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Narrative Prosthesis Today: A Critical Reassessment

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Organizer: Christina Fogarasi

Co-Organizer: Ajitpaul Mangat

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It has been nearly twenty five years since the publication of David Mitchell and Sharon Snyder’s Narrative Prosthesis. This seminar considers the status of its eponymous central concept.
Michael Bérubé has stressed the significance of “narrative prosthesis,” describing it, in The Secret Life of Stories, as “the single most influential account of narrative in disability studies” (41). This concept has become so important that, according to Bérubé, “any subsequent account of disability and narrative cannot fail to address” it (41).
This seminar explores what “narrative prosthesis” has to offer the study of disability today. Mitchell and Snyder argued, with a focus on characterization, that narratives always signify disability as something other than itself. Specifically, they showed how narratives rely on ableist intrigue surrounding disability for plot development and character backstory. In doing so, they drew out the political implications of such a metaphorical device: relying on the symbolic potency of disability ignores the materiality of disability itself.
While Mitchell and Snyder provide insight into how narratives engage with disability, their work also raises questions: does “narrative prosthesis” operate within all narratives? Do narratives efface disability or expose this metaphorical device? What is the relationship between the symbolic and the material?  This panel seeks to revisit such lingering questions in light of emerging debates:
·      How does race complicate the relationship between the literary and the nonliterary that “narrative prosthesis” theorizes? For instance, Sami Schalk argues that Black women’s speculative fiction thinks disability-as-metaphor alongside disability’s materiality.
·      What role can “narrative prosthesis” play in the advancement of, what Schalk refers to as, “black disability politics”? What are the politics of this concept?
·      How can “narrative prosthesis” contribute to our understanding of literary character?  Character studies has received renewed attention in recent years (e.g. Figlerowicz [2016]; Konstantinou [2016]; and Anderson, Felski, & Moi [2019]).
·      How might “narrative prosthesis” inform a field like trauma studies that is less suspicious of metaphor? Does, for instance, the “trauma plot” represent disability metaphorically?
·      How has “narrative prosthesis” come to inform the study of disability outside the confines of the literary? 
·      How has “narrative prosthesis” traveled? How has it been received internationally, outside of its US context?

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