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The Variable Body in History

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Edited By Chris Mounsey and Stan Booth

The essays in this book explore the different ways the body has been experienced and interpreted in history, from the medieval to the modern period. Challenging the negative perceptions that the term ‘disability’ suggests, the essays together present a mosaic of literary representations of bodies and accounts of real lives lived in their particularity and peculiarity. The book does not attempt to be exhaustive, but rather it celebrates the fact that it is not. By presenting a group of individual cases from different periods in history, the collection demonstrates that any overarching way of describing bodies, or unifying description of the experience of the myriad ways of being in a body, is reductive and unhelpful. The variability of each body in its context is our subject.
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Laughing about and Talking about the Idiot in the Eighteenth Century

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ABSTRACT

The position of the ‘idiot’ in eighteenth-century public discourse cannot be dismissed as marginalized and liminal. Idiots lived before the eyes and in the minds of their communities. They were often the butt of jokes and mocked in slang language, but in an age where raillery and ‘rattle’ (mockery) were valued and universally applied to all sectors of society, this was more a signal of community visibility than an indicator of objectification. In this period, to be seen as lacking in mental faculty was not an inevitable precursor to social exclusion, as it would become in the nineteenth century.

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