‘Soundless as Shadows’: Language and Disability in the Political Novels

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Razumov could struggle no longer. He was exhausted; he had to watch passively the heavy open hand of the brute descend again in a degrading blow over the other ear. It seemed to split his head in two, and all at once the men holding him became perfectly silent – soundless as shadows.

This chapter takes as its starting point the deafening of Razumov in Under Western Eyes. At the end of the novel's penultimate chapter Nikita exclaims ‘He [Razumov] shall never be any use as a spy on any one. He won't talk, because he will never hear anything’ (UWE 371). The extraordinary synaesthesic logic of Nikita's claim, in which seeing (‘spy’) and speaking are annulled through deafness, provokes us to consider the complex relationships between speech, hearing, politics and disability in the political novels.

In the first chapter of Enforcing Normalcy Lennard J. Davis explains the prevalence of disabled figures in literature ‘as a result of the hegemony of normalcy’. For Davis, the disabled character acts as a necessary counterpoint to the ‘normal’ character(s), against which their normalcy is measured and secured. Moreover, in constructing this dichotomy of disabled versus normal (whether between characters in the text or between disabled figures in the text and a presumed ‘normal’ reader consuming it), Davis argues that fiction participates in a larger social programme of normalcy, one that developed out of scientific and sociological thinking in the nineteenth century. A similar position is developed by David T. Mitchell and Sharon L. Snyder, who bring a structuralist approach to what they perceive as the ‘narrative prosthesis’ engendered by the presence of disability in fiction. For Mitchell and Snyder, disability appears as a textually generative problem: ‘a narrative issues to resolve or correct – to “prostheticize” in David Wills's sense of the term – a deviance marked as improper to a social context’. Narratives are thus born of a social desire to resolve into normalcy the problem of, or represented by, disability.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationConrad and Language
EditorsKatherine Baxter, Robert Hampson
PublisherEdinburgh University Press
Number of pages18
ISBN (Electronic)9781474403788
ISBN (Print)9781474403764
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2016


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