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The Disarticulate

Language, Disability, and the Narratives of Modernity

James Berger

Publication Year: 2014

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 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 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.

Published by: NYU Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-iv


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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-x

Writing, as all writers know, is generally a solitary, often a lonely pursuit. This project seemed especially so. I wrote most of my first book in grad school, and so had the support and good company of a faculty committee and assorted fellow students. I didn’t have a full-time job, didn’t have children. We were all there together working on our books....

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Introduction: Disarticulate and Dysarticulate

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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,...

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1. The Bearing Across of Language: Care, Catachresis, and Political Failure

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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—the Epic of Gilgamesh and the Hebrew Bible. Since then, both in narrative and in the more abstract discourses of religion, philosophy, and, more...

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2. Linguistic Impairment and the Default of Modernism: Totality and Otherness: Dys-/Disarticulate Modernity

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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...

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3. Post-Modern Wild Children, Falling Towers, and the Counter-Linguistic Turn

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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...

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4. Dys-/Disarticulation and Disability

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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...

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5. Alterity Is Relative: Impairment, Narrative, and Care in an Age of Neuroscience

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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...

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Epilogue: “Language in Dissolution” and “A World without Words”

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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 1994 A World without Words: The Social Construction of Children Born Deaf and Blind, I’ve...


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pp. 239-274

Works Cited

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pp. 275-294


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pp. 295-300

About the Author

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p. 301-301

E-ISBN-13: 9780814708330
E-ISBN-10: 0814708331
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814708460
Print-ISBN-10: 0814708463

Page Count: 320
Publication Year: 2014