CFP: Special Issue of the Journal of Literary and Cultural Disability Studies

Disability and the American Counterculture

Guest edited by Stella Bolaki and Chris Gair

The American Counterculture has a complex relationship with disability. At its heart is the reinvention of the term freak that serves as an early example of empowering, though not unproblematic, appropriation of what had previously been a derogatory term. Freak Out!, the debut album by The Mothers of Invention—labelled a “monstrosity” by Frank Zappa—is a prime example of the association of freakery with the forms of avant-garde experimentation representative of one form of countercultural practice. In addition, representations of disability and illness occur repeatedly in countercultural work: the asylum and hospital become central tropes for examinations of the relationship between sanity and madness in Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl” and Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, while canonical Beat/countercultural novels such as Jack Kerouac’s Desolation Angels and Richard Brautigan’s Trout Fishing in America and movies such as Richard Rush’s Psych-Out feature disabled characters not only to derive rhetorical force in their critique of hegemonic culture, but also to question core countercultural ideologies. In terms of aesthetics, William Burroughs’ experimental “cut-up technique” has been discussed in the context of his interest in virology and Andy Warhol’s work of trauma, injury and violence alongside what Tobin Siebers has called “disability aesthetics”. More recent work, such as E.L. Doctorow’s novel Homer and Langley, the Hollywood film Forrest Gump and Simi Linton’s memoir My Body Politic, examines the connection between disability and the counterculture through different lenses and with various aims.

What do perspectives informed by disability studies have to offer to typical readings of the American counterculture and its fundamental ideals of movement (both geographical and ideological), youth and vitality? In what ways did the American counterculture and the disability movement approach notions of the “normal” and the “abnormal” body? Beat and countercultural writers and artists have been criticised for their romanticised view of other cultures and for appropriating and shedding roles and personas from various marginalised groups at a dizzying pace. How different was the appropriation of disability to the American counterculture’s interest in other cultures (Eastern, African American, Native American) and their potential for constructing a subversive identity? What are the legacies of the American counterculture and its various discourses and styles of liberation for contemporary disability life writing, arts and activism?With such questions in mind, the co-editors invite proposals on an array of topics which include (but are not limited to) the following:

  • perspectives from disability studies/theory on iconic as well as understudied Beat texts and countercultural ideals more broadly
  • challenges to “normalcy” from disability movements and the American counterculture (comparative perspectives/debates)
  • disability as theme and/or aesthetic in countercultural writing, art, film and music or in more recent works that reference the American counterculture
  • appropriation and reinvention of the term “freak” by the counterculture
  • approaches to spectacle, the stare, the performative, and fashion in American counterculture and disability cultures/arts
  • disability in the sixties-era communes and communal living groups
  • feminist disability studies and the counterculture
  • crip perspectives on the American counterculture
  • legacies of the American counterculture and countercultural ideals, practices and styles for disability writing, arts, and activism

Discussions of specific literary and cultural texts are invited, but preference will be given to projects that use individual texts as vehicles to address broader cultural debates and theoretical inquiries related to disability studies and the American counterculture. A one-page proposal and a one-page curriculum vitae should be emailed to by the end of July 2013. Finalists will be selected by 1st October 2013, and full drafts of articles will be due on 1st March 2014.

Dr. David Bolt

 Director, Centre for Culture & Disability Studies
Editor, Journal of Literary & Cultural Disability Studies

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