Journal of Literary & Cultural Disability Studies

Deafened by Laughter: Reading David Lodge's Deaf Sentence as a Carnivalesque Dismodernist Text

Journal of Literary & Cultural Disability Studies (2012), 6, (1), 17–34.

Abstract

Deaf Sentence is a comic first-person narrative that explores an ageing man's adaptation to the experience of becoming deaf. Although David Lodge is a long-established and respected literary writer, this is his first sustained representation of disability. The article examines how Lodge circumvents the tendency amongst competent literary readers to understand disability in purely metaphorical terms. It is argued that Lodge succeeds in representing the lived materiality of hearing-impairment by setting his protagonist in motion as a Bakhtinian comic hero, a first-person narrator whose Rabelaisian body bursts from the text to invoke a carnivalesque overturning of power hierarchies. Lodge's move to elevate the impaired subject's status is shown to mirror Lennard Davis's vision of the dismodernist self: just as Davis puts dysfunction at the centre of human existence, with the result that subjectivity can be viewed as always in process and realized through interdependence, so Lodge's Bakhtinian deployment of multiple perspectives and discourses permits his representation of deafness as an embodied human experience whose meaning cannot be finally defined but that remains always permuted by the relationships and circumstances of the moment.

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Eyre, Pauline