Disability Studies Quarterly Blog

Book and Media


Review by: Alyssa Hillary Zisk (they/them/theirs), University of Rhode Island, Email: Alyhillary@gmail.com

Keywords: representation; art; Disability and Film; 

Disability and Dissensus brings together chapters related to disability and representation in several contexts, including film, live theater, and written fiction. In the introduction, the editors, Ojrzyńska and Wieczorek, note their aim to promote cultural disability studies in humanities disciplines with this book, and the first numbered section is therefore devoted to introducing (and redefining) models of disability and normalcy. The first two chapters, by Rosemarie Garland-Thomson and Katarzyna Ojrzyńska and by Dan Goodley and Marek Mackiewicz-Ziccardi, respectively, cover ground that may well be familiar to readers approaching the text from Disability Studies, but provide useful context for readers new to the field. The third chapter, by Małgorzata Sugiera, examines models in science and the arts over a significant portion of history, all the way up to modern bioart, including portrayals of the nervous system.

The remaining five sections in the book consist of two chapters each. The second and third sections both focus on disability and film. In the second section, the focus is on disability film festivals as sites of art and activism: both chapters in the section discuss changing mindsets and representations that audiences may not have encountered before, either rejecting or twisting stereotypical narratives. They then discuss the work following these festivals: Mitchell and Snyder note how disabled people bring useful strategies across borders, while Tsakiri describes collective political action using connections formed around disability film festivals. In the third section, the focus is on tensions between the ‘real’ and the ‘reel’, or reality and film. One chapter uses two films from a single director, Russ Meyer,who  heavily uses semiotics to discuss what the specific impairments portrayed in his films are representing, while the second focuses on a single film: Lourdes. As the chapters use either work from a single film or a single director to make their disability discussions, these chapters may work well paired with the films they discuss, supporting the editorial goal of promoting cultural disability studies in the humanities.

The fourth section discusses ‘non-standard physiques’, with Agnieszka Izdebska discussing the representation of dwarfs in fiction over the twentieth century (and somewhat into the twenty-first, with A Song of Fire and Ice) and Edyta Lorek-Jezińska discussing No One as Nasty, an experimental play by Disabled playwright Susan Nussbaum.

The final two sections both cover theater groups composed of actors with intellectual disabilities. Part 5, “Beyond Therapy,” covers groups in Poland, first examining several such groups within a single region with tensions between the goals of art therapy and artistic outputs, then following a single group, Theater T21. The final section holds an even narrower focus, with both chapters addressing the production of Sanctuary by Blue Teapot as both a stage play and a film. This narrow focus enables a deep dive into how the production was created. It begins with a note about Sanctuary’s place in sparking a debate, followed by the 2017 repeal of a law criminalizing non-marital sex with people with intellectual disabilities in Ireland. Considering Disability and Dissensus as a whole, I have several overall impressions: First, while neurodiversity appears in the index, I find the most relevant discussions to neurodiversity appear not on the pages the index directs a reader to, but throughout the final three chapters, where input from actors with intellectual disabilities is present and/or discussed, where access strategies for actors with intellectual disabilities and possibly limited oral speech are described, and where Christian O’Reilly describes the desire to show the reactions and natural body language of actors with intellectual disabilities as true, intelligible reactions and body language. These discussions are, of course, also relevant to self-advocacy movements by people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. I would argue that both Blue Teapot’s Sanctuary and some performances by Theater T21 (e.g., Tisha B’av and Revolution That Was) are examples of such advocacy, in addition to being artistic performances.  Second, the majority of chapters include disabled creators (or creators with disabilities) in some way: three chapter authors identify themselves as disabled in their contributor biographies, and many of the films and plays addressed in Disability and Dissensus are written and/or acted by people with disabilities. Finally, yes, I think Disability and Dissensus can be effective at its stated goal, promoting cultural disability studies in humanities disciplines.

This review was published as part of Disability Studies Quarterly, Spring/Summer 2022.

Beginning with Volume 36, Issue No. 4 (2016), Disability Studies Quarterly is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives license unless otherwise indicated.

Disability Studies Quarterly is published by The Ohio State University Libraries in partnership with the Society for Disability Studies.

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