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Title:Signifying nothing: intelligence and intellectual disability in modern British literature and culture, 1919 – 1969
Author(s):Pulsifer, Rebecah Jo
Director of Research:Gaedtke, Andrew
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Gaedtke, Andrew
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Mahaffey, Vicki; Frost, Samantha; Littlefield, Melissa; Linett, Maren
Department / Program:English
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Abstract:Signifying Nothing: Intelligence and Intellectual Disability in Modern British Literature and Culture, 1919-1969 investigates the confluences between literary and scientific approaches to intelligence in the mid-twentieth century. It stages two central arguments. First, it argues that in multiple domains, intelligence was constituted as a biopolitical resource that required management and care. As a biopolitical resource, intelligence became a criterion through which subjects could make claims to belonging in the decades of sociopolitical upheaval before, during, and after the Second World War in Britain. Second, this project argues that a significant body of midcentury literature models how competing theories of intelligence, if they were accorded cultural authority, could affect imagined communities. Examining literary works by H.D., Rebecca West, Olive Moore, H.G. Wells, Virginia Woolf, Samuel Beckett, Harold Pinter, and Peter Nichols, I show that scientific and political concerns about intelligence and intellectual disability animated literary approaches to the relationships among subject, society, and state in the midcentury. The chapters of this project examine how literary authors circulate contemporaneous understandings of intelligence and its inverse, intellectual disability, to envision and critique collectivities at the levels of identity, species, and—most centrally—nation. In doing so, these texts test and contest intelligence as a measure of the human for the purposes of defining a community. These chapters trace how mid-twentieth century works of literature established intelligence as a distinct, transpersonal essence with biopolitical meaning (Chapter 1: Interwar Imaginings of Collective Intelligence); explored how ideas about intellectual disability could challenge contemporaneous approaches to narrative and language (Chapter 2: “Contemplating the idiot”: Mental Privacy, Intellectual Disability, and the Possibility of Private Language in Virginia Woolf’s Between the Acts); revalued the culturally maligned experience of ignorance (Chapter 3: Information, Ignorance, and Ways of Reading Samuel Beckett); and employed questions of intelligence to assess the welfare state’s potentially conflicting promises of care and efficiency (Chapter 4: Cognitive Citizenship and the Welfare State in Harold Pinter and Peter Nichols). As a whole, this project shows that midcentury literature robustly engages in multidisciplinary debates about the nature and meaning of intelligence.
Issue Date:2017-07-06
Rights Information:Copyright 2017 Rebecah Pulsifer
Date Available in IDEALS:2017-09-29
Date Deposited:2017-08

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