Travis Lau responds to Kate Flint

Kate’s question about “teaching aesthetic responses” makes me consider certain pedagogical approaches to disability. I wonder about the problematic use of disability simulation to make accessible disability to able-bodied people. When such simulations are often produced by able-bodied designers or are the prosthetic means by which disability can be “tried on” for the purposes of pity or empathy, they seem wholly vulnerable to normalizing (or tokenizing) problems even as they ostensibly try to teach the participant how to respond “properly” to disability. To use a Victorian example, I think of Wilkie Collins’ Poor Miss Finch, which simulates through the novel form blind experience and the regaining of sight. While it invites the reader to experience blindness, how might the novel reinforce normative embodiment and pathologize disability in its shaping of readerly response not only to disabled people but disability representation?

In the case that Kate raises, particularly of the insensate individual who “has no response whatsoever to beauty,” I cannot help but think of the eighteenth-century figure of the “idiot,” characterized by numbness or flat affect attributed to his lack of rationality. The “idiot” became a proxy term for a range of social and biological pathologies that needed correction or even elimination. How might embodied aesthetic education serve as a kind of eugenic corrective for figures like the insensate “idiot”? Such ethical questions raised by the three of us underscore precisely what Elisha rightly describes as the “rewards of presentism” that The Outward Mind reaps.

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