Medieval Academy of America Webinar
Wednesday, April 12
3:00 to 4:30 pm
Medieval Crip Theory: New Approaches and Provocations
This Webinar, organized by the Inclusivity & Diversity Committee, will explore and present new research on disability studies and the Middle Ages. The three papers will be followed by questions and discussion.
Moderators and Introduction
Heide Estes, Monmouth University, and Nahir Otaño-Gracia, University of New Mexico
Richard H. Godden, Louisiana State University,
“Cripping Langland’s Will”
In the C.5 interlude of William Langland’s Piers Plowman, the dreamer presents himself as physically unable to perform manual labor. Confronted by Reason and Conscience, Will states that he is too weak to wield tools and too tall to work the earth. Therefore, he labors with his hands after a different fashion, which is to say the making of the poem. Is Will not asking for accommodation? Reason is not only asking Will, are you disabled? He is asking, are you disabled enough? To take Will seriously that he is too long to work is to center disability, to make it inextricable from the social and salvific urgency in the poem. While the C-text expands on some of the severe and searching identifications of who is justifiably disabled, it does so while also positing a disabled subject. Will occupies an antinormative position, one that highlights the tension between normative frameworks and individual experience, between disability as something determined (or perhaps overdetermined) by social, religious, and economic desires on one hand, and disability as a site for transformative potentialities, nonnormative, alternative embodiments on the other.
Richard H. Godden is Assistant Professor of English at Louisiana State University. He works primarily on medieval romance, Chaucer, and representations of disability and monstrosity in the Middle Ages. He is completing a book manuscript titled Material Subjects: An Ecology of Prosthesis in Medieval Literature and Culture. He is co-editor of the collection Monstrosity, Disability, and the Posthuman in the Medieval and Early Modern World and he is also co-editor of The Open Access Companion to The Canterbury Tales.
Leah Parker, University of Southern Mississippi
“Eschatologies of Disability / Crip Eschatologies”
The afterlife was an embodied life in the medieval Christian eschatological imaginary. This embodied afterlife functioned both figurally, because language of the body made possible discussions of the soul, and literally, because Christians were promised a resurrected body that would be both perfected and yet still continuous with one’s earthly self. Where there is body, there can be disability, and indeed, many discussions of the afterlife, particularly matters of salvation, relied upon figural and literal references to disability for their production of eschatological hope. This paper considers some of the ways disability supported eschatological hope in vernacular literature from early medieval England, and how such literature witnesses early medieval Christians imagining the afterlife through disability, and inescapably reimagining disability through the afterlife.
Leah Parker is an Assistant Professor of English and English Undergraduate Coordinator at the University of Southern Mississippi. Parker researches embodied difference and eschatology in medieval England, and is completing a book manuscript on Disability and Salvation in Old English Literature.
Tory V. Pearman, Miami University
“Cripping Time in Chaucer’s Pardoner’s Tale”
This paper offers a reading of Chaucer’s Pardoner’s Tale with attention to the disruptive crip time produced by its setting during the Black Plague. As I will show, the “plague time” depicted in the tale frustrates normative measures of time, allowing readers living in an era in which time has been disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic to connect with the text through and across time in all of its iterations. This antinormative potential reveals one way in which the lens of disability can not only expand past representations of disability, but also use the medieval to help us better understand how disability is viewed and used in a post-COVID-19-onset world.
Tory V. Pearman is Professor of English at Miami University. She researches representations of gender and disability in medieval literature and culture and is author of Women and Disability in Medieval Literature (Palgrave 2010) and Disability and Knighthood in Malory’s Morte Darthur (Routledge 2019). She is co-editor of The Cultural History of Disability in the Middle Ages (Bloomsbury 2022).