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Misreading the Body: E. T. A. Hoffmann’s Klein Zaches, genannt Zinnober

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  02 March 2023

Eleoma Joshua
Affiliation:
University of Edinburgh
Michael Schillmeier
Affiliation:
Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München
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Summary

DISABILITY STUDIES BELONGS to the “otherness” discourses that seek to make visible the “constructedness” of social attitudes to corporeal and mental difference, and to revise cultural history in a way that draws attention to the presence and the oppression of the disabled person in literary and cultural representations. The cultural turn within the critical field of Disability Studies in the United States and the United Kingdom has recently started to influence the analysis of the representation of physically and mentally disabled people in literary texts in German. This is a critical approach to literary analysis that intersects with other social identity and body discourses in sociology and cultural anthropology, e.g. the management of stigma, the criminal body, eugenics, and the manipulated and disciplined body in Foucault's work. One of the aims of Disability Studies is to analyze historically the representation of the impaired mind and body in relation to the cultural traditions of myths, folklore, and superstition, and secondly to deconstruct the disempowering medical and diagnostic discussion of the disabled body. Its purpose is partly to focus on the discourses and social practices that produce the idea of disability and make the stigmatizing, exclusionistic, and inhumane treatment of the physically and mentally disabled possible. In effect, Disability Studies builds on Foucault's idea that the body is constantly regulated socially and judged by powerful classification and viewing strategies that come from disciplines that produce knowledge, such as medicine and psychology. By examining social and cultural discourses, disability theorists generally highlight the ways in which cultural locations such as literature not only misrepresent the impaired body, but also conceal and even erase it from the cultural domain.

In their account of the history of discourses and narratives of disability, David T. Mitchell and Sharon L. Snyder, pioneers in the field, write that “the negative imagery school set out to establish a continuum between limiting literary depictions and dehumanizing social attitudes toward disabled people.” This school of thought acknowledges that literary texts affect the perception of physical and mental difference by referring to the negative traditional meanings that are associated with impairments, and by demonstrating stigmatizing processes.

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Edinburgh German Yearbook 4
Disability in German Literature, Film, and Theater
, pp. 39 - 56
Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2010

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