Kate Flint responds to Travis Lau

Let us consider that moment in Middlemarch when Will is sitting in Mr Brooke’s library, helping him arrange dull legal documents. “When Mrs. Casaubon was announced he started up as from an electric shock, and felt a tingling at his finger-ends. Any one observing him would have seen a change in his complexion, in the adjustment of his facial muscles, in the vividness of his glance, which might have made them imagine that every molecule in his body had passed the message of a magic touch. And so it had.”[1]  In part, as Eliot goes on to say, this is because Will “was made of very impressible stuff – ” a term that carries with it the concomitant potential for variables within our common biological materiality. Variability allows for disability to be seen along a spectrum of ableism that relates not just to sight and hearing and mobility but – and this is crucial to the concerns both Lau and Morgan raise – responsiveness to aesthetic demands that are made on us. This sends me back to my own questions about aesthetic pedagogy, especially to my concern over inherent limitations – a form of disability, we might term it – in a mind that one might hope will respond to, or be trained to respond to, art and/or beauty, but that instead proves sluggish and unresponsive. How, in other words, do we – and the Victorians – account for, and respond to, deficiencies in affective and sensuous relations, when the answers would seem to go far beyond cultural exposure?

[1]George Eliot, Middlemarch (1871-2; Oxford: Oxford University Press [World’s Classics], 2008), p. 363.

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