Distressing Language

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.

Publication Date: 
April 19, 2022