• Prosthetic Narration and the Engagement of Disability in Literary Naturalism

    Evan Chaloupka (see profile)
    2022 MLA Convention
    Item Type:
    Conference paper
    Conf. Title:
    MLA 2023
    Conf. Org.:
    Conf. Loc.:
    San Francisco
    Conf. Date:
    January 2023
    Permanent URL:
    This talk introduces the concept of “prosthetic narration,” a narrative technique that mediates the engagement of disabled cognition such that the reader is invited to reimagine how one thinks and perceives. In his essay, “The Novel,” Émile Zola establishes the “intimate union” between the author and “the reality of the scene” as a premise of fictional practice. In Zola’s union, the author “confounds his own personality with the personality of the beings... he wishes to depict.” The narrative implications of this relationship are most clearly realized in Frank Norris’s McTeague, which follows the rise and fall of a slow-witted San Francisco dentist. Drawing on the critical writings of Zola and Norris along with the draft manuscript of McTeague, this talk inverts David T. Mitchell’s and Sharon L. Snyder’s concept of “narrative prosthesis” to show how Norris deploys a mode of prosthetic narration that avoids the rehabilitation and erasure of disability and allows the reader provisional access to disabled experience. In McTeague, the reader gently wades into disabled cognition, kept afloat by the delicately crafted voice of a narrator who strategically engages focal characters that challenge conventional ways of sensemaking. Yet, while McTeague’s narrator makes disabled perception and cognition accessible, that narrator also undercuts this pathway as the reader moves progressively closer to the consciousness of the disabled focal character. However intimate the relationship between narrator, character, and reader might become, it is a union that proceeds to and from nearness and distance. As a theoretical construct then, prosthetic narration suggests that where disability opens up imaginative opportunities, the deferred realization of any narrator-character-reader union can be the primary source of the disability fiction’s dramatic appeal. This paper will be presented as part of the "Prosthetics, Technology, and Narrative Fiction" panel (Session Number: 113).
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