to blindness and/in the travelogue.


Beyond the ‘Narrative of Overcoming’: Representations of Disability in Contemporary French Culture.

Sam Haigh (University of Warwick)


Recent changes in disability legislation in France – changes spearheaded, over the last decade, by the work of Julia Kristeva – have been seen as a sign that France is finally moving from a medical model of disability towards the social model that has predominated in an Anglo-American context since the 1980s. At the same time, within Anglophone disability theory, there has begun to be an interrogation both of the social model itself (for example in the work of Tom Shakespeare, Lennard Davis and Tobin Siebers), and of what many (such as David Mitchell, Sharon Snyder and Thomas Couser) now see as a normative, ‘narrative demand’ for representations of disability to be about the heroic ‘overcoming’ of personal tragedy. It is within this complex and shifting context that the paper proposed here will examine three contemporary French representations of disability: Alexandre Jollien’s philosophical text, Eloge de la faiblesse (1999); Delphine Censier’s photographic work and accompanying memoir, Je, Elle, Une Autre (2005); Luc Leprêtre’s popular novel, Club VIP: Very Invalid Person (2009). These are very different pieces of work, but what they have in common is a refusal to comply with the ‘personal tragedy’ model demanded by ‘mainstream’ culture, and a desire, instead, to represent disability in complex, nuanced and resolutely non-normative ways. What all of them suggest is that disability is far from being a personal tragedy to be overcome, but is a ‘normal’ – as in ordinary – facet of human experience, and one that, like all forms of human experience, can be simultaneously negative and positive; painful and pleasurable, desirable and non-desirable.


Disability and Sexuality: the poetry of Denis Sanguin de Saint-Pavin (1595-1670)

Nick Hammond (University of Cambridge)


In my short presentation on Saint-Pavin, who frequented the literary circles of seventeenth-century Paris, and who was a particular friend of Marie de Rabutin-Chantal, marquise de Sévigné, I will explore the ways in which he places physical and sexual difference at the heart of his poetry. In one extended poetic self-portrait in particular, he describes his disabled body with almost forensic precision, and in other poems he combines imagery and direct evocation of disability with an equally unflinching representation of same-sex sexuality. Referring to the theoretical writings of Judith Butler and Tobin Siebers, I hope to show how the subjects of Saint-Pavin’s poetry rehearse to a large extent the idea of ‘emerging sexual identities’ (Siebers) that has played a significant part in Disability Theory.

Suggested Reading:

Judith Butler, Bodies that Matter (London: Routledge, 1993)

Denis Sanguin de Saint-Pavin, Poésies, ed. Nicholas Hammond (Paris: Classiques garnier, 2012)

Tobin Siebers, Disability Theory (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2011)


Ana García-Siñeriz, Esas mujeres rubias (2010): disability, gender, and the medical establishment

Abigail Lee Six (Royal Holloway, University of London)


Esas mujeres rubias [‘Those Blonde Women’] by Ana García-Siñeriz is a Spanish novel presented as a mother’s first-person account of losing her only daughter, Alma, at the age of fourteen due to a condition called Diamond-Blackfan anemia, characterized by short life expectancy and also extremely fair skin, stunted growth, and abnormalities in the upper extremities (Alma is born with one thumb missing). My paper will discuss three episodes which bear out – indeed, flesh out – current disability theory. The first illustrates how certain issues relating to disability can usefully be viewed as part of a continuum of attitudes to body-image and physical appearance more generally rather than considered in isolation. In that respect, disability and feminist theory intersect and can cross-fertilize. The second explores terrain shared with theories of illness, critiquing the medical establishment and status quo; and the third brings both of these overlaps together as we see how unchallenged gender-stereotyped ideas concerning motherhood underlie some medical and public health policies and priorities. Taken together, these three episodes endorse strongly the contention of disability theorists that to a significant degree, the disadvantage and suffering normally attributed to disability have at their core sociocultural attitudes rather than the unavoidable symptoms of a given condition.

Suggested Reading:

Garland-Thomson, Rosemarie, ‘Integrating Disability, Transforming Feminist Theory’, NWSA Journal, 14:3 (2002), 1-32

Moser, Ingunn, ‘Sociotechnical Practices and Difference: On the Interferences between Disability, Gender, and Class’, Science, Technology, and Human Values, 31:5 (2006), 537-64

Wendell, Susan, ‘Toward a Feminist Theory of Disability’, Hypatia, 4:2 (1989), 104-24


 ‘Raw data’: autistic aloneness and the category of insight in Elle s’appelle Sabine

Vivienne Orchard (University of Southampton)


Autism has been subject to an explosion of interest, of both cultural and scientific kinds, for a little while now in the Anglosphere.  The kinds of interest to which it has been party are both culturally indicative and strongly constitutive at a discursive level and take various distinctive guises.  Still lacking, though, in this picture, is research of a more cross-cultural nature, a project which some have called for and started to map initially (Grinker).  The cultural context I will focus on here is that of the ongoing dramatic political and institutional struggle taking place currently in France around autism.  Autism remains in a highly unusual position in France, caught up in a ‘delay’ which has ensued from an entirely different diagnostic approach to its causes and to clinical intervention.  In this paper, I will review the impact of the documentary Le Mur, la psychoanalyse à l’épreuve de l’autisme (2011) and the debate which has ensued since it has been banned. In order to explore the possibilities of documentary, as exposé and as testimony, I will then focus on the documentary Elle s’appelle Sabine (2006) made by the French actress Sandrine Bonnaire about her sister, Sabine, in relation to recent work in philosophy which argues for a rethinking of the value of the ‘raw data’ (Silverman) of personal and familial accounts of autism, in order to interrogate the category of ‘insight’, diagnostically, personally and politically.


Suggested Reading

Hacking, Ian, The Social Construction of What? (Cambridge MA and London: Harvard University Press, 1999)

Hacking Ian, ‘Why physics is easy and autism is hard’,  in F. Darbellay, M. Cockell, J. Billotte (eds),  A Vision of Transdisciplinarity: Laying Foundations for a World Knowledge Dialogue, 6–39, (Boca Raton, FL: Taylor & Francis, 2008)

Hacking, Ian, ‘Autistic Autobiography’, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, Biological Sciences, 364, 1522, 27 May 2009, 1467-1473

Hacking, Ian, ‘How We Have Been Learning to Talk About Autism: A Role for Stories’, 261-278 in Kittay, Eva Feder and Licia Carlson, eds, Cognitive Disability and its Challenge to Moral Philosophy, Wiley Blackwell, Malden MA and Oxford, 2010

Hacking, Ian, ‘Autism Fiction: A Mirror of an Internet Decade?’, University of Toronto Quarterly, 79.2, Spring 2010,  632-655

Murray, Stuart, Representing Autism.  Culture, Narrative, Fascination, (Liverpool: Liverpool Universitiy Press, 2008)

Nussbaum, Martha, Frontiers of Justice:  Disability, Nationality, Species Membership (Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 2006)

Osteen, Mark (ed), Autism and Representation, (London and New York, Routledge, 2007)

Silverman, Chloe, Understanding Autism: Parents, Doctors and the History of a Disorder, (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2011)






The pain of itching

Prof Naomi Segal (Birkbeck College, London)


For André Gide, writing in a journal entry of 1931, the pain of itching is that no one takes it seriously: it is comic rather than tragic. For psychoanalyst Didier Anzieu it is, like all skin conditions, an appeal (Le Moi-peau [The Skin ego], 1985). The biblical ‘leprosy’, the condition for which one was separated from society, is probably psoriasis, the problem from which Gide suffers, like Job or like Irène, the protagonist of Lorette Nobécourt’s La Démangeaison [Itching] (1994). The visibility of skin conditions is essential to their effect of stigma, even of the ‘stigma fall-out’ (Ray Jobling, 2000) that spreads to the subject’s human and physical environment just as dead skin cells shed themselves beyond the supposed borderline of the epidermis. But Irène turns the stigma to triumph through revolt and perversion, Gide uses the motif against his most saintly comic protagonist, and Job turns abjection to holy purpose. This paper will examine how being inside and being outside; visibility and sensation; submission and revolt, separation and sympathy, the social and the anti-social, gather around this most complicated of symptoms.

Suggested Reading :

Anzieu, Didier, 1995. Le Moi-peau (Paris : Dunod, [1985])

Gide, André, 1954. Journal III : 1939-1949 ; Souvenirs (Paris : Gallimard)

Gide, André, 2001. Si le grain ne meurt, in Souvenirs et voyages, ed. by Pierre Masson (Paris : Gallimard)

Hello (unsigned caption), 1997. 15 September

Jobling, Ray, 2000. ‘Psychosocial issues in dermatology’, in eds. Esther Hughes and Julie van Onselen, Dermatology Nursing: A Practical Guide (Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone), 93-101

JPS Hebrew-English Tanakh (Philadelphia PA: Jewish Publication Society, 2000)

Nobécourt, Lorette, 1994. La Démangeaison (Paris: Les Belles Lettres)

Richards, Peter, 1977. The Medieval Leper (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer)

Sartre, Jean-Paul, 1951. Le Diable et le bon Dieu (Paris : Gallimard)

Winman, Sarah, 2011. When God was a Rabbit (London: Headline)


On not being deaf to the blind

Kate Tunstall (Worcester College, Oxford)


This short paper draws on some of the material used in my recent book, Blindness and Enlightenment (Continuum/Bloomsbury, 2011), which focuses on the recourse to the figure of the man born blind in philosophical and literary writing in French in the early modern and Enlightenment periods. Drawing on this material, I ask whether for writers such as Montaigne, Descartes, Gassendi, La Mothe Le Vayer, and Diderot, blindness was thought of as, to use the term in the title of this research project, a tragedy, or not. Time permitting, I shall also consider by way of comparison a couple of novels that are not explored in the book, one from the late eighteenth century by Maimieux, the other by Collins, and perhaps make reference to a couple of movies. I hope also, as the title of the paper suggests, to be able to say something about the importance of metaphor.

Suggested reading:

Clark, Vanities of the eye (2007)

Collins, Poor Miss Finch (1872)

Diderot, Lettre sur les aveugles (1740) [in Eng. trans. in Tunstall, see below]

Jay, Downcast Eyes (1994)

La Mothe Le Vayer, ‘D’un aveugle-nay’ (1653) [in Eng. trans in Tunstall, see below]

Maimieux, Charles de Rosenfeld, ou l’Aveugle inconsolable d’avoir cesse de l’etre (1799)

Tunstall, Blindness and Enlightenment (2011)



Whose Disability? Challenging Stereotypical Representations of Epilepsy

Maria Vaccarella, (Centre for the Humanities and Health and Comparative Literature Department, King’s College London)


This paper aims at exploring the problematic application of either medical or social disability models to epilepsy, an often invisible neurological condition, which nonetheless might abruptly manifest itself in the form of seizures. Loss of motor control, shaking and incontinence, as well as bruises and wounds caused by sudden falling, suddenly and dramatically increase the visibility of epilepsy and have been associated with stigmatizing practices throughout centuries and societies. At the same time, contemporary cultural representations of epilepsy often resignify the convulsive body as a source of and vehicle for subjective illness depictions. These innovative ways of conceiving disability in literature and performing arts will be the focus of this analysis. Anticipated key themes will be the creative reappropriation of tonic-clonic movements and impairment of consciousness, the reconfiguration of medical voyeurism and the management of narrative unreliability.

-                    Rhodes, P., Nocon, A., Small, N., Wright, J., “Disability and Identity: The Challenge of Epilepsy,” Disability & Society, Vol. 23, No. 4, June 2008, 385–395.

-                    Stirling, J., Representing Epilepsy: Myth and Matter, Liverpool, Liverpool University Press, 2010