Reading and Writing (Dis)ability in Contemporary French and Francophone Literature (Panel)


French and Francophone / Interdisciplinary Humanities

Nikhita Obeegadoo (Harvard University)

Yassine Ait Ali (Princeton University)

Literary explorations of (dis)ability are intensifying and reaching new audiences in the French and Francophone world. A quick look at recent nominees of the prestigious Goncourt literary prize confirms as much: Clara Dupont-Monod’s S’adapter (2021) explores the various forms of "adaptation" undergone by a family who welcomes a "different" child into its midst, while Adèle Rosenfeld’s Les méduses n'ont pas d'oreilles (2022) delves into the challenges of hearing impairment in today’s transhumanist world. These works of literature are central to placing (dis)ability at the heart of both public and academic debate, not through mere “labels” or “categories,” but as a productive provocation to re-imagine the diversity of human minds and bodies. This rich French and Francophone literary corpus remains understudied, given the slow uptake of disability studies in French academia as opposed to its UK and US counterparts (see, for example, Hannah Thompson). Seeking to address this void, our panel welcomes contributions situated at the crossroads between disability studies and contemporary French and Francophone literature. How do texts’ play with narrative and language help us reframe what we understand by (dis-)abled bodies? After all, literature engages with "othered" bodies as enmeshed within broader constellations of feelings and circumstances, thus engaging not simply with their tragic aspects but also their potential for agency, resilience and creativity. How are literary imaginations of (dis)ability crucially modulated by cultural expectations, as well as factors such as gender, race and sexuality? As Julie Nack Ngue demonstrates in her studies of West African and Caribbean narratives, concepts emerging from disability studies are also meaningful in relation to postcolonial and racial theory; together, they may operate in politically subversive ways that defy hegemonic Western paradigms. Ultimately, then, how does literature crucially push forward interdisciplinary conversations on (dis)ability?
This panel welcomes papers that explore how narrative and language re-imagine (dis)abled minds and bodies, often in relation to factors such as race, gender and sexuality. We are interested in how literature explores "othered" bodies as not simply vessels for tragedy but also agents of resilience, agency and creativity, thus pushing forward the interdisciplinary field of disability studies.

Please submit abstracts of 200 to 250 words.