Disability and the Poetics of Error
Published by: NYU Press
256 pages, 6.00 x 9.00 mm, 24 b/w illustrations
- ISBN: 9781479813841
- Published: March 2022
The role of disability and deafness in art
Distressing Language is full of mistakes—errors of hearing, speaking, writing, and understanding. Michael Davidson engages the role of disability and deafness in contemporary aesthetics, exploring how physical and intellectual differences challenge our understanding of art and poetry.
Where hearing and speaking are considered normative conditions of the human, what happens when words are misheard and misspoken? How have writers and artists, both disabled and non-disabled, used error as generative elements in contesting the presumed value of “sounding good”? Distressing Language grows out of the author’s experience of hearing loss in which misunderstandings have become a daily occurrence. Davidson maintains that verbal confusions are less an aberration in understanding than a component of new knowledge.
Davidson discusses a range of sites, from captioning errors and Bad Lip Reads on YouTube, to the deaf artist Christine Sun Kim’s audiovisual installations, and a poetic reinterpretation of the Biblical Shibboleth responding to the atrocities of the Holocaust. Deafness becomes a guide in each chapter of Distressing Language, giving us a closer look at a range of artistic mediums and how artists are working with the axiom of “error” to produce novel subjecthoods and possibilities.
Drawing on his own experience of increasing deafness, Davidson provides an engrossing look
into the ways that slips or unusual forms of language can unexpectedly lead to new meanings and
beauty. Distressing Language expertly weaves together modern poetry and fiction, popular
culture, sign language art, theory, politics, and history, and is often as funny as it is profound.
~Christopher Krentz, author of Writing Deafness: The Hearing Line in Nineteenth-Century American Literature
A highly original account of language, meaning, and sound, all framed through hearing loss. In
Davidson’s account, meaning and value come from things not working the way they are
supposed to. But rather than fetishizing technical glitch or aesthetic failure, he processes
meaning through a disability hermeneutic. Throughout Distressing Language, the lines between
poetry, sound art, and music are intentionally blurred and violated, while the meaning of sound is
foregrounded as something especially important for those who have limited access to it.
~Jonathan Sterne, McGill University