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Abstract

Resources of Form offers four readings of four American novels that are grappling with the ongoing, powerful effects of American racism, and traces how each stages a challenge to dominant accounts of disability as individual brokenness, unlivable incapacity, or radical alterity. Each text finds and explores an object named by disability, and does so in a scene organized by multiple racial narratives: disability and race are put into relation to one another via metaphor; as a relationship of cause and effect; one as reprieve from another; or as prompting analogous visual events. In tracking and describing these imaginative moves, Resources of Form responds to disability studies’ desire to revise its understandings of disability as a distinct category, something that can be critically isolated from racialized experience. It also addresses a potentially limiting attachment to disability’s referential stability as a category that has filtered into literary disability studies scholarship: disability representation always figures extraordinariness. By tracking these novels’ descriptive accounts of American ordinaries, I argue that literary form committed to everyday realities has represented disabled embodiment as a set of practices and a mode of operating rather than incapacity or lack. Alongside and in the same scene as processes of racial formation, these descriptive accounts of disabled embodiment figure it as engaged in practices of making do and living on in what Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick has described as a reparative mode. ,Chapter One, “The Lower Frequencies: Cripistemologies of Race in Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man,” attends to how Ellison’s novel moves beyond its initial, titular equation of blindness with racist misrecognition, deeply flawed knowing. This chapter gives an account—one that is as yet still missing in the literature on Ellison’s novel—of how blindness is not just the absence of vision or a deeply flawed vision, but also a disabled, crip way of moving through the world and accessing knowledge. Chapter Two, “The Time is Out of Joint: Deafness and Injury in Toni Morrison’s Beloved,” takes up another novel from the African American literary canon. The black community represented in this novel is full of disability, most commonly acquired via physical or psychic injury under slavery. The revenant Beloved and her sister Denver also have non-normative embodiments, but their disabilities are not related to slavery’s injuries in the same way. This chapter reads the thicket of meanings attached to Denver’s temporary deafness, arguing that if we attend to Denver’s disability and her shifting modes of being-with specters and being-with her family’s injury, we are asked to distinguish the harm of injury from its effects. Chapter Three, “Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho, Care, and Racialized Misfitting,” starts by tracking American Psycho in terms of its resonances with Invisible Man. American Psycho transposes the invisible man’s message about the “lessons of [his] life” as a black man onto a white Wall Street financier, Patrick Bateman, who is a serial killer. Both texts raise a question about madness and response: in a number of scenes, American Psycho depicts Patrick’s attempts to confess his crimes to his white, yuppie peers, and his failure to get any kind of reply. This chapter tracks how Patrick articulates madness and murder as a kind of reprieve from his experience of whiteness, along with the handful of scenes that take place outside of Patrick’s usual yuppie circles. In these scenes, Patrick enters into a relationship of recognition, response, and accountability—if not justice—when he interacts with an immigrant taxi driver, Chinese dry cleaners, and the proprietors of a kosher deli. Chapter Four, “The Graphic Ordinary: Composing Visual Experiences of Disability and Race in Chris Ware’s Building Stories,” explicates Chris Ware’s careful attention to the potentialities of the comics medium in order to recognize how Building Stories pushes against conventional ways of visual knowing that attribute eventfulness to disabled and nonwhite bodies. Through compositional choices and directly thematized scenes of looking, Building Stories interrupts processes of visual reading in order to push readers into experiences of looking. I argue that Building Stories accomplishes this interruption of conventional seeing not by substituting alternate iconography (that is, not by drawing with a certain style), but by composing a set of relations between varying appearances for race and disability; and foregrounding what Wittgenstein calls visual experiences, experiences of changing seeings-as for disability and race.

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