16/7/2020 – CFP: A Self to Recover: Negotiating Sylvia Plath and Disability

cfp plath

What, when & where

As the author Sylvia Plath exists within the Anglophone canon as the quintessential “madwoman” and tragic figure of mental illness and suicidality, new theoretical arguments must be made in order to unpack the question of illness within Plath’s life and work. Although we view Plath as a woman with mental illness, we do not view her as a woman who was disabled, and who experienced other corporeal impairments beside her psychic pain. Not only this, but Plath has been unfairly pathologized by previous and current scholars, who only seek to analyze her poetry and writing using a medical analysis. This has influenced not only the cultural understandings of Plath, but how students treat her work as well. Ultimately, these practices have harmed both Plath as a cultural figure and the disabled Plath reader who is traumatized by these readings. Previous accounts of Plath scholarship that have focused on her mental illness include Edward Butscher’s Sylvia Plath: Method and Madness (1976), arguing that Plath “suffered” from narcissism, a split personality, and psychosis. David Holbrook’s Sylvia Plath: Poetry and Existence (1976) also medicalizes Plath’s work and pathologizes her, as Holbrook states that Plath was a “schizoid.” Anne Stevenson’s biography of Plath, Bitter Fame: A Life of Sylvia Plath (1989), argued that Plath dealt with paranoia, violent mood swings, a split personality and hysteria. Although these previous accounts of Plath and her work have unfairly pathologized her, this trend of medicalizing Plath still exist today.

Disability studies scholars have rejected this medicalized terminology and thinking, and have attempted to bring attention to this practice of pathologization in their work. As the disability studies scholar Michael Bérubé states, disability studies limits itself when it is only concerned with searching for diagnoses within authors and literary characters: it “need not and should not predicate its existence as a practice of criticism by reading a literary text in one hand and the DSM-5 in the other” (20). Moving beyond this tradition of pathologizing Plath, Plath scholars must seek to integrate these disabled perspectives in their work, and challenge the medical authority that influenced Plath’s life, work, and cultural legacy.

New research within the intersections of Plath scholarship and disability studies can help us (re)imagine the questions of illness, disability, and impairment that permeates Plath’s poetry, letters, journals, and novel. Ultimately, this collection will serve as a collaborative account where Plath’s work can be critically investigated by disability, crip, and Mad studies scholars, and where discourses within disability studies can enter the Plath canon of scholarship. This is much needed within both Plath studies and disability studies, and this collection will serve as a starting point for many students, junior, and established Plath and disability studies scholars. Pieces may focus on a range of topics, including:

Plath and the asylum
Plath and electroshock therapy
Plath and madness/mental illness/mental disability
Plath and self-identifying as disabled
Plath and psychiatric consumers/survivors/ex-patients (C/S/X)
Plath and physical embodiment
Plath and eating disorders
Plath and menstruation
The figure of Plath as a “madwoman”
The issue of suicidality in the Plath canon

Bringing together disability studies scholars, Plath scholars, and disabled Plath readers, this collection will move beyond previous medicalized and pathologizing readings of Plath, and consider how disability studies can aid our understanding of Plath and her work.

Deadline & how to apply

Proposals should include author’s name, a brief biographical statement, and a 500-word abstract. Please send these materials to Maria Rovito (mrr354@psu.edu) and Jessica Mason (jlmason1@buffalo.edu).

Proposals due: July 16th, 2020.

Conditional acceptances: July 31st, 2020.

Manuscripts due: December 31st, 2020.

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Photo credits: https://medium.com/the-1000-day-mfa/sylvia-plath-on-people-cce438c8cee

 

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