Crip Time in Fin-de-siècle Spain: Disability, DEgeneration, and eugenics

Like much of Europe, nineteenth-century Spain was marked by the search for medical and legal solutions to the increasing number of bodies that did not align with culturally constructed expectations of productivity and reproduction in modernity. My dissertation “Crip Time in Fin-de-siècle Spain: Disability, Degeneration, and Eugenics” demonstrates how authors of this time used representations of disability to engage in urgent political questions about population control and the rights of individuals in the face of increasing medical intervention.

Focusing on canonical realist authors Emilia Pardo Bazán and Benito Pérez Galdós, as well as the modernist Sofía Casanova, I locate literary production within larger cultural debates by analyzing fiction alongside legal and scientific constructions of disability. Nineteenth-century scholarship from fields as varied as criminal anthropology, gynecology, and economics shaped expectations for health around ideas of national progress. The inability to satisfy work schedules and heteronormative life milestones, such as marrying and starting a family, became indicators of disability that presented a threat to social progress. Discussions on racial evolution and imperial decadence raised the stakes of these debates by tying the health of the nation and to the progression of humanity as a whole. My analysis of literary texts published between 1886 and 1904 teases out the discursive convergences and contradictions that constructed disability in relation to time by drawing on the disability studies concept of crip time — the lifestyle or schedules of a person with a disability that is culturally imagined as being at odds with progress. By centering on representations of crip time, this project challenges us to reevaluate why disabled characters potentially induce a sense of panic. I show that it is not necessarily because disabled bodies serve as reminders of mortality, as other scholars have argued. Indeed, within the cultural context of the fin-de-siècle Spanish novel, the fear and discomfort surrounding disabled characters signals an ambivalence toward medical discourses and an awareness of the precarity of being a “healthy” and able-bodied person at a historical moment in which health and ability are defined in continuously narrowing terms.

“Como un Petardo que Estalla”: Human Nature and Politics of the Street

My second major project will build on issues of disability and productivity that arise in my dissertation by turning to representations of labor movements in Spanish and Catalan fiction. In the second half of the nineteenth century, criminologists, psychiatrists, and sociologists pathologized socialism and anarchy as symptoms of degeneration. Literary depiction of working class politics and protests often adopts this perspective, emphasizing acts of terrorism or satirizing characters who propose class dissent. However, despite these criticisms, nineteenth-century authors’ representations of Spain’s burgeoning capitalist system makes it difficult to dismiss the working class characters’ desires for a redistribution of wealth, particularly as their bodies become culturally constructed as a natural, exploitable resource. While most recent work on public space focuses on the urban street as a site for itinerant, marginal characters to affirm their subjectivity, my second project will complement existing scholarship by foregrounding instances of political violence and bodily demands for basic resources. To approach this topic, my methodology draws on recent work on emotions as a form of knowledge in nineteenth-century Iberian culture studies and on Judith Butler’s work on the politics of public assembly. From this framework, my analysis considers the emotional dimensions of political protests and violence in the public spaces in nineteenth-century literature by Catalan authors Dolors Monserdà and Narcis Oller, as well as Pardo Bazán and Galdós.

I will present material related to this project at the 2019 Modern Language Association Annual Convention.


"Care and Progress in Restoration Spain: Transgressive Interdependence in Galdós's Misericordia"

"Curative Time and Carceral Reform in Pardo Bazán’s La piedra angular"