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DRPS : Course Catalogue : School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures : English Literature

Postgraduate Course: Mutable Bodies in Modern and Contemporary Literature (ENLI11277)

Course Outline
SchoolSchool of Literatures, Languages and Cultures CollegeCollege of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences
Credit level (Normal year taken)SCQF Level 11 (Postgraduate) AvailabilityNot available to visiting students
SCQF Credits20 ECTS Credits10
SummaryThis course introduces students to a rich and diverse body of work from modern and contemporary literature centring on bodies, bodily difference, and embodiment. Selected texts will enable students to engage with disability writing, speculative and science fiction, surrealism, magical realism, scientific debates, ethics, biomedicine, and posthumanism. This course will challenge dominant viewpoints and ideologies, which often privilege certain bodies above others, whether knowingly or not, and challenge ideas around 'normal' and 'healthy' bodies. Armed with theoretical and critical tools, we will push against stereotypes around disability, deformity, monstrosity, and impairment, and challenge assumptions around ablebodiedness, normalcy, beauty, and health.
Course description This course provides opportunities to explore how bodies are written, how meaning is inscribed on the body, and how we read bodies. The critical frameworks from disability studies and medical humanities as well as ideas from biomedicine and bioethics, which underpin this course, will introduce students to interdisciplinary thinking, and develop skills to engage with a variety of disciplinary sources.

What is a body? We all have one, but where would we even begin to conceptualise it? We are always asking more of our bodies than we can comfortably handle, we put it under pressure, we challenge it, we voluntarily and involuntarily alter it; it obeys us and disobeys us. Your body looks like another's, but it doesn't look like everyone. Once it stops doing what we need it to, we start to pay more and more attention to it and to the corporeality of our lives. This course challenges what we might presume about bodies: it is not an intact, unambiguous, biological form. It is a site of tension, pleasure, pain, contradiction, modification, manipulation, and mutability.

As David Hillman and Ulrika Maude explain, 'the body is notoriously difficult to theorize or pin down, because it is mutable, in perpetual flux, different from day to day and resistant to conceptual definition.'There are numerous ways we might conceptualise bodies, and in this course, we expand upon notions of mutability, flux, and change, by exploring ideas around how bodies are influenced and reshaped by interactions with technology, war, non-human entities, disability, and different environments.

The course will provide opportunities to explore different representations of the body and embodiment, challenging assumptions around normalcy, functionality, and health. Students will be introduced to critical and theoretical frameworks within the interdisciplinary field of disability studies, which they will develop and build upon throughout the course. There will also be opportunities to understand aspects of postcolonial, queer, and feminist theories. We will encounter bodies which are made and unmade; disabled; fragmented; genetically engineered; mechanized and automated. We explore surreal and magical realist bodies in moments of flux and fragmentation; transformations into animals and hybrid forms which challenge the categories of the human. Boundaries between the human and non-human are explored with regards to prostheses, animals, mountain environments, science, medicine, and power. There will be opportunities to engage with bioethical approaches to organ donation, cloning, genetic engineering, human-animal relations, and health.

The focus on disability aims to challenge our ingrained assumptions about bodily normality, and reorient our thinking away from privileging certain bodies over others. Not all of the texts will depict disabled characters, but they will invite and provide opportunities to develop key theories from disability studies, alongside concepts around embodiment, health, reproduction, productivity, race, gender, and sexuality.

Following a thematic, non-chronological structure, students will encounter themes such as war, oppression, eugenics, gender, performance, movement, race, ethics, and sexuality. We will read a variety of texts, from a diverse range of writers, which challenge how we might conceive of the human body. Students will engage with a variety of literary forms and genres, including novels, literary essays, creative non-fiction, poetry, drama, speculative fiction, and theory.
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
Pre-requisites Co-requisites
Prohibited Combinations Other requirements None
Course Delivery Information
Not being delivered
Learning Outcomes
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  1. critically reflect on, evaluate and articulate complex and original ideas on a range of representations of the body in twentieth century and contemporary literature
  2. analyse literary texts by synthesising and engaging with a diverse range of critical methods and specialised frameworks including disability studies, war studies, posthumanism, psychoanalysis, queer theory, postcolonial theory, and feminist theory
  3. demonstrate extensive, detailed knowledge of primary sources and specialised theories by constructing research-driven, original arguments on the course's key issues & concepts
  4. apply critical reading skills and comparative methods to a variety of literary forms including novels, drama, non-fiction, and poetry
  5. develop and communicate independent lines of research based on the literary scholarship and critical frameworks discussed on the course
Reading List
Essential: (subject to change):
Extracts will be provided for some of these:

Nancy Mairs, 'On Being a Cripple' (1986)

D.H. Lawrence, Lady Chatterley's Lover (1928)

Kazuo Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go (2005)

Aldous Huxley, Brave New World (1931)

Angela Carter, Nights at the Circus (1984)

Djuna Barnes, Nightwood (1936)

Daisy Hildyard, The Second Body (2017) (extracts)

Nan Shepherd, The Living Mountain (1977) (extracts)

Helen Mort, No Map Could Show Them (2016)

Tristan Tzara, The Gas Heart (1923)

Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven, selected poems from Body Sweats: The Uncensored Writings of Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven (2011)

Andrea Lawlor, Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl (2017)

Rivers Solomon, Sorrowland (2021)

Ahmed Saadawi, Frankenstein in Baghdad (2013)
Additional Information
Graduate Attributes and Skills Knowledge and Understanding:
Students will have the opportunity to demonstrate their detailed knowledge of modern and contemporary literary responses to questions around bodies, embodiment, difference, and disability. Students will also have the opportunity to develop a confident and critical grasp of the key theories, discussions and debates within the interdisciplinary field of disability studies, and will be able to see where such theories might be brought into dialogue with literature.

Applied Knowledge, Skills and Understanding:
Through preparatory work for seminar discussions and during the research and writing of formal assessment tasks, students will have been able to practice the application of these concepts in their construction of arguments about the course material.

Through participating in the set tasks, students will also have demonstrated the ability to communicate ideas and information about specialised topics in the discipline to an informed audience of their peers and subject specialists.

Autonomy and Working with Others:
Students will also have shown the capacity to work autonomously and in small groups on designated tasks, develop new thinking with their peers, and take responsibility for the reporting, analysis, and defence of these ideas to a larger group.
KeywordsDisability; embodiment; non-human; posthumanism; transhumanism; biopower; biopolitics; bioethics;
Course organiserDr Marie Allitt
Course secretaryMrs Lina Gordyshevskaya
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