Talk: Prof. Michael Davidson: « Distressing Language: Disability and the Poetics of Error » – 12 October, co-badged by FLT and GSS

Posted on September 28, 2022

Both a critical and personal book informed by the author’s deafness and the mistakes of understanding that he experiences daily, Distressing Language: Disability and the Poetics of Error (New York University Press, 2022) considers what “sound” and “voice” mean in a world that presumes hearing. Premised on queer/crip ideas of temporality, Distressing Language deals with issues of sound, deafness and the representation of error in contemporary art and poetry, bringing disability studies, sound studies and poetics into conversation. Included in the talk will be discussions of the poet Larry Eigner and the deaf visual artist, Christine Sun Kim.


Distressing Language: Disability and the Poetics of Error is full of mistakes—errors of hearing, speaking, writing, and understanding. It is also a book about the role of disability and deafness in contemporary aesthetics and how physical and intellectual difference challenge generic terms for art and poetry. The book’s title combines the idea of a language that disturbs or causes anxiety with language that is ripped, worn, or damaged. This interplay brings together the social environment in which language is exchanged with the materiality of words that frustrate easy comprehension. 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, not as a deficit but as a gain. Deafness becomes a guide in each chapter in considering how verbal confusions are less an aberration in understanding than a component of new knowledge. 


Michael Davidson is Distinguished Professor Emeritus at the University of California, San Diego. His work has focused on modern and contemporary American poetry, gender and sexuality studies, disability studies and deaf studies. His books on poetics include The San Francisco Renaissance: Poetics and Community at Mid-Century (Cambridge U Press, 1989), Ghostlier Demarcations: Modern Poetry and the Material Word (U of California Press, 1997), Guys Like Us: Citing Masculinity in Cold War Poetics (U of Chicago, 2003), and Outskirts of Form: Practicing Cultural Poetics (Wesleyan U Press, 2011). His work in disability studies includes Concerto for the Left Hand: Disability and the Defamiliar Body (U of Michigan, 2008), Invalid Modernism: Disability and the Missing Body of the Aesthetic (Oxford U Press, 2019) and Distressing Language: Disability and the Poetics of Error (New York U Press, 2022).

He is the author of six books of poetry, the most recent of which is Bleed Through: New and Selected Poems (Coffee House Press, 2013). He is the co-author, with Lyn Hejinian, Barrett Watten, and Ron Silliman, of Leningrad (Mercury House Press, 1991). He is the editor of The New Collected Poems of George Oppen (New Directions, 2002). 

This is both an in-person and online event :

Registration for online participation is mandatory.