In this inaugural issue of the Journal of Literary Disability, Editor David Bolt observed that disability is “…present in all literary works, but too frequently absent from literary criticism.” Theoretical perspectives are appreciative of class, ethnicity, and gender, “…so why are there so few (curricula) that are appreciative of disability?”
Curriculum deficiency, particularly in Britain where the JLD is based, results in a lack of published literary criticism; the lack of published criticism weakens the curriculum. These “interrelated absences” produce a literary anemia that Bolt and the JLD editorial advisors and contributors, whose work and studies span the globe and the spectrum of disability “interdisciplinarity,” seek to remedy.
The current issue, “Disability and the Dialectic of Dependency,” offers unflinching and well researched critical essays that ought to influence curricula and inform criticism. It is nearly impossible in this format to provide more than a glimpse of the depth and breadth of this issue of JLD, written by and for critical theorists and disability scholars, but the language and arguments in these articles are accessible to even the non-scholar. Lennard Davis, whose foundational work is referenced by other contributors, carefully and expertly examines Martha Nussbaum’s Frontiers of Justice: Disability, Nationality, and Species Membership. The borrowing (or theft) of the language of disability rights activism by “World Bank rhetorics” is traced with incisive reason and rich research by Robert McRuer. Neel Ahuja identifies “opposing forms of dependency within (Jack) London’s writing” that perpetuated the primitivization of Asian and Hawaiian culture and justified government-imposed quarantine of sufferers of “Hansen’s disease.” (Ahuja uses the term(s) “leper(s)” only sparingly and with footnoted explanation.) An essay by Martha Stoddard Holmes prompts the recasting of criticism of Victorian fictions, examining themes of interdependency in works that have been too easily dismissed for their “Christian ideology of self-sacrifice.” Tom Coogan assesses the intersecting of the inherently challenging genre of autobiography and the “problematic dependency” of disabled authors upon their collaborators, cautioning against any definition of “functional dependence” that excludes assisted communication. In an essay as understatedly beautiful as the works it illuminates, Michael Davidson analyzes Samuel Beckett’s disabled and co-dependent characters.
Bibliographies reveal cross-referencing and common reliance upon apparently seminal works – understandable and unavoidable in this young and largely underserved perspective of literary criticism. But this issue achieves Editor Bolt’s “high aims” for the journal and bodes well for the future of disability scholarship.