January 18, 2020

Foss Presents Working Chapter from Waple Book Manuscript Project at South Atlantic Modern Language Association

Professor of English Chris Foss

Professor of English Chris Foss

Oscar Wilde

In November, Professor of English Chris Foss presented a paper entitled “’He remembered that the little Mermaid had no feet and could not dance’: The Nexus of Power, Identity, and Relationships in Oscar Wilde’s ‘The Fisherman and His Soul’ as Seen through the Lens of Disability Studies” as part of the South Atlantic Modern Language Association conference at the Westin Peachtree in Atlanta. In his paper, Foss argued “The Fisherman and His Soul” offers a fascinating trawl of entangled elements relative to its two main disability-aligned characters, a little Mermaid and a young Fisherman (the latter only becoming so after he cuts away his Soul from his body). The story offers a clear undermining of the sort of monstrous identities those in power insist upon assigning to those different from them in an attempt to limit any new understandings of or relationships with any groups or individuals upon whose othering their authority and privilege depends. This paper represents the first draft of the fourth content chapter for his Waple Professorship book project entitled The Importance of Being Different: Intersectional Disability and Emotional Response in Oscar Wilde’s Fairy Tales.

Foss Publishes Book Review of Academic Ableism

Professor of English Chris Foss

Professor of English Chris Foss

Professor of English Chris Foss has published a 1500-word book review of Jay Timothy Dolmage’s watershed work Academic Ableism: Disability and Higher Education in Journal of Literary and Cultural Disability Studies, one of the top two scholarly journals in the field of disability studies today.

The book’s charge is “not just to recognize where and how ableism happens, but to ask what the impact will be of exposing it, what the cost might be of assigning blame, and what the forces are that make it imperceptible, what the euphemisms are that disguise it, and how it comes to be normalized, even valorized in academia” (58). Dolmage sets up his argument in a superb Introduction that exposes “the university as a rhetorical space that holds a history of injustice in its architecture” (9).

After noting higher education’s inextricable imbrication with the shameful histories of eugenics and colonial science, Dolmage transitions into a disheartening assessment of the state of the university in the present day. Statistics on underused and ineffective accommodations (here, for faculty/staff as well), attendance and graduation delays, heavier debt, etc. for students with disabilities—combined with the frustrating realities of how overworked and underfunded disability resource offices continue to be—reveal in very sobering terms the persistent ableism still preventing so many disabled people from fully accessing, much less successfully navigating, the world of academia. What is more, Dolmage’s observation, “The programs and initiatives that are developed in the name of diversity and inclusion do not yet deliver tangible means of addressing the ableism inherent in higher education” (26), sadly is all too true.

For Dolmage, owing to the logic of the retrofit, “disability has become the Whack-a-Mole of higher education” (91), the latter’s “structural exclusion” both “abetted and allowed by forms of temporary, tokenized, and tenuous inclusion” (85). As he elaborates at the beginning of his fourth chapter, “Universal Design is not about buildings, it is about building—building community, building better pedagogy, building opportunities for agency.  It is a way to move” (118). At the same time, prone to “checklistification” (145) and the passive recycling of old initiatives (143-44), universal design is “as dangerous as it is useful” when it serves administrators’ “neoliberal justifications for cutting back on funding” (150). In the end, it is up to us to take up the mantle of Dolmage’s project (and its goal, as reiterated in the book’s final sentence, “to give [us] ways to change higher education” [191]) by building upon his indispensable groundwork.

Dolmage was our featured speaker here in August 2018, thanks to the generosity and support of Provost Mikhalevsky and Associate Provost O’Donnell. If you never got around to reading his book, remember that you may access it for free online at: https://quod.lib.umich.edu/u/ump/mpub9708722. You also can check it out his online appendix of resources aimed at giving “teachers some places to actually begin changing the classroom and the syllabus” (150) at: https://quod.lib.umich.edu/u/ump/mpub9708722/1:13/–academic-ableism-disability-and-higher-education?rgn=div1;view=fulltext.

UMW Senior Does Groundbreaking Autism and Gender Research

Ren Koloni wants to make academia a more welcoming place for people like them. And at the University of Mary Washington, Koloni found space where they could do just that. Koloni, who identifies as transgender and nonbinary – neither male nor female – and uses they/them pronouns, is autistic and has multiple disabilities. UMW appealed […]

Foss Publishes Article on Ann Yearsley

Professor of English Chris Foss has published a peer-reviewed article entitled “Ann Yearsley, Earl Goodwin, and the Politics of Romantic Discontent” in the most recent number of Romanticism on the Net.  RoN was one of the pioneering international open access journals when it was founded over thirty years ago now in 1996, and is by now one of the most established venues for scholarship on British Romantic literature. The few substantial critical studies of Ann Yearsley’s tragic drama Earl Goodwin leave unexplored the ways in which Yearsley simultaneously is clarifying and extending her anger at and frustration with the class- and gender-based discrimination she experienced firsthand in the fallout with her mentor Hannah More over the profits from her first book of poetry. This article aims to fill this gap by delineating the many ways in which Earl Goodwin represents, on one level, her ongoing response to the defamation she suffered in the wake of More’s public campaign to ruin her reputation. Documenting the inextricability of the play’s explicit social and political critiques with Yearsley’s ongoing response to the More fiasco reinforces the extent to which her more familiar initial protests about More’s treatment (as published in her second volume of poems) are as fundamentally politically as they are personally motivated.

Foss Publishes Book Review on New Wilde Biography

Professor of English Chris Foss has published a book review of Nicholas Frankel’s critical biography Oscar Wilde: The Unrepentant Years (Harvard University Press) in the most recent number of The Historian.  Foss endorses Frankel’s very readable book as an important revisionist take on Wilde’s life after prison, positing the longstanding insistence upon Wilde’s “decline and martyrdom” misrepresents his actual resilience.  Wilde undeniably struggled with social opprobrium and creative self-doubt, not to mention relative poverty and ill health, but his “frank and unapologetic attitude” toward the openly gay lifestyle he pursued during his final four years shows him to have understood “his erotic relations with other men as a matter of personal identity,” leading Frankel to insist that “Wilde’s greatest achievement in exile was himself.”  With over 13,000 subscribers, The Historian is one of the most widely circulated history journals worldwide.

Foss Presents Paper at Gothic Conference

Professor of English Chris Foss recently presented a paper at the “Hideous Progeny”: The Gothic in the Nineteenth Century conference hosted by the Loyola University-Chicago Victorian Society on October 27, 2018.  The talk, entitled “Gothic Mutations of Pity in Oscar Wilde’s ‘The Star-Child,’” aimed at a critical reconsideration of pity through a reading of Wilde’s fairy tale, explores the ways it replicates stereotypically pejorative assumptions about disability but also contains empowering possibilities as well.  Through the gothic mutation of its disability-aligned titular protagonist (initially the embodiment of physical perfection, but eventually transformed into a scaly toadfaced freak), this text requires one to grapple with the extent to which its employment of pity reinforces a hierarchical division between the fortunate and the unfortunate and/or encourages a more progressive conception founded upon love, reciprocity, and action.  The paper is part of the larger book manuscript project (The Importance of Being Different: Intersectional Disability and Emotional Response in Oscar Wilde’s Fairy Tales) that is the focus of Foss’s 2018-20 Waple Professorship award.

Foss Presents Paper at International Conference

John Andrén Foundation International Conference attendees

On June 9, Professor of English Chris Foss presented a paper (in partial fulfillment of his Summer 2018 Faculty Research Grant) entitled As he is no longer beautiful he is no longer useful: Reading Oscar Wilde’s ‘The Happy Prince’ through the Lens of Disability Studies at the inaugural John Andrén Foundation International Conference on Oscar Wilde and Aubrey Beardsley, held in Ystad, Sweden.

Wilde’s representation of disability in “The Happy Prince” is not without its issues, particularly the possibility it ends up ascribing an exclusively pejorative status to disability if it can only be some sort of martyrdom rather than a valued form of difference that need not preclude one from leading a happy, fulfilling life.  Still, with his story’s divine endorsement of the shabby blind statue and the dead bird (the latter now arguably inscribed as an ugly, useless body in his own right after his decaying remains are discarded as worthless trash), Wilde also allows for readers to arrive at a decidedly different and fundamentally positive response to disability than the still-popular view of it as some sort of divine punishment or retribution.

In this alternative take, we are encouraged to value (indeed, to privilege), to love—not just a tolerance of love for bodies society traditionally has devalued as deviant and/or discarded as dangerous, but more profoundly a celebration of the love of and by bodies embraced precisely for, rather than in spite of, their difference and diversity.

Foss Presents Paper at Northeast Modern Language Association Convention

On April 14, Professor of English Chris Foss presented a conference paper entitled “Locating the Monstrous Body in Monstress and My Favorite Thing Is Monsters through a Disability Studies Lens” at the 49th annual convention of the Northeast Modern Language Association in Pittsburgh.

His paper took for its focus the highly praised comics collections Monstress, Vols. 1 and 2, by Marjorie Liu/Sana Takeda (Image Comics 2016-17) and the much ballyhooed debut graphic novel My Favorite Thing is Monsters [Book One] by Emil Ferris (Fantagraphics Books 2016).

Foss explored how that the location of the monstrous body in this particular textual format, and in these two texts in particular, offers a range of diverse possibilities for both reinforcing and exploding the literary and the literal normative borders that have been constructed to define what is monstrous as defective and deformed and disabled and diseased.  Using an intersectional approach, he aimed to suggest how multiple other facets of the monstrous (including ethnic/racial, foreign, freakish, gothic, hybrid, perverse, political, and sexual aspects) overlap with disabled monstrosity and together blur, cross, deconstruct, and/or erase numerous inextricably interrelated borders within and around the human.

Foss Publishes Book Review

Professor of English Chris Foss has published a book review entitled “Mapping the Networks of India in Britain” in the most recent number of English Literature in Transition, 1880-1920.

His 1466-word review takes for its focus Elleke Boehmer’s recent monograph from Oxford University Press, Indian Arrivals 1870–1915: Networks of British Empire.

Now in its 61st year, ELT is one of the most established venues for scholarly work on literature from the late Victorian, Edwardian and early Modernist periods.

Foss Publishes Article on Oscar Wilde and Disability

Professor of English Chris Foss has published an article titled “‘For the future let those who come to play with me have no hearts’: The Affect of Pity in Oscar Wilde’s ‘The Birthday of the Infanta’” in the Fall 2017 number of Journal of Narrative Theory, a special issue on Dis/Enabling Narratives edited by Essaka Joshua.   JNT is a refereed, international journal in its fifth decade that “showcases theoretically sophisticated essays that examine narrative in a host of critical, interdisciplinary, or cross-cultural contexts.”

In his article, Foss argues that Wilde’s fairy tale about the death of a performing Dwarf at the Spanish court may appear mired in damaging stereotype and maudlin melodrama, but it nonetheless suggests more progressive emotionally-based possibilities for sympathy, acceptance, and even identification rather than paternalistic pity.  Wilde’s text invites readers to recognize its seemingly simultaneous manipulation of the narrative toward a reliance upon and a critique of the consumption of pain necessary to the workings of the affect of pity.  It further forces readers to acknowledge their own complicity in this pity and pain, ultimately revealing crucial complexities inherent in such emotional responses to disability and difference.