The Disarticulate: Language, Disability, and the Narratives of Modernity

The Disarticulate: Language, Disability, and the Narratives of Modernity

The Disarticulate: Language, Disability, and the Narratives of Modernity

The Disarticulate: Language, Disability, and the Narratives of Modernity

Synopsis

Language is integral to oursocial being. But what is the status of those who stand outside of language?The mentally disabled, "wild" children, people with autism and otherneurological disorders, as well as animals, infants, angels, and artificialintelligences, have all engaged with language from a position at its borders.In the intricate verbal constructions of modern literature, the'disarticulate'--those at the edges of language--have, paradoxically, playedessential, defining roles.

Drawing on the disarticulate figures inmodern fictional works such as Billy Budd, The Sound and the Fury,Nightwood, White Noise, and The Echo Maker, among others,James Berger shows in this intellectually bracing study how these charactersmark sites at which aesthetic, philosophical, ethical, political, medical, andscientific discourses converge. It is also the place of the greatest ethicaltension, as society confronts the needs and desires of "the least of itsbrothers." Berger argues that the disarticulate is that which is unaccountablein the discourses of modernity and thus stands as an alternative to theprevailing social order. Using literary history and theory, as well asdisability and trauma theory, he examines how these disarticulate figuresreveal modernity's anxieties in terms of how it constructs its others.

Excerpt

The real title of this book is not “The Disarticulate”; it is “The Dys-/ Disarticulate.” My excellent and sensible editor at New York University Press, Eric Zinner, and series editor Michael Bérubé both advised me to keep it simple, lose the slash, and pick one title so as to avoid confusion. Let me now—now that my reader has picked up the book, opened it, and started to read—reintroduce the slash, the double title, the stutter, the confusion.

Why does a book about representations of cognitive and linguistic impairment require a neologism and, further, an awkward compounded one? Its components are homonyms, which form the most seductive and meaningless relations in language. Like other arbitrary combinations of sound and meaning (like rhyme and alliteration), homonyms remind us that language stands always in relation to the non-linguistic, and that the sharp outlines of meaning still shake off the loose sod of nonsignificance from which they emerged. My topic—the figure of cognitive or linguistic impairment; the figure outside the linguistic loop—is unstable and conglomerate. Its social and theoretical location slides from the domestic and personal through medical, scientific, and sociological discourses, religious metaphors of redemption, theories of genetic and cultural degeneration, and more recent theories and practices of neuroscience; and intermittently it bears a reader across the divide between language and all that is not language. the dys-/disarticulate is the figure at the boundary of the social-symbolic order, or who . . .

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