Journal of Bioethical Inquiry

, Volume 13, Issue 4, pp 477–483 | Cite as

Symptom and Surface: Disruptive Deafness and Medieval Medical Authority

  • Jonathan HsyEmail author
Symposium: Composing Disability


This essay examines constructions of deafness in medieval culture, exploring how deaf experience disrupts authoritative discourses in three textual genres: medical treatise, literary fiction, and autobiographical writing. Medical manuals often present deafness as a physical defect, yet they also suggest how social conditions for deaf people can be transformed in lieu of treatment protocols. Fictional narratives tend to associate deafness with sin or social stigma, but they can also imagine deaf experience with a remarkable degree of sympathy and nuance. Autobiographical writing by deaf authors most vividly challenges diagnostic models of disability, exploring generative forms of perception that deafness can foster. In tracing the disruptive force that deaf experience exerts on perceived notions of textual authority, this essay reveals how medieval culture critiqued the diagnostic power of medical practitioners. Deafness does not simply function as a symptom of an individual problem or a metaphor for a spiritual or social condition; rather, deafness is a transformative capacity affording new modes of knowing self and other.


Deafness Disability Medieval Medicine Literary theory Literary analysis 


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Copyright information

© Journal of Bioethical Inquiry Pty Ltd. 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.The George Washington UniversityWashingtonUSA

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