Disabling modernism: disability and anti-eugenic ethics in the modernist novel

Nemecek, Angela Lea, Department of English, University of Virginia
Levenson, Michael, Department of English, University of Virginia
Krentz, Christopher, Department of English, University of Virginia
Olwell, Victoria, Department of English, University of Virginia
Childress, Marcia, MD-HUMN Center for Biomedical Ethics and Humanities, University of Virginia

Examining the works of James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway, Virginia Woolf, and Djuna Barnes, “Disabling Modernism: Disability and Anti-Eugenic Ethics in the Modernist Novel” argues that the modernist novel allows for significant displays of resistance to dominant eugenic ideologies of the early 20th century. This resistance largely occurs through the novels’ portrayals of gender, desire, and reproduction in eugenically excluded bodies. Whether by suggesting an erotic attraction to non-standard bodies; reproducing subjects by means other than regularized, “wholesome,” heterosexual relations; depicting queer modes of caretaking for eugenic bodies, which respect their fundamental difference; or insisting on the autonomy and value of disabled bodies as they are; these novels work to establish what I call an ethics of particularity: a sexual and ethical code that deems physical difference and contingency intrinsically valuable. These books suggest an ethical commitment not only to human variation and deviance, but to alterity; they demonstrate a fundamental belief in the radical otherness of others, which cannot be extinguished. This project's view of modernism presents an important counterpoint to critical perspectives that deem modernist novels intrinsically hostile to disabled bodies and fundamentally pro-eugenic in nature.

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PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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