This special session will take place at the 47th International Congress on Medieval Studies at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, Michigan (May 10-13, 2012).
In Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, the steward Malvolio clearly connects fooling to intellectual disability when he says to the fool Feste, “Infirmity, that decays the wise, doth ever make the better fool”—to which Feste replies, “God send you, sir, a speedy infirmity for the better increasing your folly” (1.5.66-68). Yet, despite the clear connection these characters draw between the vocational fool and (intellectual) “infirmity,” few scholars have commented on the play’s repeated allusions to premodern beliefs in fools’ intellectual deficiencies. Disability studies have done much to examine and interrogate representations of extrinsic, physically visible disability. However, only a few scholars—such as C. F. Goodey—have begun to discuss and question historical notions of intellectual disability.
This panel seeks to further discussions of intellectual disability, asking: How are notions of intelligence and intellectual disability constructed and, perhaps, deconstructed in medieval and early modern Europe? How are these twin concepts portrayed in, for example, drama, poetry, narrative prose, visual art, music, dance, medical treatises, conduct manuals, and religious writings of the period? How is the historical contingency of ideas involving intelligence and disability evinced and critiqued in such works? How do fools in drama, religious writings, manuscript illuminations, and other artistic representations tangle with notions of intelligence and disability? What distinctions need to be drawn, and what connections made, between intellectual disability and premodern discussions of “madness”? How do premodern artists and writers portray the brain’s inadequacies, as well as its perceived failures to work?
This panel endeavors to enhance scholarly understanding of how premodern depictions of the intellect, its capabilities, and its deficiencies inform later discourses concerning the brain and mind—and, indeed, influence our own (dis)abilities to recognize such problems when they appear in the art and writing of medieval and early modern Europe.
Please send proposals of 250-300 words to Angela Heetderks (firstname.lastname@example.org) by September 25, 2011. Early submissions are appreciated.