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.