Iseult Gillespie

Position title: Madeline Doran Dissertation Fellow (2021-2022)

Dissertator, English, UW–Madison

Image showing a woman with light white skin and short blonde hair, dressed in black. She is looking toward the right and smiling against a pale gray background.

Biological Imaginaries: Disability, Difference, and the New Genres of the Body in the Twenty-First Century

My project asks how the internal, biological aspects of embodiment – including cellular, hormonal, alimentary and respiratory processes – are translated into contemporary cultural forms. Challenging the ways in which biology has either been deployed to medicalize bodies and minds; or elided by those who argue that the body is purely a social construction, I suggest that these forms might be more deeply understood if analyzed at the intersection of disability studies and feminist science studies. I use this framework to explore case studies of different mediums and genres that use biology as a catalyst for artistic expression and political dissent. To describe this emergent area of cultural production, I coin the term “biological imaginaries.” As a cultural reframing of biology, I argue that biological imaginaries allow alternative conceptions of disability, variation, and so-called normality to proliferate. More broadly, I present a pressing need to account for these alternative inscriptions of the body, as a time when politics, medicine and technology have failed to fathom the material effects of a debilitating present.

Iseult Gillespie is a Ph.D. Candidate in English Literary Studies at UW-Madison. She specializes in the literary and cultural study of disability from an intersectional perspective, with interests in queer and transfeminist theory, visual cultures, and science and technology studies. This project has been recognized with awards from the Mellon-Wisconsin Foundation and the Graduate School at UW-Madison. Her forthcoming articles explore experimental life writing, intersex poetics, and disability justice. A TED-Ed educator and a Graduate Public Humanities Exchange Fellow, she is committed to inclusive projects that allow the relationship between scholarship and public interests to flourish.