Fordham English professor Rebecca Sanchez is transforming the way literary scholarship approaches disability studies and examines civil rights.
Sanchez, whose main research interests include modernism, poetics, critical theory, and disability studies, first fell in love with modernist literature as an undergraduate. Attracted to its self-reflexivity and linguistic intricacies, found herself able to discover something new every time she returned to a text. “I loved that experience of coming back to the same texts over and over, and the ways that so many modernist works, through their engagement with difficulty and indeterminacy, reward that patience,” she said.
Reflecting on the ways modernist literature challenges assumptions about language, Sanchez crafted her recent book, Deafening Modernism. The book uses deaf critical abilities to illuminate the works of T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stein, William Carlos Williams, and Charlie Chaplin, among others.
According to Sanchez, disability studies, and specifically deaf studies, offer illuminating perspectives about the intersections between bodies and texts and between the visual and the linguistic, and develop ideas “about non-normative communicative practice that were almost entirely untapped in modernist studies.” Whereas most scholarship in literary disability studies seeks to identify and analyze disabled characters and writers, Sanchez’s work aims to engage disability, especially deafness, as a critical approach. The new approach can be fruitfully applied to texts with no explicit link to disability.
“Deafening Modernism is essentially an experiment into what it would look like to discuss modernists’ preoccupation with things like impersonality, primitivism, indeterminacy, and the image from the perspective of deaf and disability insight,” said Sanchez.
Currently, Sanchez is working on a new book titled Adomestic Modernity: Homelessness, Migration, and Access to the Private Sphere. The book will explore the experiences and representations of homelessness in the early twentieth century, paying special attention to those who were systematically denied access to secure private spaces. It will examine refugees and the internally displaced, exiles, disabled people who were institutionalized, and those whose communities were crossed by shifting national borders.
As Sanchez points out, a violation of one's civil rights can, in some cases, be seen as the denial of one's access to private space. "I'm interested in exploring what individuals and communities who are forced into the public sphere can teach us about the relationship between public and private," said Sanchez. She will also explore insights these groups may provide into how people think about and represent others.
"The hope," said Sanchez, "is that examining the rhetoric surrounding these questions during a period when our current legal understanind of privacy was being developed will also be helpful in thinking through the ways in which we discuss both privacy and displaced populations in our own historical moment."