Lisa Gisselquist’s Class Summary for September 9th

On September 9th, the class discussed several pieces including “Introduction” from The Biopolitics of Disability by David Mitchell and Sharon Snyder and three fairytales by Oscar Wilde entitled “The Fisherman and His Soul,” “The Happy Prince” and “The Star-Child.” Though there was a poem reading assigned for this class, we did not have time to cover it. The class was broken into three main parts: Professor Foss explaining the terms from Mitchell and Snyder piece, large group discussion of said piece, and small group discussion of the fairytales. The first section helped to provide clarity to the Mitchell and Snyder piece through a discussion of the terms; based on this information, the second section then discussed the ramifications of neoliberalism in the modern world before we split into small groups to discuss how the characters in the fairytales could be considered as disability-aligned.

To help ensure comprehension both for the following discussion and in general, Professor Foss began with a discussion of Mitchell and Snyder’s piece, specifically all of the terms involved. The first term, biopolitics, designates processes of managing population resources through demographic record-keeping at the state level. This connects to neoliberalism, in which people, especially those with disabilities, are being channeled to have a consumer identity. It argues that all of the disabilities can be ‘solved’ by one product/medicine or another. Society is being driven to think that we have shifted away from eugenics and institutionalization and have become a more accepting society. In reality, disabled people are pushed to believe that they need to normalize themselves by using products, as neoliberalism wants. Finally, ablenationalism, the last piece of the puzzle, joins nationalism with the opportunities of ability that come with being a citizen. This simple explanation helped to lead the discussion into the actual specifics of how this is found in today’s world.

The large discussion centered around the general experience of the students with neoliberalism. Many students mentioned their own struggles with feeling like they needed medication and how they were concerned that they might become addicted to it. The conversation also turned to some of the problems with neoliberalism. For example, neoliberalism sells advantages that were not available in previous societies and are not available in most third-world countries. Furthermore, some people believe that medication saved their life to make them who they want to be, but for many others, medication does not work. This leaves them as outcasts in a supposedly ‘accepting’ society. One student even questioned how we could form solid conclusions when it comes to a certain disability or mental illness when the conditions are different depending on the person. The professor responded by bringing up how a lot more money went into curing Alzheimer’s and cancer than went into mental health research. Towards the end, one student asked whether drug addiction and alcoholism would be considered a disability. The general consensus was that it would be. For the most part, this discussion centered around students struggles living in a neoliberal society, which further supports the authors’ point about its failings.

For the remainder of class, we broke into small groups to discuss Oscar Wilde’s fairytales. In my small group, we started by discussing “The Star-Child” and how the transformation of the Star-Child into a disabled character was a punishment for pride and prejudice until he learned his lesson. This made the discussion of him being the ‘disability-aligned’ character difficult. How could his actions cause or cure disability? We then turned briefly to “The Happy Prince” and discussed the possibility of the Happy Prince having a mobility issue that caused him to need the sparrow to do things for him before moving to “The Fisherman and His Soul.” In this tale, we thought that the mermaid and the Sea-folk were the disability-aligned characters. However, we struggled to make sense of the role that the soul played in the story or how the fisherman could become ‘disabled’ and join the sea-folk but then recover on a whim. Our final conclusion was that if this story was looked at as a disability-aligned story, the witches’ involvement with the devil; the implications that the Sea-folk, as the disabled characters, had no souls; and the role of the soul in the story made it difficult for this story to be advocating for the disabled. However, as Oscar Wilde probably never intended them to be taken this way, they still serve to create a discussion of the treatment of disabled people (exp. The rejection of the sea-folk by the priest).

Throughout the class, there were two main themes: Neoliberalism, and whether characters were disability-aligned. The general consensus of the discussion of Neoliberalism was to detail some of the larger issues that it creates. As for the disability-aligned characters, Oscar Wilde’s fairytales, similar to Frankenstein, can convey lessons to the audience but become problematic when carefully examined. Overall, this class served as a fascinating discussion of the Mitchell and Snyder piece while also continuing our evaluation of disability-aligned characters.

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