Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Elyn Saks wins a 2009 MacArthur "genius" grant

USC law professor Elyn Saks, author of the memoir The Center Cannot Hold: My Journey Through Madness (which I posted about last year, here), has won one of this year's prestigious MacArthur Foundation Fellowships--the so-called "genius" grants--that "celebrate and support exceptional men and women of all ages and in all fields who dream, explore, take risks, invent, and build in new and unexpected ways in the interest of shaping a better future for us all."

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Disability Studies, Temple U. lectures will now be distributed through IOD website

Disability Studies, Temple U. lectures beginning Fall 2009 will be available to our readers through the Insitute on Disabilities website. Allison Carey's September 9 lecture, the first of the the semester, is now available in print and audio formats - enjoy! Since this is a new effort of the Institute, we certainly appreciate your patience as we post them after the lecture. And we welcome your feedback and further suggestions.

Film Festival on Disability - Film Entries Wanted!

"different from what?" Film and Video Festival
Distributed September 19, 2009

Festival Dates: January 29-31, 2010
Festival Location: Tempe, Arizona USA
Submission deadline: October 25, 2009 - please check website for details

This festival explores the expression and construction of ability, disability, and identity from multiple perspectives. In what ways do our cultural practices reflect conventions and expectations that make some differences visible while obscuring others? Who and what conspires to compose these defining images and in what ways are they avoided, resisted, negotiated, and challenged? Participants will be intrigued by this mélange of film, conversation, and celebration of the differences that punctuate our community discourses.

Feature length and short films (30 minutes or under) are to being accepted for showcase in the first annual 2010 different from what? Film Festival. We welcome submissions in the following categories: drama, comedy, documentary, animation or experimental.

Feature length and short films (30 minutes or under) will be accepted for competition in the 2010 different from what? Film Festival Competition. We are accepting submissions in the following categories: drama, comedy, documentary, animation or experimental. Cash prizes and awards will be granted as follows: * Best of Festival * Best of Category: Drama, Comedy, Documentary, Animation and Experimental * Audience Prize * Spirit of the Festival

different from what? Film Festival will hold its premiere at the MADCAP Theaters in Tempe, AZ, during January 29-31, 2010. The Festival will feature productions that display a wide breadth of perspectives on disability as a life experience, an identity, and a social and political construct. The Festival is a student-led initiative organized in collaboration with the Equity Alliance at Arizona State University, an organization providing services that support learning around equity, access, and participation.

For entry requirements, please download and refer to the general call, competition call, and entry form document attachments. For other questions or comments, or if you would like to sponsor our festival, please email us at disabilitiesfilmfestival@asu.edu
Compensation: Prizes will be awarded for winners in student competition.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Flickr, Australian sopranos, and disability history

Young Marjorie Lawrence, probably as Elsa at the Metropolitan Opera, New York, late 1930's / unknown photographer
Originally uploaded by State Library of New South Wales collection

The State Library of New South Wales recently posted some photos to their "opera" set on Flickr that have relevance to disability history. Above, a portrait of Marjorie Lawrence (1907-1979), taken sometime in the 1930s. She was a noted Australian performer of Wagner heroines (as you can probably imagine from the long blonde tresses and studded headgear here). In 1941, Lawrence contracted polio. Eighteen months later, after treatment with Sister Elizabeth Kenny, she returned to the stage. Lawrence generally performed in a seated or reclining position thereafter, with creative staging that incorporated her stance into the visuals. The photo below (from the National Portrait Gallery in Canberra) is from a performance by Marjorie Lawrence after polio, a year before her retirement in 1952. She taught after that date, until her death in 1979.

[Visual description: Marjorie Larence in Egyptian costume, being carried on a throne by eight young men also in costume]

Florence Austral's photo (right; she's shown making marmalade in 1953, for some reason) has also recently appeared in the same flickrstream. Austral (1892-1968) was another Australian soprano who specialized in Wagnerian roles. She was very well known and had toured much of the world with her work when she began to experience the symptoms of multiple sclerosis (MS) in 1930. She continued to perform, moving gradually away from operas and into concerts and recitals, before her retirement in 1940. She, too, taught singing after she stopped performing, in Austral's case at the Newcastle Conservatorium from 1954-1959. Austral died in 1968.

Did Austral and Lawrence known one another? Did they compare notes on their efforts to maintain a performing career through the realities of a diagnosis that's both public and significant? I don't know enough about opera history or Australian women's history to know the answer. But maybe there's an article in this, for someone who can follow up.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

September 13: Phineas Gage's Accident (1848)

[Image description: a daguerreotype photograph of Phineas Gage, framed in gold; he's holding the iron rod that injured his skull. Gage is facing the camera, is dressed in a suit and cleanshaven; he has combed, dark hair and one closed eyelid.]

On this date in 1848, a 25-year-old railroad worker named Phineas Gage was injured in an accident on the job, outside Cavendish, Vermont. An iron rod that was about three-and-a-half feet long and a little more than thirteen pounds in weight was driven through Gage's head in an explosion. It went up through his cheek and out the top of his head. Gage survived both the accident and the treatment he received for his injuries. He died almost twelve years later, age 36, in California.

Those are the bare facts. But the legends surrounding Phineas Gage are more elaborate. Maybe you ran into the name in a freshman psych class, or on a television hospital drama. Maybe it was accompanied by the explanation that the survival of Gage encouraged the development of neurosurgery as a discipline, or maybe you heard that his demeanor changed so dramatically after the accident that it revolutionized thinking about the organic basis of personality.

Well, not so much. Turns out, nobody really knows much for certain about Gage's personality changes--the main source on that element of the story was compiled years after his death, mostly from his mother's decades-old recollections. And neurosurgery and theories about the organic basis of personality developed from many sources; the Gage story may have made a good illustration of the latter, but it wasn't really a spur to such theorizing. The fabulations around Gage were noticed almost as soon as they began. Scottish neurologist David Ferrier commented in 1877:
In investigating reports on diseases and injuries of the brain, I am constantly amazed at the inexactitude and distortion to which they are subject by men who have some pet theory to support. The facts suffer so frightfully.
Gage recovered impressively from his brain and skull injuries--though he lost the use of an eye, and had some significant scars, of course. His skull's shape was changed, so much so that a plaster cast was made of his head for exhibition purposes. Gage also made some public appearances, so great was the curiosity surrounding his story. In time, the sensation died off, and he went to work as a coach driver in Chile for a period of years. Ill-health sent him to San Francisco to live with his mother and sister; he died there in May of 1860, age 36, after several months of experiencing severe convulsions. Six years later, his mother gave permission for Gage's skull to be displayed with the infamous rod in an anatomical museum at Harvard, where they remain to be seen today. (The site of the accident in Vermont is also marked with a monument describing the event.)

The image above, a daguerreotype of Gage taken after the accident, was only identified as Gage this year (2009). Until recently, the private holders of the image (Jack and Beverly Wilgus) believed it was an unnamed whaler, holding a harpoon. They said as much when they posted the image to Flickr. A Flickr commenter told them that the iron bar was no harpoon; another suggested this might be a photo of Phineas Gage, and that turned out to be the case. (Yeah for Flickr commenters!)

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Wheelchair imagery in Lost publicity

[Visual description: a retro-style poster with a bright green background, white stylized wheelchair with footprints leading away from it and a knife stuck into the adjacent surface. The slogan "Just don't tell him what he can't do" is in the upper right; the title "Terry O'Quinn is Locke" is in the lower right; the words "A deceitful father/a fateful accident/a mysterious island/a dangerous obsession/a powerful purpose/a terrible sacrifice/and/a suitcase full of knives" are in a box in the lower left.]

Heard about this poster this morning. The television show LOST has an eighteen-hour final season starting in January, so to keep fan interest stoked, ABC has returned to the show's elaborate online publicity/ARG universe with a series of sixteen commissioned posters. This one, by designer Olly Moss, is apparently already sold out (it was a small run of 300 original screenprints).

Interesting that the illustrator chose an empty wheelchair to represent Locke. The character Locke has only been seen using a wheelchair in two or three episodes, over five seasons. According to his backstory, he used a wheelchair for four years, after a dramatic fall injured his spine; his ability to walk is miraculously restored in the plane crash that starts the show's story. Only a few of the other characters know he ever used a wheelchair, and it's not a very frequent topic of dialogue. Locke has a wide array of experiences and traits that get more screentime, but it seems he's still "the former wheelchair user" above all, maybe because disability can be just that overwhelming an element of identity sometimes.

That said, I do kinda like the retro look of this poster. It presents Locke as an edgy Steve McQueen-ish film hero, with "a suitcase full of knives"--and the wheelchair as part of his "dangerous" and "mysterious" complicated backstory--well, at least it's not pitiful.

Mark Blumberg at Mutter Museum!

Hi Folks,
There is a very exciting event this coming Friday. Mark Blumberg, from Iowa University is speaking at Mutter Museum at 6:30 . The conference is free and open to the public, but registration is needed. You can register at
For those of you not familiar with his work Mark Blumberg he is the author of an amazing book Freaks of Nature which shows how even hard sciencists can have a progressive, groundbreaking approach to disabilities approach, being at the same time great writers. More on the book can be found at: http://www.oup.com/us/catalog/general/subject/Medicine/Neuroscience/?view=usa&ci=9780195322828


Monday, September 07, 2009

September 7: Daniel Inouye (b. 1924)

[Image description: A black-and-white portrait of a young Daniel Inouye]
Oftentimes, it takes as much, if not more, courage to speak out and oppose our government’s actions. It should be viewed no less patriotically than those who wave the American flag.

Happy 85th birthday to Senator Daniel Inouye, who has served in the Senate continuously since 1959. Inouye is also one of the several disabled veterans serving in Congress.

He was born to Japanese immigrant parents in Honolulu, and joined the Army in 1943; Japanese-Americans were prevented from enlisting before that year. In April 1945, his right forearm was amputated due to battlefield injuries in Italy. He met future colleague Bob Dole when both were recovering from their war injuries at an army hospital. Inouye abandoned plans for a medical career and used the GI Bill to study political science at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. The day Hawaii became a state in 1959, Inouye was sworn in as its first senator.