The Disarticulate

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

James Berger
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 320
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt9qg6xh
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  • Book Info
    The Disarticulate
    Book Description:

    Language is integral to our social being. But what is the status of those who stand outside of language? The mentally disabled, wild children, people with autism and other neurological disorders, as well as animals, infants, angels, and artificial intelligences, 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, played essential, defining roles.Drawing on the disarticulate figures in modern fictional works such asBilly Budd, The Sound and the Fury, Nightwood, White Noise,andThe Echo Maker,among others, James Berger shows in this intellectually bracing study how these characters mark sites at which aesthetic, philosophical, ethical, political, medical, and scientific discourses converge. It is also the place of the greatest ethical tension, as society confronts the needs and desires of the least of its brothers. Berger argues that the disarticulate is that which is unaccountable in the discourses of modernity and thus stands as an alternative to the prevailing social order. Using literary history and theory, as well as disability and trauma theory, he examines how these disarticulate figures reveal modernity's anxieties in terms of how it constructs its others.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-0833-0
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Introduction: Disarticulate and Dysarticulate
    (pp. 1-14)

    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...

  5. 1 The Bearing Across of Language: Care, Catachresis, and Political Failure
    (pp. 15-52)

    The problem of how to speak with the non-speaking, with those in some sense outside the loop of language, has occupied users of language since at least some of the earliest documentations of language—theEpic of Gilgameshand the Hebrew Bible. Since then, both in narrative and in the more abstract discourses of religion, philosophy, and, more recently, science and medicine, there has been a continuing dialogue, or an imagined dialogue, with those sited beyond, or just on the borders of language: with animals, infants, angels, the dead, the inanimate objects of nature, and the inanimate (or animate) constructions...

  6. 2 Linguistic Impairment and the Default of Modernism: Totality and Otherness: Dys-/Disarticulate Modernity
    (pp. 53-104)

    Blake’s famous poem lauds the triumphs of modern urban planning and natural science. Both city and nature have been placed under the charter of rational knowledge and guidance, and a just and fecund society prospers through this knowledge. Oh! Sorry! I was looking at the wrong note card! Of course, “London” is a bitter condemnation of modern forms of knowledge and their effects on nature and social life. But this mistaken conflation points toward the central epistemological and moral tensions of modernity, which can be summed up as the problem of knowledge as system or model. As Isaiah Berlin argued,...

  7. 3 Post-Modern Wild Children, Falling Towers, and the Counter-Linguistic Turn
    (pp. 105-140)

    Most commentaries on the destruction of the Tower of Babel regard it as a second Fall, a fragmentation of the perfect language of naming that Adam conceived and so the beginning of the split between word and thing that brought into the world lying, ambiguity, irony, negation, artifice, the unconscious, ideology, the subject, the Other, and all the various woes and pleasures we now associate with language. In the Zohar we read that the biblical phrase “the whole earth was of one language” indicates that “the world was still a unity with one single faith in the Holy One” (253),...

  8. 4 Dys-/Disarticulation and Disability
    (pp. 141-182)

    There would seem to be a gap in my thinking that now it is time to try to discuss. My notion of the dys-/disarticulate appears to fall under the broad category of “disability” as it has been delineated over the past twenty years in the field of disability studies. I have referred to some of this work in preceding chapters, but have not yet addressed directly the question of this project’s relation to the field. The study of dys-/disarticulation is in part a study of the uses and changes in terminologies for people with varieties of cognitive impairment—idiot, feebleminded,...

  9. 5 Alterity Is Relative: Impairment, Narrative, and Care in an Age of Neuroscience
    (pp. 183-230)

    In chapter 2, I discussed how characters with cognitive and linguistic impairments in modernist fiction served as figures of radical alterity—both dys- and disarticulate—in relation to a modernity characterized as a totalizing social-symbolic system. Alternate, less extreme ways of thinking about language and social organization were available (e.g., James’s pluralism, Bahktin’s and Voloshinov’s analyses of language as a dialogic enactment of multiple social tensions), but we can speculate that the rapid, violent, traumatic character of social change—and, indeed, of many of the significant events of the twentieth century—and the extreme claims made by positivist thinkers in...

  10. Epilogue: “Language in Dissolution” and “A World without Words”
    (pp. 231-238)

    Two very different texts occur to me as forming the end to this book. One, Roman Jakobson’s 1956 essay “Two Aspects of Language and Two Types of Aphasic Disturbances,” I return to, having read it many times over the past decade. The other, David Goode’s 1994A World without Words: The Social Construction of Children Born Deaf and Blind, I’ve been reading for the first time. Jakobson’s essay is a classic of rhetoric, linguistics, poetics, and literary theory that is remarkable also for its attempt to serve as an intervention into clinical practice. Goode’s book consists of case studies of...

  11. NOTES
    (pp. 239-274)
  12. WORKS CITED
    (pp. 275-294)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 295-300)
  14. ABOUT THE AUTHOR
    (pp. 301-301)