While research on autism has sometimes focused on special talents or abilities, autism is typically characterized as imp
164 15 1015KB
English Pages 248  Year 2018
176 25 16MB Read more
Robinson Crusoe naufraga y acaba en una isla desierta. Allí tendrá que hacer uso de su inteligencia y perspicacia para d
158 52 517KB Read more
Design by Janice Tapia. For nearly three centuries, Robinson Crusoe has been the archetypal castaway, the symbol of sur
196 65 2MB Read more
The chapters in this volume represent steps in the direction of demonstrating the importance of efforts to theorize the
132 72 4MB Read more
Today autism has become highly visible. Once you begin to look for it, you realize it is everywhere. Why? We all know th
181 111 2MB Read more
An urgent, funny, shocking, and impassioned memoir by the winner of the Spectrum Art Prize 2018, How To Be Autistic pres
141 63 351KB Read more
Table of contents :
Foreword by Melanie Yergeau......Page 10
Preface: Involuntarity and Intentionality......Page 12
1. Introduction......Page 20
2. Articulating Autism Poetics......Page 50
3. On the Surprising Elasticity of Taxonomical Rhetoric......Page 96
4. Nothingness Himself......Page 118
4½. (Why “Bartleby” Doesn’t Live Here)......Page 136
5. Neuroqueer Narration in Charlotte Brontë’s Villette......Page 144
6. The Absence of the Object: Autistic Voice and Literary Architecture in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein......Page 166
7. Autism and Narrative Invention in Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe......Page 184
UnConclusion—Because the Butterfly: Autistic Infinitudes......Page 198
An Accounting: Autistic Ejaculations......Page 212
Works Cited......Page 218
Acknowledgments: A Litany......Page 234
Co rporealities: Discourses of Disability Series editors: David T. Mitchell and Sharon L. Snyder Recent Titles Autistic Disturbances: Theorizing Autism Poetics from the DSM to Robinson Crusoe by Julia Miele Rodas Foucault and Feminist Philosophy of Disability by Shelley L. Tremain Academic Ableism: Disability and Higher Education by Jay Timothy Dolmage Negotiating Disability: Disclosure and Higher Education by Stephanie L. Kerschbaum, Laura T. Eisenman, and James M. Jones, editors Portraits of Violence: War and the Aesthetics of Disfigurement by Suzannah Biernoff Bodies of Modernism: Physical Disability in Transatlantic Modernist Literature by Maren Tova Linett War on Autism: On the Cultural Logic of Normative Violence by Anne McGuire The Biopolitics of Disability: Neoliberalism, Ablenationalism, and Peripheral Embodiment by David T. Mitchell with Sharon L. Snyder Foucault and the Government of Disability, Enlarged and Revised Edition by Shelley Tremain, editor The Measure of Manliness: Disability and Masculinity in the Mid-Victorian Novel by Karen Bourrier American Lobotomy: A Rhetorical History by Jenell Johnson Shakin’ All Over: Popular Music and Disability by George McKay The Metanarrative of Blindness: A Re-reading of Twentieth-Century Anglophone Writing by David Bolt Disabled Veterans in History by David A. Gerber, editor Mad at School: Rhetorics of Mental Disability and Academic Life by Margaret Price Disability Aesthetics by Tobin Siebers Stumbling Blocks Before the Blind: Medieval Constructions of a Disability by Edward Wheatley Signifying Bodies: Disability in Contemporary Life Writing by G. Thomas Couser Concerto for the Left Hand: Disability and the Defamiliar Body by Michael Davidson The Songs of Blind Folk: African American Musicians and the Cultures of Blindness by Terry Rowden A complete list of titles in the series can be found at www.press.umich.edu
Autistic Disturbances ••• Theorizing Autism Poetics from the DSM to Robinson Crusoe
Julia Miele Rodas With a Foreword by Melanie Yergeau
University of Michigan Press Ann Arbor
Copyright © 2018 by Julia Miele Rodas All rights reserved This book may not be reproduced, in whole or in part, including illustrations, in any form (beyond that copying permitted by Sections 107 and 108 of the U.S. Copyright Law and except by reviewers for the public press), without written permission from the publisher. Published in the United States of America by the University of Michigan Press Manufactured in the United States of America Printed on acid-free paper First published July 2018 A CIP catalog record for this book is available from the British Library. ISBN 978-0-472-07394-8 (hardcover : alk. paper) ISBN 978-0-472-12410-7 (ebook) Cover description for accessibility: In the center of the cover is a photo taken in an artisanal button shop in Barcelona. A multitude of individual buttons of various shapes, colors, sizes, and materials are sorted, organized, and stacked in individual tubes on a custom shelf, the cover of each topped with its particular button, facing the viewer. Of the approximately seventy-five unique buttons depicted, there are hearts, a star, a piece of candy, a spiral, a flower, an ice cream cone, and a cupcake, among others. The image is cropped to include partial buttons and containers on all sides, indicating that this diversity, and the ordering of these artifacts, continues in a pattern of excess beyond the frame. Above the photograph, the book title appears in an angular serif face, followed by the subtitle in a sans serif face; below, the author and foreword writer are listed in the same sans serif type.
for Jack Hall, mentor, colleague, friend and for my husband, Estuardo Rodas without whom this book would not exist
Foreword by Melanie Yergeau
Preface: Involuntarity and Intentionality
2 Articulating Autism Poetics
3 On the Surprising Elasticity of Taxonomical Rhetoric
4 Nothingness Himself
4½ (Why “Bartleby” Doesn’t Live Here)
5 Neuroqueer Narration in Charlotte Brontë’s Villette
6 The Absence of the Object: Autistic Voice and Literary Architecture in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein
7 Autism and Narrative Invention in Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe
UnConclusion—Because the Butterfly: Autistic Infinitudes
an accounting: autistic ejaculations
Acknowledgments: A Litany
Foreword by Melanie Yergeau
What does it mean, Julia Miele Rodas asks, to open a text to the “possibilities of autism”? If autism is a potential toward which one might aspire, how might clinical-textual readings of autism shift—crumble—strive? It is hard for a foreword to do justice to a book as profound as this one. Autistic Disturbances is at once capacious and nuanced: It demarcates the whatness of autistic language—an impressive and formidable project— while refusing to confine its substance to pathological categories. Autistic Disturbances unfurls autistic language not as a category attached to a diagnosis, but rather as a series of rhetorical and aesthetic strategies that share deep affinities with autistic cultures. Autistic language, per Rodas, is uniquely embodied and habitual. These body-habits, as it were, exceed the domain of the contemporarily-and culturally-autistic and are locatable across literary texts from the past three centuries. With keen wit and a penetrating gaze (eye contact pun!), Rodas shows us how textual habits historically devalued as autistic are habits traditionally valued in literary texts. Indeed, if one were to spend six hours with Silva Rhetoricae’s trope index, one would find many an autistic-cum-literary pattern. For what are rhetorical schemes if not autistic, and vice versa? In pursuing these questions, Rodas describes autistic language as “terminological clouds” (which is a much cooler metaphor than Kenneth Burke’s terministic screens), taxonomies that resonate as much as they create friction. Autistic language, she notes, is not confinable to tidy or monolithic categories; like literary motifs, it rains and patterns.
x • Foreword
Readers familiar with autism studies will understand the complexity (and guaranteed controversy) surrounding any claim about autism and language. Language is, after all, what the autistic are time and again claimed to lack. Indeed, even when autistic communication bears passing normative resemblance, clinicians without fail locate fault. We have at our disposal nearly infinite clinical tropes that frame autistic languaging effectually as non-languaging: Absence of speech. Presence of augmentative and assistive communication. Failure to point or gesture. Pointing or gesturing too much, and with too much enjoyment, and with too much of the too much too much. Excessive repetition. Inexcessive repetition. Oversharing. Undersharing. Inability to answer “How are you?” Propensity to answer “How are you?” with train trivia or decontextualized lines from Die Hard. Et cetera x 47. Rodas’s book is a welcoming middle finger, if one can imagine the beckoning playfulness of such a discordant gesture. Where a clinician finds paucity, Rodas finds semiotic silence. Where a clinician finds TMI, Rodas finds apostrophe or ejaculation. In reading Autistic Disturbances, I am reminded of Neil Marcus’s claim that disability “is an art . . . an ingenious way to live.” Rodas masterfully makes the case that autism is an art, one that publics are beholden to recognize and value. More than this, however, she refuses those claims that would suggest autism and autistics have no language. In so doing, Rodas rejects ableist repertoires of what language is and can mean, notably the understanding that language necessitates understanding or intelligibility. In venerating the idiosyncratic and the echolalic, Rodas conducts analyses of literary texts notable for their autistic form by means of an autistic form. In other words, when discussing interruptive prose, Rodas interrupts her own prose— beautifully, rigidly, and impassionedly. In this way, readers are viscerally confronted with autism’s many possibilities, are given neurodivergent mechanisms through which to re-see Villette, Frankenstein, Robinson Crusoe, and more. Autism’s possibilities exceed the texts Rodas autistically scrutinizes. What Autistic Disturbances offers is at once a method and a style for apprehending aesthetic autism, across genre and mode. This is an incomparable book, one brimming with ideas for how to reclaim autistic echoes in a morass of literary expression. Lather, rinse, repeat is an amazing thing.
Preface Involuntarity and Intentionality
Autistic Disturbances is about autism poetics, about the particular ways in which autism is expressed in language. The book brings together literary, linguistic, political, and clinical discussion to explore the presence of autistic voice in familiar texts and to question the complex matrices of power and aesthetics that influence how formal autistic expression is valued or devalued. The argument and theoretical framework of Autistic Disturbances are unfolded at length in its opening chapters; the shorter chapters that make up the rest of the book apply this interpretive experiment to a series of well-known texts. What follows in this preface is a brief discussion of possible questions surrounding the larger project.
Regarding Language and Intentionality In the beginning, there is a question of intention: Is it ever truly possible to say entirely what we mean or to mean entirely what we say? Does language, used by anyone in any form, exist as a fully intentional medium, transparently communicative, a direct expressive conduit of some true inner self?
By presenting the question in these extreme terms, with these abundant flourishes—ever, truly, entirely, fully, transparently—the question itself is under-
xii • Preface
mined, not really a question at all. This is what’s called in the business a “rhetorical” question, a deliberate spoiler, the answer already obvious. And the obvious answer? Of course language is difficult, contingent, and experimental; of course, there is only ever the illusion of clear, unidimensional meaning. Language is always approximate, always loaded, always a little unpredictable. Despite this concession, when considering autistic language, there remains nevertheless a tendency to perseverate on questions of intentionality; there is a recurring critique, a zombie-like rising up again of that which might have been considered securely settled, obvious. Intentions are always, at best, obscure and illusory. And yet, as Melanie Yergeau observes, “involuntarity dominates much of the discourse on autism, underlying clinical understandings of affect, intention, and socially appropriate response” just as “popular autism narratives represent autistics as involuntary” (Authoring Autism, 7, 9). Thus, the inevitable ambiguities of neurotypical language users are passed over, invisible; there may be misspeaking, confusion, the muddiness of figuring out, of thinking-out-loud—all this is to be expected. But with ordinary language use, there is all the while an unspoken, unconscious expectation of teleology, a social generosity that infers destination; the language that is valued is language that is thought to be getting somewhere. Meanwhile, autistic speakers and writers are subject to a different kind of verbal scrutiny, an expectation of “solipsism” (Nadesan, “Constructing Autism,” 87), of “echolalia” (Hinerman, Teaching Autistic Children, 25), of “nonsense” (Kanner, “Autistic Disturbances,” 243). Autistic language is “attenuated” and “circular” (Glastonbury, “‘I’ll Teach You Differences,’” 60; Olsen, “Diagnosing Fantastic Autism,” 41); it is, as Marion Glastonbury poetically sums up, “the empty institutional whelk-shell without the hermit crab” (60). Autistic language is always suspect because autistic people are always suspected. Indeed, the question of intentionality is informed by another question, deeper and darker than the first: When it comes to autism, perhaps, there is no there, there? Yergeau is careful to unpack this latency: “Involuntarity,” she notes, “is a project of dehumanization” (Authoring Autism, 10). It is imperative that this caution be foregrounded, that discussion of autism and language never lose sight of an implicit “project of dehumanization.” And yet there is also something to be gained from undertaking discovery at this boundary, from experimental probing at the site of absence. To this end, this preface puts forward a brief analysis of a text that genuinely isn’t there, teasing out the threads of autism poetics
Preface • xiii
and recurring questions of intentionality in a manuscript that is literally nonexistent—the fictional “Memorial” authored by Mr. Dick in Charles Dickens’s David Copperfield (1850). First: about Mr. Dick. He’s a provoking figure for thinking about autism, partly because, as a character, he is balanced ambiguously at the threshold of legitimate personhood. He is regarded by the clear-sighted and heroic Betsey Trotwood as a font of wisdom and common sense, treasured by the novel’s protagonist as a generous and tenderhearted friend, and understood by scholars as a doppelganger for Dickens himself. (Mr. Dick, get it?) At the same time, audiences understand from their first encounter with the character that he is socially, emotionally, and intellectually atypical. He lives upstairs in Aunt Betsey’s house, having been preserved by her from institutionalization by his own brother. Though Mr. Dick is fully capable of managing his physical needs independently, he is nevertheless subject to Aunt Betsey’s authority, seemingly unable to take care of himself, a borderline case, marked as intellectually or cognitively disabled, a legitimate subject for incarceration, inhabiting the fringe of the human family. Though he is articulate, an able and productive writer, his words likewise are regarded as failing in some way; “there was something wrong” (Dickens, David Copperfield, 243; chap. 15). In keeping with clinical descriptions of autism, the strangenesses of Mr. Dick’s language are almost imperceptible; it is “hard to find anything formally wrong, rather the reader is left with an overall impression of oddness” (Happé, “Autobiographical Writings,” 229). Mr. Dick’s potential identity as a neurocognitively disabled character is important, of course, in considering questions of intentionality, but it is his role as an arguably neuroqueer writer, his production of apparently autistic text, which is the focus here. It is Mr. Dick’s manuscript, endlessly attenuated, both inaccessible and inescapable, redolent of autistic rhetoric, that captures the imagination. The writing that Mr. Dick works at diligently every day is explicitly called a “Memorial,” but Dickens remains rather vague as to its content. In fact, the defining feature of the Memorial is that it must perpetually be stopped and restarted because, somehow, the decapitated head of King Charles the First continually reappears in the manuscript as an unbidden interjection, a scripted interruption or ejaculation, impermissible. (Another intrusion here of Dickensian writerly identity—King Charles, get it?—signals the import of what might otherwise be considered an expletive.) This Sisyphean task, this ceaseless circular writing—echoing, ricocheting, evoking Glastonbury’s “empty institutional whelk-shell”—is also
xiv • Preface
punctuated by Mr. Dick’s crafting his infinite pages of waste manuscript into enormous kites, which he flies with the idea of “disseminating” his words into the wind (244; chap. 15). Mr. Dick’s is a life of false starts and his escape from institutional life is ambiguous at best, since he is rescued from the asylum only to suffer a kind of writer’s incarceration, chained to the incomprehensible treadmill of the Memorial. His writing life appears to be one of constant reiteration, senseless interruption, meaningless proliferation, and pointless dissemination, an attempt at meaning-making punctuated at intervals by symbolic but indecipherable decapitation. Language without meaning, suggestive of Lance Olsen’s comment that autism-inflected texts are “fraught with . . . a deep feeling of failure [and] invariably begin the entropic drift toward autistic silence. The game is futile, the center is absent, linguistic zero is present” (41). Mr. Dick’s writing operates at the margins of intentionality, a point brought home by the fact that he later transitions from the Memorial into work as a law copyist, anticipating, or becoming an uncanny forebear of Melville’s famed Bartleby, the scrivener. Work on the text of the Memorial, an outpouring of creative interiority, merges explicitly into writing work that is the mere copying of dry legal documents. Ostensibly, Mr. Dick’s Memorial, then, is a text about nothing and meaning nothing, void, contentless, of purely formal or superficial value, a pointless activity to give occupation to the most marginal of figures: “it don’t signify,” comments Aunt Betsey; “it keeps him employed” (232; chap. 14). Like the legal copying to come, the Memorial may be regarded as a mechanical, a mechanistic performance, without interiority or intentionality. Dovetailing with clinical assessments of autism in the 20th century, it is the “mechanical repetition” noted in the DSM III-R, Kanner’s “monotonous repetitiousness” (“Autistic Disturbances,” 246). And yet the Memorial’s profusion and its expansive echoes within and beyond the novel belie its apparent insignificance. Mr. Dick’s writing, despite appearances, is not meaningless or nonsensical. His kite flying is not intended to get rid of the words and ideas that constrain him, a means of relieving himself of a kind of semiotic waste, but is rather founded on his “belief in its disseminating the statements pasted on [the kite]” (244; chap. 15). “I don’t know where they may come down,” he remarks. “It’s according to circumstances, and the wind, and so forth; but I take my chance of that” (229; chap. 14). While others question his cognitive competence and set restrictions on the content and manner of his writing, Mr. Dick’s kite-flying activity is undertaken to spread the statements of the Memorial far and wide; it is his version
Preface • xv
of publication, of broadcast, an expansive sharing of dense, difficult, and forbidden language. And while the text itself is absent, it is not completely unknowable. What it intends, whether it has legitimate intentionality, to what extent its meaning and intention are communicable, are not quite accessible. And yet, nonexistent though it is, it is still possible to look at this vacancy, to regard its absent impressions—its footprints and fingerprints and other evidence of its nonexistent existence—and to ask as part of the present investigation whether intention is really the right question after all. “Closely and laboriously written,” Mr. Dick’s hand is an outward sign of the dense interiority of the writing; like David’s writing, and like Dickens’s, Mr. Dick’s text is “a Memorial about his own history” (232; chap. 14), a storytelling so distinct and particular that its expression challenges the parameters of convention, flirting with incomprehensibility. Lamenting the unprocessible but relentless presence of King Charles the First’s head in his understanding and articulation of his own life, Mr. Dick wonders aloud, “how could the people about him have made that mistake of putting some of the trouble out of his head, after it was taken off, into mine?” (228; chap. 14). He recognizes that this peculiar sign will not clearly communicate its meaning to a prospective reader, that this idiosyncratic form of expression, this distinctive inventive articulation is a kind of communicative failure, and he is troubled that he “never can get that quite right” and “never can make that perfectly clear” (229; chap. 14). But Mr. Dick seems equally certain that this symbol is central to his own written life and he finds it impossible to avoid the reference. David tells us that “Mr. Dick had been for upwards of ten years endeavoring to keep King Charles the First out of the Memorial; but he had been constantly getting into it, and was there now” (232; chap. 14). The Memorial is deeply, intensely, inescapably subjective, reliant on forms of verbal invention that are meaningful without being transparently communicative or transactional. Finally, the persistence of King Charles the First’s head in Mr. Dick’s life writing is suggestive of the dangerous volatility of his language. Despite Aunt Betsey’s firm insistence that “there shan’t be a word about it in his Memorial” (231; chap. 14), the head constantly rears its head. Mr. Dick cannot or will not be constrained from this form of ejaculation, from writing what is forbidden, inappropriate, impolite, politically and socially explosive. Aunt Betsey recognizes the validity of Mr. Dick’s expressive choice—“That’s his allegorical way of expressing it. He connects his illness with great disturbance and agitation, naturally, and that’s
xvi • Preface
the figure, or the simile, or whatever it’s called, which he chooses to use. And why shouldn’t he, if he thinks proper!” (231; chap. 14)—but she sees at the same time the unspeakability of Mr. Dick’s experience and moves to censor his language as she has successfully silenced herself on the unspeakable subject of her estranged husband’s brutality. “‘It’s not a business-like way of speaking,’ said my aunt, ‘nor a worldly way. I am aware of that; and that’s the reason why I insist upon it, that there shan’t be a word about it in his Memorial’” (231; chap. 14). Like other autistic expression, the Memorial is dangerously outspoken; and like other neuroqueer text, it is continually censored and silenced, finding a voice only in seemingly obscure and privative forms of sharing—dissemination, for instance, by kite. The ejaculations and tics and decapitated heads that may find their way into autistic expression may not be a business-like way of speaking, nor even reliably intentional symbolic devices, but like the intermittent squawks and dahlias and cheeses visited in the chapters ahead, they are expressive verbalizations worth encountering. “An autistic may not fully intend to wave her arms or repeat license plate numbers,” Yergeau points out, “and yet an embodied intentionality inheres in those moments, creating meaning and harnessing energy out of a not-entirely-meant performance” (Authoring Autism, 65). The Memorial, even in its absence, offers a solid interpretive lesson, its authorial echoes—Charles Dickens, Charles the First, Mr. Dick—and its circularity and its interrupted quality, all serving to remind that valuable expressive resonances may erupt unbidden. This is not to argue that the author and the character and the decapitated head are all the same; or that Donald T., reciting “Dahlia, dahlia, dahlia,” is the same as Gertrude Stein writing “guided guided away, guided and guided away” (Kanner, “Autistic Disturbances,” 219; Stein, Gertrude Stein, 133). Instead, it is an argument for respectful, open listening and reading, an argument against the defensive armor implicit in questions of intentionality, and an argument for leaning into “solipsism,” “echolalia,” and “nonsense,” even if it’s not a business-like way of speaking.
A Note on Terminology As Autistic Disturbances plays at these margins, exploring potential autistic resonances and sampling autistic potentialities in a variety of texts, it employs terms meant to privilege an aesthetics of fluidity and ambiguity.
Preface • xvii
Among these terms, “neuroqueer” figures prominently. Adopted from an established community of autistic writers and thinkers, including Ibby Grace and Melanie Yergeau, neuroqueer gestures toward a cultural history shared by neurodivergent and queer peoples and speaks to overlaps of identity and experiences of (resistance to) forced compliance. Readers interested in a more expansive exploration of this history and use of this term are urged to read Yergeau’s outstanding Authoring Autism: On Rhetoric and Neurological Queerness (2017). Use of “queer” and “neuroqueer” in the present text are embraced not only as an act of intellectual solidarity and in recognition of the autistic writers who have influenced my own thinking, but also because of the ways this terminology underscores political, social, and aesthetic aspects of autistic identity. Just as queer reclaims epithet, neuroqueer redefines and reclaims identity from clinical and popular arenas that demean, dismiss, malign, and infantilize. Neuroqueer is decidedly a cultural site, not a diagnosis. This book also favors use of the word “autist” in speaking of autistic individuals, though it uses some variety to indicate flexibility and diversity around nominal preferences. Informed by Jim Sinclair’s widely disseminated argument, Autistic Disturbances deliberately avoids use of the “person with autism” construction (“Why I Dislike ‘Person First’ Language”). As with other marginalized identities, however, active efforts at politically conscious language are directed toward a moving target. As long as the people named continue to struggle for power and agency within the dominant culture, terminology will necessarily continue to shift as part of this process. I apologize to future readers if the politically conscious terms adopted here come to be regarded as blighted ableist language. I am sorry, likewise, if I have mistakenly misgendered any of the sources referenced in this book; in its use of pronouns, Autistic Disturbances works on some level to disturb conventional expectations around autism and masculinity and it makes a conscious effort to respect preferred pronouns when they are known, but it is otherwise grounded primarily in traditional gendered pronoun use.
Autism Histories and Privileging Autistic Voice The work of Autistic Disturbances is to explore in depth the particularities and possibilities of autistic language. To that end, it draws on literary criticism and clinical theory, but, mindful of the extent to which autistic voices have been silenced, the book seeks to foreground autistic speak-
xviii • Preface
ing, sometimes in ways that readers may find unexpected or challenging. One formal feature that may require explanation is the way words and phrases autistically picked from various contexts have been used to punctuate the writing, a practical application of poetic, aesthetic, and analytical technique, an acting out the ways in which echo, echoes, echolalia can productively ricochet. These repetitions are autistically interruptive, ejaculatory, distracting, perseverative, a kind of verbal embroidery that persistently challenges typical verbal intentionality; but this repetitive accrual of autistic ejaculation is also a performance of the irregular and unexpected ways in which language may make meaning. This formal gesture seeds the entire volume with authentic autistic speaking, but it is also a playful demonstration of the autistic tenor this book seeks to celebrate. Close readers of the book as a whole are likely to recognize these repetitions, since each is first quoted and documented within the body of the text; repeated words and phrases are not documented as they recur in later iterations, but each is collected and referenced in “An Accounting: Autistic Ejaculations” at the end of the book. Privileging autistic voice and aesthetic also means that Autistic Disturbances focuses on autistic language and ideas about autistic language in particular, sometimes passing over important clinical or social history with the scantiest gloss. For those who want to learn more about the history of autism or autism’s culture wars, about the emergence of and contested discourse around prominent figures like Leo Kanner, Hans Asperger, Bruno Bettelheim, Ivar Lovaas, and Uta Frith, or the frictions surrounding Autism Speaks, there is a wealth of excellent material. I would recommend as a first resource online sites like the one managed by ASAN (the Autistic Self Advocacy Network) and blogs by autistic activists; among these, I suggest Lydia X. Z. Brown’s Autistic Hoya, Dani Alexis Ryskamp’s Autistic Academic, Bev Harp’s Square 8, and Melanie Yergeau’s Autistry. In addition to Yergeau’s Authoring Autism, recommended books include Stuart Murray’s highly accessible Autism (2012), Anne McGuire’s award-winning War on Autism (2016), and Adam Feinstein’s meticulous A History of Autism: Conversations with the Pioneers (2010).
Ch apt er One
The words of Elaine C., collected and transcribed by Leo Kanner and published in the 1943 landmark study that first introduced autism as a modern clinical category, are among the earliest published expressions of a professionally recognized autist: “Dinosaurs don’t cry”; “Crayfish, sharks, fish, and rocks”; “Crayfish and forks live in children’s tummies”; “Butterflies live in children’s stomachs, and in their panties, too”; “Fish have sharp teeth and bite little children”; “There is war in the sky”; “Rocks and crags, I will kill” . . . ; “Gargoyles bite children and drink oil”; “I will crush old angle worm, he bites children” . . . ; “Gargoyles have milk bags”; “Needle head. Pink wee-wee. Has a yellow leg. Cutting the dead deer. Poison deer. Poor Elaine. No tadpoles in the house. Men broke deer’s leg” . . . ; “Tigers and cats”; “Seals and salamanders”; “Bears and foxes.” (“Autistic Disturbances,” 241)
Running counter to the popular notion that autism is nonverbal, Elaine C.’s prolific expressive language challenges ordinary communicative expectations; it repeats and ricochets, suggesting a potential listener beyond the clinical recorder; her words are striking and forceful and beautifully, queerly concentrated, incontinent, a profound achievement of repetition, order, and chaos, a provocation to disparate audiences: parents and teachers, clinicians, and a great trailing host of poets and
2 • autistic disturbances
activists and critics and cultural theorists following in the wake of the invention of autism. Poor Elaine. No tadpoles in the house. This is a book about autistic language, not from a clinical or a biographical perspective, but from a literary, semiotic, and cultural standpoint. Beginning with Elaine C.’s words is an intentional gesture of respect for an autistic person and for her autistic voice. It establishes certain foundations: the writing that follows is consciously and deliberately autism positive. Nevertheless, this book is text-focused rather than person-focused. It is not about autistic people per se, but, like Ann McGuire, treats “autism as an object of interpretive analysis” (21) and points to autism as “a profoundly rhetorical phenomenon” (Heilker and Yergeau, “Autism and Rhetoric,” 486). Autistic Disturbances is about autistic voice, words and speaking, autistic text, autistic writing; structure, tone, inflection, and echoes; it is about iteration and pattern, invention and constructions of silence; it is about language that is unexpected, outspoken, rich, florid, nondialogic. Queer language. Both unruly and prescriptive. It is the language of the everyday, but it is not ordinary language. In particular, this book recognizes echoes, tones, patterns, and confluences between autistic language, which is typically pathologized and devalued, and language used in culturally valued literary texts. Gertrude Stein’s “If I Told Him, a Complete Portrait of Picasso” offers a cue for the kinds of possible resonances: Exact resemblance to exact resemblance the exact resemblance as exact resemblance, exactly as resembling, exactly resembling, exactly in resemblance exactly and resemblance. For this is so. Because. (190)
Here, the cascading repetitions tease and question, like Elaine C.’s words, disrupting ordinary cadences and rhetoric, thwarting intuitive communication, ordinary expectations of transparent and transactional language. Exactly resembling, exactly in resemblance exactly and resemblance. The fragmentary nature of the language, the prismatic repetitions, phrases angled with slight differences create dense concentrations of sound and potential meaning. Though Stein’s work is infamously subject to parody and satire, its cultural stature nevertheless amplifies its potentiality for multiple audiences. Because of the way Stein’s poetry is presented, then—published, distributed, collected, framed by introductions and serious critical analyses—audiences are poised to defer immediate judg-
Introduction • 3
ment, to doubt their own resistances, to seek value in unexpected, disruptive, and digressive language. For this is so. The work of Autistic Disturbances is to pursue these resonances between explicitly identified autistic speaking and conventionally approved literary text and to explore the tensions of language and culture that lead to the classification of some verbal expression as disordered while other, similar expression enjoys prized status as literature.
Autistic Language In Far from the Tree, Andrew Solomon maintains that “there is no formal language of autism to be recognized by linguists” (284). But, despite Solomon’s claim, it turns out that autism might have a formal language. At the very least, autism has a particular language, one that has been extensively recognized, researched, and described by clinical theorists, literary scholars, and autism (self)advocates. Indeed, Paul Heilker and Melanie Yergeau contend “that autism itself is a rhetoric, a way of being in the world through language,” and have proposed that “autistics are minority rhetors” (“Autism and Rhetoric,” 487). This book argues that the language stylistics widely recognized as being attached to autism in fact occupy an expansive position in broader literary culture as well and that the threads of literary autism are visible in a variety of highly valued texts—popular, technical, and canonical. The title, Autistic Disturbances, is partly in ironic reference to Kanner’s work, but it is also as an acknowledgment of the power of autistic language to disturb, disrupt, and undo. In Melanie Yergeau’s terms, autistic rhetoricity presents opportunities for a queering of communication, for language expressed “as a kind of dis-or unorientation.” For Yergeau, “to author autistically is to author queerly and contrarily” (Authoring Autism, 182, 6). Even the orderlinesses of autistic language—its insistent precisions, its listmaking, cataloguing, and system preferences—are conventionally described as troubling, improper, invasive: “rigid.” Perhaps the most distinctively autistic aspect of autistic language is this unsettling quality, its deceptively contained instabilities. It is thus that Anthony Easton embraces within “the pragmatics of autistic language . . . new forms . . . that refuse the linearity of neo-liberal prescriptivism—forms that encourage the list, the jarring transition, the info dump, the non- verbal, the stutter, and the stim” (“It Feels Like”). Drawing on the work of Easton, Yergeau, and others, it becomes evi-
4 • autistic disturbances
dent that autists, autism families, cultural observers, and clinicians share surprisingly similar ideas regarding the distinctive qualities of autistic language. Mining a substantial autism-centered literature from the last seven decades—work by clinicians and therapists, autism bloggers, literary scholars, biographers and memoirists, parents, activists, and cultural scholars, some identifying as autistic, others not—the following terms emerge, often repeatedly, as descriptors of autistic expressive practice. abrupt · absence of “I” · absent · abstruse · ad nauseam · adept · aphorisms · arbitrary · astounding vocabulary · barrenness · circular · circularity · creativity · despair · dictatorial · eccentric · echolalia · ejaculatory · empty space · erratic · evasive · exclamations · fragmented · futility · hermetic · hermeticism · hiding · idiosyncratic · inflexible · irrelevant · labyrinth · labyrinthine · large vocabulary · like a professor · like an adult · linguistic zero · listing · literalness · local coherence · logorrhea · mechanical · metaphorical · mimicry · modernist · monologism · mutism · narrational gaps · neologism · no inferential communication · noncommunicative · nonconversational · nondialogic · nonreciprocal · nonsensical · nonsocial · obsessive · oddness · parroting · pedantic · perseveration · polysyllabic · private · pronominal reversal · puns · repetition · returning to the same topic · rigid · robotic · self-sufficient · semantically valueless · silly · solipsistic · staccato · stereotyped · stereotypy · switches abruptly · systemizing · telegraphic · translating coded communication · unintelligible · unnatural · valueless · voluble · without context · without intention · wittiness The signifiers adopted by writers about autistic expression may be seen to operate in loose clusters of linguistic interrelativity with diverse options for aggregation. A twofold problem arises, however, in discovering or inventing shared language to talk about these features, one a problem of inclusive language, the other of accuracy. That is, the semantic practices of the present text need first to demonstrate a correlation between clinical observation and neuroqueer self-scrutiny and, second, to develop theoretical language that adequately and respectfully describes an autistic manner of speaking. It’s a difficult, indeed, in some ways, an impossible task. Although between the findings of clinicians, literary theorists, and deliberately autism-positive critics, there is far more confluence about autistic expression than might be supposed, such agreement does not settle neatly into clear-cut categories, into distinctively outlined and
Introduction • 5
partitioned arenas of notice. Description, definition, delineation require clarity; the data, however, are not lucid. As it constructs categories to describe autism poetics, then, this book is admittedly an imagining, a pondering of the existing terminological clouds describing autistic language and a hazarding of what pictures might be found there and where reflections of like forms may exist in more familiar texts. Moreover, collecting words about an autistic manner of speaking might be innocuous enough, but ordering that organic collation into a taxonomy of autism-speak is a dangerous game; pointing and naming evokes a clinical approach that has all-too-often pathologized ordinary autistic ways of being. But the fact that patterns may be (self) identified in autistic expression does not mean that all autists speak the same way, or that autistic people are necessarily limited to autistically inflected expressive modes. In fact, autistic language, like all language, is infinitely complex and pliable, infinitely customizable. As Heilker and Yergeau note, “autistics, . . . as a group, are about as amorphous and diverse as neurotypicals” (“Autism and Rhetoric,” 496), and as Yergeau posits independently, “autistic people . . . have their own unique mental states, beliefs, and desires” (“Clinically Significant Disturbance”). Pointing to the existence of an autistic expressive fingerprint or favored ways of autistic speaking must not to be construed as constraint, a roping off of autistic expressive idiosyncrasies into some restricted ward or ghetto. Rather, the reduction of language into sets of rules and patterns for the purposes of analysis and critical discussion is recognized here as a kind of falsification, and any rigid insistence on particulars would necessarily be a betrayal of autistic creativity, diversity, and plasticity. Nevertheless, the delineation and ordering of this autism-language lexicon categorically, discovering in it or inventing from it a set of abstract or theoretical patterns, has real productive purpose. “Conceiving of autism as a rhetoric, as a way of being in the world through language, allows us to reconstrue what we have historically seen as language deficits” (Heilker and Yergeau, “Autism and Rhetoric,” 496). For the present project, finding categories in the diverse cloud of autism-language characteristics has a specific critical objective: to explore similar language markers in more familiar texts, to discover and analyze autistic literary DNA in unexpected sites, and to question why texts bearing recognizable signs of autistic expression are often so highly valued in literature while the expressive gestures of actual autistic people are typically demeaned and dismissed.
6 • autistic disturbances
In addition to discussing the construction of autistic silence (the single most remarked upon characteristic of autistic expression), this book identifies five groupings around which discourse about autistic language tends to focus. In the naming of these categories, the present text both adopts and invents terminology intended to worry the easy, invisible authority of omniscient clinical language: ricochet— includes the iterative ranges of autistic expression, what clinical literature reads as “echolalia,” “parroting,” and “stereotypy,” but which forms of repetition other writers associate with mantra, with poetry, and with literary modernism. Inseparable from what is identified below as “discretion,” the autistic system impulse, ricochet suggests force and accident, chaos and nothingness, even while it embodies expressive habits of order and design. Infinitude. (abrupt, arbitrary, circular, despair, echolalia, ejaculatory, empty space, erratic exclamations, fragmented, futility, hermetic, irrelevant, labyrinth, labyrinthine, linguistic zero, local coherence, mechanical, mimicry, modernist, no inferential communication, noncommunicative, nonconversational, nondialogic, nonreciprocal, nonsensical, nonsocial, obsessive, parroting, perseveration, repetition, returning to the same topic, rigid, robotic, semantically valueless, silly, solipsistic, staccato, stereotyped, stereotypy, telegraphic, unintelligible, unnatural, valueless, voluble, without context, without intention) apostrophe—embraces habits of autistic volubility, the powerful current of expressive verbal language that is clinically understood as “pedantic” or “dictatorial,” what the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders characterizes as “indulging in lengthy monologues,” but which is also associated with maturity (“like an adult”) and with academic intelligence (“like a professor”), and which is a prized form of literary fluency, especially in poetry and drama. As with ricochet, the challenge to dialogic conventions presented by autistic apostrophe informs an interpretive matrix prone to read apostrophe as overbearing, demanding, even violent. As intimately bound to its apparent opposite, autistic silence, as to autistic ejaculation, described below, apostrophe may be likened to broadcast and to prophecy, expressive modes that frame a rhetoric of simultaneous intimacy and aloneness.
Introduction • 7
(abrupt, absence of “I”, absent, abstruse, ad nauseam, aphorisms, arbitrary, barrenness, dictatorial, eccentric, ejaculatory, empty space, exclamations, fragmented, idiosyncratic, inflexible, labyrinthine, large vocabulary, like a professor, like an adult, logorrhea, metaphorical, monologism, mutism, narrational gaps, no inferential communication, noncommunicative, nonconversational, nondialogic, nonreciprocal, nonsensical, nonsocial, obsessive, oddness, pedantic, perseveration, polysyllabic, private, returning to the same topic, rigid, robotic, self-sufficient, semantically valueless, switches abruptly, unintelligible, unnatural, valueless, voluble) ejaculation—describes the tendency of autism to speak in bursts, eruptively, a verbal practice abounding in possibility—indiscrete, ironic, abrasive, without boundaries, apostrophic. Associated with the “exclamatory” and the “erratic,” autistic ejaculation is understood by literary scholars and rhetoricians as related to the “jarring transition,” narrative “gaps,” and verbal fragmentation and disconnection. The term is borrowed from Kanner’s “Autistic Disturbances,” and is especially significant for its implicit sexualization of autistic expressive urgency, creating an influential interpretive code for reading autistic language as inappropriate, undisciplined, and potentially threatening. In a pleasing irony, however, the term also helps recover the reality of autistic verbal creativity and fecundity and, by grounding autistic expression in the organic, pushes back against widespread notions of autism as mechanical or robotic. Conceptually elastic, autistic ejaculation intersects actively with the other four categories listed here, readily relating to practices of repetition, fluency, verbal partitioning, and creativity. (abrupt, arbitrary, creativity, dictatorial, eccentric, ejaculatory, empty space, erratic, exclamations, fragmented, irrelevant, local coherence, mechanical, monologism, narrational gaps, nonconversational, nondialogic, nonreciprocal, nonsensical, nonsocial, obsessive, perseveration, repetition, rigid, robotic, self-sufficient, semantically valueless, silly, solipsistic, staccato, stereotyped, stereotypy, switches abruptly, systemizing, telegraphic, unnatural, voluble, without context, without intention) discretion—is the verbal expression of autistic system impulse. It comprises verbal collecting, ordering, and aligning; listmaking, cataloguing,
8 • autistic disturbances
and taxonomy. Abstraction and the testing of linear and radial relationships. Associated in clinical writing with “fragmented,” “mechanical,” and “rigid” communication, with obsessive collecting and “local coherence,” verbal systemizing tends to be devalued from a medical perspective as a form of nonthinking and dismissed from a literary perspective as a form of nonwriting, both groups regarding this mode as representing autistic absence—automated, noncreative, soulless. The present work challenges this prevalent view by complicating anxious and unself-critical responses to system expression, and by looking at listmaking and related formal writing in the context of discovery and abundance, undertaking a celebration of particulation, encapsulation, and digression. Distinct from but intimately entangled with ricochet and autistic verbal ejaculation. (abrupt, absence of “I,” absent, ad nauseam, aphorisms, arbitrary, astounding vocabulary, barrenness, circular, circularity, echolalia, ejaculatory, empty space, erratic, exclamations, fragmented, inflexible, irrelevant, listing, literalness, local coherence, mechanical, monologism, narrational gaps, noncommunicative, nonconversational, nondialogic, nonreciprocal, nonsocial, obsessive, oddness, perseveration, returning to the same topic, rigid, robotic, self- sufficient, semantically valueless, staccato, stereotyped, stereotypy, switches abruptly, systemizing, telegraphic, unnatural, valueless, voluble, without context, without intention) invention— describes autistic language hacking, the joyful breaking down and retooling of conventional language in ways that defamiliarize and implicitly critique seemingly seamless and intuitive communicative practice. Appreciatively recognized by Hans Asperger in the autistic penchant for punning and as a “special creative attitude towards language” (“‘Autistic Psychopathy,’” 70), autistic verbal invention runs contrary to dominant readings of autistic language as repetitive, vacant, overbearing, and mechanical, evident in the categories above. While sometimes celebrated, however, as in Ralph Savarese’s arguing for the inherent poetic value of autism’s “idiosyncratic vocabulary” (“Lobes of Autobiography,” 76), even this delight-filled and definitely creative autistic practice is more typically regarded in a pathological light, an attribute of the ambiguous “oddness” of autistic language, its proclivity for developing new words (“neologisms”) readily articulated into the clinical construct of autistic incomprehensibility.
Introduction • 9
(abstruse, adept, aphorisms, astounding vocabulary, creativity, eccentric, erratic, evasive, idiosyncratic, irrelevant, large vocabulary, like a professor, like an adult, logorrhea, metaphorical, monologism, neologism, noncommunicative, nonconversational, nondialogic, nonreciprocal, nonsensical, nonsocial, oddness, polysyllabic, private, puns, self-sufficient, semantically valueless, silly, solipsistic, translating coded communication, unintelligible, unnatural, valueless, voluble, without context, wittiness)
Defining Autism Pinning down a definition of autism itself is at least as great a headache as categorizing autism’s distinguishing language practices. Though a generalist source like the Oxford English Dictionary is willing to commit to a succinct and confident definition—“A condition which has its onset in childhood and is marked by severely limited responsiveness to other persons, restricted behaviour patterns, difficulty with abstract concepts, and usually abnormal speech development” (“autism, n.”)— more expert texts hedge, complicate, and proliferate. Clinical authority, as enshrined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (hereafter, DSM) and the International Classification of Diseases (hereafter, ICD), has been compelled to reassess and redefine what the DSM-5 (2013) labels “Autism Spectrum Disorder” with each new edition, and has frequently coincided in a quick-serve menu approach to diagnostic definition, establishing groupings of significant autism features and asking mental health practitioners to choose a set number from each category—one from column A, two from column B. (For example, “idiosyncratic language” + “preoccupation with one or more stereotyped and restricted patterns of interest that is abnormal either in intensity or focus” [“Autistic Disorder,” DSM-IV and DSM-IV-R]). These diagnostic references reflect the practice of many other autism writers who are inclined to narrate, describe, or present examples of autism without reducing their observations to compact definition (Feinstein, History of Autism, 3–4; Frith, Autism: Explaining, 1–7; Grace, “Your Mama,” 18– 19).1 Autism is thus defined in fragments or components, a do-it-yourself definition packet. And autistic writers, like their presumably nonautistic clinical counterparts, are equally inclined to describe autism by application, as a conglomeration of feelings, experiences, and practices. In this
10 • autistic disturbances
respect, then, autism is what it feels, does, experiences, and says. The earliest writing about autism as a distinct clinical category—Kanner’s “Autistic Disturbances” and Hans Asperger’s “‘Autistic Psychopathy’ in Childhood” (1944)—bears out this approach, orbiting the space of definition through detailed description of multiple “cases.” As Adam Feinstein’s History of Autism (2010) evidences, autism’s multitudinous shiftings and regroupings, its redefinitions and relocations—from psychoanalyst Bruno Bettelheim’s discredited notion of autism induced by “refrigerator mothers” to the shocking physical punishments meted out in conditioning programs directed by UCLA’s Ivar Lovaas to the multiple reworkings of autism in the DSM to the recent surge of autism memoirs—rely on a perpetual revisiting of the particular autistic subject. The conduct and expression of individual autists are perennially abstracted for the purpose of an ever-changing experiment in definition. At the center of autism definitions, then, is the autistic person, and autism is only and always expressed through the particularity of autistic individuals. “The syndrome encompasses a highly variable group of symptoms and behaviors, and . . . we have no way to measure it but by its external manifestations” (Solomon, Far from the Tree, 221). This applied method of definition is, in part, a consequence of autism’s number-one “disturbance,” its queer, elliptical, trickster refusal to be pinned down as definite and definable, remaining “nebulous” (Osteen, Autism and Representation, 9). Increasingly, advanced autism scholarship resists strict definition altogether, acknowledging the truth of Ian Hacking’s ideas about identity categories as “moving targets”: “Our investigations interact with the targets themselves, and change them. And since they are changed, they are not quite the same kind of people as before. The target has moved. That is the looping effect” (“Kinds of People,” 2). For Yergeau, autism is defined by this very movement; it is “a mode of becoming, is continuous motion that defies the clinical” (Authoring Autism, 43). Conceding that “efforts to define the precise essence of autism escape the best representational practices of scientists and medical practitioners,” Majia Holmer Nadesan argues that “even at the dawn of the twenty-first century, we do not know what autism is” (Constructing Autism, 9). Autists/autism scholars, while committed to existential autism identity, nevertheless refuse simplistic and reductive definitions and are ever more inclined to recognize that very little is actually known about autism (Murray, Autism, 1; Davidson and Orsini, Worlds of Autism, 24). It is likely that autism is physically located in the body—its neurol-
Introduction • 11
ogy, its genetic code, its chemical signature. Certainly, autism is located in particular physical bodies; it belongs to and is entwined with individual autistic identities. Because there is no specific genetic marker, no blood test, no brain scan, no physical test of any kind, the autistic body is inseparable from autistic voice. It is therefore crucial to recognize that there is no way to identify or define autism except through analysis of text: autistic use of verbal language, autistic social conduct, autistic physical expressions. Anthony Easton points to “an autistic grammar of the body”: “Shallow breathing, the sounds that emerge from language without being language, the ‘Stimming,’” insisting that “these have grammars of their own” (“Autism,” 100). Melanie Yergeau notes that her autistic “limbs and eyes . . . have their own (invalidated) discourse conventions” (“Aut(hored)ism”). As Jay Dolmage puts it, “Disability and rhetoricity [are] consubstantial” (Disability Rhetoric, 125): Rhetoric is always embodied. The body has traditionally been rhetorical equipment and a rhetorical instrument, but it has also always been a rhetorical engine. The body is rhetorical—it communicates and thinks. (289)
As long as autism may only be known by the productions of the autistic self—its stims, its gestures, its reactions, its behaviors, its language— rather than in some objectively knowable measure, autism remains an ambiguous, and sometimes unwilling, expressive text, infinitely susceptible to interpretive performance.
Aesthetic Entanglement The reliance of autism definitions on the textual expression of autistic persons thus engenders an environment in which virtually all autism studies work— including clinical work— is text- centered, interpretive, and aesthetically informed. And the profound, and often unconscious, entanglement of clinical and cultural autism studies has fostered interdependent interpretive practices that have both positive and negative consequences for autistic people and culture. Of particular interest is the expansive game of diagnostic speculation. Reaching back into autism prehistory, it has been proposed that the “changelings” of folk tales, the “Holy Fools” of Eastern Christianity, and the so-called Wild Boys (Peter, d. 1785; Victor of Aveyron, 1785–1828;
12 • autistic disturbances
Kaspar Hauser, 1812–33) were all likely to have been autistic (Challis and Dewey, “Blessed Fools”; Bettelheim, “Feral Children”). Likewise targeted have been scientists and mathematicians like Alan Turing, Albert Einstein, and Isaac Newton. As far back as 1952, Hans Asperger is said to have “jokingly suggest[ed] that the inventors [of the spaceship] might have been autistic” (Frith, Autism and Asperger Syndrome, 72, note 54). Writers, artists, and performers have made similarly attractive autism fodder; even characters from literature and popular culture have induced surprising diagnostic fervor, with scholars, clinicians, and lay audiences almost equally eager to play pin-the-diagnosis-on-the-fictional- subject. Well before the advent of the deliberately autism- inflected Sherlock played by Benedict Cumberbatch on the popular BBC series (2010–), clinical researcher Uta Frith was ready to see autism as a feature of Arthur Conan Doyle’s original Sherlock Holmes as well as in the eponymous character of the Who’s Tommy (Autism: Explaining, 1989, 43–45). The protagonist of Herman Melville’s classic story, “Bartleby, the Scrivener,” has been palpated as a possible autistic subject numerous times (Pinchevski, “Bartleby’s Autism”; Murray, Representing Autism, 51; Garland-Thomson, “Cultural Logic of Euthanasia,” 783; Meltzer, Explorations in Autism; Sullivan, “Bartleby and Infantile Autism”; Kestenbaum, “Autism, Asperger’s and Other Oddities”; Koegel, “Evidence Suggesting”; Fitzgerald, Genesis of Artistic Creativity).2 Indeed, clinical theorist Michael Fitzgerald has made almost a career out of the practice of retrospective diagnosis. Despite the burgeoning pace of retrospective and speculative diagnosis, however, critical disability scholarship has grown increasingly suspect of such gestures, since the “recovering” of an autistic subject from the assumption of neurotypical identity is as likely to be a violent seizure as an act of cultural liberation. As Sonya Freeman Loftis sums up, “such readings frequently present autism as ‘abnormal’ in relation to an imaginary neurotypical norm.” Moreover, she adds, there is the grave danger of potential interpretative looping that can result when the psychiatric community itself identifies a literary character as having a specific cognitive disability. . . . Such arguments demonstrate how a fictional character can be labeled based on stereotypes and then used as an exemplar for actual autistic people. Suddenly, it is not autistic people who are the interpretative template for the literary character—the public perception of the literary character may reshape and inform how autism is defined as a social construct. (24-25)
Introduction • 13
Ian Hacking, Mark Osteen, and Majia Nadesan also all remark on the powerful influence of existing autism constructs and stereotypes on the production of new versions of autism. “Discovering” autistic figures in the web of everyday text—the social text of the composition classroom (Jurecic, “Neurodiversity”), the historical text of the Wild Boy tales (Bettelheim, “Feral Children”; Grinker, Unstrange Minds), the popular text of the Academy Award-winning The Imitation Game (2014)—is an appealing and seemingly innocuous activity, like finding the image in a Magic Eye graphic, but its potential for damage is greater than many imagine. Although advocacy-informed logic offers excellent reasons not to play this particular game, it is crucial to understand that its allure is bound up with the real liminality of autism diagnosis and definition. And the ubiquity of the gesture among writers of all stripes points to the intimate entanglement of the clinical and the aesthetic. If the measure of autism is always in the product of the autistic self, that is, in autism as text, all forms of autism studies inevitably adopt a textual focus. Clinicians “read” autistic performance, and literary scholars and cultural theorists are quick to join in such a delightfully familiar activity. The surprising inclination of supposedly objective clinical researchers and writers to make judgments about the value of autistic cognition and the surprisingly unself-critical conduct of academically trained literary and culture scholars in “diagnosing” unwitting students or fictional figures are thus queer reflections of one another. That which makes autism identification, definition, delineation possible at all is autism’s cultural product, its text. And the widespread allure of the speculative autism diagnosis game is embedded in the inseparability of autistic text from autistic identity; the clinical and the aesthetic are fully interwoven practices, mutually informed dimensions of autism discourse, a circumstance that contributes to understanding the complex web of critical responses to the expansive set of literatures that suggest an autistic aesthetic. To understand more fully the extent to which aesthetic and clinical practice are enmeshed around the locus of autism, it is useful to look to the way both expert clinical and literary readers approach autistic discretion, or, system expression—listmaking, cataloguing, linguistic collecting and organizing—from a strangely similar position of judgment, both dismissing and disparaging abstract and symbolic ordering activities as being essentially without value and suggesting likewise that such a proclivity itself is symptomatic of disease. On the clinical side, the inclination toward verbal ordering and listing is associated with what is typically identified as systemizing or, within
14 • autistic disturbances
the traditional pathologizing framework, as “hyper-systemizing,” and is akin to a more familiar autism trope, the arranging of material objects. As one clinical text observes, the “special interests” of most autistic spectrum people “will have a repetitive, list-making, classifying or collecting element” (Tantam, “Asperger’s Disorder,” 35). From its clinical inception, autism has been defined in large part by its intense relationship with order and structure: Kanner’s landmark 1943 study, for instance, notes that “Once blocks, beads, sticks have been put together in a certain way, they are always regrouped in exactly the same way” (“Autistic Disturbances,” 245); and Asperger’s earliest work on autism likewise comments on the powerful desire of autistic children to collect (“‘Autistic Psychopathy,’” 82). While many other diagnostic markers have fallen by the wayside, diagnostic tools stressing “restricted repetitive and stereotyped patterns of behavior, interests and activities” have been only minimally revised from one revision of the DSM to the next (DSM-IV, “Autistic Disorder”). The lining up or systematic ordering of objects is a cornerstone of countless medical descriptions. Tagged as “stereotypies,” clinical descriptions of autistic ordering and organizing have also set the tone for a broader cultural dismissal, casting autism’s recursive idiosyncratic activities, interests, and gestures in negative terms. So, the clinical literature speaks of “repetition, rigidity, and invariance”; perseverative vocalizations “inappropriate in nature” (Cunningham and Schreibman, “Stereotypy in Autism,” 470); and “inflexible adherence to specific, nonfunctional routines or rituals” (DSM-IV, “Autistic Disorder”). Such rhetorical practice finds its roots in foundational autism writing, the earliest and most influential clinical theorists actively weaving the categorical impulse firmly into their rendering of the pathologized autistic subject. Asperger, for instance, notes that the “collections favored by autistic children appear like soulless possessions. The children accumulate things merely in order to possess them” (“‘Autistic Psychopathy,’” 82). Indeed, to an observer like Asperger who does not share the collector’s or the taxonomer’s aesthetic, the scheme and purpose of the ordering task is inscrutable, and thus appears purposeless, “soulless.” This interpretive tradition is borne out in contemporary clinical writing that sees “ordering” interactions like lining up, nesting, or arranging toys as signaling a “deficit,” a failure of creative intelligence (Baron-Cohen, “Autism and Symbolic Play,” 140, 142; Hill and Frith, “Understanding Autism,” 12). Some even go so far as to propose that such delineation aesthetics suggest an explicit absence of “Self” (Frith,
Introduction • 15
Autism: A Very Short Introduction, 86–87), a response explored at some length in chapter 4, “Nothingness Himself.” Although the recent surge of clinical autism research has resulted in a somewhat greater diversity of medical discourses about autistic habits and ways of being, including many more autism-positive interpretations, the pervasive, enduring influence of these negative renderings is undeniable. The impact of clinical associations between autistic systemizing as pathology and autistic systemizing as aesthetic failure is pervasive in its effects. In the autism parent-memoir perhaps most vilified by autistic self-advocates, for instance, celebrity Jenny McCarthy describes how her son Evan is labeled autistic “after only a few minutes” with the diagnosing physician. Key to this moment is the boy’s play in the doctor’s office. Evan “had taken those ear cones the doctors use to look inside your ears and had made the most perfect row lined up across the room” (Louder Than Words, 66). For the clinician, this lining up appears to lead effortlessly to diagnosis, a proclivity for systemizing, even in early childhood, being regarded as a tell-tale sign. When the doctor reveals to her that such behavior is characteristic of autism, McCarthy, her “heart shattered,” observes, “Everything I had thought was cute was a sign of autism” (66). Bringing in Jenny McCarthy as any kind of authority within an autism- positive book is a pretty risky move. After all, McCarthy uses her notorious memoir, Louder Than Words (2007), to identify autism explicitly as a “plate of shit” (65). Because of McCarthy’s high profile and unfortunate influence in popular autism discourse, however, it is nevertheless worthwhile to consider her interpretation of the diagnostic moment, this paradigmatic intersection of clinical diagnosis and lining-things-up. Her representation of the collection and alignment of objects as a “warning sign” of autism, her sudden reinterpretation of her son’s activity—from “cute” to heart-shatteringly pathological—effectively demonstrates the profound impact of the interpretive maneuver in reading autistic performance. The systemizing impulse, manifest here in the lining up of ear cones, is text, at one moment cute, but rendered tragic by sudden diagnostic sleight of hand. Through the lens of diagnostic interpretation, the parent’s understanding is transformed, an experience then translated and disseminated to a broad public audience. Autism cute becoming autism pathological. Men broke deer’s leg. The transformative moment described by McCarthy is grounded in science; for the diagnostician, lining up is a formal datum, an essential feature enabling clinical recognition. Like Evan, the doctor looks for pattern and when Evan-the-patient
16 • autistic disturbances
acts out his own pattern-construction instincts, the physician-observer is content with such a neat fit. It is his work to recognize autistic cognitive behaviors as “symptoms.” At the same time the doctor locates his patient, however, the mother loses her child. Without doubt, this perceptual gap is at least partly rhetorically constructed. Activist scholars have repeatedly expressed concern that talking about autism “risk” has “negative, harmful connotations that send inappropriate messages about autism and unnecessarily incite fear” (Sarrett, “Alternative to ‘Risk’”). Use of the word “risk” nestles sympathetically with the identification of “warning” signs and of “tell-tale” signs—it is a language of inexplicable mystical dread, of omens and portents, quite literally of monstrosity. (The Latin, mōnstrum, finds its origins in religious language and is “a divine omen indicating misfortune, an evil omen, portent” [“monstrum”].) Rhetorically speaking, such language evokes the experience of supernatural authority. The doctor sees the lining up and immediately recognizes the child as fitting into a clinical category, but the mother registers the physician’s performance— the clinical naming of what had once been “cute”—and reperceives the child according to prefabricated and supernaturally inflected notions of what autism is. For McCarthy, the doctor’s pronouncement resounds with a liturgical echo; as the sacerdotal prayer of transubstantiation— “hic est corpus”—marks the moment of eucharistic conversion, so does the doctor’s diagnosis effect a change in the young patient. The magical quality of this transformative speech act is affirmed by McCarthy’s explicit rejection of the doctor’s comment that Evan “is still the same boy you came in here with.” McCarthy writes: “No, in my eyes he wasn’t” (Louder Than Words, 66). Lining-up serves as the principal signifier: from the doctor’s perspective, the lining-up act is content-rich, a cue, an indicator, a sign of identity, no matter how demeaned or disparaged; but from McCarthy’s perspective, the lining-up is a sign of vacancy. If the only thing that lining-up points to is autism, it signifies nothingness: “The things I’d thought were personality traits were in fact autism characteristics, and that was all I had. Where was my son, and how the hell did I get him out?” (66). For McCarthy, as for many others, the collecting and ordering of abstract content—verbal or material—is neither expressive nor communicative, nor creative, but is rather part and parcel of autism’s antihuman identity, “symbolic absence,” “wooden, robot-like, and mechanistic” (Yergeau, Authoring Autism, 73; Schuler, “Aspects of Communication,” 105, emphasis added). While clinical experts have invented a powerfully influential discourse
Introduction • 17
that pathologizes concrete forms of autistic ordering—the lining up of ear cones or toy cars—fiction writers, literary critics, and theorists have adopted surprisingly similar disparaging language to describe forms of verbal ordering and systemizing, text forms that echo and unfold the material and symbolic patterning discussed above. Just as the lining up of cars, or ear cones, or crayons is denuded of possible significance beyond the diagnostic realm, so, too, the making of lists, catalogues, inventories, bibliographies, and concordances is regarded as mechanistic labor, nonproductive, futile, essentialist, vacant of authentic scholarly or literary creativity. Thus, responding to the “relentless seriations” of Whitman’s Leaves of Grass (Belknap, The List, 93), Ralph Waldo Emerson offers this brutal critique of the poet’s lyric voice: “I expected him to make the songs of the nation, but he seems content to make the inventories” (quoted in Daiches, “Walt Whitman,” 112). Perhaps the most eloquent example of the way such work is valued lies in George Eliot’s rendering of Middlemarch’s Mr. Casaubon, an aging pedant, almost universally disliked in the world of Eliot’s novel, whose “intellectual ambition . . . seemed to others to have absorbed and dried him” and whose blood, it is said, runs “all semicolons and parentheses” (455; chap. 42). Childless as well as intellectually barren, Casaubon’s defining project is a work-inprogress he calls The Key to All Mythologies, but even his adoring young wife quickly realizes that the work is pointless and futile, a dry collection of dead scholarship without possibility of fruition: She pictured to herself the days, and months, and years which she must spend in sorting what might be called shattered mummies, and fragments of a tradition which was itself a mosaic wrought from crushed ruins—sorting them as food for a theory which was already withered in the birth like an elfin child. (519, chap. 48)
With his endless reams of excerpts and quotations, his neatly ordered notebooks, scrupulously organized and indexed, Casaubon is the emblematic listmaker, the petty, vacuous, myopic intellectual tyrant who exists as a popular stand-in figure for other listmakers. Casaubon’s work is ultimately meaningless and unfinishable, a “repetition of ‘empty’ rote learning” (Bettelheim, Empty Fortress, 67), the verbal equivalent of “lining blocks up in identical rows repetitively” (Cunningham and Schreibman, “Stereotypy in Autism,” 470). The presumably second-rate nature of literary lining-up is closely entwined with critical discourse about obsession, mechanical produc-
18 • autistic disturbances
tion, and human vacancy, language that meshes neatly with diagnostic figuring of autistic stereotypy. Not only are text theorists and critics prone, like clinicians, to dismiss the potential value of lining up and putting sign in order, but they are also, importantly, likely to describe lists, catalogues, and taxonomies with language that suggests these are diseased forms of writing or forms produced by diseased minds. Recounting the life of famed thesaurus author Peter Roget, for instance, biographer Joshua Kendall attributes Roget’s inclination for verbal ordering entirely to “his anxiety” and his unhealthy need “to feel a sense of mastery, no matter how illusory” (Man Who Made Lists, 40). Such a perspective has in turn influenced other recent accounts of Roget that construct his listmaking as “obsessive-compulsive behaviour that helped him fend off . . . demons” (Spiegelman, “Thesaurus Creator”), and that portray the man as “humorless and judgmental, beset with a ‘paranoid streak’” (Mallon, “Obsessed”). Such an assessment runs strangely counter to the way in which the ubiquitous Thesaurus seems actually to be valued in literary culture: J. M. Barrie, for instance, remarks of the villainous Captain Hook, “The man is not wholly evil. He has a Thesaurus in his cabin” (Peter Pan, act IV, 73); and Sylvia Plath famously referred to herself as “Roget’s strumpet” (Journals, 112). No matter how much the Thesaurus is treasured, though, or how indebted writers are to the process from which it emerges, talk about Roget’s massive intellectual labor is persistently reduced to pathological reflex. The dismissal of listmakers and listmaking as somehow mentally disordered is a pervasive meme threading through clinical, literary, and popular culture, and is evident in widely consumed popular literature. In Arnold Lobel’s Frog and Toad Together (1971), for instance, the story “A List” portrays listmaking as anxiously perseverative, and listmakers as imprisoned by symbolic verbal habits that are ultimately meaningless. In the story, Toad’s list is composed of routine tasks and as he moves through the day, he crosses out items like “Wake up” and “Eat Breakfast,” but when a gust of wind seizes his list, Toad is seized with a fit of despair, unable to function. The lesson seems clear: a list cannot and should not direct human lives; it is a mere wisp of paper, easily blown away. As a life-guide, Toad’s list is worse than useless—it is banal, and, in its banality, it becomes a rhetorical prison that defines life as procedural, a mere going through the motions. Toad’s list thus becomes a paradigm of other lists, a vacant, meaningless scratching. But Lobel’s story also points to a signal link in the cultural construction of autism, developing a connection between listmaking as obsessive (i.e., sick) and listmaking
Introduction • 19
as banal (e.g., boring or pointless). Harking back to Asperger’s ideas about collecting “merely in order to possess” or Kanner’s suggestion that autistic language is characterized by “obsessive repetitiousness” (“Autistic Disturbances,” 246, 249), Lobel’s depiction of Toad’s listmaking as both a mental and an aesthetic problem perfectly demonstrates the marriage of clinical, theoretical, and popular values around perseverative autistic ordering, especially as it applies to verbal text. The inclusion of “stereotyped and repetitive use of language” as an autism diagnostic feature in the DSM-IV 3 remains true to early diagnostic theory regarding autists as collectors: as Kanner notes in his initial study, “Almost all the parents reported . . . that the children had learned at an early age to repeat an inordinate number of nursery rhymes, prayers, lists of animals, the roster of presidents, the alphabet forward and backward, even foreign- language (French) lullabies” (“Autistic Disturbances,” 243). And Kanner’s response to such verbal collecting is a tantalizing admixture of clinical and aesthetic judgment: “all of these words, numbers, and poems . . . could hardly have more meaning than sets of nonsense syllables” (243). Like Eliot’s withering portrait of Casaubon, Kendall’s disparaging interpretation of Roget’s listmaking, Asperger’s rejection of autistic collecting, and Lobel’s tongue-in-cheek representation of Toad’s anxious listmaking, Kanner’s dismissal of autistic gathering and ordering of language, while intended as a clinical judgment, is nevertheless aesthetically charged; for Kanner, such a language style is “semantically and conversationally valueless” (“Autistic Disturbances,” 243). Crayfish, sharks, fish, and rocks.
Further Entanglements and a Little More Rationale The opening of this chapter offers an introductory look at the project of this book, including a brief explanation of the research methods and rationale behind the loose categories proposed for exploration and analysis of autistic language: ricochet, apostrophe, ejaculation, discretion, invention. Given the extraordinary contests of agency and representation regarding the subject of autistic language, however, some greater elaboration is required to more fully situate the work of this book. The following pages therefore offer more detail about what materials have been included or excluded and why, including a discussion specifically about the role of autism autobiography, and an explanation of my own identity in relation to autism poetics.
20 • autistic disturbances
While Autistic Disturbances calls on a wide variety of sources, including a broad mining of clinical literature and popular sources, the research here is always consciously and deliberately inclusive of what autistic writers have to say about autistic verbal expression. Drawing both on observations about autistic language made in autistic memoir and on the specialist observations of autistic scholars like Dani Ryskamp, Melanie Yergeau, Elizabeth J. (Ibby) Grace, Anthony Easton, and others, the book triangulates these observations with those made by others with significant and credible experience of autism: clinical autism experts, autism bloggers, autism family memoirists, and nonautistic disability studies and literary autism studies scholars like Chris Foss, Kristina Chew, Patrick McDonagh, Ralph Savarese, Stuart Murray, and others. The methodology is fairly straightforward: where experts of varying stripes agree on a particular characteristic of autistic language—for instance, a tendency to repetition or to verbal ordering—then that characteristic is located within the present study as an authentic aspect of autism poetics. Where there is little or no correspondence between the observations of diverse authorities—as with pronominal transposition or language particulars associated with the controversial “theory of mind” model of autism— this book does not identify such features as distinctive aspects of autistic voice. This inclusive review of the literature informs the theoretical context of the book that is elaborated in the second chapter and applied in the literary readings that follow. Despite the active and deliberate reliance on autistic sources, however, the present text makes only this limited use of autism life writing to theorize autism poetics and does not include any explicitly autistic- authored work among those studied in the chapters devoted to textual analysis, a decision with which some readers are likely to take issue. Certainly, such concerns have had an important place in my own thinking about and structuring of this project.4 As it happens, however, using autistic life writing to develop a theory of literary autism is not as easy or obvious as it might seem. The most immediate issue from a theoretical perspective is that so much autism memoir presents a strangely nonautistic vibe. Geared as the genre is to audiences that are overwhelmingly neurotypical and vetted by publishers with an interest in commercial sales, autistic autobiography typically adopts surprisingly commonplace rhetoric and language, effectively translating autistic experience and identity into largely conventional terms, a point emphasized by Ian Hacking, who refers repeatedly to the “ordinary language” employed by autistic life writing (“Autistic Autobiography,” 204–5). This use of
Introduction • 21
“ordinary language” is no doubt due in part to powerful cultural trends demanding adherence to language conventions. Yergeau sees such rhetorical colonization at work upon her own writing: “As I am immersed in neurotypical discourses . . . I find myself being authored toward normalcy, steered toward passing, driven away from my label. I am a passive recipient of discourse conventions, the ultimate student being shaped by several almighty mentors” (“Aut(hored)ism”). In addition to often unspoken and unconscious cultural forces, though, the conventional use of language in this writing may also be explained more directly by “the requirements of publishing,” which “might seem to stress the need for disclosure and the overcoming narrative—such stories are those that sell” (Murray, Representing Autism, 33). As Thomas Couser puts it, “Disabled people may be granted access to the literary marketplace on the condition that their stories conform to preferred paradigms” (“Empire,” 307–8). Grounded in the heroic tradition of the bildungsroman or the traditional overcoming narrative, confession, or apologia, autistic writers are thus unlikely to embrace autistic tone and expression in writing their own lives. Even while autists write themselves into the cultural narrative, asserting their own stories and experience, the expressive language used to relay autistic lives is sanitized, regularized, and normalized; it is translated, unqueered, rendered at some level nonautistic. In Yergeau’s terms, it is made “compliant” (Authoring Autism, 100). As important as it has been for autistic people like Temple Grandin, Donna Williams, Aaron Likens, John Robison, Dawn Prince-Hughes, Edgar Schneider, Tim Page, and others to write and share their respective experiences of autism, these stories are informed by market demands and, aside from the content they relate, are mostly indistinguishable from nonautistic memoir. Quite apart from the question of whether autism memoir authentically reflects an autistic manner of speaking, however, is the ethical question of whether autistic memoir ought to be dissected in this way. If autists are writing their own lives, it is presumably for the sake of being seen and heard, of asserting agency and identity in a culture where autistic experience is often marginalized. Within this context, reading autistic life writing for its autistic signature is an egregious form of misreading. Like Yergeau’s astute complaint about a world that dismisses what she has to say because “that’s just your autism talking” (“Clinically Significant Disturbance”), reading autism life writing for the express purpose of uncovering clinically distinctive features is worse than a dismissal—it’s a form of autopsy. Such conduct resonates strangely with Bruno Bettelheim’s
22 • autistic disturbances
drawing on his experiences as a survivor of the Dachau and Buchenwald concentration camps to interpret autistic expression. Finding a powerful metaphorical and (he supposed) experiential correlation between autistic identity and psychoses prevalent in German concentration camps, Bettelheim remarks, “many of these children, when they come to us, seem totally passive, inert, almost death-like” (Empty Fortress, 59). Seeing the despairing affectlessness of the concentration camp inmate in the form of the autistic child, Bettelheim revisits the horror of the camps, imposing his own trauma onto the text of the autistic subject, performing a distorted form of witness. A similar distortion is at play when audiences predisposed to look for sick or broken language mine autistic text not for what it has to say, but for its ostensible pathologies. Thus, Francesca Happé’s dissection of Temple Grandin’s writing—“keep[s] returning to the same topic”; “tendency to perseverate and the use of what would appear to be parroted material . . . [including] repetitive openings”; “a tendency to repetition” (“Autobiographical Writings,” 212, 215, 220)— is downright creepy, a gruesome butchering of a deliberate whole to get at fetishized autistic particulars, what, in another context, Emily Michael aptly calls “rigorous defect-spotting” (“Voices in Error”). It’s a clinicalizing process that reinforces cultural notions of autism as “a living death” (Yergeau, Authoring Autism, 73). For these reasons, while I have sifted avidly through autism memoir to find autistic observations about autistic language, I have been unwilling to pick apart living autism life writing to use its cadaverous bits as models for understanding and defining vibrant autistic voice. Moreover, even reading more traditional “literary” texts with a diagnostic lens is a fraught endeavor. Pawing through Grandin’s Emergence (1986) in order to observe the presence of “parroted material” is pretty awful, but it seems just as bad to read Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865) for the sake of finding the literary autism in that book evidenced by “imagination . . . of an immature kind” (Fitzgerald, Autism and Creativity, 205). Even Julie Brown’s Writers on the Spectrum (2009), which sets out to explore the distinctive literary tone of autistic writing, ultimately discounts the beauty and value of the texts she analyzes to discover defect or pathology. Thus, of the brilliant work of 19th-century American poet Emily Dickinson, Brown notes: “Many of her poems make obscure references or have gaps in meaning. They leapfrog from one idea to another with a transition that might be clear in Dickinson’s mind but does not make it to the page” (99). In contrast, the present work pursues Ralph Savarese’s idea that autistic language
Introduction • 23
should be valued for its “poetic proclivity” (“Lobes,” 72), Kristina Chew’s argument that autistic language ought not to be dismissed as meaningless simply because it can be difficult to understand (“Autism and the Task of the Translator,” 309), and Patrick McDonagh’s observation that proclivities of autistic articulation are amply reflected in highly valued literary writing, like the work of James Joyce, “both florid and precise, but pass[ing] dramatically beyond simple communication” (“Autism and Modernism,” 109). Rather than pathologizing valued text, Autistic Disturbances is devoted to the idea of complex and living autistic voice. This book is written within intensely contested space, ground in which autistic voices are dismissed, suppressed, and even violently translated. And because autistic people must have the dominant role in exploring and defining autistic voice and autistic identity, the autism status of the author bears crucial political significance as well as playing a role in the credibility of the project. I do not want to be the subject of this book, but I am just sharp enough to know that we are always writing about ourselves, let the “I” be ever-so-deliberately excised. It is true that I identify with autism and that my initial jaunts into autism research resonated profoundly with the unhappy social experiences of my school days and that extend, to a lesser degree, into my adult life. I am far more confident reading text than reading people, feel easier on my own than with others, am devoted to a variety of verbal idiosyncrasy, am a lover of neologism, of metaphorical language, of verbal partitioning, lists and listmaking, of texture and pattern. I know the deep, deep delight of repetition, alliteration. Love the sound of that word: llaves, perspicacious, unremitting. My own speech, my writing is apostrophic, ejaculatory, interruptive. Autism initially looked to me like a familiar tribe; autistic language a familiar tribal tongue. Seeing myself in that model was epiphanic. Still . . . though I have written about the experience of living at this threshold, I do not have a diagnosis, nor do I have a child, or, to my certain knowledge, any other family member diagnosed with autism (Rodas, “Diagnosable”). I have never sought autism-related services, explicitly identified myself as autistic, or participated in any movement or organization that would require me to make a public statement regarding my own neurocognitive identity. I am a capable social performer, able to negotiate work, friendships, and family relationships without any significant appearance of disability. Years ago, in the earliest days of this research, I longed to think of myself as autistic, but I have since come to recognize the damage pursuant to such claims, the predatory nature of cultural appropriation. Autism ought to be for autistic people and speculative self-diagnosis can
24 • autistic disturbances
be as exploitative a performance as any other form of identity occupation. Exact resemblance to exact resemblance the exact resemblance as exact resemblance, exactly as resembling. I’m not interested in “passing” one way or the other, but as with the texts examined in the following pages, I see my own indebtedness to autism, locating myself in the context of emerging neuroqueer culture or within the matrix of broader autism phenotype. This is how I think of myself. The narrow, recursive, autistic focus of the present project is inspired in part by a powerful attachment to my own verbalizing practices. Certainly, I relate to the experience and identity of autism, especially insofar as symbolic self-expression is concerned, regardless of my diagnostic status, and it is from this ambiguous position that I write, suggesting that a broader and more inclusive understanding of autism might serve us all.
A Catalogue, of Sorts “Articulating Autism Poetics,” the second chapter, unfolds the theoretical scaffolding of the project, walking through each category of autism poetics identified here—silence, ricochet, apostrophe, ejaculation, discretion, and invention—explaining antecedents in the pertinent literature, and playing with resonances and influences to shape a complex and textured web for framing literary autism. The literary chapters that follow represent only a tiny fragment of the possible texts that might have been addressed. Autism poetics is evident in countless texts as diverse as ancient Hebrew scripture (the prophets as autistic speakers), videogame narrative (platform games and autistic partitioning), and contemporary film (Wes Anderson’s twee aesthetic as indistinguishable from autistic precision). Along the way, as I talked this project through with colleagues and acquaintances, others became enthusiastic about the idea of familiar literary texts that might have an autistic tenor—Toni Morrison’s Beloved (1987), Ambrose Bierce’s The Devil’s Dictionary (1906)—and many additions were suggested. Frankly, it pains me to be able to do no more than gesture toward the many, many texts that might have been included. The chapters here are restricted to a 300-year period, are almost exclusively White and Anglophone (the single French text is interpreted in English translation), and are dominated by English fiction of the 18th and 19th centuries. As a Victorianist and a disability studies scholar, I necessarily draw on the range of works familiar from my own scholarly life, but I do so with a consciousness of
Introduction • 25
how narrow is even this broad scope. Beyond this, a tantalizing range of literary expression is excluded, especially African-American texts and world literatures. Undoubtedly, another scholar would light upon a different array; indeed, I hope my own readings will spark recognition of autistic voice in other familiar texts and cultural artifacts and that other scholars will correct and expand the limits of my individual vision. Nevertheless, the readings developed here are intended to introduce a complex model of literary autism and to explore the complex aesthetic range of autism poetics. Rather than forcing each reading into a thematically governed capsule, devoting separate chapters, for instance, to a demonstration of autistic invention, or autistic ejaculation, each textual analysis elaborates a diverse set of autistic particularities. The readings that follow do not simply argue, for instance, that narrators Andy Warhol and Robinson Crusoe are prolific listmakers, though they are. Instead, Warhol’s The Philosophy of Andy Warhol becomes a vehicle for exploring the relationship between autistic silence, repetition, and listmaking, between affronts to audience and deliberate performance of self; the study of Robinson Crusoe looks to the ways the structures of Crusoe’s island activity are echoed in the narrative architecture of his story. The literary autism of each text is conceived as multiple, nonstandard, and elusive, the autistic quality of each sometimes eminently present, sometimes retreating into something like literary convention. As with autistic people, there is no easy “diagnostic” fit, indeed, no desire for such easiness. Taken together, these texts, and this variable approach to the recognition and exposure of autistic voice and autism poetics, are configured as a theoretical experiment. Open to the range of autism possibilities in each text, these literary studies offer descriptive analyses intended to encourage readers to rethink what they know, both about these texts and about autism speaking. What is offered here is a proof, not in mathematical or scientific terms, but rather in the literary, or, perhaps, in the baking sense. The literary analyses presented are test sheets, ready for approval or correction, or, dough left to rise, an act of faith rather than a gesture of authority. The textual readings begin with chapter 3, “On the Surprising Elasticity of Taxonomical Rhetoric,” which offers an analysis of the modular writing and authoritative voice in the DSM as well as a readings of catalogue poems by Raymond Carver and David Antin and Georges Perec’s antitotalizing list-poem “Attempt at an Inventory of the Liquid and the Solid Foodstuffs Ingurgitated by Me in the Course of the Year Nineteen Hundred and Seventy-Four.” Building on the discussion in this introduc-
26 • autistic disturbances
tion of listmaking as a maligned form, the section on the DSM addresses the traditional aesthetic reception of listmaking and cataloguing rhetorical practices as hegemonic and authoritarian. This opens into a discussion of how discretion, partitioning, and abstract apportionment are dismissed as exercises of bureaucratic control, undermining the potent creativity and fluid flexibility of the list form. While the DSM is often read by disability scholars and by the psychiatric survivor movement as a “rigid” text (echoing conventional complaints about autistic language and conduct), its employment of formal system writing ultimately enables its definitions to perform in surprisingly fluid ways, potentially eclipsing the Foucauldian hegemony and authoritarianism it seems to enact. The DSM becomes literary evidence for the relationship between creativity and listmaking, invention and discretion. Similarly, Perec’s “Attempt at an Inventory,” focusing on themes of repetition, ordering, and collection, points to the startling creativity inherent in the list form and its potential to upend or destabilize the categories it purportedly inscribes. Likewise, this brief reading challenges notions of autistic discretion as inorganic, robotic, or computer-like, proposing that discrete or modular rhetorical forms bear relation to autistic ejaculation; thus, autistic “telegraphese,” in addition to being short and clipped, may also be read as a kind of organic spurting or bursting out of language. Perec’s poem integrates the experience of the organic with the idea of autistic encapsulation, suggesting that the performance of symbolic abstract partitioning—the “attempt” to organize what is eaten and drunk—is at the same time a performance of body as membrane. The contiguity of verbal discretion with the implicit reference to the body as failed container serves as a potent reminder that autistic verbal practices, despite being characterized as mechanistic or “stereotyped,” are inevitably organic as well as symbolic qualities. The discussion of repetition, order, and collection as autistic expressive rhetorics is revisited in the fourth chapter, “Nothingness Himself,” a study of The Philosophy of Andy Warhol: From A to B and Back Again. As with the analysis of listmaking in this introduction and in the third chapter, chapter 4 again looks not only at the creativity and fluidity of autistic poetics and at the surprising popularity of autistic rhetorical techniques, but also at the hostility and antagonism with which such texts are sometimes met, lingering at this intersection of diverse resistances. Focusing on Warhol’s aesthetic of repetition, order, and deviation, chapter 4 proposes that Warhol employs similar rhetorical strategies both in his visual and his verbal work, favoring verbal expression steeped in ricochet
Introduction • 27
(echolalia), apostrophe (autistic monologue), and discretion (autistic verbal collation). These distinctive techniques compel an unusual interaction with surface and reflection, as does Warhol’s play with machine identity, an idea that is integral both to Warhol’s aesthetic and to the construction of autism, but which also becomes a trope for faulty clinical and popular notions of autism as absence. The usual order of things is here interrupted by a parenthetical microchapter, “(Why ‘Bartleby’ Doesn’t Live Here).” This ejaculatory interjection offers an explication for the noninclusion of Herman Melville’s “Bartleby, the Scrivener” (1853) among the other literary studies presented here. Given its unusual status as the literary text more frequently associated with autism than perhaps any other, “Bartleby” seems to demand a place in this volume; the text is ultimately excluded, however, because the seeming autism of Melville’s story is cued by its title character rather than the poetics of the text itself. Chapter 4½ explains why “Bartleby” does not reflect an autistic aesthetic, while simultaneously entering into a kind of autistic play, opening up questions about the significance of absence and vacancy, and offering an implicit comment on the surprising meaning and texture discoverable even in text that is excluded, dismissed, silenced, suppressed, cut off, or otherwise rendered inarticulate. Picking up on the discussion of autistic resonances inherent in Warhol’s strategic use of “nothingness,” the fifth chapter, “Neuroqueer Narration in Charlotte Brontë’s Villette,” explores the construction of autistic “silence” and the importance of deviant rhetorical tactics in neuroqueer narration. Investigating the difficult intersection of autistic voice and critical hostility, chapter 5 traces the ways in which Villette echoes an autistic register: the narrative erupting digressively, cohering into apostrophic particles, and attending microscopically to obscure or invented language. And, exploring these patterns, the chapter notes that this collation of queer or autistically “peculiar” rhetoric has spurred an array of antagonistic critical responses, which read the narrative as hidden or withdrawn, echoing clinical interpretations of autistic “silence” as a deliberate strategy for “hiding” (Bettelheim, Empty Fortress, 429). Working from well-regarded critical readings that note the “queerness” of the narrator whose “narrative feints . . . destabilize the reader’s straight reading practices” (Weinstone, “Queerness of Lucy Snowe,” 368), or which argue that “the apparent intimacy of first person narration [is] never borne out” (Beer, “‘Coming Wonders,’”182), chapter 5 looks at Villette’s nonstandard narrative conventions, the extent to which these conven-
28 • autistic disturbances
tions have inspired critical grievance, and the emergence of a counter- discourse celebrating the fecund possibilities of “quietude.” The next readings, of Frankenstein (1818) and Robinson Crusoe (1719), open up the fragmented particularities of autism poetics explored in earlier chapters to discover autistic patterns reflected in the greater narrative architecture of each novel. Chapter 6, “The Absence of the Object: Autistic Voice and Literary Architecture in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein,” explores the language of the novel in relation to autistic apostrophe, ejaculation, and discretion, focusing on the ways the rhetorical and narrative interstices, the visible sutures of Shelley’s novel, suggest an autistic manner of speaking. In particular, the chapter observes how autistic poetic practices at the microlevel—the intensely punctuated quality of the text—play against the interruptive or ejaculatory voice of the text’s verbal narration. These practices ultimately reflect an intense discursive relationship between reticence and autistic apostrophe, a chord similarly at work in Villette. The rapport in Frankenstein between the unspoken or interrupted and the determinedly apostrophic frame a pattern profoundly suggestive of autistic voice, rhetoric, and poetics. Finally, tracing the thread of autistically charged writing back to what Ian Watt identifies as the earliest English novel, chapter 7 studies a diversity of autistic expression in Daniel Defoe’s classic Robinson Crusoe: silence, ricochet, ejaculation, and discretion. Reconsidering familiar homo economicus arguments, “Autism and Narrative Invention in Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe” focuses particularly on the novel’s predisposition to lists, manifests, and other forms of partitioned writing, exploring the reiterative quality of the text and the relation of these rhetorical features to what Watt calls the “functional silence, . . . the golden music of Crusoe’s île joyeuse” (Rise of the Novel, 69). Replete with autistic verbal dynamic— relentlessly accounting, repeating, erupting— Crusoe stands not only as a particularly rich exemplar of literary autism but, because of its unassailable canonical stature, it also serves as a kind of index for the historical presence of autistic expression in treasured artifacts of Western literary culture, even those penned long before the clinical existence of autism was recognized. The theoretical articulation of autism poetics here and in the next chapter and the various textual studies that follow all work to support this central supposition—that autism not only speaks but speaks in a voice both familiar and highly valued. Frequently effaced by stereotypes that insist on autistic silence, autism verbal has often struggled to achieve escape velocity, speaking without being heard, writing without being rec-
Introduction • 29
ognized, being dismissed as nonautistic because of verbal capacity. In Ryskamp’s words, “when autistics do ‘speak out,’ they are either ignored, derided as insufficiently autistic, or told that they are not speaking at all” (“Deconstructing ‘Speak,’” 5). Though all people who care about autism need to maintain a lively care for a broad range of autistic expression, verbal and nonverbal, the present text specifically seeks to redress the place of verbal autistic language, to argue for the value and complexity of autistic ways of speaking, and to invite recognition of an obscured tradition of literary autism at the very center of Anglo-American text culture. Some of the writers considered, like Andy Warhol and Jonathan Swift, have been proposed elsewhere as candidates for retrospective diagnosis (Paradiž, Elijah’s Cup; Elder and Thomas, Different Like Me; Seidel, Neurodiversity.com; Fitzgerald, Genesis; James, Asperger’s Syndrome, 45–52). But the point here is not to treat the expressive language of these authors as symptom or evidence of autism, as some others have done, but rather to point to the autistic value present in the text, regardless of the writer’s clinical status. While intention, expression, and identity relate in important ways to one another, a recognizable aesthetic or resonance may nevertheless exist without explicit correlation between these categories. Autism, I suggest, may be understood as an aesthetic, a way of seeing and interpreting, a vantage, a mode, a set of expressive practices. My project asks not about autistic authorship, but about autistic text, and it imagines autistic voice as a widespread and influential aesthetic, with distinctive patterns of expression—narrative, rhetorical, and discursive—running through an array of texts, sometimes broadly visible and in other instances as a fine thread. The question becomes not whether Georges Perec or Charlotte Brontë might have been autistic, but whether text produced by these people resonates with autism. The suggestion here, that writing by autistic people might not always be expressive of autistic voice while writing by nonautistic people might exhibit laudable autistic qualities, may be troubling for some. There is war in the sky. But such a framework is not intended to effect an erasure of autistic identity or autistic personhood. Rather, the idea is to compel a revaluation of autistic language by noting the centrality of autistic formalism in familiar and highly regarded texts. Autistic Disturbances taps into what might be considered a deep autistic tradition, inclusive of many culturally familiar texts. Rather than defining autism and autistic rhetoric as marginal or fringe categories, part of the work of the present volume is to demonstrate the degree to which mainstream culture relies
30 • autistic disturbances
on autistic expression as an elemental aspect of human voice and experience. This is not to say that all humanity is autistic or that there is no difference between autistic and nonautistic identity, but rather to point to the contributions of autism voice, rhetoric, aesthetic, and perspective, to demonstrate that these ways of seeing and speaking are necessary to the larger experience and condition of humanity. In this respect, I pursue Stuart Murray’s suggestion that autism might “be central to the ways in which we conceive of our fundamental sense of self” and intimately connected “to the core experience of humanity” (Autism, 101, 103). The literary studies that follow are intended to demonstrate a profound debt to autistic expression, an autistic manner of speaking, and an autism aesthetic that are elsewhere broadly disparaged as being noncommunicative, without substance or value. By identifying autistic expressive characteristics in these texts and exploring the challenges and possibilities belonging to these modes within this context, perhaps readers will begin to see autistic expression as a ubiquitous presence in a broad range of cultural artifacts. In other words, by recognizing autistic presence in Robinson Crusoe, or Villette, or the DSM, the reader may grow better attuned to the value of autistic expression in autistic people, and will, I hope, be drawn to critical reengagement with everyday autistic expression.
Ch apt er T wo
Articulating Autism Poetics •••
Rather than being open to autistic voices, autistic self-expression, what Stuart Murray calls autistic “presence,” neurotypical listening tends instead to privilege the receptive position (Representing Autism, 5). Eccentric, idiosyncratic, irregular, and challenging language arouses anxiety, imbalance, a desire to understand and respond. There is a sense that meaning must be unlocked, a need—clearly visible in autism interpreters from Bruno Bettelheim to Autism Speaks—to believe in a transparent language and associated identity existing beyond the seemingly inscrutable autistic self. Indeed, Bettelheim’s take—“they pose us riddles to solve” (Empty Fortress, 430)—is perfectly expressive of the interpretive tension at work in the literature that speaks to autists speaking. Autistic language provokes a desire to rework, reword, translate, to forward dialogism, reciprocity. Similar to the implicit imbalances of power and responsibility in conversations between foreign language and native speakers (Lippi-Green, English with an Accent), or, between stutterers and nonstutterers (St. Pierre, “Construction of the Disabled Speaker”), in conventional audiences, there is a resistance to hearing and an insistence on prefigured forms and expressions that function to further disempower already marginalized subjects. STOP.
32 • autistic disturbances
Enfolded, encased in Kanner’s earliest study of autism, autistic speaking: Donald T., who says, “Chrysanthemum”; “Dahlia, dahlia, dahlia”; “Business”; “Trumpet vine”; “The right one is on, the left one is off”; “Through the dark clouds shining.” (“Autistic Disturbances,” 219)
Alfred L., A balloon “is made out of lined rubber and has air in it and some have gas and sometimes they go up in the air and sometimes they can hold up and when they got a hole in it they’ll bust up; if people squeeze they’ll bust. Isn’t it right?” A tiger “is a thing, animal, striped, like a cat, can scratch, eats people up, wild, lives in the jungle sometimes and in the forests, mostly in the jungle. Isn’t it right?” (235)
Asperger (“‘Autistic ‘Psychopathy’”) reports the words of an unnamed “six-to seven-year-old autistic boy who defined the difference between stairs and ladders [by saying] ‘The ladder goes up pointedly and the stairs go up snakedly’” (71), and “an eleven-year-old autistic boy” who commented, “My sleep today was long but thin,” “To an art-eye, these pictures might be nice, but I don’t like them,”
and, “I don’t like the blinding sun, nor the dark, but best I like the mottled shadow.” (71)
Before the figuring, before translation, before the privileged space of interpretation, there is the unmediated language of Elaine C., Donald T., Alfred L., and their anonymous autistic colleagues. As a number of autistic theorists have observed, in relation to autistic expression, the receptive process of the audience is too often prioritized (Easton, “Autism,” 99; Ryskamp, “Deconstructing ‘Speak’”; Yergeau, “Clinically Significant Disturbance”), and listening is thereby obscured by the expectation of incomprehensibility and the static of analytic figuring: What does it mean? What does it mean?! Indeed, even when expressive intention is evident to the interlocutor, simple meaning is resisted
Articulating Autism Poetics • 33
and interpretive scrutiny persists beyond the communicative pale. Hans Asperger, for example, quotes an anonymous autistic subject saying “I can’t do this orally, only headily,” but in the immediate translation of this statement into regularized language—“(He wanted to say he had understood something but could not express it verbally)”—the writer demonstrates simultaneously the pathological misprision of the autist’s language as well as its communicative efficacy (71). Asperger knows exactly what his interlocutor is saying, but he needs to point out that the eccentricity of the statement bears clinical significance, that it needs to be figured out even when it’s already perfectly comprehensible. Even when functional meaning is clear, then, the analyst is hard at work, parsing and figuring: “What’s wrong with this language?” Yergeau’s Authoring Autism (2017) points out that such gestures render autists as demi-rhetorical, occupying an in-between expressive space, intentionality and expressive value perennially suspect. Always, the interpretive engine grinds forward, listening derogated to explanatory impulse. If people squeeze they’ll bust. The ladder goes up pointedly and the stairs go up snakedly. Rather than treating such language as a puzzle to be solved, semantically, socially, or clinically, rather than picking apart these voices and putting them together again like skeletal articulators, corpsifying the living words, rather than using autistic language as a stepping stone toward some goal, some point of origin, some reason or hidden meaning, Autistic Disturbances asks readers instead to recall that transparent communication is not always the exclusive business of language. As Victor Shklovsky (“Art as Technique”) notes, the purpose of art is “to make objects ‘unfamiliar,’ to make forms difficult, to increase the difficulty and length of perception because the process of perception is an aesthetic end in itself and must be prolonged” (778). The present work thus takes a cue from writers who bear an unusual respect for unusual language, analysts alert to the pitfalls of analysis. Dani Ryskamp advises that autism “opens language in a different direction, suggesting possibilities in meaning, placement, and play that do not always make themselves recognizable in a more conventional context” (“Neurodiversity’s Lingua Franca?,” 27). Valerie Paradiž discovers in autistic echolalia a “mantra [of] forgetting and transformation” (Elijah’s Cup, 102); Ralph Savarese questions why autism’s “more precise and sophisticated, even strange, vocabulary—[must] be conceived of pejoratively” (“Lobes” 76). In fact, autistic expression very often resonates with delight. Even Kanner reports that Donald T. “seemed to have much pleasure in ejaculating words or phrases, such as ‘Chrysanthemum’; ‘Dahlia, dahlia, dahlia’; ‘Business’;
34 • autistic disturbances
‘Trumpet vine’; ‘The right one is on, the left one off’; ‘Through the dark clouds shining’” (“Autistic Disturbances,” 219). As this book pushes off into the deeper shoals of autism poetics, collecting and responding to existing discourse, readers are urged to remember this bit of ground, inhabited by autistic voices, alive with autistic presence, and filled with the joy of unmediated autistic language. Dahlia, dahlia, dahlia.
A Cultural History of Autistic Language From the beginning, it has been widely agreed that autistic people use language in unusual ways. From mutism to metaphor, from abstraction to repetition, syntax, word choice, logorrhea, monologuing, echolalia, inversion, precision, neologism, and formulaic use of words, autistic language is startling, inventive, challenging, irregular. “Autistic people,” writes Yergeau, “queer the lines of rhetoric” (Authoring Autism, 26). Though autism is typically associated with math, engineering, music, and science rather than with more evidently verbal disciplines, from the invention of autism as marked by the publication of Leo Kanner’s “Autistic Disturbances” in 1943 and Hans Asperger’s “‘Autistic Psychopathy’ in Children” in 1944, noticers of autism have been reflecting on autistically typical ways of using language. Diagnostic forces, it seems, even in the performance of diagnosis, may open up unintended aesthetic avenues. Part of the work of this chapter is to document the widespread agreement among clinicians, educators, text theorists, and autism communities that autistic language is its own thing, that there are particularities that belong to autism speaking. In the following pages, these particularities are unfolded as a set of patterns or categories, reflective of autistic voice and language aesthetic: silence, ricochet, apostrophe, ejaculation, discretion, and invention. Nevertheless, the rhetorical and poetic patterns observed here are not neat and precise and self-contained; unmannerly, they overflow, erupt into and echo one another, porous and fluid. So, for instance, it is nearly impossible to detangle the discourse around autistic silence and what has been regarded as autistic nonsense language. “Ricochet,” likewise, plays with the relationship between verbal repetition and silence, as well as between repetition and verbal abundance. Certainly, repetition is connected to autistic discretionary language: verbal accumulation, collecting, listmaking, and ordering, all autistically inflected practices. The boundless eruption of these theoretical containers into
Articulating Autism Poetics • 35
one another—in fact, the failure of containment—has to be acknowledged. Naming there must be, but spills are inevitable.
Silence Anchoring commentary about autistic speaking is autistic nonspeaking. Mutism and the related notions of autistic incomprehensibility and inscrutability are central threads running through all types of literature about autism, from Kanner’s seminal essay to contemporary literary interpretations. Kanner notes three instances of nonspeaking children among the 11 he first defined as autistic, but he later goes on to situate “mutism” as one of the characteristic “peculiarities of [autistic] language” (“Irrelevant and Metaphorical Language,” 242). Bettelheim’s infamous Empty Fortress argued that autistic mutism was a strategy for “hiding” (429). Both the ICD and the DSM have persistently recognized mutism an important autism indicator since these guides began including autism as a category, a diagnostic feature clinicians have continued to regard as a key feature of autistic language (Tager-Flusberg, Paul, and Lord, “Language and Communication,” 336). This international clinical focus dovetails with representations of autistic silence in popular culture with characters like the nonspeaking Tommy Westphall from the American television series St. Elsewhere (1982–88), Simon Lynch in Mercury Rising (1998), and Jake Bohm of the TV drama Touch (2012–13). Almost from the beginning, theoretical writing about autism (and autistic language in particular) demonstrates a powerful readiness to interweave medical, historical, social, cultural, and literary concerns. Thus, clinical authorities like Uta Frith and literary scholars like Marion Glastonbury show themselves equally ready to frolic in the clinical playground. Lance Olsen’s pioneering “Diagnosing Fantastic Autism,” for instance, proposes a theoretical relationship between modernist writing and autism, characterized by “the entropic drift toward autistic silence” (41). An oft-cited article by Glastonbury draws a connection between modernist text, autism, and silence (“‘I’ll Teach You Differences’” 62), a theme revisited by Ato Quayson and others. Indeed, while contemporary disability studies informed readings of autism, like those of Quayson, Ralph Savarese, Mark Osteen, and Mel Baggs, rightly demand attention for and a sensitive valuing of those autists most likely to be dismissed as vacant or worthless—the nonspeak-
36 • autistic disturbances
ing, the so-called low-functioning—such work is nevertheless consistent with a broader cultural and clinical thread that persists in stressing the tie between autism and silence. Clinicians, autists and autism families, institutions and organizations, representations of autism in popular culture, and nonclinical academic theorists have all contributed to this complex and deeply interwoven discourse about autistic silence, its origins, and its possible meaning. And, in practical terms, there is a good reason for such discourse; at the root is a concern for what autistic people think, feel, and want, an urgent desire for communication with persons often seen as locked away, withdrawn, or otherwise shut off from expressive contact with the rest of the world. What may begin as an act of care, however, grows and extends uncontrollably, gathering volume and force as it accrues into a massive and nearly unabating construction of silence as the single most distinctively autistic feature. In its volume and power, the discourse around autistic silence thus threatens in real terms to overwhelm the articulations of the more than 80 percent of autistic people who do speak (Lord, Risi, and Pickles, “Trajectory of Language Development”), as well as challenging the voices of many other nonspeaking autistics who write, sign, or express themselves nonverbally. The enduring cultural association between autism and silence is probably borne out most troublingly in the naming of the world’s largest and most influential autism charitable society, Autism Speaks, a group with “virtual . . . domination of popular autism rhetoric in the United States” and a powerful influence on “rhetoric [about] autism around the globe” (Broderick, “Autism as Rhetoric”). While language and rhetoric are the focus of discussion here, it is important to note that Autism Speaks has been vehemently critiqued for its high administrative overhead, for its failure to include autists in organizational leadership, and for its expenditures on medical research instead of family support—this in addition to its persistent use of profoundly damaging public rhetoric. According to ASAN (the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network), Autism Speaks’s “fundraising tactics . . . rely on fear, stereotypes and devaluing the lives of people on the autism spectrum” (“Before You Donate”). The name of the organization presents multiple and complex interpretive possibilities—defiance, promise, advocacy—but among the possibilities, certainly, is an implication of autistic muteness and a suggestion that the organization speaks for those presumed to be without words or language. Unfortunately, such an idea is borne out in the history of the group, which has continually resisted including autistic partners in its
Articulating Autism Poetics • 37
leadership, despite exhortations from high-profile autistic individuals and groups (ASAN et al., “2014 Joint Letter”). Conducting a rhetorical analysis of Autism Speaks promotional text, Ryskamp observes, “Autistic individuals are perpetually ‘they,’ others who stand in relationship to Autism Speaks but are never included within the ambit of its voice. They remain perpetually spoken about, never spoken with” (“Deconstructing ‘Speak,’” 13). Ultimately, the message becomes clear: it’s not only that autistics don’t speak, but also that maybe they shouldn’t. So powerful is the idea of autism as nonverbal that when autistics publish their writing, these texts are often received as unique, miraculous windows into an otherwise opaque autistic interiority. Typical are comments calling Temple Grandin’s Emergence “unthinkable” and “a revelation” (Sacks, foreword to Thinking in Pictures, xiii); or a publicity statement on the Simon & Schuster website that lauds Daniel Tammet (Born on a Blue Day) as “virtually unique among people who have severe autistic disorders in that he is . . . able to explain what is happening inside his head”; or remarks on Aaron Likens’s Finding Kansas (2012) that the writer has “bravely exposed us to his inner world” (Cameron, foreword to Finding Kansas, xiv). The implicit expectation is that autists can’t speak, and often, that they may not have anything to say, a perspective fiercely protested by countless autistic self-advocates who recognize this attitude as a form of erasure and an active form of complicity in the cultural conspiracy not to listen to autistic people. Thus autistic self- advocate D. J. Savarese writes of nonautistics who “treat my people, very smart people who type to communicate, as mindless” (Savarese, Reasonable People, 417). Yergeau, a rhetorician, autist, and autism scholar, offers this ironic take on the ways in which her expert ideas about autism and autistic language are dismissed: Regardless of what I said, it was my autism saying it. My body became site for ventriloquist rhetoric, words that never were. . . . I do not know what they wrote in their charts. In my depressive moments, I tend to imagine that they mapped the ebbs and flows of my echolalia, in echolalia. “That’s just her autism talking,” the clipboard repeats, like a running toilet. “That’s just her autism talking, talking, talking. That’s just her—autism talking.” (“Clinically Significant Disturbance”)
When considering the cultural history of autism and language, then, even without addressing the intricate expressive potential of silence, it
38 • autistic disturbances
behooves us to consider the profound theoretical tension between an existential reality of autistic silence and an associated discursive construction, the silencing of autism. As it happens, autism is and always has been remarkable in its articulations. Even before major shifts in formal diagnostic parameters in the 1990s allowed for more inclusive definitions of autism, establishing a more diverse picture of autism and a broader autism community, those who wrote about autism professionally never described it as categorically mute or silent. Even Kanner’s earliest writing, the essay that first defines what comes to be known as “Classic autism,” “early infantile autism,” or “Kanner’s autism”— the supposedly hard cases, the so- called low- functioning group—includes a majority of young autistic people who are verbal, even prolific in spoken language. Indeed, Kanner has been especially lauded for his “genius” in identifying autism as a diagnostic category despite the challenge presented by “phenomenology as diverse as muteness in one child and verbal precocity in another” (Rutter, “Commentary on Kanner,” 51). While written work about autism focuses much of its attention on autistic silence, it turns out that, from the start, autistic people have had quite a bit to say. In parsing out the speaking about autistic speaking, though, it happens that there is often little difference between the assessment of autism silent and autism verbal, especially in terms of clinical scrutiny on the subject. As Kanner puts it, “As far as the communicative functions of speech are concerned, there is no fundamental difference between the eight speaking and the three mute children” (“Autistic Disturbances,” 243). With greater or lesser degrees of brutality, this message is repeated in clinical literature on autism and language well into the 1980s: characteristically autistic “polysyllabic discourse” is considered “incomprehensible to most” (Whitehorn and Zipf, “Schizophrenic Language,” 844); autistic “language feels unnatural” and “provokes ridicule” (Asperger, “‘Autistic Psychopathy,’” 70); autistic language is defined by its “oddness” and “inscrutability” (Bosch, Infantile Autism, 61); it is “nonsensical” (Bettelheim, Empty Fortress, 429), “inaccessible” (Brown and Herrnstein, Psychology, quoted in de Villiers and de Villiers, “Commentary on Language and Autism,” 697), and “peculiar” (DSM-III). The trouble then is not that autism does not speak, but rather that autism does not typically speak in an approved manner, in ways that are seamlessly and intuitively absorbed. The problem is not so much that autistic people don’t speak, but that autistic speaking seems not to be worth listening to,
Articulating Autism Poetics • 39
shades of Ryskamp’s “not heard,” Yergeau’s “That’s just her autism talking, talking, talking. That’s just her—autism talking.” In terms of the cultural construction of autism, then, the idea is first and most overwhelmingly that autism is silent, but even when autism is recognized as verbal, the consensus is that the speaking is “peculiar,” “incomprehensible,” “incoherent,” “nonsensical,” or, again in Kanner’s words, “semantically and conversationally valueless” (“Autistic Disturbances,” 243). The interpretive gesture identifies autistic language and autistic experience as unfigurable. Bettelheim again: “they pose us riddles to solve” (Empty Fortress, 430). The representation of autistic “inscrutability” has been widely disseminated in popular culture with the help of Autism Speaks. Indeed, according to Alicia Broderick, “it is difficult to overstate the significance of the impact that Autism Speaks has had upon autism rhetoric” (“Autism as Rhetoric”). With the support of associated organizations, Autism Speaks has fostered a strong public association between autism and a symbolic puzzle piece. The puzzle-piece icon is widely used to promote autism awareness and autism-related social and charitable causes and may be as broadly recognized as the iconic pink ribbon associated with breast cancer. Understandably, the adoption of a puzzle-piece symbol to represent autism has been a matter of concern for many in the autism community, and such symbolism has frequently prompted protest. Just as popular media promote a construction of Black-men-as-dangerous, which contributes to the culture of mass incarceration in the United States, attitudes of “puzzlement” around autism objectify living autistic subjects, contributing to an environment in which autistic people become acceptable targets of violence, a point brought home by autism blogger and autistic self-advocate Bev Harp: When the puzzle piece becomes the recognized symbol for autism, the message comes over and over that there is something unfinished about the person. Something mysterious that the general public cannot be expected to understand. Now when someone hears “autism,” . . . puzzlement reverberates. This one is not like the others. This one is out of our range of understanding and compassion. (“BADD”)
Moreover, the idea of the enigmatic autist finds a suggestive parallel in the “familiar stereotype of the inscrutable Chinese,” in which “the failure of . . . outsiders to comprehend Chinese (facial) expressions . . .
40 • autistic disturbances
is projected retroactively onto the other as the other’s essential quality, inscrutability” (Chow, “How (the) Inscrutable Chinese,” 71). In each of these constructs—the dangerous Black man, the enigmatic autist, and the inscrutable Chinese—there is an all-too-familiar gesture at work, an experiment in which a seemingly familiar, dominant, or “invisible” identity (i.e., White, neurotypical, Western) tests itself against the seeming boundary of the “other,” distancing and mystifying the nondominant identity as a means of securing the apparent normalcy and reasonableness of the dominant. The familiar difficulty, of course, is that such testing and self-discovery augments and calcifies objectification of the other in the assertion of difference. The understanding of autistic language as obscure helps to reinforce the false belief that dominant manners of speaking are transparent. Such an accounting, however, is a little one-sided, a slightly exaggerated account, itself a construct designed to make a point. For even while many interpreters have helped to support a view of autistic language as thoroughly opaque—deficient, impoverished, even “valueless”—often the same writers, or their colleagues, demonstrate remarkable insight into and sometimes appreciation for the unusual nuances and patterns of autistic speaking. So far from being inscrutable, autistic language has been persistently and productively scrutinized for generations. Even while Kanner calls autistic language “semantically and conversationally valueless,” he notices, records, publishes, and disseminates the words and phrases of his objectified subjects. No tadpoles in the house. And, to his credit, Kanner kept thinking and writing about what he didn’t understand, he and other autism scrutinizers conducting a thoughtful and thought-provoking exploration of the diverse range of autistic verbal expression, even in the midst of their demeaning rhetoric. Partly through this clinical work and partly through the work of disability studies and autism-positive scholarship that followed, there is now a substantial body of work, which considered altogether offers a valuable sense of the particulars of autistic language, the ways in which it “author[s] queerly and contrarily” (Yergeau, Authoring Autism, 6).
Ricochet Next to silence, verbal repetition is without doubt the most noticed and most commented upon feature of autistic language, and contemporary autism scholars agree that this form of repetition is “a persistent feature of language
Articulating Autism Poetics • 41
differences among autistic people” (Ryskamp, “Deconstructing ‘Speak’”). The clinical literature calls this kind of verbalism “echolalia” or “stereotypy,” the former specifically naming words that are repeated from another source (so-called parroting) and the latter referring to repeated words or phrases that have become a fixture of an individual autist’s expressive lexicon, the two kinds often being interchangeable. Dahlia, dahlia, dahlia. The term echolalia is used almost universally by those studying and writing about autism and language (Kanner, “Autistic Disturbances” and “Irrelevant and Metaphorical Language”; Challis and Dewey, “Blessed Fools”; Victor, Riddle of Autism; Hinerman, Teaching Autistic Children; de Villiers and de Villiers, “Commentary on Language and Autism”; Frith, Autism: Explaining ; Tager-Flusberg, Paul, and Lord, “Language and Communication”; Bogdashina, Communication Issues in Autism, and so forth). Kanner is the first to propose echolalia and “ejaculated stereotyped phrases, such as ‘Dinosaurs don’t cry’” as elemental aspects of autistic pathology, but the point holds pretty consistently (“Autistic Disturbances,” 241). Without explicitly using the term echolalia, Asperger identifies verbal repetition as characteristically autistic, noting for instance nonrational autistic responses like “Because the butterfly is snowed, snowed with snow” (“‘Autistic Psychopathy,’” 45). Bettelheim reads these repetitions as private metaphor (Empty Fortress, 242), and many others note autistic “parroting” (Kanner, “Autistic Disturbances”; Challis and Dewey, “Blessed Fools”; Frith, Autism: Explaining; Happé, “Autobiographical Writings”; Suskind, Life, Animated). From 1980, when autism is first identified in the DSM, and through all subsequent textual revisions and updates, including the 2013 DSM-5, echolalia or verbal stereotypy, or both, have been specified as diagnostically significant markers for autism, the 1987 DSM III-R in particular noting verbal repetition as an example of autistic comfort seeking: “for example, says ‘cheese, cheese, cheese’ whenever hurt.” From the outset, the observation of these repetitions is deeply invested in the paradigm of pathology and most early explorations of the subject are embedded in a clinical/ therapeutic context that sees autistic language as devastated, inscrutable, and valueless. Autism researchers call autistic language “mechanistic” and “extremely repetitive” (Schuler, “Aspects of Communication,” 105, 106), talk about “mimicry” (Victor, Riddle of Autism, 210), and note “stereotypic expressions” (Hinerman, Teaching Autistic Children, 25). Ron Suskind notes that the doctors and teachers of his autistic son Owen “formally define it as ‘perseverative behavior,’” which they want to “control . . . and reduce” (Life, Animated, 42). Cheese, cheese, cheese.
42 • autistic disturbances
As with the construction and figuring of autistic silence, however, there is a powerful intertwining of and mutual dependence between clinical and aesthetic critique of this aspect of autistic language. Thus, from the clinical side, there is a multitude of quasi-literary valuations of these repetitions: Kanner’s idea that they are “metaphorical”; the assurance that “endless repetition has deep meaning” (Bettelheim, Empty Fortress, 430); the comparison of autistic repetition to “a song or a television commercial” (Schuler, “Aspects of Communication,” 106); the recognition that “echolalia . . . reflects a . . . conversational style” (Tager- Flusberg, Paul, and Lord, “Language and Communication,” 347). Humanities scholarship that hinges on the idea of autistic language likewise reaches beyond its usual disciplinary boundaries to blend clinical and literary concerns and literary scrutiny of verbal repetition that borrows eagerly from clinical language and perspective. Julie Brown, for instance, grounds her analysis of literary autism in the work of William Butler Yeats in biographical-diagnostic observations regarding the poet’s apparent autistic behaviors: “When Willie discovered a word he liked, he would walk in circles around the house repeating the word over and over, eyes closed, flapping his arms” (Writers on the Spectrum, 32). Meanwhile, Brown’s shrinking of the Nobel laureate’s full name to “Willie” (like her referring familiarly to Dickinson as “Emily”) echoes the rhetorical diminution of the clinical autistic subject, typically a child. Lance Olsen’s “Diagnosing Fantastic Autism” reads the “circular and repetitive” rhetorical patterns in writing by Franz Kafka, Jorge Luis Borges, and Alain Robbe-Grillet as suggestive of what he understands to be autistic despair and futility. In Olsen’s terms, this autistic repetition is a form of linguistic maze or labyrinth, a prison, a trap, inescapable (41), a conceit promoted in clinical literature as well, which sometimes reads echolalia as a kind of cage, within which, it is imagined, an extra-autistic self is confined (Grossi et al., “On the Differential Nature,” 903). Whether a speech-language pathologist is diagnosing Mr. Bennett of Austen’s Pride and Prejudice (Ferguson Bottomer, So Odd a Mixture), or a literary critic is diagnosing Yeats, the literary and the clinical are deeply indebted to and embroiled with one another; when it comes to autism and language, clinical and literary theorists are evidently in the same game, even though they are not often playing together. Despite its many problems, the extent of this disciplinary borrowing and cross-pollination ultimately contributes to a richer and more complex picture of autistic language than either arena would produce independently. The butterfly is snowed, snowed with snow. Part of this complex
Articulating Autism Poetics • 43
picture is that verbal repetition is well established as both a vital feature of autism speaking and a vital feature of literary and scholarly writing, worthy of repeated, even perseverative analytical attention. Heilker and Yergeau see autistic “echolalia” as attaching to a nonpathologized rhetorical tradition: the “words, phrases, sentences, and even entire dialogues and passages” collected in medieval and early Renaissance commonplace books, as well as the “similar, though not identical, echolalia in academic settings, when doing research and citing sources” (“Autism and Rhetoric,” 491). Delighted and fascinated by the echoing and reverberation of language, by verbal pattern and repetition, literary scholars mine what Marion Glastonbury calls the “wordhoard” of autistic language (“Incommunicado,” 123), and often play like autists with echoes of sound and meaning, expressing ourselves in a language so ridden with stereotypy, so metaphorical, and so idiosyncratically and internally referential that professional speaking might well be considered indistinguishable from other forms of autistic language. It is this appreciation of, this joy in the rich potential of repetition that has stimulated some of the most striking theoretical perspectives: Valerie Paradiž compares autistic echolalia with Buddhist mantra and sees in Gertrude Stein’s repetitions, the fixated echolalic quality of her “language patterns,” a purposeful form of stimming, distinctively autistic (Elijah’s Cup, 104); likewise, the understanding of verbal repetition as part of a system consciousness is exhibited in Ato Quayson’s “Autism, Narrative, and Emotions” and in Simon Baron-Cohen et al.’s “Talent in Autism,” likewise informing Ralph Savarese’s observation that “[p]attern . . . is what attracts classical autistics to poetry” (Savarese and Zunshine, “Critic as Neurocosmopolite,” 36). Says Yergeau, “There is queer pleasure in echoing” (Authoring Autism, 199). Signaling a move away from a pathologized understanding of autistic verbal repetition as necessarily “solipsistic” (Bettelheim, Empty Fortress, 436), such work is revelatory, reinventing the inherent possibilities of autistic language and, by association, of autistic people. Although mazes and labyrinths remain constitutive elements of the autism construct, literary scholars thinking about autism and clinical autism scholars thinking about language have helped slowly to chip away at iconically militarized constructions of autism like Bettelheim’s “empty fortress” and Clara Park’s “siege.” Autistic repetition offers all the joyous potential of LEGO blocks: why build detention centers when, given autism’s “poetic proclivity” (Savarese, “Lobes” 72), people could use repeating forms and components to compose villanelles?
44 • autistic disturbances
The echolalic autist, spouter of unmeaning stereotypies— snowed, snowed with snow—is bound by a strange logical tension. In one respect, her repetition is regarded as a sign of absence or vacancy. Interpretive actors descend upon her. “The desire to read what is conceived of as the empty space of autism, the invitation it appears to offer to fill in the blanks, is a constant throughout cultural representation” (Murray, Representing Autism, 79). Just as the idea of autistic silence suggests emptiness, so, too, repetitive language invites similar interpretive gestures. Thus echolalia and verbal stereotypy are referred to as “parroting” (an animal language, unconscious, unknowing, without significance) and the autist and her language are described as rigid, robotic, and mechanical—automatic and nonhuman. The autist echoes because she is hollow, nothing inside; she has no self, no point of origin. Since the words are all form and no substance, their expressive value is effaced. For interlocutors intent on transparent communication, the autistic language of verbal stereotypy and echolalia is thus often represented as essentially silent. In another and opposite respect, however, autistic repetition also posits an imposing, even a threatening abundance. Its volubility is unstoppable, tidal in its force. Complainants again and again bemoan the purported silence of autism, its seeming inability to say its piece, to “speak,” but when autism does speak—as has already been noted, in more than 80 percent of those diagnosed—the first thing to be observed, and the primary note of dissatisfaction with the autistic language that emerges, is that it is nonreciprocal, or, more to the point, that it is nonreceptive. Autistic repetition is at once an indication of vacancy and a torrent, an overpowering, intimidating eruption of language. It is with this threatening surfeit of language in mind that this book proposes a theoretically motivated replacement of the clinical term “echolalia” with “ricochet,” a word that enters the English language through French in 1769 and comes into broad use in the mid-19th century. Used colloquially, ricochet names the seemingly erratic behavior of munitions rebounding, an unexpected and dangerous excess. But, the word as used in English originally referred to “the skipping of a shot, or of a flat stone on the water,” or a “method of firing by which the projectile is made to glance or skip along a surface with a rebound or series of rebounds” (“ricochet”). As with echolalia, popular ideas about ricochet weigh heavily on the idea of the random, the meaningless, and the unintentional. And both terms refer to forms of repeating brought about by interaction with surface. Behind the commonly understood idea of ricochet, however, there is another meaning, a “method” that makes
Articulating Autism Poetics • 45
deliberate use of surface, skipping, and repetition, a technique anchoring seemingly random repetition. The French word ricochet, referring to “the sport of skimming a thin stone on the water,” derives from the term chanson du ricochet, which Randle Cotgrave defined in his 1611 Dictionarie of the French and English Tongues as “an idle or endless tale, or song; a subject whereof one part contradicts, mars, or over-throws, another.” Chanson du ricochet, or, in its earlier incarnation, fable du ricochet, is also described as an “endless exchange of question and answer” (Onions, Friedrichsen, and Burchfield, “ricochet,” 766). The threatening nature of ricochet, as it is typically understood, thus bears within itself a surprising poetic origin; the projectile that bounces back violently, that maims or even kills, all without deliberate direction or meaning, begins as a verbal exchange, an endless song. There is just such a surprising tension to be encountered in theoretical responses to autistic echolalia and verbal stereotypy, on the one hand an ominous vacancy and on the other a delight in language and repetition, the sport of skimming a thin stone on the water. Killing two birds with one stone: ricochet is a reminder of potentially complex relationships between the purposeful and the accidental, between the “method of firing a projectile” and the playful skipping of stones on water.
Apostrophe Following this thread, the threatening excess of autistic repetition, this section on autistic apostrophe looks at a related feature of autistic language overflow, what the DSM III-R identifies as autism’s tendency toward “lengthy monologues on one subject regardless of interjections from others.” Existing in seeming opposition to what is supposed to be characteristic autistic silence is autism’s extraordinary surfeit of language. It is evident in Kanner’s writing about the “astounding vocabulary” of some of his “cases” and how many “had learned at an early age to repeat an inordinate number of nursery rhymes, prayers, lists of animals, the roster of presidents,” and so on (“Autistic Disturbances,” 247, 243). Bettelheim compares the “often remarked-upon ‘empty’ repetition of rote language” in autistic children to the pathological mumblings of concentration camp inmates who have lost their sense of self; both identities, he argues, use repetition as an unconscious protective strategy, language becoming a shield against a traumatic reality (Empty Fortress, 67–68). Asperger, likewise, speaks to the unusual volubility of autistic language,
46 • autistic disturbances
noting not only its richness but also its unusual precocity, an observation reiterated frequently in later clinical literature, which describes autistic children as being prone to a “way of talking . . . very fast and formal, ‘like a professor’” (Gillberg, “Clinical and Neurobiological Aspects,” 138). Indeed, this quality of autistic speech has been noted so often that “little professor syndrome” has emerged into common parlance as a term designating some forms of autism. When autism does speak, then, even when autistic language is regarded as abundant and “precocious” (Asperger; Tager-Flusberg, Paul, and Lord, “Aspects of Communication”), such ability is nevertheless rendered as deficit. Clinical literature identifies bountiful autistic speaking as “pedantic” (Wing, ‘‘Asperger’s Syndrome’’; Glastonbury, “Incommunicado”; Ghaziuddin and Gerstein, “Pedantic Speaking Style”; Bogdashina, Communication Issues; Villiers et al., “Brief Report”), refers to “autistic children [who] tend to talk ad nauseum about something that is of interest only to them” (Schuler, “Aspects of Communication,” 106), and pathologizes those with advanced language skills as “cases of hyperlexia where language seems far in advance of communication” (Happé, “Autobiographical Writings” 229). Asperger says that one subject “talked incessantly” and that another “threatened to go on forever,” the descriptive language carrying with it a suggestion of autistic forcefulness, even hostility (“‘Autistic Psychopathy,’” 60, 53). Observing that “autistics often want to tell you everything,” Easton goads, “what happens if everything known pours out? What if the act of being concise is no longer a virtue?” Identifying such talk as “infodump formalism,” Easton points, ironically, to the conventional absence of dialogic reciprocity on the nonautistic side: “it depends on the listener to care, to not be bored, to be able to delineate” (“Autism,” 99). Autistic verbal space, then, might be productively reimagined: rather than a silent prison, echoing and vacant, it might be useful instead to consider the idea of sanctuary, replete with the delicious savor of words, flowing abundantly. There are lots of different words for copious speaking: garrulousness, loquacity, effusiveness, volubility, chattiness. But the invention of medical terminology to fix this conduct as pathological is telling. The word “logorrhea” makes its first identifiable appearance in the Dictionary of Philosophy and Psychology in 1902 and the term clearly evokes its scatological derivation. Its originator, J. M. Baldwin, cleverly combines the Greek logos with the more familiar “diarrhea” to fabricate a neutral-seeming and quasi-medical term for “the excessive flow of words, a common symptom in cases of mania” (quoted in “logorrhea”), thereby creating an effective
Articulating Autism Poetics • 47
association between human waste and language used by those presumed to be mentally ill. The term quite literally converts words to shit. Again, the clinical and the aesthetic operate in tandem, the demure Latinate naming of someone else’s verbal outpouring creating the appearance of scientific objectivity even while the author of this indignity makes a covert value judgment: words poured forth abundantly are worthless . . . and autistic fluency is thereby turned to crap. The consensus is that such language is of dubious value because it is nonreciprocal—all outflow and no ingress, expression without reception. Asperger tells us that “autistic language is not directed to the addressee but is spoken as if into empty space” (“‘Autistic Psychopathy,’” 70), Whitehorn and Zipf that the “abnormality of the autistic person lies in ignoring the other fellow” (“Schizophrenic Language,” 848), Gerhard Bosch that the autist’s “demands and his wishes were delivered . . . without being addressed to anyone in particular” (Infantile Autism, 9), Bettelheim that “an autistic child” will address “empty space as it were” (Empty Fortress, 438). The complaint itself is repeated “ad nauseam” (e.g., Brown and Herrnstein, Psychology; de Villiers and de Villiers, “Commentary on Language”), again the apparent objectivity of clinical tone serving to mask an affectively charged judgment, in this instance displeasure at the would-be interlocutor’s inability to intrude into autistic language space. A balloon is made out of lined rubber and has air in it and some have gas and sometimes they go up in the air and sometimes they can hold up and when they got a hole in it they’ll bust up; if people squeeze they’ll bust. Isn’t it right? Like ricochet, the abundant outflow of autistic language is perceived as threat, as though autistic fluency effects symbolic erasure of other speakers. Disgust is apparent in Baldwin’s association of “excessive” language and diarrhea and implicit in Schuler’s “ad nauseam,” closely associated with her comment that the autistic speaker leaves “no room” for the input of another (“Aspects of Communication,” 106). Likewise, the words Oliver Sacks uses to describe the language of Temple Grandin—“unstoppable,” “barrage,” “relentless”—suggest that he is in some way victimized in their encounter (“Anthropologist on Mars,” 257). And this particular form of outspokenness is described, ironically, as “lack” (ICD-10) and “failure” (Happé, “Autobiographical Writings”; DSM-5), autistic abundance rendered once again in familiar terms as autistic deficiency. If people squeeze they’ll bust. Isn’t it right? In other words, in order to be valid, in order to be heard, both critics and clinicians would seem to agree that language must be reciprocal, conversational, communicative, receptive. In fact, the oft-noted one-sidedness of this discursive idiosyncrasy, this
48 • autistic disturbances
ready and voluminous flow of words, is depicted as a kind of bullying. “Relentless,” “incessant,” demanding, dominating, the “barrage” of autistic language is portrayed as exhausting and overpowering, and autistic speaking is thus constructed as a form of assault. The trope is so invisibly familiar that even autism-positive writers unwittingly adopt this stance; Julie Brown, for instance, points to the likely autism of American novelist Sherwood Anderson in part by noting that “[i]n group conversations he often dominated the discussion” (Writers on the Spectrum, 161). Similarly, Glastonbury remarks “friends of the late Glenn Gould ruefully discussed his troublesome habit of telephoning in the small hours and soliloquizing until dawn” (“Natural Wonders,” 80). The critique is always, at heart, about there being no apparent place for the interlocutor. The pathology of autistic monologism, then, is that it’s pushy, overbearing, intrusive, refuses to admit reciprocity. Made thus explicit, the construct of autist as oppressor is manifestly ridiculous. Of course, research indicates, abundantly, that autists are more likely than most to be on the receiving end when bullying does occur. Indeed, autism advocacy groups have stressed the extraordinary vulnerability of autistic people not only to bullying but also to being killed, including, all too often, being murdered by their own parents (ASAN, “A Horrifying Trend”; Autism Memorial; Yergeau, Authoring Autism, 79). Part of the peculiarity of this social reversal—the construct of neurotypical persons being overwhelmed or trapped by unwanted autistic speaking—is, of course, that such audiences are bound not by the person speaking, but by unspoken and often irrational rules of politeness; the self-constructed victims of autistic verbal abundance are governed by self-induced discursive paralysis, their own anxiety about changing, ending, or intruding on the autist’s discourse being the true underlying factor causing distress. Is the phone call badly timed? Perhaps the unhappy recipient could do something other than passively listen: “Sorry, Glenn, this isn’t a great time for me.” The final irony, though, is the apparent unconsciousness of those pathologizing autism’s ready flow of language. For the depiction of autistic monologism as a kind of verbal assault is actually a projection of the would-be interlocutor’s evident desire to be heard by the speaker. Distress derives not from a failure of reciprocity per se, but from the perceived inability of the hearer to push words back into the autist’s verbal space. Ryskamp urges exactly this point in her analysis of Autism Speaks rhetoric: “It is the corporation, run by neurotypicals, that intends to do the speaking; the charge to ‘listen’ is written in the imperative, with a distinct sense of impatience with the inattentive
Articulating Autism Poetics • 49
‘other’ implied in its structure. Yet as its treatment of Robison, Bryce, and countless other autistic voices has demonstrated, the organization— and the dominant non-autistic discourse it represents—does not intend to follow its own orders” (“Deconstructing ‘Speak,’” 15–16). Desperate as many autism writers seem to be to “communicate” with autistic subjects, such communicative efforts are often surprisingly unidirectional. In fact, the nominally nonautistic subject is actually eager to tell, to send a message, to be heard. Representations of autistic conduct in early childhood belabor the appearance of deafness or the fact that young autists seem not to be paying attention to a would-be interlocutor. Thus, Jim Sinclair sums up a commonplace autism parent’s perspective, “You try to relate to your autistic child, and the child doesn’t respond . . . there’s no getting through” (“Don’t Mourn,” 2; emphasis added). Despite the cultural and clinical emphasis on autistic silence, the purported shield, barrier, or fortress in autism communication is, once again, not a problem of autism not speaking; rather, it’s the perception of autism not listening. What is especially strange is that figures of speech robustly rooted in literary and rhetorical tradition—monologue and soliloquy—are borrowed by clinical discourse and twisted into tools that pathologize otherwise highly valued poetic language. This repurposing of poetics in the service of pathology has been so powerfully influential that even literary readers have unconsciously taken their cue from diagnosticians in this respect, moving away from typical disciplinary practice as they uncritically accept the clinical measure of monologue and soliloquy as failed forms of expression. Brown refers to Anderson having “dominated . . . discussion” (Writers on the Spectrum, 161); Glastonbury sees Gould’s “soliloquizing” as a diagnostic feature; and in another instance, Lydia Bennett of Pride and Prejudice is interpreted as being on the autistic spectrum because of her problematic “tendency to dominate a conversation with an excited monologue” (Ferguson Bottomer, So Odd a Mixture, 56). There is no eager insight here into the richness and complexity of virtuoso speaking, no valuing of poetic or intellectual flights, no admission of sophistication in the unusual density of language encapsulated in this form. In each instance, the writer credulously absorbs and reperforms the traditional clinical aesthetic, reading as pathology rather than talent the presumed autist’s singular outflow of language. In distinct contrast to such interpretative strategies is Valerie Paradiž’s experimental memoir, Elijah’s Cup (2002), which seems to relish what the writer calls the “yak-yak-yakking” of autism and to take delight in what
50 • autistic disturbances
she describes as autism’s “zealous speaking about a singular subject that to the uninitiated seems narrow-minded, obsessive, and bizarrely out of context” (167). Where others mourn a failure, Paradiž demonstrates a subtle, fully literate appreciation for the rhythms and repetitions of autistic voice, the capacious echoing profusion of its “special creative attitude towards language” (Asperger, “‘Autistic Psychopathy,’” 70). Mindful of overlaps between her father’s “yakking,” her autistic son’s echolalia, the repetitive verbal abundances of Andy Warhol and Gertrude Stein, and her own preferences for verbal collection, Paradiž introduces a version of literary autism considerably more developed than earlier writing about autism and language. Exact resemblance to exact resemblance the exact resemblance as exact resemblance, exactly as resembling, exactly resembling, exactly in resemblance exactly and resemblance. There is a similar appreciation evident in Easton’s suggestion that “autistic form” is found in “the database, the taxonomic list, or the info dump” (“Autism,” 102), an analogue of Paradiž’s autistic yakking. Easton notes the particular value of such rhetoric, how “exchanging facts, exchanging the taxonomic list, becomes an act of solidarity and intimacy” (103). Paradiž, Easton, and others put forward this deceptively simple proposition: that autism might not only be saying something worth hearing, but also that autistic verbal abundances might have authentic aesthetic and interpersonal value. Such views invite a fundamental reconsideration of the hijacking of monologue and soliloquy as clinical terms and begin to establish a foundation for rethinking the relationship between autistic and literary language. Intervention: What if the implicit poetics of autism’s “incessant” talking is thus forcibly reclaimed, pushing back against the clinical appropriation of poetic terms like monologue and soliloquy? What if the excesses and abundances of autistic voice, its talking past, its nondialogic singularity, were reclaimed as poetic apostrophe, that “figure of speech, by which a speaker or writer suddenly stops in his discourse, and turns to address pointedly some person or thing, either present or absent” (“apostrophe, n.1”). Surprised by joy—impatient as the Wind I turned to share the transport—Oh! with whom But Thee, long buried in the silent Tomb (Wordsworth, “Surprised by Joy,” lines 1–3)
Poetic outpouring of this kind, like autistic soliloquizing, necessarily effects a rhetorical transformation of the overhearer into passive
Articulating Autism Poetics • 51
subject. And yet, with traditional poetic apostrophe, it is understood that it is a privilege to overhear such rhapsodies. Canonical poetry occupies a sacred space and the reader is therefore induced to try on ideas about discursive reciprocity more complex than those ordinarily brought to ordinary conversation. Apostrophe stretches the capacities of the listener. Prophetic exhortation, likewise, might be understood as part of the same rhetorical continuum. Bound to serve as a conduit for God’s message, someone like Jeremiah, for instance, is charged to speak out, not to engage in verbal exchange; rhetorically speaking, it is the role of the prophet to pour forth and of those exhorted (like the overhearer of poetic apostrophe) to listen or not. The genre is not intended to privilege receptive function. Christian scripture observes that prophets were unpopular speakers, likely to be “mocked,” “despised,” and “misused” (2 Chronicles 36:15–16, King James Version), but the reframing of prophecy by institutional religious authority shifts the way such words have come to be valued. Speaking that once excited public ridicule is thus legitimized as valued text, and the contemporary reader of prophecy has an acknowledged responsibility to be receptive of a difficult message. In these models, the pouring forth of language is regarded as extraordinary, perhaps even heroic. The words of poets and prophets participate in a celebrated aesthetic, one in which discursive reciprocity is far from playing a central role. Perhaps, then, instead of pointing a finger at the “excess” of autistic language and its apparent “failure” of reciprocity, theorizers of autistic verbal abundance could instead take a page from Quintilian, who notes that rhetorical practices like apostrophe, unidirectional and interruptive, “derive something of the pleasure which they give from their resemblance to faults, as a little acidity is sometimes grateful in cookery” (book 9, chap. 3, section 27).
Ejaculation Intimately bound up with autistic apostrophe is the broadly noted autistic tradition of verbal ejaculation, the tendency to blurt out, to speak in ways seen as uncontrolled, disconnected, inappropriate, fragmentary, indiscrete, and abrasive. The idea that disconnected and burst-style expression is characteristically autistic is evident in writing about autistic language from a variety of perspectives and over a significant period, from Kanner’s earliest observations to Glastonbury’s reading of autis-
52 • autistic disturbances
tic language through a literary lens to work by contemporary literary theorists. Indeed, autists writing from a variety of positions, academic and otherwise, widely recognize and embrace eruptive and ejaculatory verbalizations as an integral aspect of autistic expression. According to Easton, for instance, to “shift radically” in a way that might “leave people behind” is “a native autistic form” (“Autism,” 101); and Ryskamp, too, notes the sometimes “explosive” quality of autistic language (“Deconstructing ‘Speak,’” 9). Semicolon! Despite widespread agreement regarding this particular property of autistic language, aesthetic perceptions diverge widely, with advocates like Bev Harp and Kristina Chew framing ejaculatory language as a meaningful expressive technique and detractors frequently talking about eruptive rhetoric as a failure of discipline or a problem of impoliteness. In many respects, these antagonistic discourses echo the same kind of critical contentiousness seen at play in the categories of autism poetics discussed above. Nevertheless it is important to interrogate some of the discursive history behind this particular element of autistic voice, not only to promote a cultural repositioning of autistic expression but also to help understand the definitive impact of early clinical language on contemporary cultural representations of autists and autistic expression. As the first to publish on the subject, Kanner has had a crucial influence on the way others take up and write about autism, and his ample use of the suggestively erotic “ejaculation,” especially in relation to his unequivocally juvenile subjects (five-to-seven-year-olds), is curious: Donald T. “seemed to have much pleasure in ejaculating words or phrases” and is said to have gone on “writing letters with his fingers in the air, ejaculating words” like “Semicolon,” “Capital,” and “Twelve, twelve” (“Autistic Disturbances,” 219, 221); Frederick W. was observed “ejaculating unintelligible sounds” (224); Paul G. “ejaculated” phrases like “The people in the hotel,” “Did you hurt your leg?,” and “Candy is all gone, candy is empty” (227); and Elaine C. “frequently ejaculated stereotyped phrases, such as ‘Dinosaurs don’t cry’” (241). Dinosaurs don’t cry. Kanner’s initial and repeated use of the term “ejaculation” introduces an erotic cast to the language of the autistic children he studied, generating a historic frame of reference for thinking about the suddenness of autistic speaking as a kind of obscenity. His rhetoric establishes a model in which the abruptness of autistic speaking, its seemingly uncontrolled spurting, creates discomfort, embarrassment, and an underlying association with erotic and forbidden language, a tone picked up extensively in clinical, theoretical, and popular literature (e.g., Frith, “Autism: Explain-
Articulating Autism Poetics • 53
ing,” 119; Happé, “Autobiographical Writings,” 220; Ruttenberg and Wolf, “Evaluating the Communication,”). Moreover, as Yergeau’s Authoring Autism explores extensively, the historical policing of queer/nonconforming autistic language is intimately connected with the policing of queer/nonconforming performances of erotic identity. Early clinical interventions were pertinaciously, obsessively concerned with the queer conduct of neuroqueer subjects and perseverated on themes of prosocial compliance. Despite the cast of Kanner’s terminology, “ejaculation” is nonetheless employed here as a deliberate reappropriation of offensive clinical language. Why? Not only to spell out the unseen mechanisms that help construct the cultural reception of autistic language as nonviable, but also to build upon the idea that autistic language, far from existing as gross expenditure—excess—may be read as seminal, profoundly creative and generative. Dahlia, dahlia, dahlia. It’s just possible that something may grow from all that ejaculating. Harp, for instance, writes about her “Squawk!” as a conscious, “semi- voluntary” autistic language practice, intervallic squawks amid her other words signaling part of a complex means of autistic expression and assertion of autistic presence: I can either say nothing, say something that has nothing to do with what I really mean, and which might make the situation worse, or I can squawk. At other times, I have different choices, and when the choice to say what I really mean presents itself, that is what I do. But the fact that I can do that at times is taken as evidence that the other times, the silent times, the squawking times, are representative of my “choice” not to communicate properly. I can argue about that, or I can accept that I am seen as a rather silly-acting person. Since I’d rather be seen as silly than incompetent or uncaring, I have accepted that view for a long time. It has, to a large extent, become part of how I see myself, so much so that I don’t usually know for sure if I’m joking or not. Or I both am and am not joking at the same time. (“A Conversation”)
Harp’s squawk is an interesting model to illuminate the fragmented discourse around autistic language fragmentation. While the squawk is decidedly ejaculatory, even to some degree beyond her control, Harp nevertheless frames her language, emphatically including the ejaculatory squawk, as thoughtful and deliberately communicative. She theorizes
54 • autistic disturbances
the squawk as a placeholder, perhaps a way to signal waiting; regardless, it is a means of demonstrating care—“I’d rather be seen as silly than incompetent or uncaring.” Certainly, she rejects the possibility that this ejaculation is “random flitting,” mere “verbal ritual” (Happé, “Autobiographical Writings,” 215; Kanner, “Autistic Disturbances,” 219), instead considering the verbal outburst as complex and double. The speaker is both joking and not-joking, sharply attentive to conversational expectations, killing two birds with one stone. The trouble is that foundational clinical rhetoric on the topic informs an ongoing critical continuum that fails to recognize the verbal outburst as cognitive and expressive. Instead, clinical literature comments that autistic language “exhibit[s] pragmatic violations including bizarre or inappropriate utterances” (Tager-Flusberg, Paul, and Lord, “Aspects of Communication,” 354), or that “autistic subjects violated . . . [rules] of acceptability and politeness” (Baron-Cohen, “Social and Pragmatic Deficits,” 385), effectively tethering abrupt or partitionist autistic verbal practice with cultural notions of rudeness. Such observations readily contaminate literary theory, where a critic might refer to “Darcy’s initial ‘autistic’ insult of Elizabeth” in Pride and Prejudice (Dekel, “Austen and Autism”). The particular, the staccato, the interjecting, the eruptive, the abrupt, the telegraphic—all these nonfluid rhetorics—are measured, like autistic apostrophe, in terms of standard “healthy” conversational practices that insist on an easy and intuitive ebb and flow of communication between equal partners. Verbal styles that deviate from this model are implicitly understood as deficit. The notion migrates as well from academic to popular culture: one New Zealand newspaper columnist voiced widespread popular beliefs in writing that “Asperger syndrome . . . [is] a fancy name to describe people who are rude and can’t be bothered to change their ways” (Little, “Send Jobless to Oz?”); in another instance, an online humor column proposed that “a large number of the teenagers claiming Asperger’s are, in fact, merely dicks” (Kimak, “6 New Personality Disorders”). As Yergeau puts it, with deeply intoned irony, “we’re really just looking for behavioral excuses. . . . We’re the welfare moms of the disability food chain” (“Aut(hored)ism”). Candy is all gone, candy is empty.
Within this interpretive matrix, the idea of autistic language as ejaculatory is powerfully provocative, insensibly suggesting a relationship between the spurts of sometimes clipped and fragmented autistic lan-
Articulating Autism Poetics • 55
guage and the potentially uncontrolled spurting of the autist’s organic self. In this respect, the autistic manner of speaking is once again constructed as threat and challenge, ejaculation, obscenity, rudeness—all one. In breaching implicit discursive regulation, unexpected, interjecting, and fragmentary forms of speech become indecent. Full nakedness! Angels of rain and lightning! Ah, happy, happy boughs!
What if, as Harp’s thinking suggests, there is an aesthetic informing and infusing autistic ejaculation; rather than indecency and rudeness, there is instead the possibility of poetry. Among those who focus on the aesthetic value of characteristic autistic language is Kristina Chew, who draws an explicit connection between poetic and autistic expression, and who sees the abrupt, ejaculatory nature of autistic language as bearing an essential likeness to the poetic mode. According to Chew, “The sudden disruptions of topic and meaning in prose poetry are similar to an autistic person’s abrupt introduction of unrelated concepts and association of entities and ideas” (“Fractioned Idiom,” 136). Even in her use of typically clinical terminology—“telegraphic”—to describe the quality of her son Charlie’s communications, Chew’s theoretical approach invites aesthetic respect. The writer looks to the particularity of this manner of speaking both with questions about the interpreter’s role and with a keen eye for linguistic rather than pathological features. She notes that her son employs “a minimum of words . . . with minimal adornment (definite articles, conjunctions for transitions, conjugations to note verb tense, and so on)” (“Autism and the Task of the Translator,” 309), thus offering an idea of this language not as deficient, but as being marked by unusual partitioning, encapsulated rather than fluid expression. This is a theme also taken up by Straus, who argues that “[a]utistic people often . . . [engage] idiosyncratic combinations of elements and images . . . using language as much for its sonic value as for its communicative power” (“Autism and Postwar Serialism,” 686). It is Harp, however, who most fully develops and owns the idea of such linguistic encapsulation, seeing in the partitioning of language with parentheses and semicolons an aspect of autistic expression at once playful and logical, a manner of speaking that simultaneously contains and connects. Playfully conscious of her own writing as a model for her autism language observations, Harp’s brief blog “On the (Autistic) Use of Parentheses” proposes that her own penchant for parentheses is entangled with the cognitive and expressive framework of her autism,
56 • autistic disturbances
and suggests “(if one is allowed to do so) that parentheses (as well as the semi-colon) are a natural form of presentation for autistic (as opposed to NT [neurotypical]) thought.” Drawing on a common knowledge of sentence diagramming and formal instruction in abstract logic, Harp draws an explicit connection between language “trees” and autistic writing: Having read countless writings by autistic individuals and spoken with many, I am willing to (here it comes, duck!) go out on a limb and say that this is a fairly common thought pattern among us.
According to Harp, the formal partitioning and reconnecting of words, phrases, and thought-units is part of detail-oriented (some might say “locally coherent”) autistic cognition. The abundance of ideas and language (discussed above as effusive apostrophic flow) is managed by partitioning and framing, by the organization of words into what Harp sees as logic or grammar “trees.” Indeed, for Harp, such an expressive form loops back also into the silent or monosyllabic; before reaching maturity, her own self-expression, she notes, “was all root and no branch. The thought paths were as numerous and even more twisting. Little broke the surface. Underground, the parentheses multiplied, but what others heard from me was curt or even monosyllabic.” Clearly, there is an association between the “curt,” abrupt, ejaculatory blurting of language seemingly without boundaries and language that is all defined by boundary, units of word and phrase formally encapsulated, partitioned, and connected. It is the paring away of seemingly extraneous branches, suggests Harp, which normalizes language, which makes sequence obvious and conventional, which shakes autistic language down into neurotypical language. Ejaculatory autism thus brings into relation seemingly contradictory forms of speaking, Chew’s language of “minimal adornment” and the language of extraordinary elaboration and digression, both often interpreted as abrupt, stilted, staccato, or disjointed, but in their connectedness to one another pointing in the direction of formal poetry and many types of system writing. Ricochet: skipping a stone back across the surface here, these sequential ejaculations touch again (echo, reverberate) on the proposed categories of autism language already described. The ejaculatory mode suggests the surprise of apostrophe, the seemingly unidirectional, seemingly unstoppable torrent of language. Instead of a mass of words, the language is short, discrete in its indiscretion, heavily punctuated, but still it shoots out, potentially threatening, ejaculatory
Articulating Autism Poetics • 57
“telegraphic” or “robotic” language suggestive of machines for shooting repeatedly. Ricochet, echolalia. And back into silence: the formal partitioning of word units; the stop-and-start; the stilted; the use of partition and encapsulation—em-dashes, units of silence—as expressive particles. The “rigidity” or “economy” of autistic language, its “erratic” nature, may thus be seen, from Harp’s perspective, as a bounty under the soil, with infrequent “curt” or “monosyllabic” words breaking the surface, suggesting a wealth of language and symbolic thinking beneath. With experience comes greater skill at articulation, composing the fragments into recognizable form. But the visible sutures, the punctuation, the discrete concentrations are also bound to an autistic expressive aesthetic. Matthew Belmonte confirms such an idea when he writes that autistic verbalization is characterized by an “extraordinarily effortful, unusually intense, and atypically deliberate process of narrative organization,” which can “produce unusually deep insights” (“Human, but More So,” 173). From silence to words that flow unstoppably to language presented in fragmentary form, its punctuation audible, autistic verbal expression, autistic ejaculation is rife with logical and creative potentiality.
Discretion The connection with systemizing is among the most developed themes in autism research, and the idea that autists are inclined to system enterprises like lining-up, computer coding, engineering, and math is so ubiquitous as to have become positively cliché: everyone knows Rain Man can count cards. This is the gesture Anthony Easton describes as autism’s “don’t let the peas touch the carrots” delineation-aesthetic (“Autism,” 99) and which clinical autism researcher Simon Baron- Cohen and colleagues see within a continuum of autistic perseverations like “tapping surfaces or letting sand run through one’s fingers” and autistic savant system performance like rapid solving of a Rubik’s Cube (“Talent in Autism,” 1379). While studies and representations of autism are especially likely to recognize concrete forms of autistic lining-up, or to acknowledge autistic system cognition in masculinized disciplinary arenas like math and the sciences, however, there is also long-standing and widespread agreement that autism lends itself to verbal systemizing, discrete and disciplined uses of language, the catalogic and taxonomic. Bibliography, encyclopedia, lexicon, manifest, inventory. Animal, striped, like a cat, can scratch, eats people up, wild. As Easton indicates, the autis-
58 • autistic disturbances
tic proclivity “to delineate clearly . . . carries over into language (make language clear, and precise, make sure that it doesn’t cross categories)” (“Autism,” 99), an observation that resonates with Harp’s work on the autistic use of parentheses and which is likewise borne out in numerous literary and clinical writings (Glastonbury, “‘I’ll Teach You Differences,’” 61; Tantam, “Asperger’s Disorder (ii),” 35; Quayson, “Autism, Narrative, and Emotions,” 844). On the clinical side, texts are likely to represent autistic systemizing as a symptom of pathology, but autistic writers more usually suggest that collecting and organizing might be better understood in positive terms, as central to autistic cognition, aesthetic, and culture, and as key to autistic communicative practice. In Nobody Nowhere, for instance, Donna Williams describes an early job working as a clerk in a department store as “paradise.” For Williams, “It seemed almost unbelievable that I would be expected to do the thing I loved most: put things in order. There were numbers to be counted and ordered, there were colors and sizes and types of article to be grouped; every department was kept separate from every other department and called by a different name” (82–83). This sense of satisfaction is echoed repeatedly in other accounts. When Paradiz begins to recognize and claim her autism, it is partly her penchant for and joy in ordered systems that brings this new understanding. She describes herself as “a syntax and grammar nerd [who] enjoyed nothing more than comparing and analyzing the sentence structure of Russian with that of French, or copying out declensions in German, over and over again, just for the fun of it” (“Cultural Commentary”). Rather than understanding the system impulse as an ominous sign of deficit, even vacancy, this insider’s perspective goes beyond mere tolerance to an appreciation of the joy and beauty of collecting and lining things up. Indeed, economist Tyler Cowen, himself on the spectrum, regards the ability to collect and organize, forming microbits of information into flexible ordered wholes, as a distinctive advantage of autistic cognitive style. “One strong feature of autism,” he writes, “is the tendency of autistics to impose additional structure on information by the acts of arranging, organizing, classifying, collecting, memorizing, categorizing, and listing. Autistics are information lovers to an extreme degree and they are the people who engage with information most passionately” (Create Your Own Economy, 11). Drawing on a wide range of examples, historical, popular, and academic, Cowen suggests that increasing access to information and the increasingly customizable nature of this wealth of information make autistic cognitive style more visible, more advanta-
Articulating Autism Poetics • 59
geous, and more popular. When the world is awash in countless bits of data, the argument goes, there is great benefit to being able to home in on specific detail and compose meaningful customized collections. Calling autists “true infovores” (11), Cowen argues that autistic habits of collection and organizing actually serve as an ideal model for nonautistics in the present economy. Finding significant detail, collecting, cataloging, and arranging, turn out to be skills that enable people to explore and interact with the world effectively. Moreover, the collation of component parts into customized microworlds (like social networks) echoes other long-standing, arguably autistic world-making practices, like the writing of literary utopias, or the construction of entertainment habitats like those portrayed in Martha Stewart Living. Recent focus on the value of autistic local coherence, too, suggests a similarly complex and positive interpretation of autistic delineation. Understood in earlier clinical literature as a failure of executive functioning, evidence of the fundamental “absence” of autistic personhood, “local coherence,” autistic focus on the minute and particular is coming to be seen as a strength, the ability to look long and deep being redefined as an asset rather than signaling deficit at a supposedly higher cognitive level. Thus, Kamran Nazeer notes that autistic values demonstrate a “preference . . . for a limited, though immediate form of order” (Send in the Idiots, 4); Straus writes of autists as being “richly attentive to minute details” (“Autism as Culture,” 467); Yergeau writes that autists “quickly pick up on patterns and are also keen to notice small, detailed differences” (“Aut(hored)ism”). Such recognition helps recontextualize the apparently volatile practice of putting things in order, heralding an emerging appreciation of autistic system rhetoric and its intellectual and creative possibilities. Despite these emerging theories of autistic language and cognition, the clinical legacy continues in many respects to define and undermine autistic ways of being and autistic expressive forms. Interrogating and challenging these constructs is essential to the reconsideration of autism from the standpoint of rhetoric and poetics; appreciations of autistic discretion aesthetic must be understood against contexts that persistently challenge its legitimacy. In other words, everyone may know that Rainman counts cards, but few seem to notice his notebook or to think that it matters. Instead, gestures of verbal collecting, ordering, listmaking, and delineating—generating formal order from verbal sign—have historically been interpreted in accordance with two common and dehumanizing tropes: autist-as-robot or autist-as-intellectual-acrobat.
60 • autistic disturbances
Regarding the latter, the savant cliché is so firmly embedded in autism representation that every autistic performance is implicitly understood to be out of reach—amazing, incredible, inexplicable. Here is Rainman again, counting matches, counting cards, unconscious of his own exceptionalism. Yergeau, ironically inverting the savant expectation, writes, “I do not know the product of 5,601 and 42,896. I forget how to subtract. I do not know what day of the week Mozart was born, how many children Thomas Edison had, or the cost-effectiveness of deep-fat fryers. I do not know the words to every Walt Whitman poem. I cannot predict the future” (“Aut(hored)ism”). Like magicians, autists are commonly read as enacting a kind of trick, but the wonderful feat after all is likewise understood as a shallow performance, a kind of autistic sleight-of-hand; the concerts of Blind Tom Wiggins, the extraordinary insights of Sherlock Holmes, the autistic codebreaking depicted in films like Mercury Rising—all help construct the banal superficiality of the autistic person. He (and it is almost always he) is a kind of conduit, channeling the humanly impossible, and autistic figuring is thus “reduced . . . almost to nothing” (Sacks, “Twins,” 185). Mutually informed and mutually influential clinical and cultural aesthetic frames likewise interpret system performances like collecting and ordering as meaningless or wondrous, or, sometimes, as both at once: autistic children memorize an “inordinate number of nursery rhymes” or repeat “clusters of words” (Kanner, “Autistic Disturbances,” 247; Bettelheim, Empty Fortress, 430). George Victor notes that “autistic children achieve remarkable feats in infancy . . . [reproducing] songs, prayers, and various lists—scores of words without meaning” (Riddle of Autism, 210). Asperger’s notion that the “collections favored by autistic children appear like soulless possessions” dovetails with aesthetically and culturally inflected responses to verbal collation: Peter Roget’s verbal collecting and ordering is rendered as pathetic defense mechanism; the collections of autistic children are “soulless possessions” (Asperger, “Autistic Psychopathy,” 82); and popular culture repurposes the word “litany” (which is complexly patterned liturgical poetry) as a common expression of tedium. Thus, for both clinical and cultural observers, exquisite expressions of verbal order are met with a dual form of nonengagement; the autistic collation and organization of language is extraordinary, but it is also “nonsense,” “without meaning,” banal, nonexpressive, deficient in creativity and intelligence. It is not terribly surprising, then, that upon opening Rainman’s notebook, both clinicians and literary scholars are inclined not to value what they find—perhaps a simple record of Judge Wapner’s judgments, an inert compendium, a “wordhoard” reminiscent
Articulating Autism Poetics • 61
of Mr. Dick’s Memorial (Glastonbury, “Incommunicado,” 123). Crayfish, sharks, fish, and rocks. Similarly, autistic discretion is the language cue mostly likely to inspire the classification of autists with robots and machines: telegraphic. Autistic discretion tempts the unwary into inferences of affectlessness, absence, inhumanity. Happé sees autistic writers focusing on the concrete and the cognitive, rather than “affective or emotional” experience (“Autobiographical Writings,” 211); Schuler comments that autistic language is “wooden, robot-like, and mechanistic” (“Aspects of Communication,” 105); even John Robison, adopting a familiar clinical outlook, regards his own most autistic writing as “flat and devoid of inflection or emotion” (Look Me in the Eye, 209). So, when Julie Brown comments that the composite-style text (“assemblage”) of writers like Lewis Carroll, William Butler Yeats, and James Joyce is characteristically autistic (Writers on the Spectrum, 16), her observation resonates with Bosch’s view that the autistic “talker is constantly changing standpoints or has no standpoint at all” (Infantile Autism, 64; emphasis added). Brown argues that the celebrated writing of Carroll, Yeats, and Joyce evidences a lack of connected narrative deriving from autistic “lack of central coherence or executive function” and remarks, It’s as though the autistic individual is looking through a shoe box filled with random handfuls of pictures and cannot organize them into a photograph album that tells a story. (21)
Brown’s focus on what she sees as the randomness or purposelessness of autistic writing, its “lack” of “executive function” resonates with the affective flatness noted by others and stokes the myth of autistic absence. Her “shoe box filled with random handfuls” evokes Asperger’s remarks about the “autistic individual” who “just stacks boxes full of useless junk” (“‘Autistic Psychopathy,’” 82), Kanner’s “hardly . . . more meaning than sets of nonsense syllables.” Within this theoretical matrix, there is no real person doing the writing or speaking. No tadpoles in the house. And the idea that autistic language might as well be machine language is reinforced by researchers like Happé, who argue that autistic people wind up incapable of anything richer than “coded communication,” an approach whereby autists are thought to encode, transmit, receive, and decode language like “Morse code operators,” but without understanding or properly using inference and other supracoded communication (“Autobiographical Writings,” 230–31). Even sensitive, alert literary critics like
62 • autistic disturbances
Glastonbury fortify the notion of autistic language as machinelike, noting “a formal pedantic mode of speech which resembles the rehearsal of a written formula” (“Incommunicado,” 123), and pointing to autistically suggestive writing that substitutes “closed circuits for the momentum of effective agency and intersubjective consciousness” (“‘I’ll Teach You Differences,’” 61). There is little doubt that autistic language is prone to what is here identified as “discretion,” but the uncritical interpretive gesture commonly associated with this linguistic technique—the reading of autistic language as “rigid” and mechanistic—is itself fearsomely automatic. Even critically astute autists like Robison and C. S. Wyatt absorb and relay the dehumanizing trope—autist as affectless, autist as absent, autist as machine. In fact, what looks to the pathologizing eye and the outstretched clinical finger like a marker of disease is often a powerfully creative way of thinking and a productive vehicle for intellectual engagement and expression. Rereading supposedly rigid and fragmented autistic language in the creative mode, recent autism scholarship is beginning to figure and claim the myriad productive possibilities of autistic system- language. Belmonte, for instance, while arguing that autistic expression is fundamentally nonlinear, believes that autism’s nonintuitive relationship with narrative results in distinctly measured forms of text, an “extraordinarily effortful, unusually intense, and atypically deliberate process of narrative organization,” producing “unusually deep insights” (“Human, but More So,” 173). Chew, a classicist, linguist, and translator, sees the terse and abstract verbal style of her autistic son as rich in symbolic content, even if it requires interpretation (“Autism and the Task of the Translator,” 309). Wyatt points to the creative possibilities of computer language, reasoning in such a context that originality arises out of “linguistically rigid” structures. Pulitzer Prize-winning music critic Tim Page observes that “a cluster of facts can be both luminous and lyric” and sees his own “profound” response to “starkly reiterative, rigidly patterned” modern minimalist music as connected to his Aspergian cognitive aesthetic (Parallel Play, 6, 168). Easton writes that “database” and “taxonomic list” are elemental autistic forms and that “the gathering of data becomes the primary act of formation.” Easton suggests that the autistic author enters into implicit collaboration with the audience, “presenting a large amount of data” and allowing readers to “sort it, and find narratives, or gaps, or notions, or useful bits.” According to such an approach, Easton’s “infodump” is not a hostile or insensitive gesture, but an act of generosity, an offering of choice, options. “I have been to
Articulating Autism Poetics • 63
museums and galleries with other autistics,” he writes, “which becomes an act of endless exchanging facts—where exchanging facts, exchanging the taxonomic list, becomes an act of solidarity and intimacy” (“Autism,” 102–3). Valerie Paradiž, looking at echolalia (or autistic ricochet), finds richly suggestive autistic patterning in the verbal repetitions of both Gertrude Stein and Andy Warhol. Ralph Savarese points to the peculiarly autistic quality of poetic ordering, arguing that “[p]attern . . . is what attracts classical autistics to poetry,” and recalling the observation of a poetry student, an autist, who claimed the villanelle as a manifestly autistic form: “its perseverative, morphing refrains,” she wrote, “were ‘like the patterns of light on her front lawn’” (Savarese and Zunshine, “Critic as Neurocosmopolite,” 36). Often leaning on visual and kinesthetic cognition and expression, autistic orderers are builders and inventors, discovering and giving expression to the infinitude of implicit arrangements and organic orders embedded in what might otherwise appear to be a chaotic existence. Liners-up are imaginers, alert to what-might-be, building structures and places, arranging facts, composing information, arranging visual and verbal phrases into orders that signal and express these possibilities. Education professor and critical autism studies scholar Elizabeth J. (Ibby) Grace speaks to such possibilities in her “Autistethnography,” writing about how, as a schoolchild, she loved helping an adult friend “organize . . . books in Dewey Decimal,” but describing how this organizing activity served as a gateway for other, more complex and creative forms of collecting and arranging; cataloging merges into “expeditions to find poetry about things I loved, which I could then make my own anthology books of, and illustrate, even including my own attempts at poetry.” For Grace, her “favorite part . . . was the finding,” what she describes as “treasure hunting for poems and stories and facts” (91). The activity extends well beyond the parameters of self-soothing or therapeutic mechanics, and Grace see these early forays into research and writing not only as a pleasure unto themselves but also as foundational to her present identity as a scholar and teacher. Yergeau (who ironically entitles her scholarly bibliography “rituals”) also points to the dynamic between her own youthful autistic system aesthetic and the theoretical productivity of her adult career, playing enticingly with the creative and intellectual possibilities of autistic discretion: I arranged my dolls in lines on the floor, alphabetized by first name, and imagined they were in a database, only database wasn’t the word
64 • autistic disturbances
I used at first—but by age fifteen my dolls were fields and the invisible lines on the tan carpet were table dividers, and I imagined Microsoft Access in the flesh, theory incarnated. (“Aut(hored)ism”)
In this territory, perceptual cognition, intellect, aesthetic, object alignment, and sign are all evident coparticipants in autistic frolic. Collecting and lining-up is neither absent nor aggressive, neither mechanistic nor pathetic. Teeming with autistic presence, intellectual and creative verve, Yergeau’s arranging is “theory incarnated,” a radical sign anticipating the mature scholarly work that would follow. Far from being vacuous or signaling vacancy, lining things up turns out to be expressive, creative, and constructive. Autistic discretionary practice—lists and system writing—privileges the tangential, the suggestive, the unexpressed, enfolding the silent, the marginal, and the interstitial. Though lists are frequently understood as mechanical productions, thoroughly predictable, they are also capable of drawing in unexpected content, thereby forming startling associations, a tendency toward what Umberto Eco calls “infinitude,” an endless capacity for addition and accumulation that gestures toward the endlessly inclusive. So, too, Robert Belknap urges that lists may be understood as “plastic, flexible structures,” which “suggest the idea of inclusivity and expansive accretion” (The List, 2, 31). Rather than evoking the sterile and pedantic Casaubon, the persecuting totalitarian bureaucrat, an anxious and fragile Peter Roget, the practice of symbolic collection and ordering, the perception and expression of language discrete and particulate, may instead be understood as an intelligent and creative process, contingent and experimental, not rigid, but infinitely malleable. A cluster of facts can be both luminous and lyric.
Invention That autistic discretion is frequently understood as rigid and mechanical when it is arguably profoundly elastic and creative points to the central problem of the present work—that autism interpreters typically fail to register the creative valence of autistic language: the fecundity of autistic ejaculation, the poetic pleasure of autistic apostrophe, the playful purpose of autistic ricochet. Nowhere is this interpretive tension greater than in the arena of autistic invention, the elaboration and repurposing, the hacking and modding of ready-made language to transform it into star-
Articulating Autism Poetics • 65
tling new expressive patterns. Snakedly. Schlangenringelich. My sleep today was long but thin. Kanner, for instance, reports that Donald T. encoded his individual watercolors with the names of the Dionne quintuplets, resulting in observations like “Annette and Cécile make purple,” but the clinician regards this substitution not as a productive form of play, but as failure, a sign of the autistic subject’s inflexibility (“Autistic Disturbances,” 219–20); Asperger notes that autistic “expressions tend towards neologisms and are often more abstruse than delightful” (“‘Autistic Psychopathy,’” 62); well before that watershed moment in autism history, the 1967 publication of Bettelheim’s The Empty Fortress, Bosch observes that the “oddness . . . and ‘apparent inscrutability’ of autistic children’s language has been described many times before” (Infantile Autism, 61); and Bettelheim appears to concur, noting that “[a]utistic children . . . turn each word into a symbol of their private preoccupations. All words in fact have private meanings to them that tally only in part and by chance with the meanings we attach to them” (Empty Fortress, 162–63). By 1970, Rutter would note that the “[a]bnormal use of words and phrases has been described in autism for many years” (Tager-Flusberg, Paul, and Lord, “Aspects of Communication,” 344). Autists, then, are traditionally widely recognized as inventors of language. Julie Brown notes that the autism spectrum person is “the supreme inventor of idiom” (Writers on the Spectrum, 34), and some autists even argue that language may be an “autistic superpower” (Froehlich, “My Autistic Superpower”). But such powers ordinarily garner scant appreciation. Bettelheim’s blithe adoption of “we” / “them” pronominal rhetoric illuminates the interpretive matrix: the problem with invented language lies with who does the inventing. In fact, Autistic Disturbances itself, as is often the case with academic writing, makes use of obscure metaphor—a title intended to evoke a remote scholarly article from the 1940s—and is also replete with neologism, invented language. Orderlinesses, reconstrue, noncommunicative, particulation, corpsifying. Such veering from the straight and narrow becomes possible because scholars and technical writers get a pass, presumably occupying Bettelheim’s “we” territory; authority establishes linguistic privilege, and obscurity is thus more likely to be credited with intelligence. Social mechanisms operate to privilege credentialed language, in these circumstances locating perceived communicative failure within the audience rather than the speaker or writer. Even given such privilege, however, this seizure of language, customizing what is presumed to be a shared and therefore standardized resource, is a loaded activ-
66 • autistic disturbances
ity, detractors lamenting specialized vocabularies, the incomprehensible exclusive “jargon” of professionals. Indeed, there is significant cultural leakage between academic and autistic language categories. References to the professorial quality of autistic language, of course, are ubiquitous, but allusions to the incomprehensibility of professorial language are almost as common. Unlike the ambiguous reception accorded academic language, for those categorized as autistic, linguistic invention is almost universally censured and there is a presumption that the tweaking of language for private or limited purposes is a passive aggressive performance, evidence of a careless or selfish personality. Kanner’s intolerance of the “metaphorical” quality of autistic language and Asperger’s dismissive “abstruse” bookend the observations of Whitehorn and Zipf, who write about the “autistic” nature of schizophrenic language. In . . . fabricating a new language, the autistic person is not necessarily confusing the word with reality any more than is the person who coined the words “lockjaw,” “can opener” or “fireplace.” Nevertheless, to be arbitrary and individualistic in selecting what is to be named in all of experience, and how it is to be named and how it is to be compared generically with other named things, is ineffective if one wants the advantages that accrue to social life. The distortion of meanings represents an economy of mind, but it is an autistic economy that remains radically different from that of normal social speech. (“Schizophrenic Language,” 849)
According to the foundational thinking of these early clinical theorists, the autistic use of invented language evinces rigidity, social failure, and narcissistic disregard for others. Bettelheim writes of one young autist’s “neologisms” as a manner “that obstructed his and our ability to relate to each other” (“Joey,” 126). According to Yergeau’s more forceful construction, “neuroqueer subjects fuck with rhetoric” (Authoring Autism, 60). Clinical interpreters persistently frame the independence of autistic linguistic gesture as a kind of thoughtlessness or selfishness, creative verve and experimental language reduced to mere egotism. In making this case, however, many interpreters play an interesting aesthetic trick, constructing an illusion of incomprehensibility, even when meaning is quite clear. So, for instance, Asperger chooses to translate unusual autistic phraseology that is already apparent: “I can’t do this orally, only headily.” Likewise, Kanner notes the “meta-
Articulating Autism Poetics • 67
phorical” language of Donald T., who, “When asked to subtract 4 from 10, . . . answered: ‘I’ll draw a hexagon’” (“Autistic Disturbances,” 222). There is no actual communicative failure here—Kanner understands Donald T.’s hexagon, a six-sided figure, as both responsive and correct— but the privatization of public language is nevertheless put forward as an antagonistic departure from authentic communication. Tager-Flusberg, Paul, and Lord, similarly, speak of autistic language invention as comprising “modifications of ordinary word roots or phrases that produced slightly odd sounding, but comprehensible, terms such as ‘commendment’ for praise or ‘cuts and bluesers’ for cuts and bruises” (“Aspects of Communication,” 344). In a similar vein, Yergeau writes of the way “clinicians . . . sensationalize their autistic clients’ literalisms” (Authoring Autism, 59). The problem, then, is not that readers or listeners are actually unable to understand the plentiful inventive flourish of autistic language, but rather that audiences are encouraged to reject their own understanding because of “an overall impression of oddness” (Happé, “Autobiographical Writings,” 229). Chew reminds readers that “the communications of . . . autistic people . . . are routinely perceived as so difficult to decode that they verge on the . . . unknowable” and warns against the tendency of audiences to “displace autistic voices” (“Autism and the Task of the Translator,” 305), but underlying structures of bias are both so imposing and so implicit that even astute autism-positive literary scholars fall unwittingly into the practice. For Brown, autistic language invention is a sign that “the writer . . . dismisses the audience” (Writers on the Spectrum, 18), an interpretive schema unfortunately evident in her interpretations of venerated American writers: “Some of Emily Dickinson’s poems are indecipherable,” Brown writes, and “[l]ong stretches of Moby Dick do not seem to be designed with the reader in mind” (18). The writing of these literary greats is not elevated or complicated by such observations; instead, once stained by the diagnostic brush, the work of Dickinson and Melville is degraded to mere autistic gibberish. Even a literary critic with a deliberate proautism stance is drawn reflexively into the pathologizing vortex. Indeed, as discussed earlier, clinical and aesthetic judgment are often so inextricably interlaced that nonstandard uses of language may be fused with pathology in the cultural imagination. Criminal psychologist Robert Hare, for example, interprets the “use of neologisms” as a typical form of psychopathic rhetoric, since neologism combines “the basic components of language . . . in ways that seem logical to them but inappropriate to others” (Without Conscience, 137). Directly associating
68 • autistic disturbances
psychopathic violence with the supposedly antisocial quality inherent in invented words, Hare reframes neologism as implicitly malevolent. Scientistically, dissensus. Even the thorough and meticulous invention of whole language systems—a skill sometimes associated with autism and one valued by linguists, speculative fiction writers, and, increasingly, by detail-oriented film producers—draws ableist derision from an online commenter: “How densely autistic must someone be for this nonsense to fire their imagination? . . . If I met two people speaking Esperanto to one another, I would be sorely tempted to crack their self-righteous euro-centric heads together” (APenNameAndThatA). Though the moderated censure of clinical observation begins to look like a comparatively appealing prospect, there is a well-established thoroughfare from the clinical authority that regards autistic language as “more abstruse than delightful” to a clinical definition of autism as “the egocentric tendency to disregard the convenience of others” (Whitehorn and Zipf, “Schizophrenic Language,” 844), to the online commenter who fancies cracking autistic heads together. Hope is the thing with feathers. This is a deliberately recursive journey, this strange spiraling path that discovers- recovers junctures between rhetoric, violence, and the poetic mode. The logic is counterintuitive: autistic invention spurs (sometimes violent) antagonism; neologism and metaphorical language are regarded as antisocial, even as potential evidence of violent personality. Autpocalypse. Here’s the really weird thing: as with “monologue” and “soliloquy,” “metaphor,” of course, starts out not as a medical word, but as part of the vocabulary of poetics. When Kanner writes of “metaphorical or otherwise peculiar” language (“Autistic Disturbances,” 222), he’s adopting terminology from literary studies, where a unique approach to language is part of what defines greatness and the ability to generate startling and evocative language associations is a powerful contributor to literary stature. Shakespeare is celebrated for his “lexical creativity” (Dobson and Wells, Oxford Companion to Shakespeare, 129). Lackbeard, patchbreech, tallowface, fen-sucked, russet-pated. Indeed, Shakespeare’s literary maturity is said to be especially marked by the “dramatic energy” of his neologistic “verbs . . . where one part of speech is used as another, e.g. noun as verb” (129). Unsphere. Disedge. So far from disparaging invented language, linguist Mikhail Epstein has argued that “a neologism should be recognized as a self-sufficient text” (Predictionary, 17). And Epstein sees “word- composition” or “word-formation” (what he calls lexicopoeia) as “a literary genre
Articulating Autism Poetics • 69
of its own, the poetry of a single word” (17). Even decidedly conservative language authorities acknowledge the necessity of neologism; in The King’s English (1906), Fowler and Fowler observe, “if no new words were to appear, it would be a sign that the language was moribund” (28). The creating of new words and the development of strange and inventive word associations—metaphor—is not an illness or deficit. These are time-honored practices, admired by a range of literary authorities. Through the dark clouds shining. A consciousness of this ambivalence—extraordinary verbal invention spurring both admiration and hostility—is crucial in exploring the relationship between autism and punning. Asperger recognizes punning as a particularized autistic ability, the “witty” amusement of pun language standing in contrast to what he otherwise sees as the deficiency of autistic humor (Asperger, “‘Autistic Psychopathy,’” 82). This is crucial: the pun is a play on words, an expression not to be taken seriously, a form of silliness. To paraphrase Yergeau, it is a way of fucking with rhetoric that resonates powerfully with neuroqueer practice. From the perspective of the greater social context that insists on autistic deficiency and incomprehensibility, the pun may thus be seen as yet another insignificant and unsignifying autistic “splinter” skill, like a talent for jigsaw puzzles. Rather than being understood as potentially content-rich rhetoric, the pun is seen instead as serving purely nonfunctional purposes. And, like other forms of autistic expression, it thus exists as a kind of verbal waste, quirky, amusing even, but easily dismissed. The laughs and groans that are the typical responses to puns fall into the category of mere utterance, evidence of the pun’s strange status as an antidialogic verbal form. The audience may laugh, groan, or shrug, but as with apostrophe, there is no talking back, no discourse, only recognition or perplexity. Erika Hammerschmidt, creator of the autistic webcomic Abby and Norma (a series densely infused with all kinds of wordplay), shares a story around one of her own puns: Extraterrestrials abducted this guy and took him up to their spaceship to do experiments on him. Soon he noticed a strange medical device they were using, and asked what it was. “It’s sort of the opposite of an endoscope,” they replied. “An endoscope is for looking inside you, and its name comes from the Latin ‘endo’ meaning ‘inside,’ as opposed to ‘exo’ meaning ‘outside,’ or ‘epi’ meaning ‘on the surface.’ This device is for looking at the surface of your skin, and it is called an episcope.”
70 • autistic disturbances
“But then,” said the guy, “what are you doing using Latin? You’re not Catholics. You’re Episcope Aliens!” It was a failure. Neither my husband nor his friend understood that “Episcope Aliens” was a pun on “Episcopalians.” And not only that, but instead of asking me to explain the joke, they simply assumed that the joke made no sense, and ridiculed me about it for hours. I suppose this is what I get for being the queen of absurdity in our family. (Hammerschmidt, “887”)
The profound elaboration of the joke suggests other aspects of autistic expression: the surfeit of language that characterizes apostrophic rhetoric; and the somewhat esoteric linguistic choices— endoscope, Episcopalian—that Fowler and Fowler see within the context of neologism. Most importantly, however, Hammerschmidt’s experience articulates the unsettling relationship between this kind of carefully crafted and intensely creative rhetoric and its apparent functionality. For it is noteworthy both that such remarkable effort goes into the creation of a joke—disposable text—and that the construction is ultimately deemed “a failure.” Even Hammerschmidt, an outspoken autistic self-advocate and a self-described “pun geek” (“Wordplay”), dismisses her creation as “failure.” As may be seen from this example, puns are thus simultaneously serious (in that they are necessarily formal and creative) and nonserious (that is, both silly and disposable); they thus contain an internal conflict, a doubleness evocative of other autistic language invention and of autistic poetics more generally. The whole point of the pun, the thing that makes it funny, is that it cannot be taken at face value. There are always two messages; there is always bonus content inside a single word or phrase. Though it plays as silly—Episcope Aliens—this form of encoded language nevertheless speaks to the deep abstract intelligence of puns and related wordplay. Even if it appears to be mere linguistic juggling—a party trick, keeping multiple meanings in the air at the same time—punning, like neologism and metaphorical language, creates the opportunity to explore unusual abstract relationships, connections and contrasts. In writing of the pleasure his autistic son Eli takes in punning, Paul Heilker recognizes exactly this “double-ness,” noting that the functional architecture for such word gaming also serves as a powerful mechanism for other abstract analysis (Heilker and Yergeau, “Autism and Rhetoric,” 490). As with the elastic and creative aspect of autistic discretion, autistic language invention
Articulating Autism Poetics • 71
generates conceptual opportunities, unfamiliar juxtapositions that resonate both aesthetically and critically. Indeed, satiric literary utopias, like Jonathan Swift’s Land of the Houyhnhnms or Samuel Butler’s Erewhon (1872), rely similarly on complex and elaborate forms of linguistic doubleness, harvesting the familiar and renaming it so that it appears, uncannily, in some half-recognized shape. Episcope Aliens. I’ll draw a hexagon. By partitioning social existence into abstract institutional units and imposing invented language— Yahoo—atop an otherwise familiar social matrix, Swift enacts a form of extended punning that evokes both the language of autistic discretion and the language of autistic invention. Perhaps, then, despite the groans, puns are not disposable language after all. As Heilker indicates, the autistic punster may “see connections between disparate events or items, connections that other people typically cannot or do not see” (Heilker and Yergeau 490). Such is certainly the case with a Swift, or a Butler, or a Voltaire, whose scathing social commentaries are deftly set in seemingly comic form; sometimes there’s more to a joke than meets the eye. That puns and other forms of rhetorical doubleness might be doing serious work while masquerading as fun speaks to the heart of the matter. For while formal satire is prized for its insight and originality, it is also abhorred, like the pun, for its trickster language, the concealment of its critical dagger. One oft-cited article by sociologist Joan Emerson discusses the use of humor to negotiate serious social business and to broach otherwise taboo subjects, noting that cabaret performers during the early Nazi regime “were arrested for their wisecracks and mimicry of Hitler and his regime,” a consequence that defined their seeming humor as “political crime” (“Negotiating,” 171). (It is essential to note here that the Berlin cabarets of the 1930s existed as complex sites of resistance to normate conduct and identity—queering politics, queering sexuality, and queering language—“including us all,” as Christopher Isherwood writes, “in the conspiracy” [Goodbye to Berlin, 14]). The coded critique effected by satire and the doubleness of the pun destabilize, suspending audiences in a condition of interpretive irresolution, promulgating cognitive dissonance, engendering resistance and anxiety. The ensuing critical backlash can be extreme. The Earl of Orrery, for instance, writes that Swift presents a “representation . . . of human nature [which] must terrify, and even debase the mind of the reader who views it” (183). Both satire and punning—indeed, most forms of wordplay—are prone to ambivalent reception, regarded as inherently duplicitous. Occupying the center of this site of tension is the autist, articulating
72 • autistic disturbances
and articulated. While Asperger and others argue that autistic people “do not ‘understand jokes’” (“‘Autistic Psychopathy,’” 82), a powerful counterdiscourse suggests that autists are actually more likely than nonautists to enjoy an especially rich and elaborate sense of humor, especially in reference to language and abstract sign. In fact, the autistic blogosphere is richly populated with satires of the endless ableist discourses around autism (see Yergeau, Authoring Autism, 170–72, for more; Main, Allism; Ryskamp, “Field Notes”; AngryAutie, “Institute for the Study”). Just because the audience doesn’t get it, as with Hammerschmidt’s pun, that doesn’t mean there’s no joke or that “autistic people . . . have no sense of humor” (Hendriks, Autistic Company, 10). In fact, the starkly contrasting beliefs around autistic comprehensibility and autistic comprehension articulate two separate and overlapping messages. Understood in this way, autistic invention is itself rendered as a site of doubleness, both nonsensical and meaningful, and the autist becomes a kind of pun incarnate, the embodiment of contained conflict. Such a reading may illuminate the ambivalent reception not only to punning but also to autistic language invention more generally. The “professorial” quality of autistic voice, the use of challenging language— metaphor, customized language, archaic and obscure words, puns and other types of linguistic “double-ness”—are a provocation to more conventional language users, those who have expectations of seamless and intuitive communication. Not only is the typical audience resistant to language that might require an “effort to de-code” (Brown, Writers on the Spectrum, 34), but more typical users may also be spooked by the limitless extratextual potentiality of autistic language invention. As with Swift’s Yahoo, metaphoric and invented language and other forms of wordplay may include explosive content, veiled in seemingly innocuous form. In fact, this is a recipe for terror—danger masquerading as innocence—and it elicits extraordinary defensive response: Swift’s work has been subject to vitriolic critique; cabaret performers in early Nazi Germany were arrested. For Hammerschmidt, who describes language as her “main autistic fascination” and whose wordplay has extended to writing “a limerick for every element on the Periodic Table, an epic story using no vowels except ‘i,’ and a 200+ word rhyming poem that reads the same right-side-up and upside-down,” things might not seem so dire (“Wordplay”). If her husband and his friend don’t get her puns, it’s of little consequence. But the threat of head-cracking is always an essential factor in the resistance to autistic language invention, as it is with other
Articulating Autism Poetics • 73
queerings. (Isherwood, again: “He stood before me a moment, panting, thrusting out his jaw, uncertain it seemed, whether he ought to hit me in the face” [Goodbye to Berlin, 193]). The dismissal of autistic punning as nonsensical dovetails with other forms of resistance to autistic invention: from Kanner’s initial reading of autistic metaphor as meaningless to the pathologization of autistic neologism to the dismissal of autistic humor as mere silliness, even that aspect of autistic language that most clearly demonstrates intention and invention is framed by interpretive schema that detract from its power, intelligence, and originality.
Conclusion A survey of literature on autistic language—including writing by clinicians, by literary scholars, and by autists, sometimes in overlapping roles—does indicate, contrary to popular notions, that autism may be said to have its own language, its own distinctive forms of verbal expression. The literature refers to a broad array of autistic linguistic features including tendencies toward echolalia, polysyllabic phrasing, abrupt language, aphorisms, monologue, telegraphic expression, and dozens of other descriptive criteria. This section has visited many of the significant characteristics of autistic language identified in the literature, and has proposed five categories—ricochet, apostrophe, ejaculation, discretion, and invention (in addition to autistic silence)—that embrace a variety of characteristics identified as autistic, characteristics that might be understood to constitute a kind of fingerprint of verbal autism. The foregoing exploration of these categories is focused on the multiple potentialities of these expressive forms and continually questions dominant interpretive strategies prone to read idiosyncratic autistic language in a negative light, as rigid, as meaningless, and as hostile or offensive. Ultimately, the trouble is that what autistic people say and the way autistic people say things often doesn’t mesh nicely with conventional ideas about language and (typically implicit) agreements about language as functional, social, and communicative. Beginning with that most expansively reproduced aspect of autistic expression— silence— dominant constructions of autism poetics have favored interpretations of autistic verbalization that render autistic expression impotent: autistic silence signals vacancy and its “metaphorical language” is considered equivalent to that same vacant silence; autis-
74 • autistic disturbances
tic ricochet is interpreted as mere mechanical repeating and as evidence of personal absence; autistic apostrophe, likewise, is supposed to be machinelike language, its talking “into empty space” retailed as an erasure of audience and a demonstration of aggressive social disconnection; autistic ejaculation, similarly, is portrayed as a rejection of social connection, its interruptive blurting evoking the language of obscenity; autistic discretion ostensibly demonstrates inflexibility, the organization of abstract verbal content supposedly showing the rigid limitations of autistic expression; and even autistic invention—the creative repurposing of conventional language in fresh and original forms—is repackaged as distinctive autistic deficit, a linguistic dysfunction understood variously as incomprehensibility, silliness, or egotism. In each of these instances, the intelligence and the expressive and creative power of distinctively autistic language are suppressed in favor of interpretive schemes that read these rhetorics as nonhuman (e.g., absent, vacant, or mechanical) or as implicitly antisocial (e.g., rude, aggressive, disconnected). As is especially evident from the response to autistic language invention, dominant clinical and cultural interpretations have typically proved resistant to the complexities and ambiguities of both autistic text and autistic people. Confronted by the experience of cognitive dissonance and threatened by queerings of language, meaning, and identity, mainstream clinical and cultural responses to autism are characterized by a host of authoritarian practices: the dismissing of autistic expression as pathological, as meaningless, as silly, as egocentric, as impoverished or ineffectual, or as robotic. Of one autistic child, Joey, the “Mechanical Boy,” Bettelheim quite openly confesses that the boy’s performance as machine “again and again [ . . . ] froze our own ability to respond as human beings” (“Joey,” 117). Given their hegemonic authority, these interpretive matrices have a profound impact on customary responses to autistic text, including the text of the autistic body. An expectation of nonsense, of vacancy, of inhumanity creates a framework of nonlistening; expectations of selfish and aggressive verbal conduct help justify violent responses to autism; and deeply entrenched and complexly developed discourses of autistic linguistic pathology empower a vast engine of coercive intervention, the “correcting” and training of autistic voice to fit conventional parameters of communicative language. Moreover, there is an immeasurable passive impact of these discourses on autistic identity, embedded cultural messages that implicitly inform idiosyncratic language users that experimen-
Articulating Autism Poetics • 75
tal language is worthless, that the sole purpose of language is communication, and that wordplay, aesthetics, and expressive verbalization are mere waste. Internalizing these messages, countless autistic people suppress intuitive forms of expression and, stressed and exhausted by the performance, consciously operate according to dominant language patterns; many others are trapped in agonizing instructional relationships, where autistic language is understood as a “broken” medium rather than an alternative and potentially valuable expressive mode; many, certainly, have opted, perhaps unconsciously, for a nonverbal or minimally verbal life. In the face of such tidal resistance, it must seem to some that verbal self-expression just isn’t worth the trouble. It is not the purpose of this text to address the possible deficiencies of autistic language, if such deficiencies there be. Language is an amazingly imperfect tool, betraying its users at every turn, inexact, unpredictable, fluid. It recedes when it is most wanted, comes rushing crudely forward when silence would be the better part. Sign is never quite an adequate substitute for signified; Plato was alive to such a problem, of course, as was Ferdinand de Saussure. Language is full of strange expressions and clichés—a pig in a poke, walls have ears, the four corners of the Earth, LOLZ—that operate best when users don’t think too much about them. Indeed, humanity comes from all corners of the Earth, speaking to and at one another in a surprising chaos of syntaxes and vocabularies and conflicting social norms that defy the very idea of normal language, that make the possibility of communication seem almost impossible. It is a makeshift business at best and autists among this larger human tribe share many of the same language woes. Sometimes, the words just don’t come out as one would wish. But others have already amply investigated the problems with autistic language; even as these words are written, clinical researchers and speech-language pathologists and special education scholars are hard at work breaking down the details of the failures of autistic language and figuring techniques to fix the problems. Recognizing that all language—including autistic language—is, to some extent, failed language, this book instead looks to the possibilities and potentialities of autistic rhetoric, exploring the ways in which its characteristic features might comprise a distinctive autism poetics. As a means of testing these possibilities, this chapter is followed by a series of literary case studies that investigate the presence of autistic rhetorical or poetic features in familiar and classic texts not ordinarily understood within the context of autism. Beginning with the expecta-
76 • autistic disturbances
tion of familiarity, of pleasure, of normalcy, or of treasured text (rather than with the starting point of pathology), each reading unfolds autistic presence and autistic voice, contemplating what autistic poetics offers when readers are able to step away from expectations of deficit and failure. It is the hope of the writer that these explorations will offer new insight into familiar texts and will help cue fresh expectations of and responses to the verbal expression of autistic people.
C h a pter Th ree
On the Surprising Elasticity of Taxonomical Rhetoric •••
Speaking of autopsies, here is an interesting case: it turns out that the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the text used to determine who has autism and who doesn’t, the ultimate objective clinical authority on autism as pathology, actually looks pretty autistic when measured by its own diagnostic criteria for “autism spectrum disorder.” Moan, eyeroll: “clinicians and their autistic objects” (Yergeau, Authoring Autism, 208). It may be rather a crude joke, irrelevant perhaps, even disingenuous, but the DSM, in a beautiful, recursive irony, may be read as the index document of literary autism. The body of the text is laid out on the dissecting table; the work of scrutiny and dissection may proceed. First: to look at the text as a whole, its order and pattern, its extreme visual regularity. This is an encounter with autistic discretion, text deliberately composed of ordered fragments, a collage reimagining the living untidiness of mental disorder within a framework of verbal symmetry. Like other manuals and guidebooks, like dictionaries and encyclopedias and etiquette books and grammar texts, like the bibliographies and taxonomies, which are its brothers and cousins, the DSM manifests an extraordinary regularity. This is not like narrative, especially not like narrative fiction, that messy, clotting, almost organic mass of text, shaped by affect, plot, desire. Instead, the DSM is pristine and orderly, its content 77
78 • autistic disturbances
fitted into regularly recurring headings and subheadings, robotic, uniform in its composition, a disciplined body. Prevalence Development and Course Risk and Prognostic Factors Comorbidity
Each numbered entry designates a discrete syndrome, condition, or disorder, definitions and diagnostic criteria systematically mapped with strong textual markers partitioning verbal content into particularized units of clinical concern. Thus, the 2013 edition of the text, the DSM-5, true to formatting patterns of its predecessors, delineates “Autism Spectrum Disorder” as follows:
A. Persistent deficits in social communication and social interaction across multiple contexts, as manifested by the following, currently or by history (examples are illustrative, not exhaustive; see text): 1. Deficits in social-emotional reciprocity, ranging, for example, from abnormal social approach and failure of normal back- and-forth conversation; to reduced sharing of interests, emotions, or affect; to failure to initiate or respond to social interactions. 2. Deficits in nonverbal communicative behaviors used for social interaction, ranging, for example, from poorly integrated verbal and nonverbal communication; to abnormalities in eye contact and body language or deficits in understanding and use of gestures; to a total lack of facial expressions and non- verbal communication. 3. Deficits in developing, maintaining, and understanding relationships, ranging, for example, from difficulties adjusting behavior to suit various social contexts; to difficulties in sharing imaginative play or in making friends; to absence of interest in peers.
Specify current severity: Severity is based on social communication impairments and restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior (see Table 2).
On the Surprising Elasticity of Taxonomical Rhetoric • 79
B. Restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, or activities as manifested by at least two of the following, currently or by history (examples are illustrative, not exhaustive): 1. Stereotyped, or repetitive motor movements, use of objects, or speech (e.g. simple motor stereotypes, lining up toys or flipping objects, echolalia, idiosyncratic phrases). 2. Insistence on sameness, inflexible adherence to routines, or ritualized patterns of verbal or nonverbal behavior (e.g. extreme distress at small changes, difficulties with transitions, rigid thinking patterns, greeting rituals, need to take same route or eat same food every day). 3. Highly restricted, fixated interests that are abnormal in intensity or focus (e.g. strong attachment to or preoccupation with unusual objects, excessively circumscribed or perseverative interests). 4. Hyper-or hyporeactivity to sensory input or unusual interest in sensory aspects of the environment (e.g. apparent indifference to pain/temperature, adverse response to specific sounds or textures, excessive smelling or touching of objects, visual fascination with lights or movement).
Specify current severity: Severity is based on social communication impairments and restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior (see Table 2).
C. Symptoms must be present in the early developmental period (but may not become fully manifest until social demands exceed limited capabilities, or may be masked by learned strategies in later life). D. Symptoms cause clinically significant impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of current functioning. E. These disturbances are not better explained by intellectual disability (intellectual developmental disorder) or global developmental delay. Intellectual disability and autism spectrum disorder frequently co-occur; to make comorbid diagnoses of autism spectrum disorder and intellectual disability, social communication should be below that expected for general developmental level. (50–51)
80 • autistic disturbances
In contradistinction to the increasing acknowledgement of the difficulties defining autism (Nadesan, Constructing Autism, 9; Murray, Autism, 1; Davidson and Orsini, Worlds of Autism, 24), the DSM creates definition through the particulars of hierarchy and subordination, a self-contained outline, numbered and lettered, that effects decisive verbal order. After the systematically stipulated diagnostic criteria quoted above, this entry, like others in the text, is followed by a portion of narrative, divided discretely by subheadings—Prevalence, Development and Course, Risk and Prognostic Factors, Comorbidity—that are essentially uniform throughout the book. Each entry is presented in the same format, fragments or modules of text aligning to the same visual and symbolic verbal abstract scaffolding. Each molecule distinct. Uniform, efficient, evoking the “abrupt” language and logic of autistic speakers like Temple Grandin or the otherwise- unidentified “Ruth” (Happé, “Autobiographical Writings,” 210; Frith, Autism: Explaining, 118–20); or of other would-be autistic rhetoricians: Sherlock Holmes, Mr. Spock. It evokes literary critiques that read autistic language as “rigid, simple, and categorical” (Dekel, “Austen and Autism”); or that associate literary autism with “[c]losed structures, locked doors, small stuffy rooms, mirrors, labyrinths, and narrow streets” (Olsen, “Diagnosing Fantastic Autism,” 36). In the DSM, each entry looks the same and reads the same, content swapped into and out of each category like interchangeable parts on a diagnostic assembly line. Dahlia, dahlia, dahlia. Is such an assessment artificial? Of course. In practical terms, the manual is designed as an index, an easy-to-navigate tool for busy clinicians and medical billers who need to flip pages quickly, skim through content-rich print, and transfer capsules of approved language into the complex regularized and regulated bureaucracy of insurance claims and medical forms. The book is shaped altogether by practical requirements, designed to dovetail with the daily concerns of the business of medicine, but the text is there nevertheless, a fair subject for structural, narrative, rhetorical dissection. Regardless of practical intentions, the DSM is keyed to a system aesthetic, a language of discretion widely recognized by clinical authorities as autistic. Simon Baron-Cohen, for instance, argues that “a common characteristic” of autism “is that the individual becomes an expert in recognizing repeating patterns in stimuli” and that such “systemizing” may be “defined as the drive to analyse or construct systems” (Baron-Cohen et al., “Talent in Autism,” 1377). Oliver Sacks unfolds this idea in an episode of the popular documentary series The Mind Traveller, entitled “Rage for Order,” which explores the repetitive and cyclical foci
On the Surprising Elasticity of Taxonomical Rhetoric • 81
of Jessie Parks. Another clinical text notes that the “special interests” of most Asperger people “will have a repetitive, list-making, classifying or collecting element” (Tantam, “Asperger’s Disorder (ii),” 35), an observation in keeping with those made by families of autistic people as well as with many self-identified autists; the blog “Stuff Asperger People Like,” an ongoing numbered report, lists its number-one “like” as “Making Lists.” In fact, autism-world is populated by inveterate listmakers, coders, framers, categorizers, collectors, and organizers. The content ordering and rhetorical patterning of the DSM may thus be understood as distinctively autistic features and its participation in the aesthetic of autistic discretion is a reasonable feature of the autopsy report. There is some fun involved here, obviously, some satisfaction that derives from bending back the pointing clinical finger upon itself, a playful autistic desire to “cunningly queer the clinical” (Yergeau, Authoring Autism, 53). And, as it happens, others have already visited this particular playground. Lennard Davis, in Obsession: A History (2008), observes the “taxonomic and categorical” quality of the DSM and proposes that “one could argue that the physician who uses the [manual] is himself or herself using an obsessive text” (10). Steve Silberman, similarly, calls DSM-III architect Robert Spitzer “Spock-like,” and observes that “while Spitzer’s eccentricities may have fallen short of meeting the criteria for Asperger’s syndrome, the DSM-III (1980) was the product of a mind that exhibited many classic qualities of autistic intelligence” (Neurotribes, 386). In some respects, however, this is not fun at all, but rather a bleak and grinding reinscription of the pathologizing text. It is another case of Casaubon, of Toad, of Peter Roget, an implicit denigration of system- text and, by extension, of autism poetics. The making of a list or the ordering or categorizing of any content is almost universally tainted as a mechanistic exercise, without real intellectual value or creativity; such rhetoric is seen, rather, as an automated production, a reinscription of the already known. Autopsying the DSM may be an amusing way to push back against overbearing medical authority, but using the same tools, the same points of reference, lends weight to the idea that expressions of autistic discretion are symptomatic of psychosocial dis-ease, evidence of a restricted and restrictive consciousness, a failure of normal organic development. Indeed, there is a robust cultural association between system aesthetics and totalitarian thinking, and it is likely that critical attitudes toward autistic verbal discretion, including hostilities directed toward the DSM, are at least partly motivated by an unconscious association of delineation
82 • autistic disturbances
aesthetics with totalitarian impulse. Saturated in Foucauldian interpretations of state bureaucracies and deeply informed by the violent sorting and organizing mechanisms of the Nazi state and South African apartheid authorities, progressive thinkers of modern Western cultures are quick to reject all sorts of symbolic abstract accounting as an invasive tool of power and control (Jimerson, “Archives for All”; Bowker and Starr, Sorting Things Out). “To be governed,” writes Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, is to be at every operation, at every transaction, noted, registered, enrolled, taxed, stamped, measured, numbered . . . [and] at the slightest resistance, the first word of complaint, to be . . . tracked, abused, clubbed, disarmed, choked, imprisoned, judged, condemned, shot. (General Idea, 294)
In the Western cultural imagination, the use of language to describe, delineate, discipline, order is a tradition associated with violence. Importantly, then, the staccato pitch of autistic verbal-unit expression—the “small units” and “point- blank” language of autistic speakers (Frith, Autism: Explaining 120)—is read within a context that understands such expression as a relentless, even as an aggressive, shutting down of other speaking, an anonymous authoritarian rejection of dissent. As Frith conceives it, “each answer was minimal and final. In this way, each answer stopped the flow of conversation” (120). Autistic speaking thus serves as a veiled metaphor for the impersonal bureaucratic violence of the state machine, faceless and inhuman. As Hannah Arendt argues, there is a profound philosophical connection between banality and evil. The message has become so self-evident, it may remain unspoken: the individual actor speaking with the voice of the bureaucratic machine is the modernist demon. When Wing observes, then, that Aspergian “thought processes are confined to a narrow, pedantic, literal, but logical, chain of reasoning . . . while comprehension of the underlying meaning is poor” (“Asperger’s Syndrome,” 118), this seemingly neutral clinical observation suggests a powerful alignment between autistic discretion rhetoric and the overbearing mechanistic pitch of uninhabited bureaucratic language. Autistic discretionary text is thus presented as rigid, closed, narrow, restrictive; it crowds and imprisons, a rhetoric of control, violence, subjection. Understood within this framework, the DSM may be seen as manifesting a kind of deterministic authoritarianism; the establishing of psychiatric categories and the act of diagnosis seen as tools to exercise
On the Surprising Elasticity of Taxonomical Rhetoric • 83
an unjustifiable power. In the words of Carrie Snow, authoritarian texts like the DSM serve to fortify the “logic of science and technology” that “manifest[s] in the push to diagnose, label, and track” (“Beyond Visions of Repair,” 172). And Jonathan Metzl’s The Protest Psychosis (2009) is yet more explicit about the damage imposed by false ordering, arguing that “the DSM created racial differences in psychopathology rather than reflecting them; and race-based differences in symptoms represented not the premorbid cultural patterns of African American patients, but the premorbid professional assumptions of their doctors” (156). Within this context, the rhetorical templates of the DSM and of system-text more generally, read as frames for imposition of increased bureaucratic control and efficiency, are what sociologist Max Weber describes as an “iron cage” and what Michel Foucault has thoroughly explicated as the influence of bureaucratization in the engineering of “docile bodies” (Discipline and Punish). The DSM, sorting each docile human subject into its proper pathological category, into an apparently rigid, genericized taxonomy, evokes the racist bureaucracies of South African apartheid systems, in which “the lives of individuals are broken, twisted, and torqued by their encounters with classification systems” (Bowker and Star, Sorting Things Out, 26). Or, the rhetoric of diagnostic systemizing might also arouse associations with the stark efficiencies of Nazi “selection,” or “the widely recognized proficiency of Nazi recordkeeping” (Jimerson, “Archives for All,” 254). There is a fraught and sometimes nefarious history behind the collecting and organizing of text used to interpret and define aspects of human identity. Underlying much of the resistance to autistic discretion, autistic system aesthetic—Lennard Davis’s easy dismissal of the DSM as an “obsessive text,” or even the present explication of the text as a kind of rigid corpse—is the quite obvious concern that catalogic and taxonomic writing are mechanisms for totalitarian control. Speaking to just such a concern, Foucault observes that rhetoric of this kind serves as an instrument that reduces the organic “to a system of variables all of whose values can be designated . . . by a perfectly clear and always finite description” (Order of Things, 136). In fact, the DSM, as the standard document ordering mental disorder, suggests by its very existence that humanity’s natural and benign social, sexual, affective, and cognitive variation must be scrutinized, policed, disciplined, restricted, and sorted into a predetermined rubric of disease and failure, a monologic structure of power so obviously controlling and repressive that the observation need scarcely be made. In order to diagnose “Autistic Disorder,” the DSM-IV-TR
84 • autistic disturbances
proposes diagnostic criteria that begin, “A total of six (or more) items from (1), (2), and (3), with at least two from (1), and one each from (2) and (3)” (75). Proudhon is right. Weber is right. Foucault is right. Bureaucratic language is a machine of power and the larger infrastructures of system-text—the organizing of peoples into categories, classes, and castes—often function as tools for what may fairly be described as totalitarian domination. If people squeeze they’ll bust. Here is the irony, or, if one prefers, the logic puzzle: if to undermine the text that reads autism as pathological, one points to the underlying autism of the offending text, the idea of autism as pathology is reinforced. “For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house” (Lorde, “Master’s Tools,” 112). If a certain kind of voice—discrete, logical, systemizing—is perceived as threatening human liberty and individuality, then interrogating that voice becomes a necessary act of critical violence. And silencing that voice—by critique, by therapeutic intervention, by acts of nonlistening—is perceived as a liberatory response, a solution to nonhuman, to roboticized autistic expression. Once again, the body on the table is rendered more than passive; construed as a diseased site, it necessarily invites a solution, an interpretation; fair game for the pathologist. Dangerous ground: authoritarian elements know what they are about. Some of the most commonly valued cultural texts—Leviticus, Wikipedia—rely on this kind of generic patterning; mass desire for and consumption of list-texts abounds even as the cognition and aesthetic practice out of which they are generated is dismissed. Lists and system writing are undeniably useful and attractive, driving not only forces of racist segregation, but also a multibillion-dollar industry of media click- bait. 10 Bizarre Facts That Will Make You Lose Faith in the Modern World. 19 Things That Will Make British People Laugh For Once in Their Lives. 5 Reasons Listicles Are Here to Stay, and Why That’s OK. Balance for a moment at this edge: the abundant proliferation of system rhetoric and the widespread acknowledgment of its use as a tool of totalizing power. It is not only that totalitarian rhetorical strategies are ominous, but also that they are broadly and invitingly populist. Technology writer Maria Konnikova points to the love-hate relationship with lists, a necessarily shallow level of content married to astonishing cognitive efficiency. Lists and other forms of discretionary rhetoric offer distinct advantages for attention, for memory, and for comprehension. Lists “appeal to our general tendency to categorize things,” she writes, “since they chunk information into short, distinct components” (“List of Reasons”). Thus, their produc-
On the Surprising Elasticity of Taxonomical Rhetoric • 85
tive and destructive efficiencies—as with the DSM—are deeply entwined in textual history. System language is a widely used and enormously popular rhetorical style, complexly interconnected with autistic cognition and neuroqueer aesthetic, and at the same time fairly critiqued as both superficial and authoritarian, a language that is at once
1. recognizably autistic in its rhetoric, aesthetic, and cognitive preferences 2. extensively used, much beloved, and profoundly human 3. dismissed as superficial and opposed as rigidly authoritarian
That system language and autistic speaking are thus entangled with social aesthetics of authority, resistance, and submission is a crucial site of critical inquiry. System-text is almost universally inviting, yet, with its implicit authoritarian rhetoric, it also challenges intuitive social harmonies embedded in dialogue and narrative. Such language disrupts transparent dialogic programming that plays to common expectations of communicative language, the I-and-thou of ordinary interactive speech. On some level, then, the cultural resistance to the text-list genre emerges out of its explicit assertion of priorities and its autistic devotion to “bare information” regardless of “the language of politeness” (Frith, Autism: Explaining, 119). Even complex lists, even lists devoted exclusively to human content, are experienced as a kind of social affront, quite literally acts of subordination, quietly using rhetoric to construct hierarchy, relationship, and content position. Whether the DSM fragments “Autistic Disorder” into subordinated diagnostic categories like “Rett’s Disorder,” “Childhood Disintegrative Disorder,” “Asperger’s Disorder,” and “Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (Including Atypical Autism)” (DSM-IV-TR, 70–84), or, whether these subordinated diagnoses are absorbed into the larger autism category (DSM-5), public dissatisfaction abounds. When system writing appears in the form of a BuzzFeed article, there is perhaps some eye-rolling, or, perhaps, some clicking, or, perhaps, both. But when such discretionary text arises in the form of a slave-ship manifest, or a list of commandments, or a set of ethnic quotas, or in the living form of a so-called pedantic speaker, there is an experience of ethical and aesthetic cross-contamination, a sense that system rhetoric itself is compromised language, fundamentally inhumane. The rejection of system-text, when such rejection occurs, contains
86 • autistic disturbances
both resistance to content—an insistence on human individuality and self-determination—and resistance to form. Pushing back against organized and hierarchical text is thus literally in-subordinate (or, perhaps anti-subordinate), an active rejection of rules and dictates, unruly and undisciplined. It is significant, though, that whether discretionary rhetoric is associated with autism, in which case it is likely to be pathologized as “obsessive,” noncommunicative, or “stereotyped” (Kanner, “Autistic Disturbances,” 248, 227, 241), or whether it is seen as the product of a nonautistic person, texts falling into this category—from strings of associated or semiassociated words to encyclopedias, dictionaries, indices, catalogues, manifests—are frequently dismissed and devalued. The dis- ease with authoritarian ordering taints the rhetorical framework, and system-text as a whole comes to be understood as both untrustworthy and inhumane. Within this context—the implicit aesthetic contamination of system rhetoric—the rejection of delineated discretionary expression becomes a heroic act, and, by extension, the refusal to listen to the clipped “robotic language pattern . . . characteristic of [autistic] oral language style” may be seen as a proactive gesture adopted to forward healthy and organic human subjecthood (Fine and Myers, “Understanding Students,” 12). Not aesthetically biased, but positively therapeutic. The suspicions of the audience aroused, autistic speakers (including many who are undiagnosed or liminally autistic, or both) are met with diverse forms of nonengagement. The autistic aptitude for discrete abstract framings and reframings of content is dismissed as problematic, a failure of language and communication, an unhealthy and antisocial logic; the creation and manipulation of transportation timetables, to-do lists, The Key to All Mythologies, the Beatitudes, Linnaeus’s Systema Naturae—even, perhaps, a book of diagnostic criteria for mental disorders—share a generic cell with the rhetoric of racial categorizing and the textual bureaucracies of Nazi political philosophy. Autistic system expression, autistic discretion, autistic content ordering become part of a lapsed generic mode, always already perceived as incomprehensible or as implicitly hostile. And there is this: the DSM relies on autistic expressive modes not only in its larger structures of rhetorical systemizing but also by its implicit monologic omniscience, its apostrophic and ejaculatory tone. Speaking to someone, to no one in particular, the address of the DSM is impersonal, imposing, relentless. It commands, instructs, pronounces from the inviolable position of the nonhuman. “Individuals with Autistic Disorder have restricted, repetitive, and stereotyped patterns of behavior,
On the Surprising Elasticity of Taxonomical Rhetoric • 87
interests, and activities” (DSM-IV-TR, 71). The DSM does not merely set humans into diagnostic folds like so many sheep; godlike, it does so without any personal agenda, without any explicit identity of its own. No pronoun to own or, to reverse, personless. Fitting the modern standard for scientific rhetoric, “stylized and terse” (Traweek, “Unity, Dyads, Triads,” 143), the passive voice that characterizes the text—“An individual must meet criteria A, B, C and D”; “A total of six (or more) items from (1), (2), and (3), with at least two from (1), and one each from (2) and (3)”—allows no recourse, no dialogic, no place for the self beyond submission. It is as though when the new psychiatrist adopts the posture of modest witness, like the scientist he emulates and imitates, he may claim: “I have nothing to do with the form this knowledge has taken. Nature made me organize it this way.” In reward for accepting a “passive” position with respect to nature, the psychiatric researcher fully expects to inherit the power and authority of science. (Lewis, Moving beyond Prozac, 10)
The DSM is a know-it-all, dishing out its diagnoses from the most perfect rhetorical position of Teflon-coated passivity. In fact, the DSM speaks like the autistic child described in the clinical literature, prone to a “way of talking . . . very fast and formal, ‘like a professor’” (Gillberg, “Clinical and Neurobiological Aspects,” 138). The DSM is Asperger’s “Little Professor” writ large, its voraciously observant monologic script apparently unresponsive to dialogic potential and without any effectual capacity “for conceiving of other people as creatures who think and feel” (139; italics in original). The urge to order and the urge to inform authoritatively thus coincide and may be encountered as attempts to dominate. Fish have sharp teeth and bite little children. In this respect, the DSM looks like a bully, but so, too, do many other kinds of autistic expression that lean toward rhetorically objective coded order—the villanelle, the syllabus, the Thesaurus— insisting implicitly on audience compliance with the order of the prescribed text. There is plenty to criticize in the DSM, but critique of its system rhetoric, its apparent rigidity, its perseverative categorization of the organically human, its autistic aesthetic practice, is a fraught endeavor. Part of the desire to read the pathologizing text as itself pathological has to do with a cultural discontent, a resistance to the effort to abstract and discipline uncontainable content, a disgust with the practice of order. Recall that
88 • autistic disturbances
Kendall attributes Peter Roget’s focused and diligent work on the Thesaurus to “anxiety” and “obsession” (Man Who Made Lists, 40), reducing the writer’s purposeful scholarly project to pathological reflex. Critique of discretionary expressive tactics, of structure, and of modal rhetoric more generally bespeak a cultural impatience with indexers and cataloguers, writers who distribute and align content rather than Romantically “creating” or “inventing” some new idea. It is the same aesthetic bias that pathologizes children who play “improperly” with their toys, lining them up instead of having their toys coparticipate in recognizable imaginative discourse, developing their play in functionally communicative terms. In fact, while the autistic penchant for taxonomy and ordered authoritative speaking in the DSM might be regarded as an instrument of authoritarian control or monologic domination, there are other and more interesting interpretive possibilities: one of these is that categorical and taxonomic writing might actually be a fluid and multiple way of knowing, complex and creative. A cluster of facts can be both luminous and lyric. Rather than being considered a mechanism of formal confinement (“rigidly autistic”), list writing and system expression might instead be seen as a means of testing boundaries and definitions. A poetics of inclusion and possibility. An anchor for hypertext. Experimental. In this respect then, the language of order does not necessarily lay out the-way- it-is, but serves instead to investigate content relationships. Indeed, the persistent shifting and redefining of autism in the various editions of the DSM, including the merging of “Autistic Disorder” and “Asperger’s Disorder” into “Autism Spectrum Disorder” in the DSM-5, demonstrate how the intellectual work of diagnostic classification is more flexible than might be expected. As Yergeau observes, “queer rhetorics defy the dichotomous” (Authoring Autism, 84). In the DSM-III published in 1980, autism was identified as “Infantile Autism” and Asperger syndrome did not exist as a diagnostic category; with the publication of the DSM-III-R (1987), the autism category was renamed “Autistic Disorder”; the advent of the DSM-IV (1994) saw the creation of a new diagnostic category, “Asperger’s Disorder” (understood as separate from “Autistic Disorder” although inhabiting the same spectrum); and the publication of the DSM-5 folds the autism spectrum back into a single diagnostic category inclusive of the disorder-formerly-known- as-Asperger’s and other much-criticized and inconvenient diagnostic appendages like PDD- NOS (Pervasive Developmental Disorder— Not Otherwise Specified) that, like homosexuality, will now fall into diagnostic extinction. Despite the fact that autism is encoded in the pages of the
On the Surprising Elasticity of Taxonomical Rhetoric • 89
DSM as a form of mental disorder, its position is evidently unstable, refusing definite classification, emerging, fragmented, in various formal categories. This instability, though, while it may reflect cultural or medical questions about the definition of autism, also demonstrates the surprising elasticity of taxonomical rhetoric. In this respect, autism emerges as implicit coauthor of the document by which it is simultaneously located and defined as pathology, occupying the very rhetorical structure of the guide, inhabiting the logic and language that parse mental disorder into discrete categories to begin with. In fact, the taxonomic zeal at work in the DSM is a watermark of autistic cognition, autistic writing, and autistic aesthetic values. Such an analysis enables an understanding of autism’s devotion to taxonomy as interpretive, curatorial. Thus, while bureaucratic system writing may have an oppressive and authoritarian history, such rhetoric also plays another and more subversive role, undermining authoritarianism and potentially acting as an agent of change. The suggestion here is that sorting isn’t at all about clear boundaries and predetermined decisions, the orderly and efficient assignment of diverse content into neatly fitting categories, but that autistic discretionary language can serve as a queering agent, a dynamic practice of testing and questioning, devoted to intricate acts of figuring. The making of lists, the ordering of content, is not necessarily a rigid and unimaginative performance, but an act of creative engagement, a practical deployment of analytical imagination upon a world seething with data. Whitman’s Leaves of Grass (1860), for instance, speaking to the integration of self and experience, the extent to which identity is indebted to the realities of the material world, has recourse to prolific seriation, another incarnation of system-text, an approach that clearly demonstrates rhetorical discretion: The early lilacs became part of this child, And grass, and white and red morning-glories, and white and red clover, and the song of the phoebe-bird, And the Third Month lambs, and the sow’s pink-faint litter, and the mare’s foal, and the cow’s calf, And the noisy brood of the barn-yard, or by the mire of the pond- side, And the fish suspending themselves so curiously below there—and the beautiful curious liquid, And the water-plants with their graceful flat heads—all became part of him. (“There Was a Child Went Forth,” lines 4–9)
90 • autistic disturbances
Despite Emerson’s complaint—“I expected him to make the songs of the nation, but he seems content to make the inventories” (quoted in Belknap, The List, 73)—Whitman’s collations are certainly more complex than mere “inventories,” the accumulation of natural experience layering into a bountiful, organic, and intimately connected idea of emerging self. Song and inventory turn out not to be mutually exclusive forms of expression. There is a vivid and creative logic “underneath the seemingly random metonymic strings joining the particles of the child’s sensations,” an expression of “the mind’s most elementary categorizing faculties tentatively learning to exercise themselves” (Doherty, “Whitman’s ‘Poem of the Mind,’” 351). Whitman’s catalogic writing thus troubles the notion of such rhetoric as clinical, technical, robotic, bereft of human or affective content or expression, demonstrating the intense creative potential inherent in module or component-based text. And grass, and white and red morning-glories, and white and red clover, and the song of the phoebe-bird. In fact, there are echoes of the DSM’s autistic discretionary rhetoric and echoes of the aesthetic tensions around lists and listmaking not only in Whitman’s work, but in the work of many poets, including Raymond Carver, David Antin, and Georges Perec, all of whom also turn to lists as a rich and productive form of expression. Using both list and repetition— dahlia, dahlia, dahlia—to “create form” and to infuse crisis with a feeling of humor, Carver’s “Fear” (1985) makes sophisticated use of seemingly simple rhetoric to generate complex countereffects: Fear of the telephone that rings in the dead of night. Fear of electrical storms. Fear of the cleaning woman who has a spot on her cheek! Fear of dogs I’ve been told won’t bite. Fear of anxiety! Fear of having to identify the body of a dead friend. Fear of running out of money. Fear of having too much, though people will not believe this. Fear of psychological profiles. (lines 6–14)
Evoking ricochet, ejaculation (!), and invention as well as autistic discretion, “Fear” demonstrates the overlapping and interlinking of autistic rhetoric at work in these poetic categories. Carver’s repetitions—“Fear of,” “Fear of,” “Fear of”—create an echo, a kind of underbeat, that augments the visceral experience of fear, while it simultaneously creates a
On the Surprising Elasticity of Taxonomical Rhetoric • 91
discrete visual field that anchors and regularizes the reader’s experience. This ironic doubleness (autistic invention) is likewise inherent in the poem’s echolalic abundance; like some of Carver’s other catalogue poems, the compounding of the fears, the perseverative revisiting of verbal and experiential minutia, suggest a humorous digression from the content of the poem. “By offering a list, the poem sounds like a litany of troubles. Individually, of course, each problem is stressful, difficult, troublesome . . . and yet listed collectively, the sheer mass becomes absurdly comical in effect” (Miltner, “In a Mature Light,” 57). The poem is a comic exaggeration, but this comic affect coexists in ironic interplay with its literal content; the poem laughs, but it also takes on fear, indulges fear, embraces fear, “turning damaged goods into creative work” (57). Fear of psychological profiles. At the heart of both Whitman’s “There Was a Child Went Forth” and Carver’s “Fear” is a counterintuitive rhetorical approach. For many, the discretionary, the partitioning or particulating gesture suggests the absent and mechanical, “abrupt” and “robotic” language, a “perseverative” discourse that runs counter to the very notion of intellectual and poetic creativity. At the same time, analysis of system-texts demonstrates the ways in which particulation and recomposition, expressions of autistic discretion, use patterning and recursive rhetorical techniques to test and question, to contemplate affective concerns, and to engage in intricate acts of figuring. Fear of, Fear of, Fear of. Crayfish, sharks, fish, and rocks. Another catalogue poem, David Antin’s “A List of the Delusions of the Insane: What They Are Afraid of” (1968), likewise bears out this idea that lists, while profoundly formal texts, are not static, but rather exist as fluid and creative rhetorics. Antin’s poem, like Carver’s, engages in the complex and organic ironies present when particularized fears are expressed in abundance: that they will be murdered that they will be murdered when they sleep that they will be murdered when they wake that murders are going on all around them that they will see the murderer that they will not (lines 19–24)
As with “Fear,” “A List of the Delusions” expresses intense and recursive anxieties, containing a distinct and repetitive rhythm, a kind of beat, that serves to reinforce the poem’s affective content, especially its variable
92 • autistic disturbances
incantation “murdered,” “murdered,” “murders,” “murderer,” and finally the chilling absence of the word “murder” in any form, a metaphor for invisible presence. Countering this ominous tone, however, the particularized incarnations of murderous delusion also generate a humorous edge; the replicative and perseverative quality of the text, its abundance and logical conflict lending a sense of absurdity. The poem works both to create and disrupt pattern, by juxtaposing opposing delusions, that they will be murdered when they sleep that they will be murdered when they wake
and by establishing and then breaking with patterns of formal visual and oral repetition: that they will be . . . that they will be . . . that murders . . . that they will see . . .
Such deviation shows how the list, by containing variations, creates a sense of order, even delight. Dahlia, dahlia, dahlia. And how, at the same time, by embracing digressions from form, by encapsulating opposites, the catalogue poem serves as a poetics of questioning and figuring, challenging all formalisms, all expectations, containing and disrupting at the same time. Through the dark clouds shining. Indeed, Antin speaks directly to this aspect of his work, talking about “bringing not-understanding as a set of questions to puzzling commonplaces and cliches—linguistic and cultural acceptances of every kind.” The effort, he says, is to try “to find out what it was that everybody else understood without giving up my stubborn and hard won lack of understanding” (Antin and Bernstein, Conversation with David Antin, 17). The purpose of this kind of figuring, then, the play with order and disruption, with abstract verbal fragmentation and recomposition, is not to know a definite answer or to communicate some vital fact, but, to venture into a matrix of wondering and possibility, where “lack of understanding [keeps] expanding” (17). Here is a strange insight that comes partly from cataloging and accumulating system-text: the DSM might be cousin to Whitman’s “belch’d words” (Song of Myself, section 2, line 12), to avant-garde poetry, and to modernist “constrained writing,” related in large part through shared autistic rhetorics—discretion, ricochet, apostrophe, invention; repeat-
On the Surprising Elasticity of Taxonomical Rhetoric • 93
ing and recursive language, abstract verbal patterning, unexpected disruption and digression, wordplay. The manual, a persuasively authorless book, evoking an “absent” and “mechanical” version of the autism privileged by clinical discourse, is reborn as poetic text, its extraordinary formalism in interplay with its own creative instability. And here is another relation: Georges Perec’s “Attempt at an Inventory of the Liquid and Solid Foodstuffs Ingurgitated by Me in the Course of the Year Nineteen Hundred and Seventy-Four” (1974). A member of the Oulipo group, Perec is particularly drawn to difficult experiments in formal constraint—massive palindromes, pantograms, lipograms—in which the writer is bound by a definite self-imposed formal rule. For instance, Perec’s 300-page novel, La disparition (1969; translated by Gilbert Adair as A Void, 1994), does not include the letter “e.” Straddling an indistinguishable boundary between the absurd and the consciously critical, the “Attempt at an Inventory” is of a piece with his other experimental writing, which, some have argued, “exemplifies numerous autistic preoccupations” (Glastonbury, “‘I’ll Teach You Differences,’” 61). But while there is some agreement on the autistic quality of Perec’s writing, with at least one other critic noting the writer’s “obsession with autistic, self-propagating literary forms” (Ford, “Pretzel”), these observations also participate in familiar critical tensions around the valuing of system-text and the valuing of autistic voice. So, for Marion Glastonbury, Perec’s autistic tone resonates as a clinical rather than a creative or literary feature and she associates the writer’s autism aesthetic with the “solipsistic,” with “meditation on the perceptual minutiae of angry solitude and inert depression,” and with the autistic “preservation of sameness” (61). In contrast, Mark Ford sees this work within a cultural and aesthetic frame, arguing that Perec’s extraordinary devotion to form, “which implicitly reject[s] all preconceptions of depth and significance, is wholly compatible with Post-Modernism’s ideal of literature as a self-reflexive surface, a field of clues that reveal nothing beyond their internal chance coherences.” As with approaches to the DSM, one interpretation reinforces the notion of autistic discretion as static and mechanical; the other sees the elevation of the formal and the privileging of surface as culturally revolutionary gestures. Occupying five pages, Perec’s “Attempt at an Inventory” is composed of 19 parts, each subdivided into paragraphs or individual sentence- like lines designed to contain and describe the writer’s eating and drinking during the course of a single year. The piece masquerades as a kind of manifest, with robust visual boundaries—sections marked by
94 • autistic disturbances
dramatic drop caps, paragraphs within each section, abundant use of serial commas—all suggestive of purely materialist or economic concerns, demonstrating strict boundaries, promoting a sense of order. At a glance, likewise the content seems to fall into a natural abstract logic, with consumed items roughly grouped into like categories, cheeses, for instance, or pies and tarts. There are all the noodles in submissive companionship: “Four pasta, three noodles, one fettucine with cream, one macaroni cheese, one macaroni, fifteen fresh noodles, three rigatoni, two ravioli, four spaghetti, one tortellini, five tagliatelle verde” (90). The veal and the rabbit, likewise, each occupy their own discrete fraternal spaces. But anything beyond the most superficial encounter with the text brings the reader into a state of confusion and conflict. Amid this neat docility, categorical disturbances abound. By what reasoning do “cold cuts, two couscous, three ‘Chinese’,” keep company with “pizza,” “tajine,” and “one ham sandwich” (89)? Part of the duplicity of the list as genre, as arbiter of place, emerges again here within this painfully enforced structure. Perhaps the list is not the passive and pacifying construct we meet in Frog and Toad Together. It might instead be that intrusive order is instigation, replete with self-subverting challenges. In “An Attempt at an Inventory,” certainly, organization undermines itself. For what reason are “One blini, one empanada, one dried beef. Three snails” brought together in their own modest little paragraph (87)? In what way are they supposed to relate to one another? And why have they been disarticulated from the rest of the text? Even the punctuation incites, the “Three snails” segregated by a full stop from the companions with whom they share a line. Needle head. Pink wee-wee. Has a yellow leg. The reader is brought into active (if perhaps unconscious) engagement with structure and content, like a desperate lockbreaker, trying an assortment of tools to find a key that fits. Non sequitur is defined as “[a]n inference or a conclusion not logically following from the premisses; a response, remark, etc., that does not logically follow from what has gone before” (“non sequitur, n.”). Autistic ejaculation—squawk—is indiscrete because it is out of order, impolite, or, in one of non sequitur’s obscure meanings, “not in harmony,” but the putting forward of nonsequential abstract language also enables such fragmentation to be defined as, quite literally, discrete. The disassembling of regular structure means that language elements are made available piece by piece, each fragment its own unit. Like puzzle pieces. And the aesthetic that treats words and phrases as discrete modules, that plays with junctions and conjunctions, that elevates the interstices
On the Surprising Elasticity of Taxonomical Rhetoric • 95
of language—silences and punctuation—becomes remarkable not only for the ways in which it disharmoniously discomposes, pulling language apart at the seams, putting things in where they seem not to belong, but also for the ways in which it opens language for new and imaginative recomposition, arranging, ordering, and developing pieces in fresh and original logical and aesthetic patterns. It is thus that Perec’s “fragmentary writing” is “able to capture the ‘infra-ordinary,’ dis-membering and re-membering spaces, scenes, objects, faces of the ‘real’ world” (Popa, “Exploring the Infra-Ordinary,” 76). As Bev Harp’s work on the autistic use of parentheses demonstrates, autistic use of language partitions enables both logical and creative composition and there is often profound (nonobvious) verbal order and aesthetic complexity in expression that might appear rudimentary or even nonsensical. Startling juxtaposition is at the heart of ironic and satiric rhetoric, is inherent in list form and system-text. One blini, one empanada, one dried beef. Three snails. The apparent performance of structured control implicit in Perec’s list is ultimately undermined by its own promiscuity, by the way that inventoried items leak out of designated spaces, confounding expectations that like will align with like. What might seem at first to be a noncreative compendium, a model of mindless and superficial materialism, ultimately urges questions about the impossibility of order and the elusive quality of both logic and matter, despite the seeming stolidity of both. Indeed, by this (failed) attempt to inscribe and thus delimit his organic consumption, Perec’s inventory reinforces the notion that the act of listmaking—symbolically naming and organizing—ultimately works against its apparently concretizing mission. The text is at once incomplete and capacious, inspiring both amusement and disgust; it wallows in the organic, foregrounds the machinery of consumption and digestion, force-feeds the inescapable fact that our bodies are not distinct and independent, discrete fortresses, uncontaminatable. Though our eating and drinking may be described, such description does not bring our chaotic appetites and our organic bodies into regulation; rather, it draws attention to the fact that human bodies are not independent entities, but passageways for the consumption and elimination of other living things. The decontextualization of “foodstuffs”—the arrangement of comestibles in some semblance of symbolic structural order, the naming and separating out of what we eat into exclusive units—defamiliarizes the ordinary, “intuitive” relationship with food as whole, as biological and affective. There is no appetizing plate set before the reader, appeal-
96 • autistic disturbances
ing to the senses. Rather, the act of verbal ordering, the performance of discipline, brings us into a critical confrontation with interrelationship, the inseparability of ourselves from what we consume. Systemizing, then, autistic discretion, the endless, insistent, perseverative intellectual demands of verbal list logic are not unfeeling, mechanical, disengaged. Instead, this practice functions as means of testing relatedness, calling critical attention to the way items in any list or catalogue are both divided and connected, not only among themselves, but also in respect to content beyond the list, up to and including the listmaker. Despite its formal constraints, its deliberately modular composition, “An Attempt at an Inventory” troubles categories and resists stasis, acting out Perec’s version of a jigsaw puzzle, where, as he observes, “the ultimate truth” is that “despite appearances, puzzling is not a solitary game” devoted to the restitution of imagined wholeness (Life, xviii). Instead, he writes, the “art of jigsaw puzzling” includes a “maker” who activates a dynamic relationship, using “cunning, trickery, and subterfuge” to involve the “puzzler” in a game of figuring and questioning (xvii, xviii). every piece the puzzler picks up, and picks up again, and studies and strokes, every combination he tries, and tries a second time, every blunder and every insight, each hope and each discouragement have all been designed, calculated . . . (xviii)
For Perec, recursive figuring rather than solution is the defining aspect of the puzzle. The puzzler is the “puzzler,” an agent, an active force in this game of fragments. These meditations run counter to those of Uta Frith, who seems to misread Perec’s remarks about puzzling to support her own thoughts about autistic cognitive limitations. “As a metaphor,” she writes, “the jig-saw puzzle persisting as fragments, even when put together, symbolizes the effect of autistic detachment” (Autism: Explaining, 112). For Frith, a relationship with the fragment, the fragmented, the fragmentary is a diminished experience, inadequate. But such a view ignores the lively cognitive activity of the puzzler who “picks up, and picks up again,” who “studies and strokes.” The nature of the list, of system-text, of the catalogue poem, of the DSM, is that of Perec’s vibrant puzzle, where the performance of fracturing and the performance of recomposition imply a thoughtful engagement with ideas of identity, relationship, and potential meaning. This exploration is intended as a form of play, a re-creation of list and system-text as creative and imaginative forms, but it is also a delib-
On the Surprising Elasticity of Taxonomical Rhetoric • 97
erate response to a powerful critical force resistant to the formal and discrete language aesthetics often favored in autistic expression, thinkers prone to regard modular forms of writing as vacant and mechanical. That such a poetics may be justified by its surprising complexity and elasticity is crucial, but it also behooves us to ask, what about pleasure? Indeed, there is a real and consequential value to the pleasure of the puzzler who “studies and strokes,” of Donald T., who “seemed to have much pleasure in ejaculating words or phrases” (Kanner, “Autistic Disturbances,” 219), of the critic who finds “especially attractive” Perec’s “accumulations of words . . . within the constraints of formal structures” (Davidson, Breeding, 9), of Donna Williams who describes her work as a stock clerk as “paradise” (Nobody Nowhere, 82). According to Maria Konnikova, lists “often hit our attentional sweet spot” (“List of Reasons”), and some, writes Shaun Usher, “are simply a joy to read” (Lists of Note, xiv). Regarding the pleasure value of words and language, Perec is explicit: “He suggests that all literature is essentially recreational, that people read to play, and that there is no need for literature to aspire to any other goal” (Motte, Poetics of Experiment, 22– 23). While we wonder “that . . . Perec’s [work] should be so redolent of meaning” (Davidson, 9), appreciate that the DSM might be more flexible than it appears, catch the irony implicit in Carver’s “Fear” and Antin’s “List of the Delusions of the Insane,” it is also important that this kind of autistic aesthetic not be devalued for its own sake. Intentionality and communicative efficacy aside, pleasure, even expression alone, may be a worthy use of language. Dahlia, dahlia, dahlia. The ordering of sign does not necessarily imply an insistence on the existence of correctness, completeness, or the absolute. In fact, order is bound to disorder, to entropy, and to failure; the creation of a logical frame, rather than diminishing or glossing over that which does not fit, instead elevates and makes visible the unique, the unfitting, and the nonstandard. As Foucault expresses it, there is an “uneasiness” generated by the discovery that we may “never succeed in defining a stable relation of contained to container” (Order of Things, xviii). Obsessive naming and renaming, the recursive abstract revisiting of what is typically deemed experiential, the repetition of sameness—“two eggs in aspic, two scrambled eggs, four omelettes, one sort-of omelette, one bean-sprout omelette” (Perec, “An Attempt at an Inventory,” 88)—as a means of testing and discovering pattern, is fundamental to scientific, literary, and autistic practice. Indeed, the accumulation of data/content and the playing with potential pattern necessarily supports all potentials:
98 • autistic disturbances
logical, absurd, and anomalous. As Umberto Eco has observed, lists are always suggestive of “immensity,” their multitudinousness serving a capacious inclusivity, or, alternatively, pointing to a limitless excess beyond the frame (Infinity of Lists, 81, 38–39). What looks from the outside like silent mechanistic determinism turns out to have a surprisingly complex interiority, reasoned, dynamic, and sensitive to external stimuli.
Ch apt er Four
Nothingness Himself •••
Ricochet: if Autistic Disturbances might be imagined in these metaphorical terms—the skipping of stones, partly moving forward, partly a physics of repetition, partly a strategy of playing with surface—this is another divot on the flat plane of the water. From the DSM, an inventory of mental disorders, to Perec’s “Attempt at an Inventory of the Liquid and Solid Foodstuffs Ingurgitated by Me in the Course of the Year Nineteen Hundred and Seventy-Four,” we skip to Andy Warhol’s inventory of self. In the opening pages of The Philosophy of Andy Warhol (1975), a memoir of sorts, Warhol offers the following detailed description, a meticulous verbal self-portrait: So now the pimple’s covered. But am I covered? I have to look in the mirror for some more clues. Nothing is missing. It’s all there. The affectless gaze. The diffracted grace . . . “What?” “The bored languor, the wasted pallor . . .” “The what?” “The chic freakiness, the basically passive astonishment, the enthralling secret knowledge . . .” “WHAT??” “The chintzy joy, the revelatory tropisms, the chalky, puckish mask, the slightly Slavic look . . .” “Slightly . . .” 99
100 • autistic disturbances
“The childlike, gum-chewing naïveté, the glamour rooted in despair, the self- admiring carelessness, the perfected otherness, the wispiness, the shadowy, voyeuristic, vaguely sinister aura, the pale, soft-spoken magical presence, the skin and bones . . .” “Hold it, wait a minute. I have to take a pee!!” “The albino-chalk skin. Parchmentlike. Reptilian. Almost blue . . .” “Stop it! I have to pee!!” “The knobby knees. The roadmap of scars. The long bony arms, so white they look bleached. The arresting hands. The pinhead eyes. The banana ears . . .” “The banana ears? Oh, A!!!” “The graying lips. The shaggy silver-white hair, soft and metallic. The cords of the neck standing out around the big Adam’s apple. It’s all there, B. Nothing is missing.” (10)
It is a queer and provocative accounting from a number of interpretive perspectives, most conspicuously in its bounteous superficiality, the vast extent of its focus on surface, mask, and inscrutable affect. The language Warhol uses to draw the self-portrait echoes the abstract aesthetic of his visual art, the inescapably boring films, the iconic, deliberately mechanistic repetitions of Marilyn Monroe and Campbell’s soup cans. The genius of Warhol’s visual art is its ability to arrest at the surface, to draw the audience into relation with what Roland Barthes calls “a philosophical quality of things,” or a “facticity.” According to Barthes, “the factitious is the character of what exists as facts and appears stripped of any justification: not only are the objects represented by Pop Art factitious, but they incarnate themselves, they begin to signify again: they signify that they signify nothing” (Barthes, Responsibility of Forms, 202). Squawk. It is this nothingness quality that is cultivated in Warhol’s self-description: affectless, diffracted, bored, wasted, chintzy, chalky, shadowy, reptilian. The verbal construction of self focuses on the writer’s bland exteriority. But even the described externals are vapid, “affectless,” suggestive of an interior blankness, a vast expanse of superficiality. The artist writes himself as Pop Art object, “cut off from its source and its surroundings” (202). The intersection of autism in relation to such an aesthetic position— the production of “nothing,” the failure of interiority—is fraught indeed. After decades of progressive autism advocacy— including a welcome surge of self-advocacy combating the outdated representation of autism as an “empty fortress,” the long-standing, widely prevalent, and poi-
Nothingness Himself • 101
sonous notion that autistic people are somehow vacant or not there— reconnecting the idea of emptiness with the idea of autism might well seem counterproductive. It is Jenny McCarthy again: “Everything I had thought was cute was a sign of autism” (Louder Than Words, 66); or Uta Frith, who proposes the “rather risky idea” that the unusual cognitive processing of autistic people demonstrates an absolute void, an explicit absence of a “Self” (Autism: A Very Short Introduction, 94, 102–3). Autism history and critical autism studies teach us, however, that autism demands a critical public conversation about being, representation, and the appearance of emptiness. As Stuart Murray has observed, “The desire to read what is conceived of as the empty space of autism, the invitation it appears to offer to fill in the blanks, is a constant throughout cultural representation” (Representing Autism, 79). Indeed, as Anne McGuire reports, tremendous cultural traction remains for the notion that autism is a “terrifying . . . cultural figure,” robbing families of their children and leaving autistic people essentially without identity (War on Autism, 185). From Leo Kanner’s initial dismissal of autistic language as “semantically and conversationally valueless” (“Autistic Disturbances,” 243), to Bettelheim’s comment that autistic conduct serves to “remind us that the human body can operate without a human spirit, that body can exist without soul” (“Joey,” 117), to Frith’s widely disseminated clinical theory of “absent self” (put forward in the revised second edition of Autism: Explaining the Enigma ), to ubiquitous popular representations of autism as simply oblivious, conventional responses to autism have persistently questioned whether autistic people have feelings, whether autistic people have content, even whether autistic people are fully human. (Shades of Warhol’s “reptilian.”) As ABA (applied behavior analysis) pioneer Ivar Lovaas summed it up, “You have a person in the physical sense—they have hair, a nose and a mouth—but they are not people in the psychological sense” (Chance, “Interview with Ivar Lovaas,” 76). Tigers and cats. Seals and salamanders. Bears and foxes. The very qualities that define autism—its unusual sociality, its affective irregularity, its nonstandard forms of expression, its sensitivity to thingness—are also those which have repeatedly prompted many outsiders to question the full humanity of autistic subjects. Autistic writing and other forms of autistic self-expression, like painting and digital arts, push back against the false perception of autism as empty. Mel Baggs’s video, “In My Language” (2007), for instance, challenges typical assumptions about the meaninglessness of autistic stimming by “translating” into articulate conventional language the significance of Baggs’s own autistic (nonverbal) sensory
102 • autistic disturbances
relationships and practices. These assertions, however, these gestures of autistic interiority, come into being in many respects as counterargument to a pervasive underlying discourse predicated on autistic vacancy. The idea of emptiness is paramount. As Heilker and Yergeau note, “an autistic’s silence is construed as both a heartbreaking tragedy and the cancellation of personhood” (“Autism and Rhetoric,” 492). Avoiding Warhol’s staunchly vacant self-representation would thus only serve to obscure an essential cultural paradigm of autism, the autist characterized as nonhuman: “alien,” “mechanical,” or “robotic.” In any event, it would be impossible to set aside the “nothing” of Warhol as incidental; the confrontation with blank superficiality is central to Warholian identity, productivity, and performance, a defining feature of his aesthetic sublime. He notes with relish the “poignantly vacant” condition of a young woman he describes within the chapter titled “Love (Prime),” observing that she was “a reflection of everybody’s private fantasies. . . . She was a wonderful, beautiful blank” (Philosophy, 33). Indeed, a world of media critics, art historians, and theorists have engaged deeply with this appearance of blasé emptiness, discovering a rich mine of potential meaning and affect, including the possibility that by a “preemptive embrace” of modernity’s compulsive production- consumption cycle, Warhol the artist exposes its “automatism, even its autism” through his own “excessive example” (Foster, “Death in America,” 41). “Nothing” is a central theme and autism is explicitly recognized as participating in this theme. Barthes employs Warhol as the model when he writes that the Pop artist has “no depth: he is merely the surface of his pictures, no signified, no intention, anywhere” (Responsibility of Forms, 202); Thomas Crow notes that readings of Warhol focus on his “impersonality,” “his passivity in the face of a media saturated reality, [and] the suspension in his work of any clear authorial voice” (“Saturday Disasters,” 311); and Hal Foster, figuring through these articulations of emptiness, points to Warhol’s personal performance: “He posed as a blank screen” (“Death in America,” 39). “The fascination of Warhol,” Foster adds, “is that one is never certain about this subject ‘behind’: is anybody home, inside the automaton?” (41). Most famous, perhaps, is Jonas Mekas’s critical analysis of Warhol as “almost the symbol of the noncommittal, of laissez-faire, of coolness, of passivity, of tabula rasa— almost Nothingness Himself” (Mekas, “Notes,” 140). This last epithet, Warhol repeats with some (noncommittal) satisfaction in The Philosophy of Andy Warhol, noting “[s]ome critic called me Nothingness Himself” (7). The manufacture of Warhol as “Nothingness
Nothingness Himself • 103
Himself,” then, is far from being exclusively an external critical construct, but is wrought together with Warhol’s conscious, deliberate, recursive, perseverative, and proactive performance of self. As with his repetition of Mekas’s assessment (and his simultaneous erasure of Mekas as “some critic,” although the fellow filmmaker was an intimate who worked with him on Empire  and other projects), Warhol amplifies the presence of his own nothingness at every turn, embellishing absence in ways that compel interrogation of his ostensible vacancy. Warhol’s aphoristic statements recur continually to the theme of his own lack of agency and subjectivity: “the more you look at the same exact thing, the more the meaning goes away, and the better and emptier you feel” (Warhol and Hackett, POPism, 64); “I want to be a machine” (Warhol, “Interview with Gene Swenson,” 748); “If you want to know all about Andy Warhol, just look at the surface of my paintings and films and me, and there I am. There’s nothing behind it” (Berg, “Andy Warhol,” 90); and “[t]he acquisition of my tape recorder really finished whatever emotional life I might have had, but I was glad to see it go” (Warhol, Philosophy, 26). It is a position the artist reiterates with constancy, what Lars Svendsen identifies as Warhol’s “uncompromising insistence on meaninglessness” (Philosophy of Boredom, 5). It is also a recurring theme and rhetorical practice in The Philosophy of Andy Warhol, a focus on “nothing,” meaninglessness, and disposability that in many ways anchors the text. He transcribes an argument, for instance, in which two companions are working to veer him from his devotion to “nothing.” During the course of this dialogue, Warhol begins by asserting that he has grown wiser during the past year because he learned “nothing,” that he is still living “For nothing,” and that “Ideas are nothing” (182). As his interlocutors press on, one “kept thinking, trying to come up with a way to make me say that something was something,” but Warhol persists: “I repeated, ‘Everything is nothing’” (183). Each tries to elicit some concession from Warhol—one companion is trying to manipulate Warhol into giving him money, the other is desperate for some admission of “something”—but both are foiled in their attempt, not only by Warhol’s unswerving devotion to “nothing,” his adamant contradiction, but also by his sophisticated ideological maneuvering, rhetoric adopted to baffle and confuse. “You have to treat nothing as if it were something,” he tells them. And “[i]t doesn’t mean if you don’t believe in nothing that it’s nothing” (183). This move is a demonstration of Warhol’s commitment to his own autistic affective aesthetic; this assertive positioning of his own values, his own performance, his own self, this
104 • autistic disturbances
frustrating, abrasive insistence on “nothing” as irreducible, indefatigable, suggests Murray’ idea of autistic “presence” (Representing Autism, 5), or Yergeau’s assertion that “autism abides” (Authoring Autism, 43). Such a move also draws attention to a crucial intersection in the discussion of Warhol’s text as a model of autistic rhetoric. For the socially challenging affect wrought into Warhol’s words, the deliberately and intensely flattened verbal representation of self, is here at play with another equally characteristic, but seemingly opposite, autistic gesture, the frictive insistence of autism on having its own say in its own way—I’ll draw a hexagon—both affectless and assertive. Warhol’s “Nothingness,” not only his explicitly articulated theoretical insistence on nothing but also the verbal and visual style that work to build the “nothing” tone (in Warhol’s lexicon, “bored” or “passive”), echo a favored autistic social and cognitive aesthetic, the pursuit or foregrounding of practices and expressions that elevate surface and form. While clinical literature often pathologizes these values, reading them as “indifferent,” “isolated,” or “deficient in empathy,” a focus on structure or apparent externals, often interpreted by outsiders as emptiness, may otherwise be regarded as a set of creative practices rich in cognitive, aesthetic, and emotional delight. Daniel Tammet, for instance, writes about memorizing and reciting more than 22,500 digits of π as a kind of tribute to an “extremely beautiful and utterly unique thing” (Born on a Blue Day, 185). Aaron Likens speaks about the “freeing and exhilarating” space of rule-bound games like Monopoly, how “there’s no better feeling than the unpredictability of a game set with predictable rules,” noting, “I get shaky just thinking about the pleasure I experience while within a game” (Finding Kansas, 32). And Valerie Paradiž points to ways in which this idiosyncratic affective gesture plays out in language, looking to the echolalia of her son, Elijah, to Warhol, and to the ecstatic repetitions of Gertrude Stein’s “singular poetics” (Elijah’s Cup, 104), as Paradiž finds echoes and repetitions in her own life and language. Stein’s wordplay, like the constrained writing of Georges Perec and like Warhol’s language games, draws the audience into a consciousness of word-as-thing, using semantic satiation and “verbal cubism” as calculated aesthetic maneuvers (Longworth, “Avant-Garde in the Village,” 469): “A blue coat is guided guided away, guided and guided away” (Stein, Gertrude Stein, 133). For Christopher Knight, this autistic ricochet, this foregrounding of semantic thing-ness, of “language as language,” of language that calls “attention to itself as sign” (Patient Particulars, 114), is a property of postmodernist poetics. The “delight” of Stein’s work “follows
Nothingness Himself • 105
not upon the mirroring of the ‘real world’ but rather upon the creating of a new, self-reflexive and self-existent mini-world” (113). This surface play, the “lapidary quality” Stein and Warhol are seen as sharing (Francis, “No There There,” 64), is also deeply rooted in autistic perspective and expression. Stein’s writing has been often laughed off, just as Warhol’s work has been dismissed as superficial, and countless other instances of idiosyncratic autistic expression have been relegated to the wasteland of pathology. Enumerating, replicating, ordering, collecting, and memorizing are rhetorical practices that generate a theoretical challenge precisely because they prioritize form and surface. While more conventional interpreters may read this impulse toward “nothing” as vapid, as fakery, or as a defensive gesture, a means of creating security through the manufacture of unsignifying boundaries, walls, and fortresses, these pejorative readings are by no means the only interpretive possibilities. In fact, this kind of tension, this holding fast in the arena of form, is an exercise of outstanding rigor. I don’t like the blinding sun, nor the dark, but best I like the mottled shadow. Artist Keith Haring, in writing of the creative interplay between Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat, observes, “Each had a fascination with the other’s impenetrable shell” (“Painting the Third Mind,” first page, unnumbered). Holding a position, methodically focusing on reiteration, sameness, and surface, may be as or more demanding than the intellectual flight driving more traditionally valued narrative or argumentative proceedings. There is a discipline, and a beauty, that goes into and emerges out of stasis and repetition. Warhol is right: “You have to treat nothing as if it were something.” The surface tension implicit in the artist’s tenacious Nothingness is its own deliberate aesthetic, written, performed, produced, fully present in its autistic audacity. For most, consideration of this Nothingness for any length of time is profoundly distressing. In fact, it is arguably this discomfort with the purportedly “empty space of autism” that energizes most autism intervention; fundraising, clinical research, and applied therapies are guided by what is typically seen as autism’s massive, imposing incomprehensibility. Certainly, autistic people sometimes hurt themselves, and those connected with autistic lives will often explain the need for intervention within the context of self-harm, but it is the larger rhetoric around mutism and social and conversational disconnectedness that drives most clinical autism discourse, an infinite well of figuring and explaining, resisting the existential aspect of autistic presence and expression and generating metaphors of fortresses, battles, kidnapping, and puzzles. The most widely disseminated responses to autism are not about pre-
106 • autistic disturbances
serving autistic integrity and safety; they are about aggressive, even belligerent, intervention—what Anne McGuire recognizes as the “war on autism”—directed toward the defeat of autism’s silence, stimming, and repetitive and perseverative expressions. Conventional autism discourse thus talks about “breaking through,” a metaphor clearly evidencing discomfort with the idea of surface, a failure to recognize surface as a potential space of autistic being and expression. So, while affectlessness and assertion are described above as seemingly opposite autistic gestures, these are actually deeply intertwined and mutually constructed categories. Warhol’s “bored languor” and his “insistence on meaninglessness” are not only a form of autistic “withdrawing,” a performance of passive vacancy, but also a provocative assertion of nothing as something, a bold challenge to the culture of capital, clinic, and conventional conversation. In fact, the frustrated conversation, and the foregrounding of frustrated language, frustrated narrative, frustrated text, frustrated meaning, open a critical aperture for autism poetics. Returning to Warhol’s reported conversation about “nothing,” it becomes useful to read dialogic frustration, the forestalling, the stopping short, the resistance, the circling back of potential dialogue as critical features of autistic discourse. Regardless of the so-called functional level of the autistic “speaker,” autistic language is characteristically recursive and idiosyncratic, in Kristina Chew’s terminology, “idiolectic,” like the chanson du ricochet, repeating and weaving back into itself. The antagonists in the exchange with Warhol are attempting to move forward in keeping with presumed conversational conventions; even when the conversation is inconsequential (e.g., “What’s up?”; “How are you doing?”; “You want to do something?”), formal tropes support expectations that dialogue is teleologically determined, that it has some end or purpose. It is not supposed to loop into itself and to fold back endlessly without closure, or recur pertinaciously to a single word, idea, theme, subject, or interest. (Warhol’s “Nothing.”) The frustration felt—a hallmark response to Warhol and his work— is a reality of the fundamentally nondialogic quality of the exchange, a reaction to autism’s apostrophic urge, its apparent failure to acknowledge textual partners: audience, reader, interlocutor. One may either retreat or acquiesce, but Warhol’s rhetoric, like the vapid, “nothing” quality of his self-constructed aesthetic, resists critical engagement and negotiation and refuses a sense of purchase. Attempts at participatory conversation are thwarted and Warhol’s interlocutors are not agents in a dialogue; they are characters in his script, a point brought home
Nothingness Himself • 107
throughout The Philosophy of Andy Warhol by the writer’s persistently effacing the particularity of other speakers in the book, recording the identity of these apparently interchangeable anonymous interlocutors simply as “B.” The subtitle of the book, From A to B and Back Again, reinforces both the recursive quality of the text and the idea of “A” as a point of departure and return for all discursive activity. The “B” of the subtitle exists not as person, an individual, but as a generic category: “B is anybody who helps me kill time” (5); “I only like to be with Bs who work for me” (181); “I spend most of my morning talking on the phone to one B or another” (199). “B” is a dialogic foil, a manikin, scaffolding for articulation, a vehicle for monologue. Rhetorically speaking, the encounter with Warhol, the “blank screen,” “Nothingness Himself,” is an encounter with autism unapologetic, unmediated, untranslated, uninterpreted, uninterrupted, a determined idiosyncratic voice: recursive, monologic. Crayfish, sharks, fish, and rocks. Instead of the clinician, the parent, the editor acting upon autistic text, dismissing it or rendering it legible, Warhol requires reader, viewer, audience to meet on his ground. Compelled “to treat nothing as if it were something,” the discursive rules of the encounter are unfamiliar, placing an uneasy communicative burden on the audience. In return, the response to Warhol, to his work, to autism—not universally, but often enough—is resistance, frustration, rage. Mekas observes such a dynamic in the response to Warhol’s films. At a screening of Eat (1964), for instance, Mekas watches the audience grow unsettled, then angry, at the realization that the 45-minute black-and-white silent film has no apparent dynamic, that it is simply a recording of a man eating. There is no crisis, no conflict, no “action,” no story in conventional terms. At first, the audience begins to shout and whistle, however, . . . no amount of noise or cracks seems to do any harm to the film! Its nonchalant, obstinate and don’t-give-a-damn imperturbability on the screen seems to reject or absorb anything you can throw at it. It almost grows stronger with every whistle. So the students begin to leave the auditorium. After ten minutes or so the impatient ones leave or give up, others resign, and the rest of the show proceeds quietly. (“Notes after Reseeing the Movies,” 4)
Building on Mekas’s observations, Julian Jason Haladyn sees the response to Eat and to Warhol’s other deliberately “boring” films as applying to Warhol himself: “as a filmmaker Warhol’s ‘nonchalant, obstinate and don’t-give-a-damn imperturbability . . . seems to reject or
108 • autistic disturbances
absorb anything you can throw at him,’” generating a “difficulty” that “is an extension of the repetitious activities that constitute his artistic process in general.” For Anthony Easton, Warhol’s “boring” films align with autism aesthetics; “Sometimes,” Easton writes, “autistic language, with its obsessive nature, and its infodump formalism, bores other people. Sometimes,” he adds, “this boredom is an aesthetic choice” (“Autism,” 98–99). Warhol’s film may thus be seen as autistic text, exemplifying Murray’s idea of autistic “presence,” but as an articulate autistic text, also bearing its own expressive rhetoric (Representing Autism, 5). It appears both to recede and to dominate, its “imperturbability” representing both “emptiness” and immovability. Mekas’s observation that the film “almost grows stronger with every whistle” echoes Warhol’s command: “You have to treat nothing as if it were something.” It is through the cultivation and construction of nothing as a thing, through the perseverative circularity of Warhol’s rhetoric, both verbal and visual, that the underlying “nothing” is elevated, developed into a point of friction with convention and expectation, a speaking out and talking back that rubs against the grain of social and dialogic niceties. Both Warhol’s Eat and the “nothing” conversation reported in The Philosophy employ textual strategies that similarly choke dialogic expectations and restrict the anticipated role of audience or interlocutor, respectively, to a prosthetic position, inciting frustration, discomfort, outrage. In Eat, as in Empire, this reframing of audience expectations is effected by the boringness of the film, its repetitive re-presentation of ordinary sameness to the point of oppressive verisimilitude. Warhol employs a similar approach in segments throughout The Philosophy, but most notably in a chapter entitled “The Tingle,” a verbatim account of his phone call with “one B” who exhaustively relates every obsessive detailed step in the cleaning of her apartment: “I take each cassette and I dust and wipe each one with a tiny bit of Windex which is good for their plastic coverings” (204); “I go in the bathroom and get out my Gorham Silver Polish, and I put on my lined yellow rubber gloves. Lined so they don’t stick to my fingers” (207); “I go back and forth in a vertical motion, very quickly with the little tiny attachment” (211); and so on. This de facto monologue spans 25 pages, with rare paragraph breaks and densely packed descriptive detail about various eccentric organizing methods, favored cleansers, battery charging, and techniques for waste disposal (e.g., incineration, flushing, disposal in public garbage cans). Unlike a number of other reported exchanges, this one casts “A” predominantly in the role of listener, his widely spaced interjections pri-
Nothingness Himself • 109
marily reassurances that he is still listening. The depiction of Warhol’s endurance as a listener becomes a point of wonder or implicit reproach to A’s colistener, the bored and restless reader oppressed by the seemingly endless description, the insignificance of the content being related, and the circularity of the text. From reporting techniques for vacuuming the inside of a paper shopping bag to vacuuming her checkbooks to a two-page litany of items she flushes down the toilet, B’s description is a relentless monologue of waste, an inescapable articulation of the circular mechanics of everyday life, the rhetorical approach itself a metaphor for the endless repetitive interaction between meaning and waste. One blini, one empanada, one dried beef. Three snails. As with Eco’s concept of the graphic list, the existing text implies a limitless extension of itself “that continues beyond the boundaries of the canvas” (39). With each new cleaning task described by B, there is an echo of the act that immediately precedes it and an anticipation of countless future cleaning performances stretching into infinitude. For, of course, cleaning is never actually finished. At one point in the monologue, B talks about putting a single item in the empty waste basket, then immediately having to “get dressed to take the basket out because it has something in it” (218), an acting out of Warhol’s previously expressed desire “to throw things out the window as they’re handed to me,” as a means of preserving a living space that’s “clean and empty” (145, 144). Cleaning is repeated endlessly just as the description of the cleaning also suggests an endless loop. And Warhol not only imposes this suggestion of textual infinitude on the reader, but also locates himself within the context of this verbal wasteland, an empty listener, his only lapses—stepping away to urinate or to get a jar of jam or apple butter to eat while listening—pointing, mise en abîme-like—to an infinitely repeating cycle of contentless consumption and elimination powerfully evocative of Perec’s “Attempt at an Inventory.” One blini, one empanada, one dried beef. Three snails. Waste becomes the sole vanishing point. Respecting the “nothing” dialogue, Warhol employs a different strategy to the same end, preventing his interlocutors from gaining any purchase in the exchange by cutting off their dialogic approaches, his own insistent repetitions and solipsisms preventing dialogic movement. Crucially, however, in both models, the expectation of exchange is thwarted, effecting a kind of erasure of audience-interlocutor, a gesture likewise present in Warhol’s verbal self-portrait quoted at the opening of this chapter. While this initial analysis of Warhol’s self-description focuses on the presence of list rhetoric, that same bit of text is equally intriguing for
110 • autistic disturbances
the way the writer produces a conversational imbalance reinforcing the aesthetic of emptiness; not only does the narrator choose language that conceptually foregrounds his own emptiness, but he also simultaneously refuses the urgent interjections of the anonymous “B” who serves as a rhetorical foil in the exchange. The seemingly dialogic quality of the script is illusory, a backdrop for the assertion of Warhol’s apostrophic gesture. As he proceeds with his self-description, the visual inventory is persistently, but ineffectually punctuated by B: “What?” “The what?” “WHAT??” “Slightly . . .” “Hold it, wait a minute. I have to take a pee!!” “Stop it! I have to pee!!” “The banana ears? Oh, A!!!”
The semantic value of B’s part in the dialogue is irrefutable. Marked by question marks and exclamation points, the language is expressly reactive, interrogative, interactive, conversational. The “B” invites dialogue, seeks response, his or her lines are increasingly demanding, the number of exclamation points, the size of the type inflating with each failed attempt to achieve a footing in the would-be conversation. A, for his part, assumes the role of monologist, his verbal observations rolling out over B’s words, relentlessly, tyrannically, talking over and through B’s attempts at dialogue. This is not an argument, however, for Warhol’s autism, a diagnosis grounded in his apparent failure at social recognition and verbal exchange. In fact, Warhol’s diagnostic status is rather beside the point, although, as Easton points out, “Andy Warhol is sometimes thought to be autistic, and his one-liner, ‘I want to be a machine,’ . . . could be considered an autistic slogan” (“Autism,” 98–99). It is not Warhol’s role as a speaker in this abortive dialogue that matters so much as his agency as writer of that reported exchange. He is not occupying the mere role of autistic subject, an actor in the drama, but is rather the originator of the larger text, the artist-writer-creator-narrator, broadcaster of the failed dialogue. As speaker in the book, as actor in this particular bit of text as well as in the “nothing” exchange, “A” acts out one paradigm of autistic speaking—resisting, talking past, focused on content, monologue, expression rather than exchange. As author, however, he gener-
Nothingness Himself • 111
ates a larger design, privileging a way of speaking, curating a book-length text that inscribes his rhetorical strategy—autistic apostrophe—into the writer-reader relation. What really matters here is Warhol’s unapologetic adoption and dissemination of an autistic expressive code, regardless of his diagnostic status. It is Mr. Dick’s kites all over again; let Aunt Betsey’s censorship be what it may, her insistence on social compliance exerting a powerful field of influence over the writer’s manuscript, Mr. Dick still flies his massive manuscript-kites, disseminating an unexpurgated version of the Memorial. Both Warhol and Mr. Dick take an end run around the policing of their own language, evading charges of linguistic failure by inventing new ways to reframe and distribute their own rhetoric. Warhol’s rhetorical approach, his aggressive violation of the usual I-and-thou rhetorical contract, his effacement of audience/interlocutor, his articulate shrieks, his queering the implicit dialogic status quo, position him as a kind of icon of autistic expressive aesthetic, a voice crying out in the wilderness, short-circuiting business-as-usual language conventions. Warhol’s Philosophy is replete with rhetorically distinctive and autistically relevant features—its perseverative apostrophic voice, its elevation of surface, its affectless/nothing tone, its autistic ricochet. But bound up with many of these features are also habits of autistic discretion, the listmaking, cataloging, and taxonomical rhetoric evident in the DSM and in the writings of Whitman, Antin, and Perec discussed in chapter 3. Warhol’s Philosophy, and indeed, his larger opus, speak to the interweaving and overlapping textures of autistic semantic architectures; his work embraces the apostrophic (Easton’s “infodump formalism”), uses echolalic skipping and repeating (ricochet), performs the interruptive and ejaculatory (Stop it! I have to pee!!), but it also recurs, persistently, to listmaking and taxonomic gestures. From the initial verbal self-portrait in list form to the 25-page cleaning monologue (reported as dialogue, but composed essentially of a long verbal tally of sequenced cleaning tasks), The Philosophy is replete with lists, often presented, counterintuitively, as narrative or dialogue. The book is punctuated prolifically with manifests of all kinds, including comma-separated litanies: Airports and airplanes have my favorite kind of food, my favorite kind of bathroom, my favorite kind of nonservile services, my favorite peppermint Life Savers, my favorite kinds of entertainment, my favorite kind of lack of responsibility for your own direction, my favorite shops, my favorite graphics—my favorite everything. (166)
112 • autistic disturbances
Aphoristic, poem-like statement lists—antithetical echoes of Carver’s “Fear” and Antin’s “List of the Delusions of the Insane”—like this catalogue of beautiful things: A new idea. A new look. A new sex. A new pair of underwear. . . . The most beautiful thing in Tokyo is McDonald’s. The most beautiful thing in Stockholm is McDonald’s. The most beautiful thing in Florence is McDonald’s. Peking and Moscow don’t have anything beautiful yet. (70–71)
Lists of “basic worries”: Are the lights on or off? Is the water off? Are the cigarettes out? Is the back door closed? Is the elevator working? Is there anyone in the lobby? Who’s that sitting in my lap? (156)
Even lists of candy: I walked past the Raspberry-Cherry Mix-Max, the Licorice All- Kinds, the Jelly Beans, the Rock Candy, the Chocolate Pretzels, the TV Munch, the Petit Fours, the Mon Cherry, the Lollipops, the Nonpareils, I even walked past the Whitman Samplers. (232)
Warhol creates lists of perfumes and smells for a proposed “smell museum” (151–53), lists of “everything you need” to survive (155), lists of husbands and wives (45), lists of problems of talk-show guests (80). Lists are a central rhetorical feature of the book, arguably autistic in their own right, but also undergirding autistic tone and discursive practice as it is otherwise evident in the text. So, the apostrophic quality of list rhetoric is manifest in the analysis of Warhol’s verbal self-portrait, B’s voice ineffectual, purposeless against the tide of A’s list of descriptive characteristics. The list voice is inexorable in its accounting, creating a
Nothingness Himself • 113
singular chain of semiotic connectivity, unbreakable, despite its intrinsically fragmentary aesthetic. A total of six (or more) items from (1), (2), and (3), with at least two from (1), and one each from (2) and (3). At every operation, at every transaction, noted, registered, enrolled, taxed, stamped, measured, numbered. Rhetorically, the list does not and cannot allow a break for conversation, for dialogic interchange, for reciprocity. It is authoritative, authoritarian, monolithic, “not directed to the addressee but is spoken as if into empty space” (Asperger, “‘Autistic Psychopathy,’” 70). I turned to share the transport—Oh! with whom / But Thee, long buried in the silent Tomb. Likewise, bearing out Barthes’s idea of Pop Art “facticity,” the “character of what exists as facts and appears stripped of any justification,” these verbal lists contribute to the surface quality and apparent affectlessness of Warhol’s text. Like the provocation of the existential autistic subject, a disturber, a queerer of expressive expectations, Warhol’s lists assert presence without immediate admission of emotion or interiority. Like the DSM, these lists cast the sense of authorship into limbo, speaking authoritatively and yet without acknowledged rhetorical subjectivity: “The most beautiful thing in Tokyo is McDonald’s. / The most beautiful thing in Stockholm is McDonald’s. / The most beautiful thing in Florence is McDonald’s.” According to critical convention, this is valueless writing, without personality, without dimension, direction, or trajectory—all surface, no depth. And Warhol’s favoring of list rhetoric thus underscores the studied autistic vacancy of his verbal performance. Warhol’s listmaking is also a performance of autistic repetition and perseveration, a demonstration of the inseparability of autistic discretionary poetics and autistic ricochet. The patterned verbal ordering of the candy list or the airports-airplanes favorite list echoes the patterned repetitions of Warhol’s visual art and the list rhetoric implicit in his curatorial practice, for which the 1969 Rice University Raid the Icebox exhibition stands as one abundantly bewildering model. Founding director and former chief curator of the Warhol Museum, Mark Francis, recounts how Warhol was invited to curate objects from the RISD storage vaults to create his own show, explaining that Warhol’s selection was entirely arbitrary, accepting without demur every taxonomic distinction but oblivious to qualitative ranking. In so doing, he violated all curatorial conventions. . . . He brought out from disgrace or neglect all sorts of forgotten objects, often taking whole cabinets, racks, or shelves of things without regard for their condition, value, or provenance. . . . a large wooden cabinet filled
114 • autistic disturbances
with hundreds of shoes, a group of decorated hat boxes . . . , a blanket chest filled with American Indian blankets, over 50 umbrellas . . . (Francis, “No There There,” 70)
Raising an objection to Warhol’s inclusion of the entire shoe collection, the curator of the costume collection observed that there would be “some duplication,” at which Warhol is reported to have “raised his eyebrows and blinked,” conspicuously mute (70). Far from disparaging Warhol’s approach, however, Francis regards this seemingly reckless inclusiveness as generating insight into the interconnectedness of commercial and cultural enterprises ordinarily partitioned into discrete disciplinary categories. Francis notes that Warhol’s installations “reconnected the museum with its repressed or forgotten siblings,” including “the department store” and “the supermarket” (65). Warhol’s semantic and curatorial collations are coparticipants in the same rhetorical game as the verbal list, playing simultaneously at order and disorder, challenging and confounding expectations. In this respect, the artist acts out the ways in which the list becomes a tool for rejecting prescribed boundaries and initiating or restoring unexpected and unapproved relationships. Is the elevator working? / Is there anyone in the lobby? / Who’s that sitting in my lap? Warhol’s mutely raised eyebrows and his apparently indiscriminate curatorial selection are suggestive: “You have to treat nothing as if it were something.” Maybe nothing is something after all. It is just this difficult point that Asperger seems to miss when he notes that the “collections favored by autistic children appear like soulless possessions. The children accumulate things merely in order to possess them.” Thus, a six-year-old boy had the ambition to collect 1,000 matchboxes, a goal which he pursued with fanatical energy. The mother, however, never saw him play trains with them as other children do. Another boy collected cotton threads; a third “everything” that he found on the street, but not like the street urchin, who has everything in his trouser pocket that he might need for his pranks. The autistic individual just stacks boxes full of useless junk. He constantly orders things and watches over them like a miser. (“‘Autistic Psychopathy,’” 82)
As with the curator of the RISD costume collection, Asperger has difficulty imagining the value of the ordinary, the beauty of the collection in its order or in its pure accumulation. He doesn’t know how to value autis-
Nothingness Himself • 115
tic curatorial strategies. Physical collections assume the appearance of “useless junk” because the disapproving interpreter regards the material objects collected as having a predetermined meaning or purpose that does not necessarily align with the collector’s vision. For Asperger, the items collected should be used for “play” or for “pranks,” and because the organization of the objects does not fit with his sense of meaning, their alternative use can be understood only as pathology. Warhol’s rhetorical and visual methodologies, in contrast, open the range of autistic possibilities, amplifying autistic aesthetic, rhetorical, and curatorial gestures typically marginalized in critical and clinical discourse. Vital here is Warhol’s deliberate assertion of autistic aesthetic practices in the face of more conventional counterdiscourses: the demurring curator of the costume collection, the Bs who insist that nothing must be something, the shouts and whistles of hostile audiences at Eat, the B who tries to interweave her own dialogue into Warhol’s self-description. The artist’s abundant articulation persists in his deliberately verbal productions: “I walked past the Raspberry-Cherry Mix-Max, the Licorice All-Kinds, the Jelly Beans, the Rock Candy, the Chocolate Pretzels, the TV Munch . . .” It is there in his visual repetitions. And it is there in his raised eyebrows, even when he remains silent. As with Perec’s practice, purpose may not be obvious. Indeed, purpose and meaning may be beside the point. Rather, this set of practices—accumulation and repetition, ricochet, apostrophe, and autistic discretion—is an elevation, a fetishization of “Nothing,” an unmediated encounter with the invisible, the quotidian, of what Perec identifies as the “infra-ordinaire”: What’s really going on, what we’re experiencing, the rest, all the rest, where is it? How should we take account of, question, describe what happens every day and recurs everyday: the banal, the quotidian, the obvious, the common, the ordinary, the infra-ordinary, the background noise, the habitual? . . . What we need to question is bricks, concrete, glass, our table manners, our utensils, our tools, the way we spend our time, our rhythms. To question that which seems to have ceased forever to astonish us. We live, true, we breathe, true; we walk, we go downstairs, we sit at a table in order to eat, we lie down on a bed on order to sleep. How? Where? When? Why? (“The Infra-Ordinary”)
Far from “soulless,” unmediated encounters with the “infra-ordinary” evoke Murray’s idea of the absolute “presence” of autism (Represent-
116 • autistic disturbances
ing Autism, 5). Enforced meditations on “Nothing,” on surface and the superficial, on the banal become a means of fighting against everyday boredom and predictable existence, a paradoxical method to escape routine by assuming and deepening what is only apparently repetitive, ordinary, dull, boring. In the end, it all depends on the capacity of the viewer. (Popa, “Exploring the Infra-Ordinary,” 76–77)
It may not be a polite language; it may talk too loudly and too much; it may be boring, repetitive, supercilious, confusing, nonreciprocal. But Warhol’s rhetorical practices, and the greater realm of autism poetics evident in such practices, suggest that autistic language is textured, complex, and aesthetically significant, a powerful counterdiscourse to the critical and clinical representation of such speaking as “semantically and conversationally valueless” (Kanner, “Autistic Disturbances,” 243).
Ch apt er Four-a nd-a -H a l f
(Why “Bartleby” Doesn’t Live Here) •••
Bartleby, the scrivener, the titular character of Herman Melville’s “Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street” (1853), has garnered considerable attention as an iconic autist, a literary representative who anticipates the clinical identification of autism by almost a century. His seemingly echolalic “I would prefer not to” juxtaposed against his primarily nonspeaking mode, his resistance to change, and his preference for sameness and routine have made him a tremendously tempting target for fictional diagnosis. Indeed, Bartleby’s conduct is so thoroughly suggestive of autism that literary scholars keep returning to the subject, perseveratively, repetition inviting repetition (e.g., McCall, Silence of Bartleby; Murray, Representing Autism; Pinchevski, “Bartleby’s Autism”; Sullivan, “Bartleby and Infantile Autism”). In a book about autism poetics, it thus becomes impossible not to talk about Melville’s story, but, at the same time, it is important to recognize that “Bartleby,” the story, is not autistic, no matter what Bartleby, the character, may be. In this parenthetical chapter, itself an aside, a digression, a discrete and perhaps unfitting fragment, “Bartleby” becomes a lacuna, a gap in the text, a missing piece. It stands here as a kind of metaphor of Perec’s puzzle piece, which “the puzzler picks up, and picks up again, and studies and strokes,” active aesthetic and intellectual value present in “every combination he tries, and tries a second time, every blunder and every insight” (Life, xviii). The nonfitting becomes a means of discovering autism poetics through an act of interpretive resistance. 117
118 • autistic disturbances
Now widely anthologized, “Bartleby” was not terribly popular when it was originally published. Told by the principal of a small but thriving Wall Street law firm, it describes the narrator’s experience with an unusual employee, Bartleby, hired primarily to help copy and proofread contracts, obscenely tedious labor. Initially, Bartleby is remarkable for his diligence, especially when compared to his two fellow copyists, whose disgruntlement is expressed in obscure and elaborate ways, aggressively microadjusting the office furniture, for instance, or incompetently copying-while-intoxicated. After a short time, however, Bartleby begins to refuse certain forms of work, ultimately declining to do any work at all, responding politely to all inquiries, “I would prefer not to,” this phrase becoming a refrain that echoes insistently throughout the narrative. Bartleby’s passive resistance accrues abstractly: he first refuses to work, then refuses to leave the office premises, then refuses to speak, then refuses to eat, finally dying placidly in the infamous New York City jail known as The Tombs. Traditional critical interpretations regard Bartleby variously as a Christ figure, an active expression of anticapitalist resistance (Ralph Savarese calls him “the ultimate disillusioned egalitarian” [“Nervous Wrecks,” 21]), or a symbol of thwarted human creativity in the industrial age. But Bartleby has also been a significant focus of disability scholarship and has often been identified or suggested as an autistic figure. Probably the first literary critic to make a claim for Bartleby’s autism was William Sullivan in 1976, who argued that “Bartleby in every way fits the pattern of a reasonably successful, coping, autistic adult, whose tragedy is that he almost succeeded in finding the structured environment and understanding personal supervisor he needed. In short, the ‘Bartleby complex’ is infantile autism” (“Bartleby and Infantile Autism,” 44). Rosemarie Garland-Thomson notes that “Melville never explains Bartleby’s choices, his functional capabilities, or his consciousness,” but adds that “Bartleby may be autistic” (“Cultural Logic of Euthanasia,” 783). Another writer, psychoanalyst Donald Meltzer, sees Bartleby’s attitude of resistance as clinically significant, an autistically characteristic inability to understand “the possibility that the world might have requirements of him which he should struggle to meet” (Explorations in Autism, 33). In Representing Autism, Stuart Murray writes that “[t]he narrator’s descriptions of Bartleby time and again echo the description of impairments—of communication, imagination and socialization—that would come to be central to twentieth-century outlines of autism” (51), adding that “Bartleby undoubtedly performs what we today can recog-
(Why “Bartleby” Doesn’t Live Here) • 119
nize as an autistic presence” (52). In all these interpretive gestures, however, it is typically the character centered in the analytical matrix, bursting from his narrative context with a perceived realness that acts out a rather innocent form of reading. Bartleby, the character, stands out in relief against “Bartleby,” the story, inviting diagnostic claims and interventions. Clarice Kestenbaum, for instance, uses the character as evidence that “[i]ndividuals with [autism] symptoms have been among us throughout human history and probably before” (“Autism, Asperger’s,” 280); and, Ashley Koegel claims that “[o]ne of Bartleby’s most distinct characteristics is his use of stereotyped and repetitive language or idiosyncratic language” and that his “frequent . . . use . . . [of] the phrase, ‘I would prefer not to,’ even when it is inappropriate to the situation . . . seems to be a form of echolalia” (“Evidence Suggesting,” 271). Researchers and writers are so intent on the diagnostic adventure that Melville’s finely crafted story becomes a kind of shell, a neutral habitat or setting to display this spectacular central figure. Men broke deer’s leg. As entertaining as such trainspotting might be, the diagnosis of Bartleby presents at least two troubles. The first of these, the problem of fictional diagnosis, is discussed in the introduction as the issue of diagnostic “looping.” This is the problem that arises when “a literary character” is identified “as having a specific cognitive disability,” often “labeled based on stereotypes,” and the character is “then used as an exemplar for actual autistic people,” leading to a scenario in which “the public perception of the literary character may reshape and inform how autism is defined as a social construct” (Loftis, “Autistic Detective”). Ultimately, as has already been noted, the “recovering” of an autistic subject, fictional or otherwise, from the assumption of neurotypical identity is as likely to be a violent seizure as an act of cultural liberation. Men broke deer’s leg. In addition, and in keeping with the immediate concerns of this project, there is this problem: by focusing on character rather than voice, autistic rhetoric is both falsely represented and falsely confined. There’s quite a bit of fun to be had putting Bartleby in the same room with Mr. Spock and Christopher Boone (who narrates The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time), with Sheldon Cooper (from the TV sitcom The Big Bang Theory) and Sherlock Holmes, but such play reinforces a tendency to think of autism in culturally finite terms, bound to the limited subjecthood of particular characters. Sherlock Holmes might be cool; Bartleby, certainly, is awesome; but, they are mere representations, relegated to acting out their identities in narratives voiced by others. Certainly, the critical interpretations put forward by disability theorists like Murray and
120 • autistic disturbances
Garland-Thomson offer nuance and sophistication, but the setting apart of character from narrative nevertheless encourages readers to consider autism as a purely clinical classification, a diagnostic label keyed to particular human individuals. Such a move obscures the potential for reading autism as an aesthetic, cultural, literary, linguistic, or rhetorical category, a form of being and expression that might emerge not only in personhood but also in art and fashion, in music and architecture, in circuit design or literary poetics. The focus on Bartleby as an autistic figure effectively marginalizes autistic voice to a kind of performance, a caricature, an amplified mimicking of clinically identified discursive features. It is the stereotyping of autistic stereotypies. This dismissal of the potential aesthetic reach of autism is especially evident in the most reductive and pejorative clinical readings of the story. For instance, Koegel’s insistence that Bartleby’s social difficulties as an autist are the motivating factor in his “avoiding [activities] that involve . . . some sort of social interaction, such as traveling to the post office on errands or helping review documents with colleagues” (“Evidence Suggesting,” 271), or Kestenbaum’s focus on Bartleby’s “avoiding all human contact” (“Autism, Asperger’s,” 281). In adopting such a stance, these readings, rather than generating more complex and dynamic clinical views of autism, instead eviscerate Melville’s narrative, simultaneously reducing the interest and complexity of clinical autism and flattening the brilliance of Melville’s writing. Even autism writers who think beyond the Bartleby character, however, are prone to a similar kind of misstep, like Michael Fitzgerald or Julie Brown, both of whom argue that Melville himself must have been autistic. Dahlia, dahlia, dahlia. Again, however, rather than contributing depth and insight to the text, this diagnostic insight effaces the value of Melville’s writing. The idea of Bartleby’s passive “I would prefer not to” as a powerful form of social and political resistance, embraced by a variety of critics and theorists, is degraded, in Brown’s reading, to a random exhibition of meaningless echolalia, a form of repeating that signifies nothing at all. One substitute for the traditional plot that can be found in works by writers with autism is repetition. Repetition, like routine, is a tool that individuals with autism can use for coping with the uncertainty of life. . . . One of the most interesting examples of this verbal repetition must surely be Melville’s short story “Bartleby,” in which the main
(Why “Bartleby” Doesn’t Live Here) • 121
character repeats the expression ‘I would prefer not to’ more than a dozen times. (Brown, Writers on the Spectrum, 23)
As with Joshua Kendall’s implicit dismissal of Peter Roget’s work as shaped by the writer’s “anxiety” (Man Who Made Lists, 40), or, signaling the worthlessness of the Key to All Mythologies project by noting that Casaubon’s blood runs “all semicolons and parentheses” (Eliot, Middlemarch, 455; chap. 42), Brown demonstrates how aesthetic concerns are entangled with, even flow from, diagnostic considerations. In Brown’s reading, Melville is denied intention, denied authorship, his deliberate crafting of Bartleby’s minimalist “I would prefer not to” interpreted, preposterously, as a “substitute for . . . traditional plot.” That’s just her autism talking, talking, talking. That’s just her—autism talking. This is the contaminating, the poisonous effect of clinical autism discourse on literary reading, the promotion of an attitude of nonlistening. This is a perfect execution of autism autopsy, a form of forensic scrutiny that mutilates as it lays bare the inert pathology of the textual body. For those interested in autistic rhetoricity or autism poetics—the potentialities of silence; the power of verbal ricochet (as opposed to the implicit vacancy of clinical echolalia); the assertion of non sequitur and autistic verbal ejaculation (“I would prefer not to!”) as complications or queerings of conventional reciprocal discourse—the language of Bartleby, the character, presents rich ground for consideration. Some of this work has already been taken up by Amit Pinchevski, who has argued that Bartleby’s centrality in the story and the centrality of his language, specifically, is the driving force of the narrative. “Bartleby,” Pinchevski points out, “is the hollow nexus around whom the plot revolves, whose taciturnity makes the lawyer reach out to him again and again . . . [I]ndeed, it is what ultimately makes him narrate the story” (“Bartleby’s Autism,” 38). Bartleby’s silences and repetitions, then, are not evidence of deficiency, but a well of possibility, a gesture toward Georges Perec’s question: “How should we take account of, question, describe what happens every day and recurs everyday: the banal, the quotidian, the obvious, the common, the ordinary, the infra-ordinary, the background noise, the habitual?” (“The Infra-Ordinary”). In Pinchevski’s view, “It takes a Bartleby to show that rather than negation or deviation, incommunicability is in fact an underlying indeterminacy ripe with creative possibilities” (48). Likewise, playing along these lines, recent work in Internet studies opens other avenues for exploring the inherent autistic possibility of
122 • autistic disturbances
Bartlebian expression. Explaining the strategies and philosophy around digital “obfuscation,” Finn Brunton and Helen Nissenbaum argue for a small-scale, grassroots revolution on the part of individual users in the networked system. By inserting “chaff,” operating solo, interjecting unexpected, nonpattern information, it becomes possible for “people without access to other modes of recourse” to resist being accounted, analyzed, and dominated in the large-scale conventional flow of public data (Obfuscation, 3). According to Brunton and Nissenbaum, this form of resistance is “especially suited for use by the small players, the humble, the stuck, those not in a position to decline or opt out or exert control” (1). In other words, expressive language that ranges beyond conventional reciprocal modes—what clinicians have persistently and determinedly identified as pathological forms of expression aligning with autism— may have real, practical, and revolutionary purpose. Insistence on clinical readings of “Bartleby, the Scrivener” have largely robbed the text of power and significance, the “aha!” moment of autistic recognition being simultaneously a moment of violation, a dismissal of Bartleby’s autism as an expression of power, meaning, and revolutionary vitality. “I would prefer not to” is stripped of its radical edge and rendered inert, interpreted as mere echolalia, a form of vacant copying, an autistic “coping mechanism.” Rather than reclaiming “Bartleby” as a revolutionary document, however, promoting an empowered autistic reading, the present work seeks to create another kind of vacancy, to refuse interpretive engagement. For as persistently as readers have recognized Bartleby as an autistic character, and, even with a nod to those who believe that Herman Melville was on the spectrum, the narrative does not speak in autistic terms, offering an unmediated rhetorical and poetic expression of autism; it does not occupy an autistic aesthetic. The question of Bartleby’s, or Melville’s, possible autism aside, a representation of autistic character, concerns, or expression is decidedly not the same thing as autistic speaking. Instead, Melville’s story is related by the thoroughly conventional narrator: “All who know me,” he says, “consider me an eminently safe man” (14). He is defined by his mundane work, “in the cool tranquility of a snug retreat, do[ing] a snug business among rich men’s bonds and mortgages and title-deeds” (14). The story he tells, while concentrating on Bartleby, nevertheless considers the copyist throughout as an enigma, a human puzzle, possibly without solution. He notes from the beginning that “Bartleby . . . was a scrivener of the strangest I ever saw or heard of,” and the story, holding true to the predictable, conformist soul of its nar-
(Why “Bartleby” Doesn’t Live Here) • 123
rator, interrogates Bartleby’s actions and inactions, uncomprehending, and grasping at explanations at every turn: Is he lazy? Is he insolent? Is he visually impaired? Was he spiritually damaged from years of work at the Dead Letter Office? The narrator occupies a thoroughly ableist position, prepared to act charitably upon the passive body of Bartleby, but unwilling to allow that he remain unresolved, simply present. The narrator speaks of “revolving,” turning over in his mind all he knows about his scrivener, but his telling, while representing his own uneasiness at Bartleby’s being “always there,” fails at interiority. Rather than giving expression to an autistic speaker, it expresses conventional anxiety about a queer figure, a person who does not respond in expected ways. In fact, by ending with the ultimate form of silencing—Bartleby’s death—the narrative performs the most conventional possible act of closure for an unruly or disabled figure. In the words of David Mitchell and Sharon Snyder, “Disability inaugurates narrative, but narrative inevitably punishes its own prurient interests by overseeing the extermination of the object of its fascination” (Narrative Prosthesis, 229). Paul Longmore notes that “we can ‘sympathize’” and still “escape the dilemma of . . . social accommodation and integration” (Why I Burned My Book, 135– 36). “Bartleby, the Scrivener” displays no particularly playful invention or language hacking, no luminescent verbal patterning, no narrative eruption or fragmentation, no expression of concealment, silence, or the apocryphal; rather, the story scrutinizes its central figure, it puzzles over him, it attempts to reconcile his deviation, and, in the end it kills him, isolated and enfreaked, despite the sympathetic tone. No tadpoles in the house.
C h a pter F ive
Neuroqueer Narration in Charlotte Brontë’s Villette •••
Having already entertained two varieties of interpretive resistance—the glassy surface of Andy Warhol’s “Nothing” and the refusal to read Herman Melville’s “Bartleby, the Scrivener” as an autistic text—Autistic Disturban ces now considers both the sense of resistance and the autistic possibilities at work in another narrative arena, Charlotte Brontë’s Villette (1853). Brontë’s novel is acknowledged as an influential feminist text and has come to be widely admired for its nuance and sophistication (e.g., Jacobus, Reading Woman; Kreilkamp, Voice and the Victorian Storyteller; Lawrence, “Cypher”; Moi, Sexual/Textual Politics), but Villette is equally well-known for its challenging narrative style. Embracing discursive strategies critics find “elusive,” “enigmatic,” or “inscrutable and unrevealing” (Grass, Self in the Cell, 179; Fraser, Charlotte Bronte, 426; Cohn, Still Life, 26), qualities that may be explored within the complex context of autistic “silence,” the novel resonates with techniques of autism poetics like those found in the work of Warhol or Perec, language that digresses or “evades” (Kim, “Corpse Hoarding,” 411; Davis, “‘I Seemed to Hold,’” 199). Villette is, in fact, infamous for frustrating its readers by its reliance on language perceived as inaccessible, resisted by readers even while it is understood as being itself resistant to reading. In the words of one recent appreciation, “there has seldom been a first-person narrative that withheld so much from its readers, and yet communicated such terrible 125
126 • autistic disturbances
or such intimate emotion” (Hughes-Hallett, “Charlotte Brontë”). There is war in the sky. Moreover, intertwined with its seemingly antirevelatory posture, Villette is also prone to speak in monologic bursts—apostrophic, eruptive, ejaculatory—that puncture its own quiescence. This pattern of reserve and surging language is a subtle but frequently occurring feature of autism poetics. Not entirely unlike the “don’t-give-a-damn imperturbability” of Andy Warhol’s work (Mekas, “Notes,” 4), the novel’s frequently cited reticences and its unpredictable flows of language contribute to its anti-intuitive aesthetic, an assertion of neuroqueer aesthetic voice and identity that echoes powerfully both with experimental modernist writing and with autism poetics. Villette is written in the first person, a fictional memoir purportedly composed by an older woman about her youth (in the early nineteenth century) as a plain English gentlewoman, thrown upon her own resources. In her early twenties, having lost her family, without education or experience beyond that of ordinary gentility, with only a few pounds to her name, and without any knowledge of French, this narrator describes her decision to travel alone across the Channel in search of employment. Set largely in a fictional French-speaking city called Villette in the Kingdom of Labassecour, the story tells how this vulnerable young stranger finds employment in Madame Beck’s Pensionnat de Demoiselles, first as a nursemaid and later as an English teacher. The plot tracks the narrator’s increasing professional abilities and stature, sees her through a noteworthy illness, and describes her conduct as she falls quietly in love with two men, the first affair unrequited and the second leading to an engagement with fellow teacher, M. Paul Emanuel, after certain requisite narrative conflicts and uncertainties. The narrator is finally established by her fiancé in her own independent school before he sets off for three years by himself to earn additional capital. During this time, which the narrator describes as the “happiest . . . of my life” (593; chap. 42), she seems to enjoy her quiet solitude, the letters from her lover, and the growing success of her business in about equal measure. The novel ends, however, in the aftermath of a violent storm, in which the narrator suggests her returning fiancé meets his death. Despite the apparent activity—storms, independent Channel crossings, dangerous illness, theater fires, and a variety of other Gothic frisson—it is often remarked that Villette has “a seemingly wandering, circular, and actionless plot,” grounded primarily in the narrator’s solitude, reticence, and cagey interiority (Braun, “Great Break,” 197). In fact, it is the extreme isolation of the narrator—due partly to her status as a
Neuroqueer Narration in Charlotte Brontë’s Villette • 127
stranger in Villette, partly to her ignorance of French, partly to her being a Protestant in a Catholic culture, and partly to her own idiosyncrasies, both moral and personal—that defines the affective texture of the narrative. Things do happen, but the inexplicable convolutions and indeterminate echoings of the narrative are ultimately more foundational elements of the story than the story itself. Though the rudiments of plot may thus be laid bare, the uncanny and haunting lassitude of the text, its digressions and circumlocutions, the hollow plotlessness of most of the narrative description, in fact make up the great bulk of the novel. Probably the most pronounced example of this indirect quality is Villette’s end, the devastating storm at sea that might, or might not, extinguish the narrator’s fiancé. “That storm roared frenzied for seven days,” she reports, and “did not cease till the Atlantic was strewn with wrecks,” until “when the sun returned, his light was night to some!” (596; chap. 42). In other words, conventional narrative closure (e.g., the loving marriage of the heroine) is thwarted by rhetorical delivery of a (probably) dead fiancé, a move that rubs a lot of readers the wrong way. Indeed, expectations are even further destabilized (and audiences further antagonized) by the narrator’s dispassionate reassurance that if readers don’t like this ending, they are free to imagine quite a different one, to “picture union and a happy succeeding life.” Such a gesture of “aggressive prevarication” (O’Dea, “Narrator and Reader,” 52)—not only leaving the ending open but also noncommittally leaving the choice of ending up to the reader—stresses affective distance at what would typically be an emotional apex, a move seen in the greater stylistic pattern of Villette’s characteristic “passive-aggressive reserve” (Polhemus, Erotic Faith, 119). In fact, the ending is a powerful tonal example of what many readers have observed of the whole: repressed, reserved, reticent, opaque, withholding, even duplicitous. The narrator is “locked into herself” and “remains taciturn and withdrawn” (Gilbert and Gubar, Madwoman in the Attic, 400, 403). To some, these observations will no doubt be elementary; but this familiar spot may nevertheless yield a new interpretive aperture: a lens for contemplating the extraordinary silences—and what often registers as the latent hostility—of the novel as a form of autistic disturbance, a model for Yergeau’s observation that “neuroqueer subjects fuck with rhetoric” (Authoring Autism, 60). The difficult silences of Villette are, of course, pretty much a trademark of the text, a feature with which every reader must grapple. The story of the narrator’s own apparently traumatic childhood is displaced, for instance, by a description of young Paulina, a secondary character;
128 • autistic disturbances
the death of the narrator’s entire immediate family, while she is still a dependent youth, is effaced by a metaphor of shipwreck: “the ship was lost, the crew perished” (94; chap. 4). Even more distressing for some audiences, when she first arrives in Villette, alone and without luggage or money, the narrator recognizes a helpful English stranger as childhood friend Graham Bretton (later, Dr. John), but fails to divulge this information either to Graham or to the reader until far later in the story, creating one of the book’s central plot twists, but also opening the reader to a sense of narrative betrayal. Some have noted that readers are not even treated to the name of the narrator—Lucy Snowe—until the second chapter of the book, after many other characters have already been introduced, reinforcing the sense of narrative shielding or absence (Kim, “Corpse Hoarding,” 411). Indeed, Lucy “often seems to be telling any story but her own” (Gilbert and Gubar, Madwoman in the Attic, 416). As a first-person narrative, an expansive confessional text, Villette is virtually unequalled in its paradoxical failure to disclose. Crayfish, sharks, fish, and rocks. Mary Jacobus refers to “the novel’s . . . perversely withholding its true subject, Lucy Snowe” (Reading Woman, 42). Other critics speak of “the constant intrusion of privacy” (Mazurek, “Revising,” 231), “Lucy’s rhetorical obfuscation” (Braun, “Great Break,” 203), her “omissions and elisions” (Davis, “‘I Seemed to Hold,’” 203), or note that the narrator “consistently baffles our curiosity, misleading us, mocking us, and teasing us” (Ablow, Victorian Pain, 73). As the admiring Kate Millett remarks, Villette “reads like one long meditation on a prison break” (Sexual Politics, 146). Regarding this narrative opacity, interpretive explanations abound—feminist takes that read Lucy’s guarded narrative within the context of oppressive Victorian patriarchal structures, readings that queer the narrator, or that understand her as a subject of trauma. Regardless of theoretical perspective, however, there is near universal recognition of the profound tensions that unfold around this tone, an approach that “comes to seem almost wholly antisocial” (Ablow, Victorian Pain, 73), a narrative landscape operating “at the bare edge of . . . social intelligibility and empathetic range” (Braun, “Great Break,” 189). This sense of Villette as an inaccessible text, and the critical resistance to its perceived insularity, is a crucial feature of the very earliest responses to the book. Matthew Arnold called it “a hideous, undelightful, convulsed, constricted novel,” writing that “[i]t is one of the most disagreeable books I ever read” (Selected Letters, 83); William Makepeace Thackeray referred to it as a “plaguy book,” commenting, “how I don’t like the heroine” (quoted in Polhemus, Erotic Faith, 111). A Dublin Uni-
Neuroqueer Narration in Charlotte Brontë’s Villette • 129
versity Magazine reviewer, speaking of Lucy Snowe’s “morbid sensibility,” revolted against her narration, asking, “Who wants such a character to tell us a story?” (quoted in McNees, Brontë Sisters, 619). Even Elizabeth Gaskell told her dear friend Charlotte Brontë that she “disliked Lucy Snowe” (Life of Charlotte Brontë, 412). Modern audiences, acknowledging the novel’s established literary status, may speak with critical respect, or even as apologists, but nevertheless continue to write about a relationship of resistance. The narrator is repeatedly characterized as “manipulative” (e.g., Braun, “Great Break,” 197; Kim, “Corpse Hoarding,” 425; Davis, “‘I Seemed to Hold,’” 199). Russell Goldfarb calls Villette “a study in frigidity” (Sexual Repression, 157). Another critic talks about the narrator’s “contempt and animosity” (O’Dea, “Narrator and Reader,” 48). Robert Polhemus sums it up: “I, Lucy Snowe, shall withhold the intimacy I have implicitly promised you readers” (Erotic Faith, 117). Hideous. Plaguy. Disagreeable. Manipulative. Frigid. Contemptuous. Passive-aggressive. Hostile. Readers talk all kinds of trash about the narrative style. And most of it starts with the complaint of being cheated, that Lucy holds back important information. As Gregory O’Dea puts it, “Lucy takes on a desperately hostile defensive stance, attempting to keep her reader off-balance and disoriented in order to hide her true nature” (“Narrator and Reader,” 48). And Helen Davis refers to Villette’s narrative strategy as “its abundant not telling” (“‘I Seemed to Hold,’” 205). The critical consensus is that the narrator doesn’t really let the reader in, that she is “not reliable,” that she is silent where intimate knowledge is required. It is at this juncture that Villette may most immediately be read as an autistic text: the oblique, muffled quality of its narrative, its staying quiet when narrative convention demands fully communicative and transparent disclosure. It evokes clinical and clinically inspired assessments of autistic language: Bettelheim’s notion of autistic “hiding” (Empty Fortress, 429), or his reference to a child who “concealed the secret of his autistic behavior” (“Joey,” 122); Ann Jurecic’s observations regarding the “egocentric writing” of autists (“Neurodiversity,” 432); or Whitehorn and Zipf’s idea of the pathological “disregard of . . . social obligation” inherent in the use of difficult or nontransparent language (‘Schizophrenic Language,” 848). “Extraordinarily repressed and emotionally thwarted” (Kreilkamp, Voice and the Victorian Storyteller, 142), Villette’s narrative is fundamentally characterized by what an autism clinician might describe as an apparent “inability to relate [itself]” to others, demonstrating signs of “extreme autistic aloneness” (Kanner, “Autistic Distur-
130 • autistic disturbances
bances,” 242). Lucy Snowe’s silences and emotional distance as narrator conjure the most damning assessments of autism as a failure of relationality, or even as a failure of personhood, like Ivar Lovaas’s suggestion that autists “are not people in the psychological sense,” or Walter Spitzer’s characterization of autism as “a dead soul in a live body” (Chance, “Interview with Ivar Lovaas,” 76; Spitzer, “Real Scandal”). Readers are constantly rubbing up against Lucy Snowe’s “inaccessibility” (Moglen, Charlotte Brontë, 196), complaining about her “enigmas” (Bloom, The Brontes, 104), commenting on her identity as a “cypher” (Lawrence, “Cypher”). Rather than read Villette’s expressive style as reflecting a kind of autistic failure, however, it is worthwhile to take a more oblique approach, taking note of the autistic resonances in the novel’s expressive reticences, but also doing an about face and reflecting critical attention on the intense hostility that emerges in reaction to the narrator’s seeming inaccessibility. Indeed, it is remarkable the extent to which Brontë’s very deliberate, very explicit, very carefully crafted text comes up (as autistic speakers so often do) against a disapproving audience, a readership that understands the novel’s language primarily in terms of communicative lapses and failures. Of course, those who point to Villette’s mutenesses often discover ways of valuing the text; and even the haters are certainly in the minority. Just as there is plentiful literature that embraces autism and autistic people, appreciations of Brontë’s novel abound. But it’s still necessary to rest for a moment at this difficult intersection: to remember the blogger, enraged by idiosyncratic language invention, who complains about “how densely autistic” such language inventors must be and who says he’d “be sorely tempted to crack their self-righteous . . . heads together” (APenNameAndThatA); to reconsider the antiautistic tenor of the public service messages developed by Autism Speaks; to see in the substantial critical hostility toward Villette a reflection of the critical hostility toward autistic speaking and to consider again the co-construction of clinical and aesthetic responses toward nonconventional language and narrative. Men broke deer’s leg. To this end, it is worthwhile to explore not only Villette’s narrative opacities but also the antagonisms these have engendered within the framework of autistic expression and reception. It is the idea that Lucy “hides” that may best sum up the narrative rub. The vague sense that—as with many clinical descriptions of autism— the person exists within a “shell.” In fact, descriptions of Villette’s narrative voice share the same kind of insistence on elemental narrative absence that show up in dominant characterizations of autistic voice, evoking Uta Frith’s notion that autistic identity actually represents
Neuroqueer Narration in Charlotte Brontë’s Villette • 131
a kind of void, an explicit absence of a “Self” (Autism: A Very Short Introduction, 86–87; Autism: Explaining, 208–10 ). Though it is decidedly not an autism-friendly zone, it is essential to visit this site of critical opposition, to interrogate the nexus where the subject’s verbal performance—deliberate narrative strategies of silence, narrative nondisclosure, reticence—are reconstituted as a terrible intermingling of personal absence and semantic hostility. As Rachel Ablow remarks, “Brontë’s novel can feel simply passive-aggressive, implying as it does that the reader is not worthy of the story it has to tell” (Victorian Pain, 72). Here is a strange brew: nonspeaking (metaphorically or otherwise) excites resentment in audiences, which in turn reinvent the reticent subject as herself antagonistic. The critics who characterize Villette as “hideous,” “plaguy,” “disagreeable,” “manipulative,” “frigid,” “contemptuous,” “passive-aggressive,” and “hostile” might thus be understood in the context of contemporary popular responses to autism: authorities at the International Museum of Arts & Sciences in McAllen, Texas, who fired an autistic teenage volunteer in part because he was “abrasive” (Salinas, “Teen with Autism”); teachers who identify school-aged autistic children “using descriptors such as ‘abrasive’” and “‘withdrawn’” (Baltaxe and Simmons, “Comparison of Language Issues,” 215); studies that observe that autistic college students have “an overly direct and sometimes abrasive style of communication” (White, Ollendick, and Bray, “College Students,” 14); autistic writers who remark that their “comments may seem abrasive” (Wylie, Beardon, and Heath, Very Late Diagnosis, 31). Over and over, both autistic silence and autistic speaking are tangled together and routinely described as “abrasive,” a friction at the surface, an uncomfortable rubbing up, a violation of the fluid and intuitive social encounter. It doesn’t mean if you don’t believe in nothing that it’s nothing. What is in other respects viewed as a failure of agency and subjectivity— nonspeaking or the use of so-called noncommunicative language—thus functions simultaneously as a quasi-deliberate act of rejection on the part of the speaker/narrator, an aggressive independent form of expression portrayed as persecution of the ostensibly passive audience. For this is so. Because. In fact, adjectives like “hideous,” “plaguy,” and “disagreeable” demonstrate a powerful kind of antagonism, resonating with clinical and popular characterizations of autistic language as “abrasive.” “Who wants such a character to tell us a story?” But it must be noted that far more subtle critical approaches also participate to some degree in such a depreciatory stance. Even the ordinary urge of the literary analyst
132 • autistic disturbances
to delve into what’s going on with Lucy Snowe—to focus on a seemingly objective decoding—also functions to suggest a kind of narrative defect or failure; there is an inference from such interpretive work that Villette does not, cannot speak directly to the audience, that this text, like other autistic speaking, is incoherent, inexplicable without professional mediation. I can’t do this orally, only headily. Although the book is nothing but words, masterfully orchestrated by a single narrator, there is a subtle critical message that this narrator cannot speak for herself. In this respect, diverse critical responses to the novel echo a range of approaches informing autism interpretation, some of which argue that there is “no fundamental difference between . . . speaking and . . . mute” autistic subjects (Kanner, “Autistic Disturbances,” 243), while others propose that “they pose us riddles to solve” (Bettelheim, Empty Fortress, 430). Although the former might be more obviously hostile to autistic voice, the latter, too, is nevertheless a kind of interpretive microaggression, uninvited mediation serving as an implicit claim against expressive agency and competence. For a narrative that seems like it’s hanging back, Villette not only engenders a lot of discursive engagement, but it also communicates profoundly with its silences. Nonspeaking may be both meaningful and purposeful, reflecting an extensive range of expressive possibility without immediate caveats of clinical, cultural, literary, or political context. In fact, while it may be socially or intellectually difficult to encounter, silence may certainly be a deliberate choice, expressive and creative. There is, for instance: The dumb silence of apathy, the sober silence of solemnity, the fertile silence of awareness, the active silence of perception, the baffled silence of confusion, the uneasy silence of impasse, the muzzled silence of outrage, the expectant silence of waiting, the reproachful silence of censure, the tacit silence of approval, the vituperative silence of accusation, the eloquent silence of awe, the unnerving silence of menace, the peaceful silence of communion, the irrevocable silence of death. (Kane, Language of Silence, 14–15)
Paul Heilker, too, comments meaningfully on the intense presence of autistic silence during the morning drive he shares with his autistic son. “[T]here are often extended silences in the car,” Heilker writes, “silences I feel compelled to fill up but he does not.” Heilker continues:
Neuroqueer Narration in Charlotte Brontë’s Villette • 133
While I can’t stand the silence, he is comfortable in it. He does not feel the exigence, the gap, the break, the disruption, the failure, the need in the social fabric. . . . In other words, rather than being some kind of deficit or delay or withdrawal, rather than signifying his entrapment, frustration, depression, or loneliness, his silence signifies his contentment, his satisfaction, his fully realized development, and his fully successful rhetoric. (Heilker and Yergeau, “Autism and Rhetoric,” 493)
It is evident that discomforts arise in encounters both with silence and with other atypical expression. Discomfort, however, may be productive, a perfectly valid discursive tool, a source of meaning and discovery. And, to the extent that such reticence is experienced as “abrasive,” it is also important to remember what abrasion is: “abrasive” language undoes the smooth, slippery surface of verbal exchange, creating traction for a new kind of encounter. Critical engagement, then, demands not only that such expressive forms not be rejected outright—e.g., autists “are not people in the psychological sense” (Chance, “Interview with Ivar Lovaas,” 76), or the rhetorical “Who wants such a character to tell us a story?”—but also that analytical readers question their own venture, their processes, motives, and expectations, their intentions. As a professional reader, I often feel an urgent desire in relation to the language of others: to disarticulate, to rearticulate, to uncover, to explain, to interpret; but I am also coming to recognize responsibilities in this encounter: the possibility that my analytical urge may be experienced by others as a form of assault. That they will be murdered when they sleep. Even well-meaning clinicians and scholars, eager to investigate and to forward knowledge, may engage unwittingly in acts of imperializing analysis. Sometimes, it is needful to step back from text, embodied or otherwise, and allow it space to be, unmediated. Certainly, Lucy Snowe’s suggestively autistic reticences and the critical response to Villette’s instances of nonspeaking are central to discussion of autism poetics in Brontë’s novel, just as the fact of autistic nonspeaking and the cultural construction of autistic silence are vital to the larger observations of this book. Dahlia, dahlia, dahlia. Despite foregrounding this aspect of the text, however, it must be noted that Villette’s other rhetorical queernesses also resonate powerfully within the framework of autism poetics. Most notably, a vital counterpoint to the arguably autistic silence of the book is its equally extraordinary volubility, what might be
134 • autistic disturbances
understood as its monologuing, or its apostrophic bent. For as often as the narrative keeps quiet, turning away from disclosure, it also talks the reader’s metaphorical ear off, launching deep into minute description, lengthy digressions, densely packed simile, and extended metaphor. “How short some people make the road to a point,” notes Lucy Snowe, “which, for others, seems unattainable” (189; chap. 13). The full reproduction of such effusive abundance in this space would be untenable, but following are three examples that gesture toward Villette’s inclination for the apostrophic. There is, for instance, the frequently referenced description of the room in the Bretton house when Lucy first awakes from her long illness, almost hallucinatory in the intensity of its detail. Though the environment seems strangely familiar to Lucy, since it is filled with the furniture and paraphernalia of her beloved godmother, this vital fact is not immediately made evident to the reader; rather, the narrator’s recognition of familiar items is obscured by the minuteness and the nearly glacial pace of the description: And here my eye fell on an easy-chair covered with blue damask. Other seats, cushioned to match, dawned on me by degrees; and at last I took in the complete fact of a pleasant parlour, with a wood fire on a clear-shining hearth, a carpet where arabesques of bright blue relieved a ground of shaded fawn; pale walls over which a slight but endless garland of azure forget-me-nots ran mazed and bewildered amongst myriad gold leaves and tendrils. A gilded mirror filled up the space between two windows, curtained amply with blue damask. In this mirror I saw myself laid, not in bed, but on a sofa. I looked spectral; my eyes larger and more hollow, my hair darker than was natural, by contrast with my thin and ashen face. It was obvious, not only from the furniture, but from the position of windows, doors, and fireplace, that this was an unknown room in an unknown house. Hardly less plain was it that my brain was not yet settled; for, as I gazed at the blue arm-chair, it appeared to grow familiar; so did a certain scroll-couch, and not less so the round centre-table, with a blue- covering, bordered with autumn-tinted foliage; and, above all, two little footstools with worked covers, and a small ebony-framed chair, of which the seat and back were also worked with groups of brilliant flowers on a dark ground. Struck with these things, I explored further. Strange to say, old acquaintance were all about me, and “auld lang syne” smiled out of every nook. There were two oval miniatures over the mantel-piece,
Neuroqueer Narration in Charlotte Brontë’s Villette • 135
of which I knew by heart the pearls about the high and powdered “heads”; the velvets circling the white throats; the swell of the full muslin kerchiefs: the pattern of the lace sleeve-ruffles. Upon the mantel-shelf there were two china vases, some relics of a diminutive tea-service, as smooth as enamel and as thin as egg-shell, and a white centre ornament, a classic group in alabaster, preserved under glass. Of all these things I could have told the peculiarities, numbered the flaws or cracks, like any clairvoyante. Above all, there was a pair of handscreens, with elaborate pencil-drawings finished like line engravings; these, my very eyes ached at beholding again, recalling hours when they had followed, stroke by stroke and touch by touch, a tedious, feeble, finical, school-girl pencil held in these fingers, now so skeleton-like. (238–39; chap. 16)
The quality of this description, its lingering over the particular, bears out what a number of theorists might identify as an autistic preference for “local coherence” (Murray, Representing Autism; Nazeer, Send in the Idiots; Osteen, Autism and Representation; Straus, “Autism as Culture”), or “detail- focused processing” (Happé and Frith, “Weak Coherence Account,” 21), a cognitive aesthetic that links apostrophic, digressive, and system language. Lucy Snowe’s extended description here performs a kind of verbal collection, demonstrating a neuroqueer delight in abundance, in particularity, and in the careful ordering of things. This arrested, arresting moment spins a kind of narrative and semiotic cocoon— story, language, and thought snugly encapsulated in a mandatory detour suggestive of John Locke’s comments on “the various degrees of attention in thinking”: Sometimes the mind fixes it self with so much earnestness on the Contemplation of some Objects, that it turns their Ideas on all sides; remarks their Relations and Circumstances; and views every part so nicely, and with such intention, that it shuts out all other Thoughts, and takes no notice of the ordinary Impressions made then on the Senses. (Essay Concerning Human Understanding, 228; book 2; chap. 19)
In fact, Lucy Snowe’s narrative is richly brocaded with such meticulously descriptive digressions, each a self-contained diversion from the larger narrative context. “We see in Villette,” says Emily Heady, “a propensity to notice details such as the stitching on a pincushion” (Victorian
136 • autistic disturbances
Conversion Narratives, 55). The narrative persistently shifts attention away from progressive or sequential plot points, lingering instead over seemingly nonessential narrative threads. In this example, for instance, the narrator’s extended description forestalls the reader’s discovery of Lucy’s childhood connection with Dr. John, instead inviting the reader into protracted scrutiny of objects. Pages of observation and microscopic study—both interior and exterior—abound and plot thus emerges as a mote in the narrative eye, all granular specificity rather than galloping action. Similarly prolix is the narrative’s ubiquitous recourse to metaphor, as, for instance, when Lucy describes her intense interior conflict over how to respond to letters from Graham Bretton, whether with warm affection or cool politeness. Though she is in love with him, she has been concealing her feelings, and his own letters to her present a profound temptation to give voice to her true emotional state; such a scenario might readily serve as a traditional plot mechanism, a site of tension that will give rise to narrative action. But the solution to this dilemma in Villette deviates away from confrontation between the principals; instead, Lucy writes two sets of letters, one set of demure and conventional epistles to be read by Graham and another to be hidden away forever. The potentially emotionally volatile encounter between the narrator and her beloved is thus deflected, the active movement of the plot is deferred, and the affective charge is transferred into a protracted internalized conflict, a rhetorical clash between Hope (“our sweet Help”) and Reason (“envenomed as a step-mother”). The narrative pits these metaphorical stand-ins against one another in a figurative battle that runs for pages: Reason, coming stealthily up to me through the twilight of that long, dim chamber, whispered sedately—“He may write once. So kind is his nature, it may stimulate him for once to make the effort. But it cannot be continued—it may not be repeated. Great were that folly which should build on such a promise—insane that credulity which should mistake the transitory rain-pool, holding in its hollow one draught, for the perennial spring yielding the supply of seasons.” I bent my head: I sat thinking an hour longer. Reason still whispered me, laying on my shoulder a withered hand, and frostily touching my ear with the chill blue lips of eld. “If,” muttered she, “if he should write, what then? Do you meditate pleasure in replying? Ah, fool! I warn you! Brief be your answer. Hope no delight of heart—no indulgence of intellect: grant no expansion
Neuroqueer Narration in Charlotte Brontë’s Villette • 137
to feeling—give holiday to no single faculty: dally with no friendly exchange: foster no genial intercommunion. . . .” “But I have talked to Graham and you did not chide,” I pleaded. “No,” said she, “I needed not. Talk for you is good discipline. You converse imperfectly. While you speak, there can be no oblivion of inferiority—no encouragement to delusion: pain, privation, penury stamp your language. . . .” “But,” I again broke in, “where the bodily presence is weak and the speech contemptible, surely there cannot be error in making written language the medium of better utterance than faltering lips can achieve?” Reason only answered, “At your peril you cherish that idea, or suffer its influence to animate any writing of yours!” “But if I feel, may I never express?” “Never!” declared Reason. I groaned under her bitter sternness. Never—never—oh, hard word! This hag, this Reason, would not let me look up, or smile, or hope: she could not rest unless I were altogether crushed, cowed, broken-in, and broken-down. According to her, I was born only to work for a piece of bread, to await the pains of death, and steadily through all life to despond. Reason might be right; yet no wonder we are glad at times to defy her, to rush from under her rod and give a truant hour to Imagination—her soft, bright foe, our sweet Help, our divine Hope. We shall and must break bounds at intervals, despite the terrible revenge that awaits our return. Reason is vindictive as a devil: for me she was always envenomed as a step-mother. If I have obeyed her it has chiefly been with the obedience of fear, not of love. Long ago I should have died of her ill-usage: her stint, her chill, her barren board, her icy bed, her savage, ceaseless blows; but for that kinder Power who holds my secret and sworn allegiance. Often has Reason turned me out by night, in mid-winter, on cold snow, flinging for sustenance the gnawed bone dogs had forsaken: sternly has she vowed her stores held nothing more for me—harshly denied my right to ask better things. . . . Then, looking up, have I seen in the sky a head amidst circling stars, of which the midmost and the brightest lent a ray sympathetic and attent. A spirit, softer and better than Human Reason, has descended with quiet flight to the waste—bringing all round her a sphere of air borrowed of eternal summer; bringing perfume of flowers which cannot fade—fragrance of trees whose fruit is life; bringing breezes pure from a world whose day needs no sun to
138 • autistic disturbances
lighten it. My hunger has this good angel appeased with food, sweet and strange, gathered amongst gleaning angels, garnering their dew- white harvest in the first fresh hour of a heavenly day; tenderly has she assuaged the insufferable fears which weep away life itself—kindly given rest to deadly weariness—generously lent hope and impulse to paralyzed despair. Divine, compassionate, succourable influence! When I bend the knee to other than God, it shall be at thy white and winged feet, beautiful on mountain or on plain. Temples have been reared to the Sun—altars dedicated to the Moon. Oh, greater glory! To thee neither hands build, nor lips consecrate: but hearts, through ages, are faithful to thy worship. A dwelling thou hast, too wide for walls, too high for dome—a temple whose floors are space—rites whose mysteries transpire in presence, to the kindling, the harmony of worlds! Sovereign complete! thou hadst, for endurance, thy great army of martyrs; for achievement, thy chosen band of worthies. Deity unquestioned, thine essence foils decay! This daughter of Heaven remembered me to-night; she saw me weep, and she came with comfort: “Sleep,” she said. “Sleep, sweetly—I gild thy dreams!” She kept her word, and watched me through a night’s rest; but at dawn Reason relieved the guard. (307–309; chap. 21)
Again, evoking autistic apostrophe, the monologism extensively described in clinical literature, it is undoubtedly passages like these in question when reviewers talk about segments of “such length [and] with so much obscurity from straining after figure and allusion, as to become tedious and induce skipping” (“Villette, by Currer Bell,” 156). In fact, the critical experience of tedium and “skipping” resonates powerfully with the way contemporary critics write about autistic voice. Phyllis Ferguson Bottomer, for instance, writes about an autistic guest “who frequently launched into monologues [while] the eyes of the others glazed over” (So Odd a Mixture, 21). The purported impatience of the audience in this scenario is, however, an important site of interrogation, calling to mind Roland Barthes’s commentary on readerly restlessness, which he compares to the erotic eagerness of a strip-club patron or “a priest gulping down his Mass” (Pleasure of the Text, 10). According to Barthes, “in order to get more quickly to the warmer parts of the anecdote (which are always its articulations: whatever furthers the solution of the riddle, the revelation of fate): we boldly skip (no one is watching) descriptions,
Neuroqueer Narration in Charlotte Brontë’s Villette • 139
explanations, analyses, conversations” (10). In these terms, the “avidity” of the reader is couched as natural, organic, but the sense of urgency is also recognized as a tainted impulse, akin to rape and to blasphemy. Squawk. The Villette narrative is, indeed, replete with “metaphor [that] never resolves into literal exposition” (Chase, Eros and Psyche, 67) and “metonymies too excessive to be resolved into total metaphor” (Crosby, Ends of History, 136). But such verbal abundances, like its silences, are organic to the book’s extreme expressive template; affective experience is transferred, translated, written into its rhetorical excesses. Some respond by “skipping,” with the readerly equivalent of “eyes . . . glazed over,” but others, like Virginia Woolf, see an “untamed ferocity perpetually at war with the accepted order of things,” a neuroqueer aesthetic that makes Brontë “intolerant of [the] restrictions” of prose (Common Reader, 162–63). Another multipage digression, a lengthy description of the Labassecourien royal couple and their entourage at the theater, similarly exemplifies the kind of narrative amplitude that operates in queer concert with Villette’s silences. The digression begins with a description of the king: [A] man of fifty, a little bowed, a little grey: there was no face in all that assembly which resembled his. I had never read, never been told anything of his nature or his habits; and at first the strong hieroglyphics graven as with iron style on his brow, round his eyes, beside his mouth, puzzled and baffled instinct. Ere long, however, if I did not know, at least I felt, the meaning of those characters written without hand. There sat a silent sufferer—a nervous, melancholy man. Those eyes had looked on the visits of a certain ghost—had long waited the comings and goings of that strangest spectre, Hypochondria. Perhaps he saw her now on that stage, over against him, amidst all that brilliant throng. Hypochondria has that wont, to rise in the midst of thousands—dark as Doom, pale as Malady, and well-nigh strong as Death. Her comrade and victim thinks to be happy one moment— “Not so,” says she; “I come.” And she freezes the blood in his heart, and beclouds the light in his eye. (289–90; chap. 20)
The narrator’s detailed description and attendant surmises are followed by an even more scrupulous portrayal of the queen, her interactions with her husband and child, the appearance and movement of the various courtiers. While Lucy Snowe is in the theater, attending for the first time a performance of the most celebrated actress of her age, her narrative
140 • autistic disturbances
attention (and consequently, the reader’s) is strangely focused away from the stage, intent on this scene in the royal box, a story seemingly unconnected either to her own or to the onstage performance. The observation of the king’s ostensible hypochondria deviates from the general description of his appearance; the description of his appearance from the principal attraction of the theater; the outing to the performance (with Graham Bretton) from Lucy’s end-of-story romantic attachment to M. Paul. The whole is a digression within a digression within a digression, a narrative echo of the caskets within drawers within locked rooms that also appear so extensively within the novel. And, as in the verbal profusion of the examples above, the narrative comes to be defined in large part by its distraction from some obscure(d) main point. The reader is borne aloft on a surfeit of words. As with real-life writers thought to be autistic, Villette’s narrative here seems to focus inappropriately on “background information” (Jurecic, “Neurodiversity,” 427), or, in the terms of clinical autism, it interjects “frequent irrelevant remarks” (DSM III-R). This is also Asperger’s description of “autistic language . . . not directed to the addressee but . . . spoken as if into empty space” (“‘Autistic Psychopathy,’” 70). Pushing back, though, against critical voices that regard such deviation and digression as communicative or narrative failures, it is possible to read these apostrophic jaunts as a playful seizure of the reader’s attention. Like the queerly focused autistic collector whose accumulations are dismissed as “useless junk” (Asperger, “‘Autistic Psychopathy,’” 82), or “a shoe box filled with random handfuls of pictures” (Brown, Writers on the Spectrum, 21). Perseverating, stimming, riffing in its own narrative playground, Villette rejoices in apostrophic mode, “yak-yak-yakking” (Paradiž, Elijah’s Cup, 167), “incessantly” saying, saying, saying, without concession to conventional receptive modes (Asperger, (“‘Autistic Psychopathy,’” 61). In other words, Villette’s challenges to the audience arise as much in its verbal abundance as in its silences. Readers struggle to focus, to stay on point, to move forward as the narrative is caught up, repeatedly and abundantly, in its own digressions and local coherences, defying conventional teleological mandates and expectations. While seemingly at odds, these two paradoxical narrative patterns— silence and volubility— function symbiotically, operating together in ways that sometimes reinforce the reader’s sense of “nothing.” Just as Villette is regarded, in one respect, as containing a “mystery” or “secrets” (Polhemus, Erotic Faith, 117; Ablow, Victorian Pain, 72), withholding itself from the reader, at the same time its verbal abundance may also
Neuroqueer Narration in Charlotte Brontë’s Villette • 141
fuel the sense that the story is empty of meaning or content. The obtrusion of the minute and particular builds a context apart from typical concerns of plot. In fact, while Villette is nothing but narration, an explosion of verbalized interiority, readers comment over and over on the fact that it seems to say nothing, that the story is obscured not only by Lucy Snowe’s withholding of information but also by her narrative style. So, as one contemporary reviewer remarks, “Of plot, strictly taken as a series of coherent events all leading to a common result, there is none” (“Villette, by Currer Bell,” 155; emphasis added), a critique also taken up by the Nonconformist, which dismisses Villette’s plot as “really nothing, save for strange coincidences and re-encounters” (McNees, Brontë Sisters, 599; emphasis added). According to Ablow, “what makes Villette especially strange . . . is that its secrets are never revealed” (Victorian Pain, 72). Rather than revealing plot, in Peter Brooks’s terms, “as a form of desire that carries us forward, onward, through the text” (Reading for the Plot, 37), Lucy Snowe instead offers “circumnarration in the form of narrative misdirections, metalepses, substitutions, and evasions” (Davis, “‘I Seemed to Hold,’” 202). The narration goes on, but there is no recognizable arc, no familiar destination. Plot itself becomes background, an indistinct value, and readers-for-the-plot must thus work counter to the book’s distinctive narrative aesthetic pattern, dodging and “skipping” to get past Lucy Snowe’s omnipresent attention to detail. As with Kanner’s initial dismissal of autistic speaking—“no fundamental difference between the eight speaking and the three mute children”—Villette’s verbal abundances likewise cue critical comments about randomness and incoherence. Similarly, Julie Brown comments on other disrupted or disruptive narratives as evidencing an autistic “lack of central coherence or executive function. . . . It’s as though the autistic individual is looking through a shoe box filled with random handfuls of pictures and cannot organize them into a photograph album that tells a story” (Writers on the Spectrum, 21). Both saying too little and saying too much result in the same critical judgment. Silence and expressive effusion are reduced to a single pathologized nothing. One blini, one empanada, one dried beef. Three snails. The thing that persistently bothers readers of Villette, then, is also the single greatest stumbling block for audiences of autistic language more generally—its refusal to satisfy a profound social desire for straightforward, transactional, and communicative language. Some audiences are repelled by the irregularities of expression at work, the unwillingness or the inability to accede to language as transaction, an easy, intuitive give-
142 • autistic disturbances
and-take, unconsciously communicative, clear and direct. The expressive poetics of autism reflected in Villette are thus made visible in part by the active and urgent resistance of an audience craving transparent verbal presence. Manipulative. Contemptuous. Hostile. Thus, the narrator’s deliberate mutism and inscrutability bring her into alignment with contemporary representations of the nonspeaking autist or the neuroqueer speaker, a symbolic kinship reinforced by literary criticism that reads Lucy Snowe, like her maybe-my-fiancé-is-dead ending, as an “enigma . . . a complex, shifting nexus of meaning and deferral of meaning that, like the sign itself, never refers to an ultimate and stable identity” (Lawrence, “Cypher,” 455). The critical forces that “don’t like” Lucy Snowe are thus perfectly entangled with the contingencies and flourishes of her narration. Villette brings readers to the threshold of narrative; but rather than permitting entrance to the domain of story, the unconscious absorption of the reader into narrative, the book tenaciously, abrasively, brings the reader back to surface. You have to treat nothing as if it were something. Villette holds the audience in this liminal space, forcing a consciousness of narrative as performance, as tool, as text—a membrane between writer and reader. Defying rhetorical expectations, these provocative gestures of saying and not-saying all reflect autistic expressive aesthetic, compelling audiences into a discomfortable engagement with surface that sometimes evokes reader hostility. Thus is Lucy Snowe determined to be “manipulative,” “passive-aggressive,” “hostile,” even though such resentment may in fact be projected onto the narrator, an “unacknowledged hostile fantas[y]” that makes her “responsible for [her] own ostracism” (Longmore, Why I Burned My Book, 134). Villette is not a cozy novel, affirming intimacy and reader identification; rather, it requires readers to remain watchful and persistent if they mean to keep their bearings at all. “The real reader of this text,” cautions Helen Davis, “must be active and alert” (“‘I Seemed to Hold,’” 205). Indeed, the reader’s experience of Villette as veiled and contingent narrative is also replicated inside the text. Just as Lucy Snowe brings the reader back, inexorably, to experiences of language as surface or membrane—forcing a consciousness of language as both vehicle and barrier— so too does she repeatedly describe and relate scenes and interactions where characters are thrust against linguistic obstacles to free expression and understanding. Mme. Beck calls on M. Paul as an imperfect translator; M. Paul is frustrated by his inability to master English; Marie Broc (“the crétin”) “made mouths at [Lucy] instead of speak-
Neuroqueer Narration in Charlotte Brontë’s Villette • 143
ing”; and Lucy herself is repeatedly frustrated by her failure of fluency in French: “I had no flow,” she reports, “only a hesitating trickle of language.” And, in a reinforcing circle, the experience of language barriers and obstacles within the story is mirrored yet again in the narration, sometimes “irritating . . . readers” with its extensive use of untranslated French, bringing “into relief the relationship between the novel’s discourse and the invented world it posits as its signified” (Cohen, “Why Is There So Much French,” 180, 184). Lucy Snowe knows deeply that language is no easy, intuitive, transactional platform, but a fluid and intricate system of symbolic expression, one that users must employ with conscious and deliberate care and which will lead inevitably to repeated failures of understanding and communication. This is not to say, however, that Villette functions as a polemic on the impossibility of communication or the uselessness of language as an expressive medium. Squawk. Instead, the novel presents language as a kind of problematic treasure, a singular opportunity. Though complex, difficult, and unstable, words are clearly valued by the narrator, who invests heavily in her own language education, as evidenced by her unstinting application as a student of both French and German. Lucy Snowe’s letters to Graham are written twice, once as a discreet and conventional reply to his own missives; and again with a fuller expression of her feelings and hopes, the latter, of course, never to be sent and suggestive, perhaps, of what Harp sees as autism’s expressive “underground” (“On the (Autistic) Use of Parentheses”). Lucy’s much-analyzed confession to Père Silas, too, demonstrates a willingness—indeed, a powerful desire for—self-expression, despite a consciousness of her own imperfect French and a real misgiving that she will not be understood. The narrative and rhetorical strategies of Villette do not despair of the possibility of verbal communication; they only caution, persistently, that language is not the easy transactional platform it might sometimes appear to be. “It is on the surface only,” cautions the narrator, that “the common gaze will fall” (252; chap. 17). Indeed, in its obscurity, Lucy Snowe’s English sometimes reveals an unusual sense of fun, the narrator’s recourse to uncommon and archaic words suggesting a kind of gaming of the text. For instance, her use of the provocatively postmodern “disindividualized” (371; chap. 25), her teasing employment of functionally unnecessary archaisms like “sternutation” (sneezing; 193; chap. 13), “phthisis” (consumption or tuberculosis; 329; chap. 22), and “hebdomadal” (weekly; 323; chap. 22), or, the absolutely fabricated “she-hypocrite” (277; chap. 19), all point to a kind
144 • autistic disturbances
of language play or verbal inventiveness frequently noted as belonging to an autistic aesthetic. Yergeau is right: “neuroqueer subjects” do indeed “fuck with rhetoric” (Authoring Autism, 60). Within this context, then, it is possible to imagine the verbal mannerisms and affective tenor of Villette as a brand of neuroqueer narrative creativity, reflecting poetic values in which “an autist’s elliptical use of language means not just to arouse his own inner aesthetic reaction but also to provoke a sort of tease” (Zelan, Between Their World and Ours, 20). From a clinical perspective, Lucy’s narration might be thought “queer,” evoking the “utterances” of autistic children, which Kanner describes as “peculiar and out of place” (“Irrelevant and Metaphorical Language,” 242). From another standpoint, though, such language might be understood as manifesting “Autie-type,” a term introduced by Ralph Savarese to designate autistic language that is “precise and sophisticated, even strange,” but which is yet striking, high impact (“Lobes,” 76). Lucy Snowe’s coy archaisms suggest an underlying pleasure in idiosyncratic language, an aesthetic that recognizes verbal sign as being far from straightforward, but which yet values the unease of that experience and aesthetic, recalling Christina Chew’s supposition “that an autistic person [might experience] language and the world as a continuous difficult poem steeped in metaphors, verbal echoes, word play” (“Fractioned Idiom,” 138). As Paula Durbin-Westby observes, “All people, including all autistic people, communicate, although not all communication is easily understood by others” (“Public Law 109–416”). It is on the surface only the common gaze will fall. Regarded from this perspective, the Villette narrative is not all hell- bent on trauma, conservatively withdrawn and psychotically concealing itself from an invasive audience; rather, as with the letters to Graham, the text is multiple, risky, and explicitly conscious of language as an apparatus for encoding and decoding. Critical appreciations of Villette, in valuing exactly the narrative idiosyncrasies that are unpalatable for many audiences, ultimately invite a reconsideration of normative transactional language as it operates within, on the surface, and even beyond the boundaries of the novel. Villette compels questions about the purpose and function of language: What are words for and what do they do? These questions may initially be brought forward by “Lucy Snowe’s silences, repetitions, and obfuscations” (Braun, “Great Break,” 190), but concerns about the disjuncture of language ultimately give way to a critical acknowledgment that such autistic disturbances nurture important affective, aesthetic, and
Neuroqueer Narration in Charlotte Brontë’s Villette • 145
cognitive experiences. For Karen Lawrence, Villette’s power is anchored by the fact that it “deliberately, self-consciously shows us the attraction of quiescence” (“Cypher,” 459). Villette renders visible the possibilities of “quietude,” as, for instance, when Lucy and Paulina are left alone together and the latter “saw and delicately respected” Lucy’s “inclination for silence” (373; chap. 25). In this moment, silence becomes a kind of communicative envelope, not only allowing the narrator “to muse and listen undisturbed” but also tracing Lucy’s rising sense of intimacy with and respect for her companion: “She could feel,” the narrator observes, “without pouring out her feelings in a flux of words” (374; chap. 25). Yergeau defends the rhetorical value of such neuroqueer silences by explaining that these, too, are “language”: My silence isn’t your silence. My silence is rich and meaningful. My silence is reflection, meditation, and processing. My silence is trust and comfort. My silence is sensory carnival. My silence is brimming with the things and people around me. (“Socializing through Silence,” 304)
When would-be interlocutors refuse these verbal lacunae, trample over these interstices, Yergeau argues, her silences are “dilute[d]” and her “natural self” is denied (303). Such “vocal repression,” as Ivan Kreilkamp observes, may actually be “so eloquent as to define a poetics of withheld speech” (Voice and the Victorian Storyteller, 152). For other critics, the elusive quality of the narrative is an inroad, a disturbance that marks a privileged site of meaning. Its “inaccessibility” becomes an orchestrated “relationship” between narrator and reader that “truly becomes the primary interest of the novel” (Moglen, Charlotte Brontë, 196; O’Dea, “Narrator and Reader,” 42). In fact, many regard the tensions between reader and narrator as the novel’s most enduring strength; according to Gregory O’Dea, it is by eliciting such a problematic reaction from her reader [that] Brontë underscores one of her greatest themes: the depth and singularity of the human psyche. For Brontë, the discord of opposites ultimately yields the harmony of paradox (“Narrator and Reader,” 55).
Just as silence becomes eloquent, so, too, discomfort becomes a provocation, an incitement to ever-closer reading, an act of engagement and
146 • autistic disturbances
discovery inspired by and grounded in the novel’s queer rhetorical aesthetic. Thus, the text may serve as a site of discovery and a manifesto on the importance of paying attention to extranormative language, the reticences, meticulous descriptions, urgent interiority, and eruptive, apostrophic discourses of the narrative that not only key Villette to an autistic register but also call into question commonplace resistance to the everyday forms of autistic expression.
Ch apt er Six
The Absence of the Object: Autistic Voice and Literary Architecture in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein •••
Like Charlotte Brontë’s Villette, the text of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818) is also characterized by resounding silences and unusual flows of language; in Frankenstein, however, this pattern is woven not only into the expressive template of the narrator, but is reproduced in the voices of multiple characters as well as in the larger frame of the novel. This poetic quality, this powerful relationship between quietude and persevering, persevering, persevering language might fruitfully be represented by an iconic bit of architecture situated at the center of the Frankenstein narrative. Behold! (Squawk!) This “low hovel,” this “kennel” with a dirt floor, this “wretched” wooden shack, flanked by a pigsty. Violently rejected by ordinary humans, it is here that the Creature escapes following the largely unhappy adventures of his eccentric infancy. So, despite the fact that it is a dark, cramped, “miserable” space, this tiny shed is also, simultaneously, “an agreeable asylum,” a “refuge,” a “shelter [ . . . ] from the barbarity of man,” a protective enclosure in which Frankenstein’s nameless Creature conceals himself, “cover[ing] every crevice by which I might be perceived with stones and wood” (Shelley, Frankenstein, 71; vol. 2, chap. 3). For those interested in literary autism, there is certainly a temptation here, at this site, to speculate about the Creature’s muteness and aloneness, to see in this being, in this secluded space, an incarnation 147
148 • autistic disturbances
of Romantic autism, a prefiguring of the modern clinical category. It is autism autopsy again, the dominant cultural yearning to locate autism in a particular body, even a fictional body, to pin it down, to be able to know it, to rest easy in false stability. Diagnostic urgency: the enclosure as a site of silence and isolation; the Creature as autist, estranged from the world. Echoes of familiar language: fortress, siege, cut off. Rather than indulging this diagnostic impulse, however, leaning toward the cliché of the autist-locked-away, this chapter invites readers instead to carefully consider the architecture of the Creature’s sanctuary, and to note that the privative space is anchored by a common wall, connecting the Creature by a “small and almost imperceptible chink” to the social and linguistic life of ordinary humanity (72; vol. 2, chap. 3). In fact, the hovel is a liminal space by which the resident experiences both separation and inclusion, a site that allows for quietude while fostering language and voice; the hovel is a metaphor for rhetoric, a platform that restricts even while it communicates. In this respect, the Creature’s shelter may simultaneously be carceral space, womb, and portal. Its walls, like the bracketed layers of the Frankenstein narrative, speak to structures of containment and partitioning even while they channel expressive voice. Observable in the narrative idiosyncrasies of Brontë’s Villette, in the unusual narrative palette of The Philosophy of Andy Warhol, even in the DSM’s balance of narrative “absence” and apostrophic discharge, the profound tension between silence and verbal effusion is both a defining feature of autistic language and a distinguishing characteristic of Frankenstein’s poetics. Observed in the clinical literature as “phenomenology as diverse as muteness in one child and verbal precocity in another” (Rutter, “Commentary,” 51), literary scholars note a similar pattern when they speak of the autistic quality of “language [that] is both florid and precise, but passes dramatically beyond simple communication” (McDonagh, “Autism and Modernism,” 109). In Frankenstein, the interrelationship between “muteness” and “verbal precocity” is evident at a number of levels, embodied most dramatically in the Creature himself, whose articulation of his earliest self describes a being utterly without language. “‘I knew nothing,’” he reports, “‘of the science of words or letters’” (73; vol. 2, chap. 3). Though desiring “to imitate the pleasant songs of the birds,” and though he “wished to express my sensations in my own mode [ . . . ] the uncouth and inarticulate sounds which broke from me frightened me into silence again” (69; vol. 2, chap. 3). In keeping with Bev Harp’s observations, this might be a marker of autistic language development, a moment when verbalization exists largely “under-
The Absence of the Object • 149
ground” (“On the (Autistic) Use of Parentheses”). Within the Creature’s private dwelling, through the “chink” in the wall, he is moved by the visible narrative of the cottagers, their story unfolding before his eyes even though he cannot process their spoken words; he “ardently desired to understand them, and bent every faculty toward that purpose, but found it utterly impossible” (79; vol. 2, chap. 5). That the reader knows of and understands this frustrated voicelessness is only possible, however, due to the mediation of that same Creature’s richly textured speech, the success of his language acquisition so rapid and astonishing that it has become an enduring subject of critical commentary and investigation. “For the Monster is eloquent,” as Peter Brooks observes. “From his first words, he shows himself to be a supreme rhetorician of his own situation, one who controls the antitheses and oxymorons that express the pathos of his existence” (“‘Godlike Science,’” 592). Lee Sterrenburg, too, writes of the Creature’s “pointed eloquence,” comparing Victor Frankenstein’s verbal abilities unfavorably with those of his creation: “The Monster speaks like a philosophe, while Victor rages in Romantic agony” (“Mary Shelley’s Monster,” 161). Others also comment on the fluency of the Creature’s “measured eloquence” in “contrast to Frankenstein’s melodramatic outbursts” (Clemit, Godwinian Novel, 34). This eruption of expressive language, however, where there had hitherto been only “uncouth and inarticulate sounds” does not relieve the tension between silence and articulate expression. Rather, the Creature’s sudden and voluble use of language adds to and complicates this seeming opposition. It is the Creature’s eloquence, after all, that acquaints the reader with his exclusion from the shared discourse of humanity, just as the hut, which cuts him off from actual intercourse with the world, is also the device that enables his only authentic experience of human social community. The fortress wall serves as a connective bond just as the word articulates silence. Read through this lens, Frankenstein’s hovel becomes a discursive scaffold. Entering the shed in a condition of silence, his earlier communicative efforts misunderstood and violently rejected, the Creature accesses the enriched language exchange of the adjacent domestic arena; contained within the shed, he overhears fluent reading and conversation, and is the accidental beneficiary of language instruction. Silence enables, suggests, and indeed invites language. My silence is sensory carnival. My silence is brimming with the things and people around me. And this recursive gesture, the ongoing interplay of silence and volubility, serves as a kind of autism watermark, evident in the narrative and semiotic framing of Frankenstein and throughout Shelley’s greater opus, even echoing within the
150 • autistic disturbances
essential tenor of Romantic language. This is the resounding “muteness” of autism against the counterpoint of its “metaphorical” and “ejaculated” utterances (Kanner, “Autistic Disturbances,” 241). Silence and ejaculation; silence and apostrophe. It exists in Frankenstein as an aesthetic paradigm, an expression of unease with, an active resistance to straightforward, transparent, seemingly intuitive communicative language; it is a paradigm that fundamentally questions the seeming transparency of language, the unconscious neurotypical assumption of secure, authentic intercommunication. You have to treat nothing as if it were something. Likewise, Victor Frankenstein’s silences and verbal ejaculations reflect those of his creation. Observe the persistent and seemingly perverse silence of Frankenstein as he refuses to communicate with anyone about his creation-project-gone-awry, despite the extreme and violent consequences to his close friends and family. When Frankenstein goes to court to discover the verdict regarding Justine, he “dared not ask the fatal question” (55; vol. 1, chap. 7). On the eve of her execution, Justine begs to know if Victor believes that she is guilty of having killed his brother, but despite Frankenstein’s faith in her innocence and her desperate need for reassurance, he “could not answer” (57; vol. 1, chap. 7), nor does he alert the judges to the likelihood that the Creature is the murderer. When his father encourages him to set an early date for his marriage to Elizabeth, Frankenstein, knowing it will be impossible to accede given his promise to the Creature, listens “in silence, and remained for some time incapable of offering any reply” (104; vol. 3, chap. 1). Squawk. Neither to his intimate friend Henry Clerval, nor to the authorities that later mistakenly arrest Frankenstein for Clerval’s murder, does Victor communicate what he knows about the instrument of all this destruction. Rather, the creator leaves hearers uncertain about his expressive intention, speaking in what might be considered “stereotyped phrases” and “metaphorical language” (Kanner, “Autistic Disturbances,” 241; “Irrelevant and Metaphorical Language”). “Have my murderous machinations deprived you also, my dearest Henry, of life? Two I have already destroyed; other victims await their destiny” (122; vol. 3, chap. 4). In fact, Victor breaks his silence about the Creature only to Robert Walton, to whom the reader is indebted for the entirety of the Frankenstein text; when the revelation does come, then, it is divulged to an outsider who can do nothing to intervene, communication without practical purpose. Moreover, when Victor does finally speak, his words pour out as a single unbroken episode of fully realized apostrophic narration: “his words [ . . . ] flow with rapidity and unparalleled eloquence” (1: letter
The Absence of the Object • 151
4; 16); his speaking is punctuated with ejaculations, “melodramatic outbursts” (Clemit, Godwinian Novel, 34). The primary, enfolding narrative voice, that of Robert Walton, is thus completely subsumed, drowned in the extraordinary flow of Frankenstein’s “yak-yak-yakking” (Paradiž, Elijah’s Cup, 167), his articulation effusive, unidirectional, uninterruptible, insistent. Crayfish, sharks, fish, and rocks. Despite its eruptive, ejaculatory expression, however, Victor’s novel-length utterance is not a dominating, disciplining rhetoric, like the DSM, perhaps, insistent on its own cultural and semiotic authority—what Mikhail Bakhtin calls the “unitary language” of mass officiality—but a form of individual resistance to conventional dialogism. Frankenstein’s monologic bent is an insistent expression of selfness, a rejection of both institutional and interpersonal discourse. His stream of language, undisrupted by rejoinder, brocaded like the narrative of Villette with extraordinary detail, may be understood as characteristically autistic, an “obsessive” rhetoric distinguished by “considerable pressure of talk” (Kanner, “Autistic Disturbances,” 235); Frankenstein’s rhetorical relentlessness echoes against the “elaborate explanations” of Ernst, who “talked incessantly” (Asperger, “‘Autistic Psychopathy,’” 60–61). Frankenstein and his Creature participate, then, not in a dialogic, but rather in mutually reflective communicative processes, their respective silences and urgencies of language suggesting a linguistic aesthetic that is, in turn, reflective of autism. Dahlia, dahlia, dahlia. These excesses of verbal restraint and fecundity are, of course, also essential to Romantic convention, rhetorical evidence of the highly charged sensibility indispensable to the Romantic subject. Though more moderate in their range of expression, many of the characters in the novel— Frankenstein’s father, Robert Walton, Elizabeth, Clerval— at least faintly echo the pattern of quietude and fluency evident in the rhetorical extremes of Frankenstein and his Creature, delicate reticences counterpoised against frank and confident speaking. When he encounters Frankenstein, for instance, most unexpectedly, in the far and icy reaches of the North, Walton notes, “Certainly; it would indeed be very impertinent and inhuman in me to trouble you with any inquisitiveness of mine” (15; vol. 1, letter 3). That is, though he has encountered a solitary ill-equipped man in a region where no person can survive alone, Walton knows that he ought not to say anything about it; any comment on the subject would be vulgar. Likewise, Clerval, after single-handedly nursing his friend through a months-long illness, leads up to a request that Frankenstein write to his family, with a diffident and indefinite “I may speak to you on one subject, may I not?” (38; vol. 1, chap. 4). Even
152 • autistic disturbances
Mr. Kirwin, the magistrate who must decide Frankenstein’s culpability respecting Clerval’s murder, declines to question Frankenstein directly regarding the crime, genteelly inferring his prisoner’s guilt or innocence based on Victor’s affect and appearance. This ongoing tension between silence and “redundant melodramatic excess” permeates the Frankensteinian metanarrative (Sherwin, Frankenstein, 902), an ongoing tension “between the impulse to communicate and the urge to retreat into isolation and death” that is evident in Shelley’s larger opus as well, an essential underlying feature of her own Romantic voice (Brewer, “Mary Shelley,” 163). This pervasive dialogue between silence and prolific articulation exposes the Romantic sense of aloneness, an urgent desire for a communion and understanding that are effectually impossible. Implicit in the aesthetic of Romantic voice, with its paradoxical valuing of reticence and frankness, is the inherent solitude of the Romantic self, for whom dialogic exchange is singularly uncharacteristic. Embodied in the person of Safie, “the charming Arabian” affianced to Felix the cottager (81; vol. 2, chap. 5), the Romantic subject may be understood as a “stranger who uttered articulate sounds, and appeared to have a language of her own,” but who “[is] neither understood by [others], or herself understood” (78; vol. 1, chap. 5). Poor Elaine. No tadpoles in the house. This idiolectic subject surfaces repeatedly in autism studies as well, Mel Baggs’s frequently cited video “In My Language,” for instance, translating into neurotypical terms the multisensory nature of sie own communicative experience; tactile, aural, kinesthetic, object-and texture-related, Baggs’s language, seen from outside its own logic and aesthetic, is incomprehensible. The right one is on, the left one is off. Like Safie’s “articulate sounds,” the communicative whole is expressed in patterns that abound with latent significance, but which remain indiscernible for most without translation. Such a model challenges the ordinary exchange between expressive and receptive language; the gap that troubles understanding forestalls the interlocutor in speculative mode, imagining a potential meaning, without dialogic circulation of language. Such an aesthetic need not be pathologized as deficit, but might illuminate the earliest clinical theories of autism, which focus on ideas of selfness or aloneness. Autism and Romanticism, then, may both be understood to challenge the social understanding of language as necessarily dialogic. For both Romantic voice and autistic voice participate in expressive gestures that question assumptions of language as a fully reciprocal technology. Romantic voice lingers at the rift between expressive and receptive
The Absence of the Object • 153
language, foregrounding the relationship not of connection, but of longing. In the Romantic mode, as in the autistic mode, “silence and verbal precocity” may be the dominant styles, but transparent dialogic communication is frequently averted, existing as a site of potential or of speculation. “I have one want,” Robert Walton writes, “which I have never yet been able to satisfy; and the absence of the object of which I now feel as a most severe evil. I have no friend” (10; vol. 1, letter 2). This desire for connection is expressed, specifically, as “the absence of the object,” a feeling identified, concretized, by vacancy. The absence materializes as language, voice giving shape to what is not there, silence, absence. You have to treat nothing as if it were something. True to this manner of speaking—both Romantically and autistically—Frankenstein compels the reader’s encounter with fundamental affective and linguistic lacunae, gaps that queer the seeming transparency of communicative language and of intuitive social intercourse. Both autistic aesthetic and Romantic aesthetic complicate conventional social and discursive expectations, troubling clear and forthright communication through the introduction of devices—narrative, rhetorical, and semiotic—that arrest the audience or interlocutor within the potential communicative exchange. This is visible in Frankenstein by an enforced intimacy with linguistic disruption, the text confronting the reader with “the absence of the object,” and generating an uncomfortable consciousness, a sense of discontinuity, around the conventionally implicit correlation between speaker and audience, absence and presence, symbol and subject, word and meaning. Like the walls of the Creature’s hovel, this focus on rhetorical disruption and discontinuity serves as boundary, a membrane articulating both barrier and connection. This resistance, this site of signifying absence, is also apparent in the remarkable narrative architecture of Frankenstein, what George Levine identifies as the “Chinese-box-like structure” of the novel, the inner narratives enveloped by surrounding narrative frames (“Ambiguous Heritage,” 18). Peter Brooks explains this framing succinctly: “the interview which leads to the Monster’s telling his tale to Frankenstein, [is] the story-within-a-story (itself a story-within-a-story-within-a-story, when we consider the role of Robert Walton as initial and ultimate narrator)” (“‘Godlike Science,’” 591). Reflecting the individual rhetorical patterns of the characters occupying the tale, the larger narrative is itself a set of expressive monologues that challenge dialogic exchange, the “embedded fabula” becoming an essential “part of the narrative’s poetics” (Bal, Narratology, 59). Though they speak to one another, each story also
154 • autistic disturbances
speaks itself outward, broadcasting to the other parts of the tale without apparent reciprocal interface. I turned to share the transport—Oh! with whom / But Thee, long buried in the silent Tomb. The narrative framing of Frankenstein rhetoricizes an act of social partitioning, each part of the story self-contained and therefore queering the expectation of implicit dialogic exchange between its contingent parts. Like autistic idiolect, with its “sudden disruptions of topic and meaning,” or “an autistic person’s abrupt introduction of unrelated concepts,” this kind of narrative delineation and fragmentation forwards autistic values and aesthetic (Chew, “Fractioned Idiom,” 136); the abrupt closures and absence of rhetorical bridging between narrative parts are a signature feature of autistic stylistics (Frith, Autism: Explaining, 118–20; Glastonbury, “Incommunicado,” 119; Happé, “Autobiographical Writings,” 210, 214, 215, 220; Jurecic, “Neurodiversity,” 427, 430; Murray, Representing Autism, 42; Straus, “Autism as Culture”). The compartmentalized seriality of Frankenstein’s embedded narratives thus demonstrates on an enlarged scale similar discretionary rhetorics evident in the DSM and in the writing of Andy Warhol and of Georges Perec. One blini, one empanada, one dried beef. Three snails. Each item in discrete relation to another, even though the point of relation may be defined by a gap or partition. Frankenstein’s narrative partitioning exemplifies the implicit poetic potential of language that is elsewhere regarded as pathological, foregrounding sites of communicative gap and disruption. But such disruption need not be understood as a point of failure or deficit; instead, the “logical gap between oral narration and its transcription within the framing narrative” might be understood as open[ing an] interpretive space for the reader” (Duyfhuizen, “Framed Narrative,” 187). The reader’s experience of the story as a seamless “whole” is prevented by the apparent ruptures in the text; but the audience, instead of passively receiving and understanding the story, instead becomes complicit in its construction, actively interpreting and stitching together the dismembered parts of the tale just as Frankenstein pieces together the distinct parts of his own Creation. As Charles Robinson observes, “Victor’s assembling of disparate body parts into his monster is not that different from Walton’s assembling his discrete notes about Victor into a narrative and both these creative acts may be compared to Mary Shelley’s esemplastic fusing of words and images and symbols and punctuation into the text of her novel” (“Texts in Search of an Editor,” 91). So, just as the uncanny wholeness of the Creature threatens the human sense of transparently integrated self in every encounter, Shelley’s book, too,
The Absence of the Object • 155
obtrudes an encounter with narrative discretion/disintegration. The serial monologism of the book compels the reader’s contact with narrative interstices, that site of “absence” in turn forcing a direct encounter with the mechanism of the storytelling. The narrative breaks that demarcate the text, like the walls of the Creature’s hovel, both divide and connect, these spaces “between” language ultimately pointing metaphorically to the core concerns of the book: the act of creation, the condition of aspiration, the nature of human connection, and the impossibility of a fully constituted wholeness, either individually or in relation to another. The silent spaces between the actual tellings of the Frankenstein story, like other sites of autistic silence, may be understood as queerly and bountifully expressive. Moreover, these silences, with their attendant potentiality, are also reproduced in Frankenstein at the semiotic level, present in the proliferation of disruptive textual markers like em-dashes, semicolons, commas, parentheses, and exclamation marks. Though the prevalence of such punctuation is not uncharacteristic of Anglophone fiction in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the function of such marks in Frankenstein is nevertheless worthy of remark: while dispersed throughout the text, these disruptive signs congregate at distinct points in the metanarrative. Just as the formal narrative interruptions between Walton’s letters—and the breaks within his letters as he resumes writing on a new day—create a more densely partitioned narrative at the beginning and end of Shelley’s book, so, too, does the periodic intensity of interruptive punctuation generate an ebb and flow of language with a “peculiar” staccato rhythm, the strong interplay between urgent utterance and resounding silences, both florid and abrupt, echoing autistic language and evoking the so-called telegraphic speech of autistic people (Chew, “Autism and the Task of the Translator,” 309; Glastonbury, “Incommunicado,” 119). Long dashes, for instance, appear with some regularity throughout the book; the very first, “St. Petersburgh, Dec. 11th, 17—,” is in the premier line of the novel, placed to obscure the decade and year of Walton’s opening letter (7; vol. 1; letter 1), a deliberate erasure of information that might otherwise ground the reader’s experience of the story. Throughout the text, these em-dashes are used, as they are in other writing, to indicate a gap in language or in information—Squawk!—or to indicate an aside, sometimes to embellish or explain existing text. Chrysanthemum. In writing of Frankenstein, for instance, Robert Walton remarks, “This morning, as I sat watching the wan countenance of my friend—his
156 • autistic disturbances
eyes half closed, and his limbs hanging listlessly—I was roused by half a dozen of the sailors who desired admission into the cabin” (149; vol. 3, chap. 7), the introduction of descriptive detail—“his eyes half closed, and his limbs hanging listlessly”—being set apart from and interrupting the narrative content of the sentence. In some instances, as in this familiar phrase, spoken by the Creature, “I was benevolent and good—misery made me a fiend” (66; vol. 2, chap. 2), the dash functions as a grammatical tool to bind together two ideas in logical and sequential order, presenting itself concurrently as rupture and as connective device. The fact that some modern editions of the 1818 text reproduce this punctuation as a semicolon rather than an em-dash does open some interpretive challenges, confronting scholars with questions regarding textual authority and fluidity, but whether the mark in this instance is read as semicolon or as dash, it brings to the reader a similar experience of simultaneous binding and interruption. Within the text of Frankenstein, such interruptive/connective punctuation is ubiquitous, fully characteristic of the book’s rhetorical identity, just as the walls of the Creature’s hovel serve both to divide and to join. Indeed, some patches of narrative are so densely packed with long dashes, semicolons, exclamations, parentheses, and serial commas that the punctuation seems almost to assume expressive dominance, the curtailing or assertive management of verbal sign providing a powerful echo of the narrative partitioning and character vocal traits observed above. In the following passage, for instance, marking Frankenstein’s first reencounter with the Creature, the critical nature and affective stature of the confrontation are embodied at least as much in the tone of the punctuation as in the verbal content. As I said this, I suddenly beheld the figure of a man, at some distance, advancing towards me with superhuman speed. He bounded over the crevices in the ice, among which I had walked with caution; his stature also, as he approached, seemed to exceed that of man. I was troubled: a mist came over my eyes, and I felt a faintness seize me; but I was quickly restored by the cold gale of the mountains. I perceived, as the shape came nearer (sight tremendous and abhorred!) that it was the wretch whom I had created. I trembled with rage and horror, resolving to wait his approach, and then close with him in mortal combat. He approached; his countenance bespoke bitter anguish, combined with disdain and malignity, while its unearthly ugliness rendered it almost too horrible for human eyes. But I scarcely observed this;
The Absence of the Object • 157
anger and hatred had at first deprived me of utterance, and I recovered only to overwhelm him with words expressive of furious detestation and contempt. (65; vol. 2, chap. 2)
The extensive punctuation riddling this passage functions as suture, binding together Creature and creator, even as it evidences aversion or resistance. The sensational affective value of the language—“superhuman,” “bounded,” “crevices,” “caution,” “seize,” “tremendous and abhorred,” “trembled with rage and horror,” “bitter anguish,” “disdain and malignity,” “unearthly ugliness,” “too horrible for human eyes,” “anger and hatred,” “overwhelm,” “furious detestation and contempt”— operate in dialogue with punctuation that restrains, mediates, and delimits the extraordinary charge of the words. Frankenstein’s language here is what Kanner might identify as “ejaculatory.” Squawk. Beginning in silence—“at first deprived [ . . . ] of utterance”—Frankenstein, when he does express himself, is quickly able to “overwhelm [the Creature] with words,” a pattern that is familiar, even down to the parenthetical level. Between Frankenstein’s verbal outpouring and the inhibition of the signs that control the words—(sight tremendous and abhorred!)—the reader is confronted, again, with a distinctively autistic rhetorical pattern, the seeming paradox of simultaneous “muteness” and “verbal precocity.” The oscillations between silent reserve and loquacity, the portioning of the greater narrative into monologic components, even the densely concentrated patches of heavily punctuated text set in the midst of more fluent narrative parts, all are expressive of a distinguishing voice, evoking an autistic speaker. It is useful to recall the work of autism theorist Bev Harp, discussed in chapter 2, which observes that the parenthetical partitioning of expressive language maps out tangents and orders detail in a manner peculiarly expressive of autistic aesthetic: I propose (if one is allowed to do so) that parentheses (as well as the semi-colon) are a natural form of presentation for autistic (as opposed to NT [neurotypical]) thought. Note that each of the parentheticals in the last sentence serves a discrete purpose, and note also that this entire sentence (yes, this one) could well be housed in (), since it is not the thought I originally intended to appear next, but rather a tangent or an aside. But now we are in sub tangent territory, so back to the main aside, sentence one of the paragraph and the varied purposes of the parentheses found therein, which are, in this order (aside), (semi-extraneous adjunct) and (clarification). And
158 • autistic disturbances
these, of course, are only a few of the many purposes served by parentheses. (“On the (Autistic) Use of Parentheses”)
Responding to Harp’s blog, a reader comments on the essential role punctuation plays in their own expressive language, noting that one college English instructor had criticized the commenter’s tangent-laden writing, observable especially in features of punctuation: “I was told that I ‘talk in punctuation, particularly parentheses and dashes.’” What reads to the instructor as disjointed, however, may be understood instead as discretionary rhetorical aesthetic, the syntactical complexity of densely punctuated text evincing an autistic lilt, one that ultimately contributes to the larger autistic texture of Frankensteinian rhetoric. While parentheses (and other potentially intrusive punctuation) may serve, as Harp suggests, as logical systems of containment and organization, these signs serve a powerful affective function as well; em-dashes, for instance, not only representing factual omissions but affective lacunae as well, ruptures pointing to the unknowable or unspeakable. Dahlia, dahlia, dahlia. In the following passage, for example, Victor is literally pained by the praise of M. Krempe, whose frankly vulgar language in lauding Frankenstein is transformed by an interruptive dash, presenting the reader with a polite hole in the center of an eviscerated “Damn.” M. Krempe was not equally docile; and in my condition at that time, of almost insupportable sensitiveness, his harsh blunt encomiums gave me even more pain than the benevolent approbation of M. Waldman. “D—n the fellow!” cried he; “why, M. Clerval, I assure you he has outstript us all.” (42; vol. 1, chap. 5)
And, while the purpose here is to obscure M. Krempe’s profane language, the “pain” and “sensitiveness” to which Frankenstein refer point to an associated function of the em-dash, its being brought into service for the representation of experience exceeding the affective scale of verbal language. So, in the quotations that follow, the interruptive dash intimates a degree of feeling expressible only by a symbol representing muteness, an assertion of nonverbal sign as expressive marker. Elizabeth’s letter begs, Dear Victor, if you are not very ill, write yourself, and make your father and all of us happy; or—I cannot bear to think of the other side of the question; my tears already flow. (41; vol. 1, chap. 5)
The Absence of the Object • 159
Upon encountering his son imprisoned, Frankenstein’s father declares, “What a place is this that you inhabit, my son!” said he, looking mournfully at the barred windows and wretched appearance of the room. “You travelled to seek happiness, but a fatality seems to pursue you. And poor Clerval—” (125; vol. 3, chap. 4)
In each instance, the dash frames out absence, the mark representing silence, but evoking an emotional experience, the nonverbal lacuna ironically marking out a space not vacant, but rather supercharged with meaning, the overfull voice spilling out as expressive punctuation. Crayfish, sharks, fish, and rocks. Like the structural interstices of Frankenstein’s metanarrative, or Walton’s Romantic longing for a friend—couched as the “absence of the object”—the affective em-dash indicates another instance of autistic expression in Shelley’s text. Drawing the reader into a consciousness of content-rich “blank” or “silent” space, these narrative ruptures echo the influence of other meaning-filled sutures in the rhetoric and narrative of the novel, each challenging the implication of “wholeness” attendant upon more fluid and intuitive discursive architecture. The abrupt and ejaculatory quality of the language in Frankenstein thus urges upon the audience an active role in the dynamic discourse between “muteness” and “verbal precocity.” This framework is nowhere more pronounced than in the novel’s frequent vocative ejaculations, the exclamatory apostrophes, which, like the affective em-dash, signal the presence of absence. Defined as “a speech directed at an object or being which cannot respond to or even hear the speech” (McLaughlin, “Figurative Language,” 83), apostrophe, like the interruptive em-dash, figures absence, circumscribing with its ejaculatory “O” a presumed audience or interlocutor, absent, dead, or uncomprehending. A mainstay of Romantic rhetoric, one of the most familiar examples is found in the lyrical “Ode to the West Wind,” written by Shelley’s husband Percy in 1819, the year after Frankenstein’s initial publication. O Wild West Wind, thou breath of Autumn’s being Thou from whose unseen presence the leaves dead Are driven like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing, Yellow, and black, and pale, and hectic red, Pestilence-stricken multitudes! (lines 1–5)
160 • autistic disturbances
Despite its prevalence in Romantic texts, apostrophe is nevertheless a persistently challenging rhetorical element. Theorists have observed that this challenge begins with the affective impact of apostrophes on the audience. Paul de Man, for instance, notes that apostrophes are often “ludicrous and cumbersome” (Aesthetic Ideology, 114); and Jonathan Culler declares that, “above all they are embarrassing: embarrassing to me and to you. Even an apostrophe delivered during a lecture on apostrophe, whose title might have prepared listeners for occasional apostrophes, will provoke titters” (135). Culler attributes this embarrassment in part to the fact that apostrophes “complicate or disrupt the circuit of communication” (135). Like the monologic quality of Frankenstein’s narrative parts, apostrophe, even while implying a listener, pours forth an independent stream of language that anticipates no rejoinder. Echoing the unidirectional verbal current of autism’s “elaborate explanations” and incessant talk (Asperger, “‘Autistic Psychopathy,’” 60–61), or Paradiž’s “yak-yak-yakking” (Elijah’s Cup, 167), apostrophe is also the iconic language of solitude, its insistent, excessive outward flow qualitatively private. In this respect, apostrophe is central to the aesthetic of both Romanticism and autism. Though identified as a conventional rhetorical paradigm, apostrophe is “embarrassing” because it jars expectations of dialogic propriety. Like the ejaculations of Elaine C.—“Crayfish, sharks, fish, and rocks”; “Gargoyles have milk bags”—apostrophe is regarded as a form of private language brought into the public purview. For literary scholars, the privative apostrophe is “a powerful outburst” (Culler, Pursuit of Signs, 138), but, for diagnosticians, the “ejaculation” of private language becomes a defining act of social or mental pathology. This understanding of the fundamental formal connection between autism and apostrophe is especially important for reading Frankenstein. The novel is rich, like other Romantic texts, in apostrophic language, “inflexibly public and oratorical [ . . . ] even [in] its most intimate passages” (Levine, “Ambiguous Heritage,” 3), but, of even greater significance, the entire text of Shelley’s novel is composed in apostrophic rhetoric. In fact, from start to finish, the book is one long apostrophic ejaculation addressed to Robert Walton’s conspicuously absent and unresponsive sister. Indeed, the opening letter of the text identifies the writer as a sometime poet and adopts many conventional apostrophic tropes: the use of elevated language (“Inspirited by this wind of promise”); direct address of the absent figure in the second person singular (“You will rejoice to hear”); and, in an oratorical or vocative manner, by name (“There, Mar-
The Absence of the Object • 161
garet, the sun is forever visible”) and by formal relationship (“for with your leave, my sister, I will put some trust”) (7; vol. 1, letter 1). Acknowledging the near impossibility of a response—“I may receive your letters (though the chance is very doubtful) on some occasions” (11; vol. 1, letter 2)—the writer continually renews his address to the absent subject, including in his delivery the entirety of Frankenstein’s tale as well as the whole of the Creature’s long narrative speech to Frankenstein. Although the strange, sutured structure of the book may distract the reader from the formal realities of Shelley’s greater narrative architecture, the whole of the tale is, in fact, confined within the unidirectional verbal outpourings of Walton to his absent sister. The entire text of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein operates as a single extended apostrophe. And it is in the fundamentally apostrophic nature of the larger text that the recurring rhetorical and theoretical tension between muteness and verbal precocity is played out in its broadest terms. Though the reader is impacted by the disturbing silences and outbursts of Frankenstein’s characters (Victor’s secretiveness set against his “rages,” the Creature’s initial voicelessness versus his later stunning “eloquence”); though it is a challenge to maneuver through the set pieces of Frankenstein’s tightly bound narrative framework, each section effusive, even logorrheic in its monologism, at the same time that it is tightly set in its own narrative compartment; though the semiotic features of the text—exclamations, parentheses, and dashes—act out restriction and silence even while they interrupt and ejaculate; it is nevertheless in the eruption of apostrophe that the relationship between silence and urgent language is most enduringly tested. For it is here, in this reaching, aspirational form of expression that the boundaries of human communication are most fully challenged. The apostrophic voice speaks into silence, sending meaning out into an expressive void; it speaks to nothing and to no one, a sign of the foundational aloneness, the aut-ism of the human condition. As Hans Asperger notes, “autistic language is not directed to the addressee but is often spoken as if into empty space” (“‘Autistic Psychopathy,’” 70), an observation later echoed by an array of autism scholars (e.g., Bettelheim, Empty Fortress, 438; Bosch, Infantile Autism, 9; Whitehorn and Zipf, “Schizophrenic Language,” 848). Understood in these terms, apostrophe may be seen as a banner of both Romantic and autistic aesthetic, a paradigm of apparent social and communicative isolation. The experience of the Creature’s hovel, however, demonstrates that appearances of solitude or noncommunication may be deceptive. Just as walls may serve simultaneously to divide and to connect, forming a
162 • autistic disturbances
“chink” that focuses the flow of language into a receptive current, so, too, may apostrophe function as a rhetorical device enabling communication even while it appears to direct itself “into empty space.” While the “idiosyncratic” language of autism and the apparently privative cast of the apostrophic mode may suggest an idiolectic voice, Alan Richardson’s theorization of Romantic apostrophe suggests an alternative reading—that apostrophe may function as broadcast, speaking outward into apparent solitude, or toward what cognitive psychologist Richard Gerrig classifies as a “nonsensical” subject (Experiencing Narrative Worlds, 111). This, in turn, opens the possibility of communication with what Valentin Vološinov identifies as a “listener” or what Gerrig calls a “side-participant” (108). In other words, apostrophe may be understood as having a “triadic structure,” being “remarks nominally intended for uncomprehending addressees that are clearly meant to be overheard by a second auditor” (Richardson, Neural Sublime, 63). Commenting on his own experience as a parent, Richardson suggests, for instance, “that one commonly addresses infants with remarks made for the benefit of the other parent: “Don’t worry, honey, I’ll get up and change your diaper again because Mommy is just too busy reading the New Yorker” (63). Richardson sees apostrophe as existing on a continuum, with more “extreme” forms (like those addressing inanimate objects) existing in relation to more quotidian instances that are “part of normal conversational practice” (74, 65). Indeed, contemporary lessons from digital social networking magnify the question of apostrophe as a fixed and definite expression of aloneness. When an individual posts a comment to her social network, the remark is typically broadcast to no one in particular. The one who posts or comments or tweets, like the speaker of a poem (or the narrator of a first-person novel), addresses an absent subject, opening the possibility of conversation without any assurance of response. That some rejoinder may ensue is the potentiality opened by the apostrophic gesture. The act of putting forth the formal vocative into the ether (for instance, posting a Facebook status update) demonstrates a condition of expectation, or hope, at least, that the apostrophic cue will resonate with some as-yet- anonymous overhearer, whose response—public or private—transforms ostensibly nonconversational utterance into dialogic communication. A tweet may thus be seen, in some respects, as correlating with the use of apostrophe in Romantic texts, where “such apostrophes reflect a collaborative writing culture in which poems were typically circulated in manuscript or inscribed into familiar letters, often intended [ . . . ] for
The Absence of the Object • 163
multiple recipients” (Richardson, Neural Sublime, 68). The autistic act of speaking into “empty space,” then, while queering the conventions of straightforward, transparent, seemingly intuitive dialogic language, may nevertheless embody a communicative significance unsuspected by more restrictive interpretations that describe autistic language as “literal” and “inflexible,” as “semantically and conversationally valueless,” and as “irrelevant” (Kanner, “Autistic Disturbances,” 219, 243). Challenging language and rhetorical structures do not necessarily indicate an absence of content, but may suggest, instead, the possibility of an indefinite audience; and the apostrophic mode may be regarded as anticipating an obscured, but sympathetic interlocutor. Squawk. The Creature in his hovel is thus emblematic of the discursive culture of the Frankenstein text, the indisputably silent and solitary nature of his experience simultaneously embracing the novel’s most flourishing moment of social discourse. The Creature acquires language because he is segregated from humanity, the possibility of communicative, dialogic language occurring, ironically, only in a circumstance of physical separation and isolation. The walls of the hovel may be understood not as a Bettelheimian “fortress,” but as permeable boundaries that scaffold the Creature’s language acquisition and his entrance into the symbolic and social orders. If he is not accepted, at least he can understand others and express himself. These walls, too, may be seen as emblematic of the greater rhetorical aesthetics of Shelley’s text: Frankenstein’s narrative architecture functions like the hovel enclosure, a compartmentalization that suggests fortification, but that also instigates questions about the “natural” flow of language. The formal partitioning of the Frankenstein story directs the reader’s attention toward the “silent” spaces of the narrative interstices, fostering a relationship with the language of apparent vacancy that is also embedded in the novel at the semiotic level. “Muteness” and “verbal precocity,” then, are not diametrically opposed categories of discursive experience, but are, rather, dependent and interactive, as evidenced by the complex flow of silence and utterance enacted in the apostrophic gesture.
C h a pter S even
Autism and Narrative Invention in Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe •••
If ever there were a book begging to be diagnosed, it is Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe (1719). Full of eccentric tics, rhetorical and semiotic idiosyncrasy, ruptures, repetitions, and ejaculations, Defoe’s novel has been the frequent subject of quasi-clinical commentary, remarks on its “anxious,” “obsessive,” and “neurotic” qualities, its restrictive perspective, its perseverations (Lamb, “Letter to Walter Wilson,” 34; Napier, Defoe’s Major Fiction, 83; Smit-Marais, “Converted Spaces,” 109). There have always been readers ready to point to Crusoe’s defects and weirdnesses— its failure of affect, its relentlessness, its object-centered narrative. It is almost enough to make the DSM rise up off the autopsy table laid out in chapter 3 and start intoning diagnostic observations. For all its ticcy- ness, however, Crusoe, arguably the first English novel, is also one of the most beloved fictions of all time, a favorite of Samuel Johnson, William Wordsworth, John Stuart Mill, and Charles Dickens, among many others. Attending to this nexus of readerly affection and absorption, literary innovation, and narrative and semiotic idiosyncrasy, the present chapter traces in Crusoe an aesthetic kinship with writing explored in previous chapters: the prominence of fragmentation and narrative lacuna in Frankenstein, the deeply digressive quality of Brontë’s Villette, the glassy resistance of Warhol’s monologism, the seeming authoritarianism of the DSM. Exactly resembling, exactly in resemblance exactly and resemblance. In fact, 165
166 • autistic disturbances
Crusoe’s quest to divide and order, its perseverative and recursive rhetoric, its squawking, eruptive embellishments (Poor Robinson Crusoe!), and its apostrophic digressions resonate powerfully with autistic voice and an autistic frame of reference. Discretion, ricochet, ejaculation, apostrophe. Invention. Robinson Crusoe again presents an opportunity to tease out the inextricable entanglement between aesthetic and diagnostic gestures and to further explore the depth and range of autism poetics. In fact, the poetic resonance of the text suggests a larger debt: the possibility that certain aspects of verbal creativity, like the invention of the novel, might be grounded in “autistic disturbance,” an aesthetic foundation elsewhere considered pathological. Any consideration of Robinson Crusoe as an autistic text must, unfortunately, first address itself to the characteristics most likely to elicit associations with autism: the novel’s extraordinary materialist focus and its preoccupation with walls, hedges, boundaries, and fences, concerns that seem to embody the narrator’s profound disconnection and aloneness, and which also evoke familiar autism clichés. The autist “locked away”; the autist “in his own world”; the autist “happiest when left alone.” Such concerns begin, in some foundational way, with the general scheme of the book, which centers on a tale of shipwreck and solitary survival. The Life and Strange Surprizing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe tells the story of a disobedient teen who leaves his comfortable middle-class home against the kind and well-reasoned advice of his loving father. After recounting multiple dramatic adventures, including violent storms, life-threatening encounters with hostile beasts, financial success in a distant land as a slaveholding plantation owner, even a stint as a slave, the text settles into its core narrative, the one with which most audiences are familiar. In this central tale, based on the real-life story of marooned sailor Alexander Selkirk (1676–1721), Robinson Crusoe finds himself on an uninhabited tropical island where, armed only with his patience and technical ingenuity and a few tools providentially supplied from his wrecked ship, he survives the next 25 years without human companionship. In this isolated condition, the narrator laments that he has been cut off from humanity. “I was a Prisoner,” he writes, “lock’d up with the Eternal Bars and Bolts of the Ocean, in an Uninhabited Wilderness” (83). Crusoe is, in many respects, a book about isolation, about being imprisoned in one’s aloneness, a persistent theme in popular representations of autism. This tone of isolation is amplified, in textual terms, by what many regard as a kind of emotional deficit in the narrative. Indeed, Dickens, though a devotee of the novel, nevertheless wondered at its queer affect-
Autism and Narrative Invention in Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe • 167
lessness, “that [it] should be the only instance of an universally popular book that could make no one laugh and could make no one cry” (Forster, Life of Charles Dickens, 431, note 101). This sense of the text’s emotional neutrality is brought about in part because, rather than amplifying the human and the personal, the narrator is prone to focus on things, recurring recursively to property, matériel, and physical conditions, to the seeming exclusion of human, spiritual, or psychological concerns. In one of many such instances, Crusoe reports, I knock’d Pieces into the Wall of the Rock to hang my Guns and all things that would hang up. So that had my Cave been to be seen, it look’d like a general Magazine of all Necessary things, and had every thing so ready at my Hand, that it was a great Pleasure to me to see all my Goods in such Order, and especially to find my Stock of all Necessaries so great. (51)
Such a report is representative of the focus of the larger narrative. Indeed, Crusoe perpetually gestures, in catalogic form, toward his state of being, putting forward lists of goods collected from his wrecked ship, menus of his various meals, even, like Warhol, inventories of his physical appearance: I had on a broad Belt of Goat’s-Skin dry’d, which I drew together with two Thongs of the same, instead of Buckles, and in a kind of a Frog on either side of this. Instead of a Sword and Dagger, hung a little Saw and a Hatchet, one on one Side, one on the other. I had another Belt not so broad, and fasten’d in the same Manner, which hung over my Shoulder; and at the End of it, under my left Arm, hung two Pouches, both made of Goat’s-Skin too; in one of which hung my Powder, in the other my Shot: At my Back I carry’d my Basket, on my Shoulder my Gun, and over my Head a great clumsy, ugly, Goat-Skin Umbrella. (109)
It is perhaps due to Crusoe’s attentions to physical accounting that economists have demonstrated an unusual interest in the novel and are prone to read the book as an “economic allegory” with Crusoe as a “rational economic individual, allocating his available resources to obtain maximum satisfaction in the present or future” (Novak, Transformation Ideology, 22; White, “Robinson Crusoe”). Among the first to put forward such a reading, Karl Marx dismisses Crusoe’s apparent religious life as “so much
168 • autistic disturbances
recreation,” insisting that the narrator’s values are more authentically reflected in “watch, ledger, . . . pen and ink”: His stock-book contains a list of the objects of utility that belong to him, of the operations necessary for their production; and lastly, of the labour time that definite quantities of those objects have, on an average, cost him. (Capital, 48; vol. 1)
Even Virginia Woolf, famously, writes of Crusoe’s “shrewd, middle-class, unimaginative eyes . . . naturally cautious, apprehensive, conventional, and solidly matter-of-fact” (Second Common Reader, 46). By her assessment, at least initially, the relentless materialism of Crusoe’s narrative perspective reduces the world to “nothing but a large earthenware pot” (45). Working from interpretations that see Crusoe’s tale as one of homo economicus, reduced to inputs and outputs and rational productive action, there might be a tendency to understand this contented independent subject as socially vacant, clinically autistic in his narrative bent. The character approaches his environment and the narrator approaches his story with Vulcan-like rational clarity. But a castaway story that focuses on things—boxes of sugar and barrels of flour, axes and gunpowder, baskets and earthenware pots—rather than fond remembrances of a social past, or, as in Yann Martel’s Life of Pi (2001), on the spiritual journey of self-discovery, is a story that some might regard as focusing strangely on “background information” (Jurecic, “Neurodiversity,” 427). For some, Crusoe’s attention to the physical world, on the straightforward material content of survival, might be thought “to miss what we would regard as salient in a situation, and pay close attention to what seems to us irrelevant” (Happé, “Autobiographical Writings,” 227). Or the thing-centric nature of Crusoe’s narrative might suggest a corollary with clinical autism research. In an experiment testing autistic reaction to a pinprick, for instance, eight-year-old Barbara K. responds with “a fearful glance at the pin (not the examiner), and utterance of the word ‘Hurt!’ not addressed to anyone in particular” (Kanner, “Autistic Disturbances,” 229). It is the thing, Kanner observes, and not the person, to which Barbara K. directs her pained response. Similarly, there is Bettelheim’s interpretation of an anonymous autistic child, who “create[s] a language that will match how he experiences things—and things only, not people” (Empty Fortress, 241). Crusoe’s narrative, which “goes on for seven pages” describing the process of bread-making (Watt, Rise of the Novel, 72), which leans in (“With inexpressible hacking and hewing”) to the details of
Autism and Narrative Invention in Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe • 169
making a wooden plank by hand (Defoe, chap. 8), which scrupulously devotes itself to the manufacture of an “earthenware pot,” might then, in its apostrophic narrative excesses, be understood to occupy an autistic expressive template, “wooden, robot-like, and mechanistic” (Schuler, “Aspects of Communication,” 105). Before advancing into an exploration of the nuanced literary creativity expressed in Crusoe’s thing-aesthetic, however, it is worthwhile to plumb the ways in which Defoe’s book further aligns with autism stereotype. Certainly, the narrative’s foregrounding of physical and symbolic boundary, like its preoccupation with thing-ness, might well be a point of interest for those attuned to autistic cognitive and aesthetic preferences. For just as the narrator accords an unusual degree of attention to the physical and material, so too does he devote significant portions of his narrative to the partitioning and organizing of his island space, his building projects running all in the direction of protective barriers— walls, fences, hedges, and bulwarks. As Sean Silver notes, the narrator “lives in a fortress, aggressively isolating himself from his environment, and he offers clues that he thinks of his mind in the same way” (“Cognitive Crusoe,” 169). For some, no doubt, there will be an almost automatic impulse to read Crusoe’s architectural proclivities as a proliferation of isolationist metaphor. Such a narrative focus might recall formulaic fortress metaphors from clinical autism literature and family memoir, the notion of the autist “concealed or imprisoned, inaccessible to the outside world, which is implicitly invited to tear the wall down” (Straus, “Autism as Culture,” 470). Or Crusoe’s narrative devotion to such structures might suggest observations about literary autism embodied in “[c]losed structures, locked doors, small stuffy rooms, mirrors, labyrinths, and narrow streets—all . . . imagistic registers of isolation, egocentrism, self-absorption, the limits of the imagination” (Olsen, “Diagnosing Fantastic Autism,” 36). Crusoe’s desire to cordon off space, to create limits and boundaries are frequently read as emblems of diseased thinking— fearfulness, rigidity, and isolation. Even autism- positive perspectives sometimes refer to autism’s “need to establish personal rituals to impose order on the world” (McDonagh, “Autism and Modernism,” 113). And autistic people are often encouraged to think about or are inclined to apologize for native system cognition impulses in terms of self-soothing. As Therese Jolliffe, autist and clinical autism researcher, writes: “Reality to an autistic person is a confusing, interacting mass of events, people, places, sounds and sights. . . . Set routines, times, particular routes and rituals all help to get order into an unbearably chaotic life. Trying to
170 • autistic disturbances
keep everything the same reduces some of the terrible fear” (quoted in Howlin, Autism, 98). Such views play into the cliché that autistic delineation and discretionary practices—collecting, sorting, organizing—are empty formalities, anxious defenses of empty space, a privileging of vacant or meaningless form (Asperger, “‘Autistic Psychopathy,’” 82). In Marion Glastonbury’s words, autistic work is all about “the contextual architecture of human by-products; honeycombs without interpersonal honey; the empty institutional whelk-shell without the hermit crab” (“‘I’ll Teach You Differences,’” 60). Crusoe is thus especially vulnerable to interpretations aligning with the same tired stereotypes—the autist as vacant and robotic, a shell rather than a person, a builder of shells rather than a creative architect. “We autists,” writes Yergeau, with ironic aplomb, “are trapped in our hollow bodily shells, unaware” (“Aut(hored)ism”). Though imagining such reductive readings of Defoe’s novel might seem counterproductive, teasing out these potentialities is actually essential work, a necessary precursor to challenging dominant clinical and cultural expectations around autistic expression. For Robinson Crusoe is, indeed, an abundant builder of fortresses and protective enclosures; and scrutiny of this handiwork from an autism-positive standpoint must begin with deflecting the more banal interpretive possibilities. Such critical anticipation becomes a kind of architecture in its own right, a mounting of positive pressure, the building of a fixed space resistant to diagnostic encroachment, a sanctuary where Crusoe’s architectural aesthetic won’t instantly be deemed pathological. For this much is true: even isolated from the remainder of humankind, Crusoe narrates a world that is persistently threatening and hostile, profusely populated with pirates, slavers, and cannibals. Standard critical interpretations speak to Crusoe’s obsessive focus on cannibalism (Napier, Defoe’s Major Fiction, 83). Or they propose that Crusoe’s “imperialist, masculinist and racist construction of space” is manifestly diseased, “closed, static, and limiting in the way in which it denies the Other,” demonstrating “obsession” and evidently “neurotic” (Smit-Marais, “Converted Spaces,” 113, 103, 109). Indeed, the castaway’s very first project, upon settling himself on the island, is to pile “all the empty Chests and Casks up in a Circle round the Tent, to fortify it from any sudden Attempt, either from Man or Beast.” Having done this, Crusoe “block’d up the Door of the Tent with some Boards within, and an empty Chest set up on End without, and [ . . . ] laying my two Pistols just at my Head, and my Gun at Length by me, I went to Bed for the first Time” (41–42). After first constructing this temporary shelter, Crusoe goes on to build
Autism and Narrative Invention in Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe • 171
a sturdier retreat, fortified with “two Rows of strong Stakes” interwoven with cable taken from the ship (44). This more permanent structure is without a door, but relies instead on a short ladder, which “when I was in, I lifted over after me, and so I was compleatly fenc’d in, and fortify’d, as I thought, from all the World” (45). Constantly enlarging, organizing, and perfecting this space “into several Apartments, or Caves, one within another” (110), Crusoe ultimately comes to name this place his “Castle,” an ironic reference to his position as “King” in a land where he is the sole inhabitant, but also an explicit recognition of the fortress-like construction of his dwelling (73 and 112). The narrator then goes on to build a second fortification, calling this one his “Bower” or “Country Seat” (75 and 110), which he “surrounded . . . at a Distance with a strong Fence, being a double Hedge, as high as I could reach, well stak’d, . . . fill’d between with Brushwood,” and likewise accessed by “going over it with a Ladder, as before” (75). In his devotion to walls and fortresses, then, Crusoe fits a kind of autism paradigm or popular meme, existing in a narrative space where physical safety and peace of mind can only be secured by the steadfast building of enclosures and fortifications, symbolically excluding the outer world and enabling retreat into isolated autistic space. Thus, Stuart Murray writes of “the continued resonance of . . . autism being a kind of ‘fortress’, or a state of siege” with “multiple metaphors that emanate from this—of battles and breakthroughs, and attack and defence . . . still dominant in the public perception of what autism is” (Representing Autism, 175). And remarks on the narrator’s “aggressively isolating himself” or his “closed, static, and limiting” attitude resound powerfully with writing that describes literary autism as “foreground[ing] a certain hermeticism whereby the ‘objective world’ is barred” (Olsen, “Diagnosing Fantastic Autism,” 36). Indeed, Matthew Belmonte describes how literary expressions of extreme environmental control operate as an autistic magnification of ordinary human anxieties: “we all are driven by the same desperation to control or at least to predict what is going to happen to us, to keep chaos, entropy, and death outside our walls” (“Human, but More So,” 177). In some sense, then, the autism of Robinson Crusoe is wrapped up in this unsurprising paradigm, “closed, static, and limiting” in its sense of boundary and order, “aggressively isolating” itself from the strange and the external. But there is something more as well. Crusoe’s story, despite its preoccupation with fortification, is not grounded exclusively in fear and rigid, desperate isolation. And Charles Dickens, while he finds the affectlessness of the novel peculiar, is especially alive to the enchantment of Cru-
172 • autistic disturbances
soe’s seemingly isolationist architecture, a point brought home in David Copperfield by the protagonist’s obvious relish at living on his own for the first time. What “a wonderfully fine thing to have that lofty castle to myself,” Copperfield remarks of his bachelor’s quarters, “and to feel, when I shut my outer door, like Robinson Crusoe, when he had got into his fortification, and pulled his ladder up after him” (400–401; chap. 24). Crusoe’s propensity for fortification, then, his deliberate, recursive attention to the process of enclosure, may be treated not as disease, but as a delight to be savored, a fully legitimate personal aesthetic. Crusoe lingers tenderly over details of construction, his narrative persistently revisiting these structures, repeating and repeating and repeating the same architectural details. Because the butterfly is snowed, snowed with snow. Crusoe’s reiterations are telling: the driving in of stakes that become a “Living-Hedge” (87), the ladders drawn up to secure the retreat, the dwelling that becomes an enclosure-within-an-enclosure-within-an- enclosure. The protagonist builds these structures repeatedly just the as the narrative retells the repeated rebuilding. Crusoe’s physical architecture thus recurs as descriptive perseveration, verbal ricochet, the narrative constantly reiterating the existence of structure that is also being constantly physically reproduced within the body of the story. In this way, Crusoe’s structural repetitions are hauntingly suggestive of Frankenstein’s embedded narratives, of Villette’s caskets within drawers within locked rooms, all of which point to an unusually intimate experience of boundary and enclosure, an active experiment with order and place, as with Perec’s “Attempt at an Inventory,” a symbolic acting out of the dynamic relationship between internal and external. In fact, in addition to the barriers surrounding his two residences, Crusoe encloses the land he has prepared for growing grain (87), takes “an inconceivable deal of Pains” to build a fenced pen for feral goats he finds on the island (111), and constructs a cage for his parrot, Poll (82). Squawk! His grain, too, is neatly stowed in baskets and earthen pots, contained and orderly (110). As Homer Brown observes, “in the midst of a threatening and unknown space, Robinson creates for himself an ordered interior, crowded with things which can be listed and enumerated to his satisfaction” (“Displaced Self,” 567). And, as Crusoe himself writes, “It was a great Pleasure to me to see all my Goods in such Order.” The protagonist’s arrangement of physical space, his propensity for demarcation, delineation, spatial discretion, all speak to a practical autistic appreciation for boundary and order. Crusoe is an autistic forefather, maker and inhabitor of Dawn Prince-Hughes’s “culture of one.”
Autism and Narrative Invention in Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe • 173
But just as importantly, Crusoe’s habits of industry and order embrace the “Pleasure” of frame and matrix, a thoughtful respect for the elasticity of formal and formulaic structures—their capacity for expansion and reproducibility. In this respect, Crusoe’s “Magazine” participates in what Umberto Eco might see as a list-like abundance, an “immensity” or “infinitude” that gestures toward a limitless excess beyond the frame (Infinity of Lists, 81). The narrator’s delight in accumulation, and in the discrete ordering of his practical materialities, embraces an aesthetic that anticipates Donna Williams’s rapturous description of a department store stockroom as “paradise” (Nobody Nowhere, 82), or even of the discretely ordered text of the DSM. Indeed, the novel’s celebration of boundary and order and its celebration of materiality, of thing-ness, ultimately go hand in hand. The fences and structures that contain and circumscribe Crusoe’s living spaces are mirrored by the baskets and shelves, the pots and pouches, that contain and protect his supplies. Similarly, the things—breeches and goatskin thongs and umbrellas—that occupy his narrative attention also enclose and protect his person. Crusoe’s fortress walls and ladder are beloved objects and his manufactured portable goods double as microarchitectural boundary systems, flexible “walls” that shield his body. Crusoe’s pleasure in containment even extends to the abstract, his measuring and partitioning of time a symbolic reflection of the material expressions of wall-building and pot-making. Echoing Marx, Smit-Marais notes that Crusoe “structures time in terms of his daily tasks and activities” so that “[s]pace and time are furthermore contained through his neurotic preoccupation with counting and measuring” (“Converted Spaces,” 109). But what Marx, or Smit-Marais, might disparage as the narrator’s “book- keeping conscience” ultimately unfolds into a surprising expression of autistic possibility (Watt, Rise of the Novel, 63). Following Joseph Straus’s invitation to “recast” deficit models as “cognitive difference” (Extraordinary Measures, 162), it is possible to read Crusoe’s persevering habits, both as protagonist and as narrator, his extraordinary diligence and focus, as a form of autistic local coherence, “richly attentive to minute details” and with “an unusual and distinctive ability to attend to details on their own terms” (Straus, “Autism as Culture,” 467; Watt, Extraordinary Measures, 162; see also Murray, Representing Autism, 12; and Mitchell and Snyder, Narrative Prosthesis, 1–2). It is exactly this quality, after initially speaking to the novel’s inescapable narrowness of perspective, which Virginia Woolf ultimately regards appreciatively, marveling that the narrator
174 • autistic disturbances
comes in the end to make common actions dignified and common objects beautiful. To dig, to bake, to plant, to build—how serious these simple occupations are; hatchets, scissors, logs, axes—how beautiful these simple objects become. (Second Common Reader, 47)
In fact, the act of reclaiming Defoe’s “dogged attention to the cumulative details” as a kind of Zen praxis signals larger interpretive tensions around autistic accretion (Davis, Factual Fictions, 155), recollecting an extended cultural history of contesting approaches. Asperger, in his readiness to dismiss the project of “the autistic individual [who] just stacks boxes full of useless junk” (“’Autistic Psychopathy,’” 82), and the schoolteacher who surreptitiously disposes of autist Daniel Tammet’s ladybird collection both represent a kind of unself-critical interpretive authority (Tammet, Born on a Blue Day, 66), one which adopts exactly the rigid cognitive practices such authorities are prone to project onto autistic practice. At the same time, counter to this rejection of autistic collecting are the kinds of curatorial praxes explored in Warhol’s Raid the Icebox exhibition, or in Georges Perec’s “Attempt at an Inventory,” work that bears out Tim Page’s observation that “a cluster of facts can be both luminous and lyric” (Parallel Play, 6). Reading such autistic accumulation in terms of what Anthony Easton calls “infodump formalism” shifts the discourse away from diagnostic posturing and gestures toward the symbolic magnitude of Crusoe’s creative aesthetic (“Autism,” 99). “Is there any reason,” Woolf asks, “why the perspective that a plain earthenware pot exacts should not satisfy us completely, once we grasp it, as man himself in all his sublimity standing against a background of broken mountains and tumbling oceans with stars flaming in the sky?” (Second Common Reader, 49). The descriptive process of pot-making, or bread-making, or fence-making, or wooden-board-making is not simply an exercise in material economy, a symptom of “the static nature of the monologic world order that Crusoe establishes” (Smit-Marais, “Converted Spaces,” 113); rather, the pertinacity of the protagonist and the apostrophic relentlessness of the text reflect “Robinson Crusoe’s poetics of problem solving,” a rhetoric that resonates powerfully with autistic aesthetic practice (Cohen, Novel and the Sea, 86). While these resonances do speak to the importance of Crusoe as an autistic text, beyond these most immediate connections—exemplified in what might be deemed a pot-making and wall-building aesthetic— the novel’s autistic register runs even deeper. For the accumulations and repetitions of Crusoe’s material world, the multiplicity of fences and bas-
Autism and Narrative Invention in Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe • 175
kets and shelves and earthen pots merge seamlessly into a deeply rooted pattern of rhetorical repetitions. In one deliciously perseverative passage, for instance, the narrator notes that since he has already provided a description (of a wall), he won’t describe it again, before going on (of course) to once more describe the wall: N. B. This Wall being describ’d before, I purposely omit what was said in the Journal; it is sufficient to observe, that I was no less Time than from the 3rd of January to the 14th of April, working, finishing, and perfecting this Wall, tho’ it was no more than about 24 Yards in Length, being a half Circle from one Place in the Rock to another Place, about eight Yards from it, the Door of the Cave being in the Center behind it. (56)
Indeed, it is a long-standing critical observation that in the novel “[f]acts are repeated over and over in varying phrases” (Lamb, “Letter to Walter Wilson,” 34). Dahlia, dahlia, dahlia. Thus, Crusoe’s abundance of technical explanations—page after page describing experiments in planting and building, making and baking—becomes an apostrophic gesture reproduced in the book at a metatextual level. And the accumulation of things, the reiteration of boundary, and the repetition of architectural description are mirrored at the narrative level with the repetition of storytelling itself. Crusoe’s labor and architecture are recursive projects, but so, too, is his literary expression, the very text by which the reader knows his story. His repetitions and accumulations and delineations all entangled, all interwoven. Exact resemblance the exact resemblance as exact resemblance, exactly as resembling. Ricochet, apostrophe, discretion building something new. Invention. The rich unfolding of the novel’s recursive and reiterative autistic aesthetic—the extent of its textual repetition and fragmentation—has been a long-standing topic of inquiry for critics. Homer Brown, for instance, points out that readers “are given no fewer than four accounts of Robinson’s first days on the island, each differing in some small detail” (“Displaced Self,” 585). Others talk about the “critical puzzle” presented by the repetition of pieces of Crusoe’s story “in a retrospective first- person narrative and in a fragment of journal” (Cohen, Novel and the Sea, 69). At every turn, the book flows as verbal particulate, its aesthetic concerns visible in both content and structure. Thus, the castaway’s journal entries describe how he sets up “Posts,” “Boards,” and “Partitions” to organize his “House” and “to order my Victuals upon” (55–56), but
176 • autistic disturbances
these same entries are both repetitions of earlier narrative text and are themselves a form of partitioning, their abstract and visible representation performing a kind of narrative encapsulation: DEC. 17. From this Day to the Twentieth I plac’d Shelves, and knock’d up Nails on the Posts to hang every Thing up that could be hung up, and now I began to be in some Order within Doors. (55)
The manifestly staccato journal entries— “DEC. 25. Rain all Day.” (56)—perform as yet another vessel or containment device, a rhetorical basket or verbal earthen pot used to organize and replicate abstract content. Similarly, in telling of a pitched battle against cannibal intruders, Crusoe first offers a narrative version of the conflict, carefully detailing and enumerating each casualty (169–71), but then goes on to cap the story with a list-style numerical accounting. This list replicates the information provided in the immediately preceding passage, but it also divides narrative content into discrete particles or units: 3 Kill’d at our first Shot from the Tree. 2 Kill’d at the next Shot. 2 Kill’d by Friday in the Boat. 2 Kill’d by Ditto, of those at first wounded. 1 Kill’d by Ditto, in the Wood. 3 Kill’d by the Spaniard. 4 Kill’d, being found dropp’d here and there, of their Wounds, or kill’d by Friday in his Chase of them. 4 Escap’d in the Boat, whereof one wounded if not dead. 21 In all. (171)
As a whole, the text embraces a strategy of ricochet, coming together in myriad echolalic fragments, generic variety proliferating endlessly as the narrator tests all kinds of literary and rhetorical forms and devices. In addition to conventional narration, diary entries, and listmaking, Crusoe also tests out dramatic dialogue, Master. Well, Friday, and What does your Nation do with the Men they take, do they carry them away, and eat them, as these did? Friday. Yes, my Nation eat Mans too, eat all up. (155)
even comparative charts:
Autism and Narrative Invention in Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe • 177 Evil
I am cast upon a horrible desolate Island, void of all Hope of Recovery.
But I am alive, and not drown’d, as all my Ship’s Company was.
I am singl’d out and separated, as it were, from all the World to be miserable.
But I am singl’d out too from all the Ship’s Crew, to be spar’d from Death; and he that miraculously sav’d me from Death, can deliver me from this Condition.
I am divided from Mankind, a Solitaire, one banish’d from humane Society.
But I am not starv’d and perishing on a barren Place, affording no Sustenance.
I have not Clothes to cover me.
But I am in a hot Climate, where if I had Clothes, I could hardly wear them. (49)
Each new technique, like the journal entries and the casualty list, is rich with autistic inflection, evoking both the poetics of ricochet—cheese, cheese, cheese—and the discretionary aesthetics observed earlier in Whitman, in Perec, and in Warhol. In fact, the narrative and rhetorical practices at work in the text, this aesthetics of fragmentation, encapsulation, and reproducibility, ultimately becomes its own kind of pattern, the complex interaction between form and abstract verbal content evoking the exploratory organizational quality of early natural history collections, contemporaneous with Defoe’s writing. Or suggesting the provocation toward infinitude implicit in the bounded and complexly interlaced patterns of traditional Islamic mosaic. Crusoe’s narrative can appear naively repetitious, a random bricolage, a disorganized conglomeration of “spiritual autobiography, traveller’s narrative, do-it-yourself utopia, political and economic allegory” (Novak, Transformation Ideology, 22). Or its expansiveness can seem undisciplined; some critics note a tendency, for instance, toward “elongating [scenes] beyond the bounds of what the story calls for” (Napier, Defoe’s Major Fiction, 83). Indeed, as Edgar Allan Poe observes, the craft of Defoe’s novel typically goes unrecognized: “Not one person in ten—nay, not one person in five hundred—has, during the perusal of Robinson Crusoe, the most remote conception that any particle of genius, or even of common talent, has been employed in its creation! Men do not look upon it in the light of a literary performance” (Poe, “Daniel Defoe,” 201). But Defoe’s style ought not to be dismissed as accidental any more
178 • autistic disturbances
than it should be disparaged as a diseased kind of writing, its perseverations reduced to pathology. Though the text may read like a mess, its scrambling, protracted, seemingly stream-of-consciousness script actually does important literary work, the amplifications of the writing creating a new kind of immersive immediacy. According to Poe, “We read, and become perfect abstractions in the intensity of our interest” (202). Robinson Crusoe’s seemingly chaotic generic reach, then, its extended descriptive passages, its repetitions, thus emerge as innovative narrative strategies, drawing the reader into a new kind of fictional reality. Thus, the narrative and semantic features that imbue the text with its naturalistic quality, the sense that it is not “a literary performance,” or, again in Poe’s words, “that we could have written as well ourselves” (“Daniel Defoe,” 201), are also those that align with autistic verbal practices. Crusoe’s remarkable attenuations of expression are thus essential to the reader’s experience of verisimilitude and, by extension, to the invention of the realistic novel, of which the “primary criterion” is “truth to individual experience” (Watt, Rise of the Novel, 11). Opening up room for the mundane, the mechanical, the repetitiousness of everyday life, Robinson Crusoe necessarily breaks away from existing conventions of literary expression, enabling a new kind of heroic narrative by using a new kind of literary voice. For, as Ian Watt observes, “the novel’s realism does not reside in the kind of life it presents, but in the way it presents it” (11). The attentions and diversions of the narrator evoke familiar reactions: it is Woolf’s first searing impression of the narrator, “There is no escaping him” (Second Common Reader, 46). But the very relentlessness of the text—its enthusiastic seriations and replications, its apostrophic descriptions, its persevering partitionary practice—also demonstrate an autistic tenor at the heart of Robinson Crusoe’s extraordinary aesthetic innovation.
UnConclusion Because the Butterfly: Autistic Infinitudes
Featured at a 2016 exhibition: the model buildings of outsider artist Peter Fritz. Built in the 1950s and ‘60s, each tiny structure is meticulously constructed to evoke an “everyday world that could be enhanced though [the artist’s] imagination” (Gioni and Bell, The Keeper, 128). At the New Museum in New York, the buildings are arrayed in an orderly grid on an expansive white mount occupying most of the floor space in a small room, constricting viewers to a narrow corridor around the central display. Museum guards rigorously police visitors, repeatedly warning viewers not to touch even the mount on which the constructions are displayed. Located in a museum, raised on a pedestal, arranged in a tight, geometric configuration, carefully lit and guarded and rendered significant by the language of an exhibition plaque (“. . . would therefore seem to fall under the rubric of visionary architecture . . . [Wiley, “Houses of Peter Fritz”]), Fritz’s work is indisputably art. Thus ceremonially arranged and protected, the buildings are granted stature, made sacred by the curators’ framing. As lovely as they are, though, in this precious situation, these objects are also reclaimed waste; each one was originally found in “a junk shop” and “wrapped in its own garbage bag” (Gioni and Bell, The Keeper, 128). The beauty, the craft, the creativity of Fritz’s work, its aesthetic value—like that of most art—is thus exposed as a fragile construct, reinforced or destabilized by systems and conven179
180 • autistic disturbances
tions that gesture invisibly; the garbage bag and the museum mount seem external, but they actually serve as vital interpretive interventions. In some essential way, the artifacts are thus defined by context. This is a point reinforced by the photographs of Zofia Rydet; mounted on the walls surrounding Fritz’s buildings, each photo depicts an individual or a couple in a home setting, surrounded by modest personal collections. Documenting ordinary domestic life in Cold War Poland (between 1978 and 1990), the pictures record an intriguing array of private collections: religious statuary and paraphernalia, beer cans, nesting dolls, lace doilies. Juxtaposed against the pristine, almost sterile presentation of Fritz’s buildings, Rydet’s informal black-and-white photos, inclusive of commonplace household furnishings, serve as visual acknowledgment that treasured artifacts do not always exist in insular settings, but that there is an intimate, organic relationship between people and things. Rydet’s work points to the connection between art and waste, the messy intersection between curating and everyday life. Rydet’s photos center the body of the collector, allowing a view of deliberate collection as it touches the effluvia of ordinary living; such juxtapositions open a question about the indefinite boundary between socially validated aesthetics and deeply idiosyncratic gestures of acquisition—between Warhol’s culturally elevated soup cans and the beer cans of the humble private collector. Housed in the same room, Fritz’s buildings and Rydet’s photographs produce an unspoken dialogue about the cultural value of repetition and accretion as valid expressive performances. Indeed, entitled The Keeper, the New Museum show exhibits a diversity of collections and modes of presentation: scrapbooks, collections of teddy bears, a decades-long annual portrait sequence, boxes assembled as discrete capsules “combining found items and personal belongings” (Gioni and Bell, The Keeper, 64), even symbolic inventories representing items to be presented to God as “contents of the world . . . deemed worthy of redemption” (88). As a whole, the exhibition serves as “a reflection on the impulse to save both the most precious and the apparently valueless” (12). About five-and-a-half miles north of The Keeper exhibition, in a New York City Department of Sanitation garage on East 98th Street, an installation by sanitation worker Nelson Molina poses similar questions. A self- described “picker,” Molina has been collecting and repurposing waste since childhood, and for about 25 years, beginning in the late 1980s, he curated an informal “museum” from objects collected out of New York City’s garbage (Athayde, “Treasures in the Trash”; Harris, “In a Sanita-
Because the Butterfly • 181
tion Garage”; Owen, “Saving Treasures”). Sorting and arranging found objects—art, toys, World War II memorabilia, sports collectibles, sartorial items, tools, technology—into discrete spaces in a vast open area of the garage, acquiring new exhibits from colleagues, restoring and maintaining the collection, Molina reclaims and protects valuable art and artifacts from the waste piles of New York. However, with a curator’s whimsy and aesthetic intelligence, he is also an active force in articulating content; he combines items to amplify affect or stature, granting certain exhibits an implicit prestige and relegating others to symbolically marginal positions. Indeed, some of his curatorial choices suggest a fundamental mirth about the practice of collecting itself, or, as with his dressing a classical bust in sunglasses, Molina’s project comments, sometimes humorously, on the ways in which value is produced by context and perception. Autistic Disturbances makes a similar comment and asks a similar question about the way cultural value is produced around autistic language and rhetoric. Indeed, I suggest in these pages that autistic symbolic expression, and autistic verbal expression in particular, have frequently been miscast as waste. This book argues that autistic articulations have fundamental aesthetic and creative value and that largely unrecognized autistic cognitive and rhetorical practices have served as a significant element in shaping and informing many familiar and mainstream literary artifacts. The larger inference is that autistic expression has been an important contributing factor in many texts, including those that are widely consumed and critically acclaimed, regardless of the diagnostic status of the author. The present text looks at the autistic inflections in a limited array of texts to demonstrate on a small scale the larger scope and influence of autism poetics evident not only in many familiar texts but also in everyday life. As Yergeau argues, “[e]mbodied communicative forms—including the echo, the tic, the stim, the rocking body, the twirl—represent linguistic and cultural motions that pose possibility for autistics” (Authoring Autism, 181). But even utterly conventional habits like scrapbooking or the making of to-do lists or an unconscious preference for rhythmic language echo autistic frames of reference. I hope this book will serve as an invitation to explore the ways in which such autistic rhetorics thread through and enhance the richness and vibrancy of shared human language, and that it successfully persuades readers not to rely exclusively on broadly circulated assessments and representations that devalue autistic language. Though this book asks readers to engage an autism-positive interpretive stance, a necessary part of this work is calling out, even linger-
182 • autistic disturbances
ing, on implicit ableist bias that informs most readings of autistic language. While there might be an inclination to focus positively, not to foreground the toxic history of antiautism bias, it is actually essential to remember that foundational interpretive work both by clinicians and by scholars in the humanities and social sciences has forged a strong cultural foundation for understanding autistic expressive practices as being without meaning or value. Such an attitude resonates forcefully against the work of The Keeper and Molina’s Treasures in the Trash collection. One of autism’s founding fathers, for instance, Hans Asperger, has noted that “collections favored by autistic children appear like soulless possessions” and that they appear to “accumulate things merely in order to possess them.” Thus, a six-year-old boy had the ambition to collect 1,000 matchboxes, a goal which he pursued with fanatical energy. The mother, however, never saw him play trains with them as other children do. Another boy collected cotton threads; a third “everything” that he found on the street, but not like the street urchin, who has everything in his trouser pocket that he might need for his pranks. The autistic individual just stacks boxes full of useless junk. He constantly orders things and watches over them like a miser. (“‘Autistic Psychopathy,’” 82)
Such an interpretive approach underlies the work of others as well, so that even autism-positive literary scholars are prone to explain autistic verbal practices as literary deficits. Julie Brown, for example, suggests that an autistic “lack of central coherence or executive function” may be responsible for lack of connected narrative or plot in works by Moby Dick author Herman Melville and others. She comments, “It’s as though the autistic individual is looking through a shoe box filled with random handfuls of pictures and cannot organize them into a photograph album that tells a story” (Brown, Writers on the Spectrum, 21). Interpreters like Asperger and Brown, while making other valuable contributions to autism studies, nevertheless promote a larger cultural dismissal of autistic aesthetic and praxis. Interpretive frameworks like these ultimately contribute to concrete, adverse consequences; as Michelle Dawson points out, “The poverty of autistic social outcomes, regardless of our abilities, is consistent with persons who have no rights and merit no ethical consideration” (“‘Misbehavior of Behaviorists’”). A default position that reads autism as deficit and implicitly assumes deficit deflects more creative, more inter-
Because the Butterfly • 183
esting, and perhaps more accurate interpretive avenues. To an observer like Asperger, who does not share the collector’s aesthetic, the motivation for autistic collecting is inscrutable, and thus appears purposeless, a dead end. Physical collections take on the appearance of “useless junk” because the disapproving interpreter regards the material objects collected as having a predetermined meaning or purpose that does not necessarily align with the collector’s vision. For Asperger, the items collected should be used for “play” or for “pranks,” and because the organization of the objects does not fit with his sense of meaning, their alternative use is understood as pathology. Brown, likewise, sees literary strategies like bricolage, assemblage, and pastiche as aesthetic failures rather than experimental techniques. Brown’s “shoe box” is cousin to the “garbage bag,” the framing mechanism thus establishing the meaning and value of the content. Resisting “shoe box,” “garbage bag,” and “useless junk” interpretive methods in pursuing this project, I have also tried to remain aware of other interpretive dangers, most immediately the danger posed by needing to find meaning in, or to understand and explain, autistic language; in fact, this impulse is potentially as invasive, aggressive, and dismissive as more evidently disparaging approaches. Alert to this difficulty, I have taken up the task of researching and writing this book using the methods of other collectors or “pickers.” I have pulled autism inflected items from their existing heaps—phrases from clinical articles, subheadings from the DSM, lines of poetry from Stein and Perec and Whitman and Antin, lists from Warhol’s memoir, extended internal monologues from Villette, em-dashes from Frankenstein, charts and accountings from Robinson Crusoe—and laid these out in piles and arrays, juxtaposing and aligning, testing relationships, teasing out autistic potentialities. This project thus turns out to be a kind of informal and idiosyncratic museum of its own, a set of literary exhibits imperfectly curated, suggesting but not insisting on a possible framework for recognizing autistic rhetoricity. Acknowledging that autistic people, like nonautistic people, embrace an infinite variety of identities and expressive modes, this project focuses not on fixed and absolute rules of autistic language, but rather on patterns of expression strongly associated with autism, ultimately identifying the following as the most characteristic set of autistic rhetorical practices: (silence), ricochet, apostrophe, ejaculation, discretion, and invention. Though more fully defined in the opening chapters of this book, each of these expressive categories may be revisited in the context of the exhibits described above, this small practical application of the book’s theoretical
184 • autistic disturbances
framework gesturing toward the autistic tenor of an infinite number of literary and cultural texts not included here. The expressive potential of (silence) is borne out in the nonverbal- object-based nature of the two exhibitions, where nonspeaking may still have meaning or intent, but the audience is compelled to take a more active listening/interpretive role. At the same time, these artifacts, while acted upon by outside agents—curators and audiences—nevertheless maintain their own unique integrity, what Stuart Murray might term autistic “presence” (Representing Autism, 5). Silence is not necessarily inert or passive, but may be expressive, central, significant. Ricochet is observed in the repetition of objects, meaning or sense or expression growing in part out of accumulation or accretion: Fritz’s structures. Exact resemblance to exact resemblance the exact resemblance as exact resemblance. Or ricochet is discovered in the similarities and differences between objects, the microscopic focus of local coherence rebounding against the global abstraction of collection: The teddy bears are all together, hundreds of photos, letters, toys, the symbolic presence replicated ad infinitum, pointing toward a limitless excess beyond the frame (Eco, Infinity of Lists, 81). At the same time, objects “deemed worthy of redemption” may seem to bear no relation to one another, may appear “semantically . . . valueless,” yet they are nevertheless bound together by a deliberate internal logic (Kanner, “Autistic Disturbances,” 243). Expression builds and resonates as it rebounds, as the relationship between each artifact is amplified and interrogated. Dahlia, dahlia, dahlia. Both exhibits are apostrophic in form, excessive monologic outpourings that cannot be interrupted, that do not allow for an interlocutor, for dialogic input or exchange, that hark toward the dead and the absent, “spoken as if into empty space” (Asperger, “‘Autistic Psychopathy,’” 70). I turned to share the transport—Oh! with whom . . . Indeed, Molina’s collection, the work of almost 25 years, is a museum without visitors; the site is restricted to Department of Sanitation employees and outsiders are permitted entry only with seldom-granted official authorization. The collections are both curated in ways that integrate the eruptive and the tangential—what Leo Kanner disparagingly calls autistic “ejaculation”—bringing together the abrupt, the unexpected, the impulsive, the ironic. A classical bust sporting plastic sunglasses. One in the vast collection of uniformly framed teddy-bear photos at The Keeper, for instance, includes a family of three: a smiling mother propping a teddy bear for her doughy-faced toddler, seated in the lap of his father, attired in full Nazi regalia. Here in this realm of the expected, the regular, and
Because the Butterfly • 185
the comfortable, the iconic reassurance of the teddy bear and the familial scene are strangely disrupted, intruded upon by the implicit presence of radical totalitarian violence, opening up for the audience a deep, dissonant well. Often thought to be ill-mannered, autistic ejaculation challenges conventional dialogue, expectation, relationship, introducing new possibilities—generative, creative, fecund. The discretionary quality of the two exhibits is inherent in their respective categorical makeup, the dividing of multiple accumulations into recognizable symbolic sets: portraits in sequence, Christmas decorations amassed, Fritz’s buildings set in an invisible grid, vintage film projector displayed with vintage silent films and screen, scrapbooks exhibited in their own discrete space. Like with like, all snapping into relational alignment. From the organic, the disorganized, the unpredictable, the tangled—abstract order. But as with other autistic discretionary practices visited in this book, the games of order and alignment in these exhibits are not static, but work to trouble symbolic connections down to their vanishing point. They ask about the relationship between waste and treasured artifact, between human and object, between the practical and the theoretical, between growth and decay, interior and exterior, randomness and intentionality. In fact, such attempts at discretion and symbolic alignment gesture urgently in the direction of creative mathematical and scientific endeavor: the single plane of the Klein bottle, the incremental sequence of the Fibonacci formula, the periodicity of atomic units, the physical arrangement of matter in a single galaxy. The New York City Department of Sanitation collection and The Keeper also both exemplify the essential invention at the core of autistic aesthetic approaches, and in particular the penchant for bringing together or reclaiming existing material in intelligent, amusing, and unexpected ways. Lackbeard, patchbreech, tallowface, fen-sucked, russet-pated. Evoking the wit and deliberate ambiguities of the pun or the neologism, both arguably classic autistic forms of wordplay, these exhibitions, too, engage in all sorts of double entendre. Molina, for instance, tops a bit of Romanesque statuary with a baseball cap and situates it in front of a sentimentalized portrait of a Native American girl, a gesture that engenders questions about gender, race, and the relative status of classical and popular art (Rosenblum, “Treasures in the Trash Museum”). In The Keeper, curators locate photos of Richard Greaves’s “architectural accumulations” against sculptural configurations by artist Arthur Bispo do Rosário (Gioni and Bell, The Keeper, 154, 88–99), the photos depicting expansive house-like structures carefully crafted to perform ideas of decay and
186 • autistic disturbances
dilapidation, while Bispo’s work is seen to reclaim the seemingly decayed and dilapidated in deliberately organized three-dimensional collations. Unlike Molina’s “treasures,” many artifacts collected by Bispo seem manifestly to be waste—plastic bags and disposable containers—yet they are clearly arranged with conscious deliberation. Greaves’s work and Bispo’s, set against one another, question ideas about the intentional and the accidental, doing and undoing, creation and destruction, but for many viewers, no doubt, the juxtaposition goes unnoticed, or it may seem random. Like the epic puns discussed in chapter 2, autistic invention can be a long game, or a joke without a ready audience, expressing itself “without [addressing] anyone in particular” (Bosch, Infantile Autism, 9). You’re not Catholics. You’re Episcope Aliens! Or, like satiric cabaret performances in Nazi Germany, methodically planned texts may strategically address themselves to multiple audiences simultaneously. Easter eggs, red herrings, paper towns, inarticulate cucumbers. The putting together of existing items—words and phrases, abstract ideas, museum artifacts, Pez dispensers—to invent something new is a foundational aspect of autistic cognition and expression. Embracing a “strategic queering” posture and following up on calls to “destabilize our dominant ways of knowing disability” and to develop “reading strategies by which we might revise our cultural knowledge” of autism (Yergeau, Authoring Autism, 88; Mitchell and Snyder, Narrative Prosthesis, 1–2; Murray, Representing Autism. 12), this book deliberately pushes back against typical readings of autistic language, urging readers and listeners to do the same. As Ralph Savarese asks, why does this kind of “sophisticated, even strange” expressive mode have to “be conceived of pejoratively?” (“Lobes,” 76). In the pursuit of new “reading strategies,” Autistic Disturbances foregrounds exploration of lists and collections, from discussions of Arnold Lobel’s Frog and Toad and George Eliot’s Causabon to commentary on the ways in which the concrete world described in Robinson Crusoe—the narrator’s material multiplications and accumulations—is reflected in Crusoe’s narrative, itself a kind of collection of collections. This book looks at the elastic catalogic format of the DSM and speaks to the connection between Andy Warhol’s verbal and material accruals, arrangements, and repetitions. It reads poetic inventories by Whitman, Antin, and Perec and opens Shelley’s Frankenstein at its narrative interstices to contemplate the composition of that narrative body out of its discrete parts. This focus is due in part to the fact that lists, catalogues, inventories, manifests, and seriations are salient features of autistic symbolic
Because the Butterfly • 187
expression—sometimes borne out in the lived existence of autistic people in the form of verbal repetitions, tics, and stims, and in the formation of material sequences and arrays. But autistic verbal discretion is also a crucial rhetorical nexus. System rhetoric is especially important to theorizing autism poetics because this mode ultimately acts out, engages, absorbs, echoes, or suggests the other categories of autistic expression proposed here. Silence: list or system writing forwards the illusion of authorial absence, its rhetoric deliberately erasing identifiable narrative voice or perspective; silence erupts in the space of removal, in the performance of objectivity, neutrality. Ricochet: list and system writing is modular; even when content varies, the form relies on repetition and accrual. Apostrophe: list-style text is nondialogic, exclusively outward even when it is interrogative. Are the lights on or off? Is the water off? Are the cigarettes out? Is the back door closed? Ejaculation: the list is a series of spurts or bursts, staccato, each unit joined by comma or semicolon, an ordered letter or number, or it falls into a verbal stack, contiguous but not continuous. Discretion: list rhetoric includes taxonomy, manifest, index, museum catalogue—discrete units disarticulated for the specific purpose of rearrangement, for the exploration of categorical and symbolic boundary. Invention: often dismissed as reductive, superficial, system expression is actually an extraordinarily vigorous form of intellectual abstraction, a condensation of infinitely diverse particulars into universal sign. E.g., the teddy bear. Symbolic abstraction can then be tested and manipulated, configured and reconfigured, posing ideas, contradictions; the juxtaposition of fears in David Antin’s list-poem “Delusions of the Insane” gives voice to the text’s embedded ironies: “that they will see the murderer / that they will not.” By pursuing themes, arranging sign in unprecedented formations, system writing contributes to revolutionary inventive thinking: Linnaeus’s taxonomies a necessary antecedent to Darwin’s theory of evolution. Crucially, the centrality of list forms in figuring a theory of autism poetics is not grounded in any false belief in the concrete reality of containment and limits, reflecting a stereotyped version of “the autistic mind” as “rigid, repetitive, rule-bound” (Roth, “Imagination and Awareness,” 157). Rather, the paradigmatic formality of these structured symbolic frames, these lists and taxonomies, gestures toward a counterintuitive and autistically suggestive “infinity of aesthetics” (Eco, Infinity of Lists, 17). Despite its love for boundaries and order, system writing points paradoxically to the infinite precisely because its limits indicate limitlessness, “because in fact it does not end, nor does it conclude in form” (Eco,
188 • autistic disturbances
Infinity of Lists, 17; italics in original). Mosaic pattern unfolds theoretically beyond its material site; litany implicitly absorbs as many particular prayers as human endurance allows; the sonnet is an empty container, its fixed form open to any poetic content. The neatness of the package, or its repetitions, or its internal patterns, inevitably evoke content and relationships beyond the frame. In this respect, what is perhaps the most characteristic autistic verbal-symbolic form—autistic delineation— embraces an aesthetic that is both perfectly bounded and self-contained (aut-istic) and limitlessly inclusive of content and relationships beyond the expressive unit. Thus, The Keeper exhibition extends symbolically outward into the surrounding environment, stacks of dishes and bowls, arrays of commercial ranges, and bins of flatware in nearby Bowery restaurant supply shops echoing the abstract and aesthetic concerns at play inside the museum. A similar kind of autistic play is evident in an infamous list published by Jorge Luis Borges. Almost certainly one of Borges’s fabrications, this list is attributed to the “remote pages” of “a certain Chinese encyclopedia entitled Celestial Emporium of Benevolent Knowledge.” It proposes that animals may be divided into the following categories: (a) those that belong to the Emperor, (b) embalmed ones, (c) those that are trained, (d) suckling pigs, (e) mermaids, (f) fabulous ones, (g) stray dogs, (h) those that are included in this classification, (i) those that tremble as if they were mad, (j) innumerable ones, (k) those drawn with a very fine camel’s hair brush, (l) others, (m) those that have just broken a flower vase, (n) those that resemble flies from a distance. (“Analytical Language,” 103)
Like other autistic discretionary texts discussed in this book, Borges’s tongue-in-cheek inventory speaks both to the apparent worthlessness of discretionary rhetorics as well as to their potential for intelligence, invention, even humor. Toying with audiences who might understand the text as “semantically . . . valueless” or “nonsensical,” this list of animals is nevertheless rich in signification (Kanner, “Autistic Disturbances,” 243; Asperger, “‘Autistic Psychopathy,’” 45). Coyly, Borges’s encyclopedic catalogue of animals embraces a distinctly familiar alphabetical organization, suggestive of abstract logic, order, and sequence, perhaps even of “rigid” structure; but the rhetorical container rubs ironically against an impossible nonsequence of lettered content categories, the ludicrously particular (“those that have just broken a flower vase”) in tension with the absurdly
Because the Butterfly • 189
abstract (“others”). Profoundly autistic, the list simultaneously adopts and resists language conventions, its verbal acrobatics implicitly calling into question unconscious assumptions about ordinary communicative language. By drawing on a predictable frame, Borges’s catalogue invites a sense of readerly ease and familiarity. As with the teddy bears of The Keeper, the multiplication of orderly individuals into a global set establishes a soothing sense of pattern and regularity—until the tone is interrupted or thwarted by an uncontainable particular: the Nazi father, or animals “that tremble as if they were mad,” inducing an extended experience of cognitive dissonance or aesthetic enjambment. Suddenly, each item is elevated to its own particularity, abstraction atomized into inescapable individuality, even while the particular remains tethered to abstract rhetorical structure. The apparently nonsensical quality of the text belies its underlying canniness, performing a kind of logical sleight of hand. It holds up the illusion of order to enact a veiled critique: perhaps all order is illusion; perhaps order always undermines itself; perhaps rhetorics of order are essential to the critique of order. It becomes apparent that, as Michel Foucault puts it, “we shall never succeed in defining a stable relation of contained to container” (Order of Things, xviii). In fact, this catalogue is a source of enduring amusement for Foucault, with its humor, he remarks, arising from “a certain uneasiness” induced by the way the text brings together order and disorder. Foucault notes that the list ultimately elicits a suspicion that there is a worse kind of disorder than that of the incongruous, the linking together of things that are inappropriate; I mean the disorder in which the fragments of a large number of possible orders glitter separately in the dimension, without law or geometry. (Order of Things, xvii)
The list serves as a commentary, then, on symbolic and formal relationship and on the failures of relationship, the discontinuities and dissonances that are contained and normalized by rhetorical convention. In this respect, the list may be reimagined as explosive device, bringing into proximity otherwise neutral elements rendered volatile by contact with one another. The formal boundaries—letters, numbers, bullets, subheadings, other disciplinary or discretionary markers—are thus brought into relief as fragile constructions, imaginary rules by which meaning is temporarily brought into being, and by which order may be preserved or destroyed.
190 • autistic disturbances
Reconceiving autistic language, “picking” it from the metaphorical garbage bag of the diagnostic essay or the shoe box of literary analysis, acting out other curatorial experiments leads to this theoretical moment: 1. an acknowledgment that autism poetics negotiates meaning through active engagement with the dissonant, the disordered, and the absurd; 2. the possibility that autism poetics is not a marginal range of expression, but that this aesthetic engagement is actually central to neurotypical uses of human language.
This insight, in turn, points back to Eco’s comments on the infinitude of the list, reinforcing the idea of autism poetics as a contained theoretical category as well as a limitless excess beyond the frame. Discretionary verbal aesthetics—lists, manifests, catalogues, taxonomies, indices—as paradigmatic expressions of autism poetics, open out into the broader range of ordinary human expression and communication, autistic rhetoricity, an autistic tenor becoming evident not only in the idiosyncratic particularities of Robinson Crusoe and Villette and the DSM but also in a multitude of other texts, both esoteric and ordinary. Peering outward into this autistic infinitude is the open-ended gesture with which I close this book, reflecting on the relationship between collections within and beyond the formal exhibition space. The staccato measure of Thomas More’s Utopia (1516), for instance, echoes the autistic syntax of the list as genre. Serving as a model for much other utopian writing, More’s classic text considers each fragment of social architecture in turn—geography, cities, work habits, social and business relations, and so forth—with each item becoming a unique focal point, isolated in its rhetorical sphere rather than integrated in an organic, naturalistic continuum, either narrative or social. Reminiscent in some respects of Defoe’s Crusoe, More’s text brings its analytical lens to bear on one point at a time, dividing and piecing together the textual narrative and social geography of Utopia just as it divides and pieces together the physical geography of the nation it describes. These qualities of separation, linearity, and reiteration, and the establishing of definitive logical relationships, also features of categorical and taxonomic writing, resonate in the landscape of other utopian texts as well. I wonder about the deliberate ironies and dissonances embedded in the performance art of Andy Kaufman. Best known for his role as Latka in the 1970s sitcom Taxi, Kaufman also had a massive cult following for his more idiosyncratic performances: lip-synching to a recording of
Because the Butterfly • 191
the Mighty Mouse theme song on the premiere episode of Saturday Night Live (1975), wrestling women as a cartoonish misogynist, occupying the identity of vulgar and talentless Vegas-genre lounge singer Tony Clifton. Richard Corliss called him the “Duchampian agent provocateur of modern comedy: the Dada of haha” (87). Central to Kaufman’s art was a conflation or obscuring of the distinction between performance and reality, his work consistently calling into question the boundary between art and life. Kaufman used the leverage of his commercially successful role on Taxi, for instance, to negotiate a guest spot for Clifton on that show. The Clifton persona then showed up late, apparently drunk, accompanied by two young female hangers-on, and demanded script changes. Privately taped recordings of the event “capture[d] various screams from various players and yet . . . could not wholly contain the breadth of emotional forensics that engulfed the stage” (Zehme, Lost in the Funhouse, 229). Unconscious actors in the piece, spectators observing Clifton’s offensive behavior became embroiled in the performance, including actor Judd Hirsch, who wound up “throttling Clifton” (230). The following week, Kaufman returned to the studio as himself, watched footage of Clifton with fellow cast members, and remarked, “Gee, who was that asshole?” (233). This game, both meticulously scripted and shockingly disruptive, is a scaled-up rendition of pun and satire, bearing out rhetorics of autistic invention. Kaufman’s performances invited audiences into a doubled text, even while those performances seemed not to be “addressed to anyone in particular” (Bosch, Infantile Autism, 9). Running as a consistent theme through Kaufman’s opus is this powerful ironic dissonance, eruptive, ejaculatory, an intense and persistent destabilization of performance conventions, “violating every expectation of what he . . . was supposed to deliver” (Auslander, Presence and Resistance, 140). Departing radically from Kaufman’s disruptive aesthetic is text put forward by Martha Stewart Living, precious, balanced, and precise, calling to mind, perhaps, Temple Grandin’s observation that autism doesn’t “like anything that looks out of place—a thread hanging on a piece of furniture, a wrinkled rug, books that are crooked on the bookshelf” (Thinking in Pictures, 146). Emerging in part out of More’s utopian narrative tradition, the set of texts invented according to this world order is undergirded by an autistic intonation, a compelling overlap of domestic and autistic rhetorics. Calling for collection and repetition—“indulge in a whole bank of flowering plants to line the hall, or . . . organize a collection of antique clothes on a conspicuous coat-rack” (Stewart and Hawes, Entertaining, 17)—Stewart’s environmental texts favor autistic ricochet and discretion, an aesthetic of visual echoes and partitions. So, too, are
192 • autistic disturbances
they a sanctuary for (autistic) silence, inventing model habitats centered on material order and notoriously eschewing the organic and the social. Thus, the settings depicted in Stewart’s publications are typically “unsullied by actual guests,” being “either empty of people or occupied solely by Martha” (Flanagan, To Hell with All That, 177, 176). Stewart’s productions have inspired an enormous critical response, vilifying and pathologizing her approach. Erica Jong has famously referred to Stewart as “the woman who earned her freedom by glorifying the slavery of Home” (Fear of Fifty, 186). Greg Easley calls her “a domineering control freak” and adds that her aesthetic is a “sterile, self-centered way of life” (“Divine Myth Stewart,” 52, 57). But it is also possible to question such critiques as a kind of anti-neuroqueer bullying, dominant social forces rallying to assert the importance of seamless social connectedness and to dismiss alternative cognitive and expressive aesthetics. Defending international celebrity and multimillionaire Martha Stewart as maligned creator of autistic text might seem far-fetched, but it is exactly such reaching that I hope this book will encourage. Even within the relatively limited scope I have pursued in these pages, the project is perilously expansive and unruly and yet I still have before me loose threads of autism poetics hanging everywhere, begging to be drawn out to their full length. Where do autistic rhetorics make their appearance in African-American fictions and traditional texts? How does autistic voice play out in women’s literature? In world literatures? What of the autistic discretion evident in the Hebrew bible’s book of Leviticus or Aristotle’s use of classification in The History of Animals? How might a theory of autism poetics inform the hierarchies built into multiple military, political, and religious systems? How might it play into the understanding of historically significant biospiritual categories like humours or chakras. Robert Belknap points out that “songs driven by anaphora . . . or those with repeated phrases in refrain or reprise could certainly predate written lists and command listing strategies of their own” (The List, 10); how, then, are autistic aesthetics borne out in song and music? With an acknowledgment, then, that no collection ever is or can be complete, but is necessarily an infinitude, part of a theoretical imaginary, I close these pages with an apostrophic call to absent and invisible partners to invent new categories, to add to and rearrange this project, and to explore and challenge its boundaries. Because the butterfly is snowed, snowed with snow. the end
An Accounting: Autistic Ejaculations •••
Below is a complete list (echo: an accounting, a manifest, a catalogue . . .) of autistically inflected words and phrases embedded in and punctuating the body of Autistic Disturbances. These function as homage to originary autistic voices, as adoption and demonstration of autistic praxis, and, not infrequently, as a kind of found abstract commentary on the surrounding text. This accounting points readers back to the earliest known point of origin for each item. 10 Bizarre Facts . . . A balloon is . . . A cluster of facts . . . A total of six (or more) . . . Ah, happy, happy boughs! And grass, and white . . . Angels of rain and lightning! Animal, striped, like a cat . . .
Actual internet clickbait headlines Attributed to Alfred L. in Kanner’s “Autistic Disturbances” Observation from Tim Page’s Parallel Play From the DSM-IV-TR diagnostic criteria for “Autistic Disorder” Apostrophe from John Keats’s “Ode on a Grecian Urn” From Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass Apostrophe from Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “Ode to the West Wind” Attributed to Alfred L. in Kanner’s “Autistic Disturbances”
194 • An Accounting: Autistic Ejaculations
Are the lights on . . .
From Andy Warhol’s The Philosophy of Andy Warhol At every operation . . . From Pierre-Joseph Proudhon’s General Idea of the Revolution in the Nineteenth Century Autpocalypse Language hack from Melanie Yergeau’s Authoring Autism Because the butterfly . . . Attributed to Fritz V. in Asperger’s “‘Autistic Psychopathy’ in Children” Candy is all gone . . . Attributed to Paul G. in Kanner’s “Autistic Disturbances” Cheese, cheese, cheese Stereotype of autistic verbal stereotypy from the DSM III-R Chrysanthemum Noted as a favorite word of Donald T. in Kanner’s “Autistic Disturbances” Crayfish, sharks, fish, Attributed to Elaine C. in Kanner’s “Autistic and rocks Disturbances” Dahlia, dahlia, dahlia Attributed to Donald T. in Kanner’s “Autistic Disturbances” Dinosaurs don’t cry According to Leo Kanner, one of Elaine C’s “frequently ejaculated stereotyped phrases” Episcope Aliens Punchline of an elaborate pun constructed by Abby and Norma author Erika Hammerschmidt Exact resemblance . . . From Gertrude Stein’s “If I Told Him, A Completed Portrait of Picasso” Exactly resembling . . . From Gertrude Stein’s “If I Told Him, A Completed Portrait of Picasso” Fear of psychological From Raymond Carver’s “Fear” profiles Fish have sharp teeth . . . Attributed to Elaine C. in Kanner’s “Autistic Disturbances” For this is so From Gertrude Stein’s “If I Told Him, A Completed Portrait of Picasso” Full nakedness! Apostrophe from John Donne’s “To His Mistress Going to Bed” Hope is the thing with First line of a poem by Emily Dickinson feathers I can’t do this orally . . . Unattributed autisticism from Asperger’s “’Autistic Psychopathy’ in Children”
An Accounting: Autistic Ejaculations • 195
I don’t like the blinding sun . . . I turned to share the transport . . . I’ll draw a hexagon
Poetic language attributed to an unnamed autistic child in Asperger’s “‘Autistic Psycho pathy’ in Children” Apostrophic language from William Words worth’s “Surprised by Joy” Donald T.’s logical response to being asked to subtract 4 from 10, from Kanner’s “Autistic Disturbances” Attributed to Alfred L. in Kanner’s “Autistic Disturbances” From Andy Warhol’s The Philosophy of Andy Warhol From Andy Warhol’s The Philosophy of Andy Warhol From Charlotte Brontë’s Villette
If people squeeze they’ll bust Is the elevator working? . . . It doesn’t mean if you don’t believe . . . It is on the surface only . . . Lackbeard, patchbreech, Neologisms from the writing of William Shakespeare tallowface, fen-sucked, russet-pated Men broke deer’s leg Attributed to Elaine C. in Kanner’s “Autistic Disturbances” My silence is sensory From Melanie Yergeau’s “Socializing Through carnival . . . Silence” My sleep today was long Poetic language attributed to an unnamed but thin autistic child in Asperger’s “‘Autistic Psycho pathy’ in Children” Needle head. Pink wee- Attributed to Elaine C. in Kanner’s “Autistic Disturbances” wee . . . No tadpoles in the house. Attributed to Elaine C. in Kanner’s “Autistic Disturbances” One blini, one empana- From Georges Perec’s “Attempt at an Invenda, one dried beef . . . tory of the Liquid and the Solid Foodstuffs Ingurgitated by Me in the Course of the Year Nineteen Hundred and Seventy-Four” Orderlinesses, reconInvented language used in this very book strue . . . you’re reading right now! Poor Elaine . . . Attributed to Elaine C. in Kanner’s “Autistic Disturbances”
196 • An Accounting: Autistic Ejaculations
Scientistically, dissensus Semicolon Snakedly. Schlangenringelich.
snowed, snowed with snow Squawk That they will be murdered . . . That’s just her autism . . . The butterfly is snowed . . . The ladder goes up pointedly . . . The right one is on . . . There is war in the sky Through the dark clouds . . . Tigers and cats . . . Unsphere. Disedge. You have to treat nothing . . . You’re not Catholics . . .
Invented language from Melanie Yergeau’s Authoring Autism Favored “ejaculation” of Donald T. from Kanner’s “Autistic Disturbances” Invented word in English translation with original German, attributed to unnamed autistic child in Asperger’s “‘Autistic Psychopathy’ in Children” Attributed to Fritz V. in Asperger’s “‘Autistic Psychopathy’ in Children” Favored filler/discourse marker of Bev Harp From David Antin’s “A List of the Delusions of the Insane: What They Are Afraid of” From Melanie Yergeau’s discussion of echolalia in “Clinically Significant Disturbance” Attributed to Fritz V. in Asperger’s “‘Autistic Psychopathy’ in Children” Attributed to unnamed autistic child in Asperger’s “‘Autistic Psychopathy’ in Children” Attributed to Donald T. in Kanner’s “Autistic Disturbances” Attributed to Elaine C. in Kanner’s “Autistic Disturbances” Poetic language attributed to Donald T. in Kanner’s “Autistic Disturbances” Attributed to Elaine C. in Kanner’s “Autistic Disturbances” Neologisms from the writing of William Shakespeare From Andy Warhol’s The Philosophy of Andy Warhol Punchline of an elaborate pun constructed by Abby and Norma author Erika Hammerschmidt
Chapter 1 Notes 1. Unless otherwise indicated, references to Uta Frith’s Autism: Explaining the Enigma refer to the 1989 first edition; however, because there are consequential revisions and additions between this edition and the second edition published in 2003, it has been necessary to draw from both editions. 2. Unable to resist the attraction of the game, even the present writer has added her voice to the mix, proposing Jane Eyre as a candidate for consideration on the autism spectrum (Rodas, “On the Spectrum”); and was rightly criticized for an interpretation that is “deeply problematic” (Burdett, “Review,” 3). 3. This has been updated in the DSM-5 to “Stereotyped or repetitive speech, motor movements, or use of objects; (such as simple motor stereotypies, echolalia, repetitive use of objects, or idiosyncratic phrases).” 4. I am indebted to ASAN founder and longtime autism activist Ari Ne’eman, who responded critically to an earlier incarnation of this project and whose challenge regarding the limited use of autism life-writing spurred me to seek out a broader spectrum of critical and theoretical writing by autistic people on the subject of autistic voice.
Works Cited •••
Ablow, Rachel. Victorian Pain. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2017. AngryAutie. “The Institute for the Study of the Neurologically Typical.” AngryAutie, 24 June 2013, angryautie.wordpress.com/2013/06/24/the-institute-for-the-study-ofthe-neurologically-typical/. Accessed 15 June 2017. Antin, David. Code of Flag Behavior. Los Angeles: Black Sparrow Press, 1968. Antin, David, and Charles Bernstein. A Conversation with David Antin (Album Notes by David Antin). New York: Granary Books, 2002. APenNameAndThatA. Comment on “How Do You Invent a Language?” by S. C. S. Economist, 1 May 2013, 8:28 a.m., economist.com/node/21576929/comments. Accessed 26 June 2017. “apostrophe, n.1” OED Online. Oxford: Oxford University Press, June 2017. oed. com/view/Entry/9448?rskey=ZXpw86&result=1#eid. Accessed 26 July 2017. Arnold, Matthew. Selected Letters of Matthew Arnold. Edited by Clinton Machann and Forrest D. Burt. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1993. ASAN (Autistic Self Advocacy Network). “Before You Donate to Autism Speaks, Consider the Facts.” ASAN Autistic Self Advocacy Network, 2017, autisticadvocacy.org/ wp-content/uploads/2017/04/AutismSpeaksFlyer_color_2017.pdf. Accessed 13 July 2017. ASAN (Autistic Self Advocacy Network). “A Horrifying Trend: ASAN Statement on the Murders of Randle Barrow and Mickey Liposchok.” ASAN Autistic Self Advocacy Network, 23 December 2013, autisticadvocacy.org/2013/12/a-horrifying-trendasan-statement-on-the-murders-of-randle-barrow-mickey-liposchok/. Accessed 26 June 2017. ASAN (Autistic Self Advocacy Network), The Association for Autistic Community, Autism Women’s Network, Association of Programs for Rural Independent Living, Autism National Committee, Asperger’s Association of New England, and 20 other organizations. “2014 Joint Letter to the Sponsors of Autism Speaks.” ASAN Autistic Self Advocacy Network, 6 January 2014, autisticadvocacy.org/2014/01/2013joint-letter-to-the-sponsors-of-autism-speaks/. Accessed 26 June 2017.
200 • Works Cited Asperger, Hans. “‘Autistic Psychopathy’ in Childhood.” 1944. Translated by Uta Frith. In Autism and Asperger Syndrome, edited by Uta Frith, 37–92. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991. Athayde, Ana Terra. “Treasures in the Trash: The Amazing Things New Yorkers Throw Away.” Guardian, theguardian.com/us-news/video/2014/dec/22/newyork-trash-museum-video, 22 December 2014. Accessed 3 October 2016. Auslander, Philip. Presence and Resistance: Postmodernism and Cultural Politics in Contemporary American Performance. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan, 1992. “autism, n.” OED Online. Oxford: Oxford University Press, December 2014, oed.com/ view/Entry/13363?redirectedFrom=autism&. Accessed 3 March 2015. Autism Memorial. Wordpress, n.d., autismmemorial.wordpress.com/. Accessed 26 June 2017. Baggs, Mel. “In My Language.” YouTube, 14 January 2007, goo.gl/QfYPVw. Accessed 16 June 2017. Bakhtin, Mikhail M. The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays. Edited by Michael Holquist and translated by Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1981. Bal, Mieke. Narratology: Introduction to the Theory of Narrative. 3rd ed. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2009. Baltaxe, Christiane A. M., and James Q. Simmons III. “A Comparison of Language Issues in High-Functioning Autism and Related Disorders with Onset in Childhood and Adolescence.” In High-Functioning Individuals with Autism, edited by Eric Schopler and Gary B. Mesibov, 201–25. New York: Plenum Press, 1992. Baron-Cohen, Simon. “Autism and Symbolic Play.” British Journal of Developmental Psychology 5, no. 2 (1987): 139–48. Baron-Cohen, Simon. “Social and Pragmatic Deficits in Autism: Cognitive or Affective?” Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders 18, no. 3 (1988): 379–402. Baron-Cohen, Simon, Emma Ashwin, Chris Ashwin, Teresa Tavassoli, and Bhismadev Chakrabarti. “Talent in Autism: Hyper-Systemizing, Hyper-Attention to Detail and Sensory Hypersensitivity.” Philosophical Transactions: Biological Sciences 364, no. 1522 (27 May 2009): 1377–83. Barrie, J. M. The Plays of J.M. Barrie. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1928. Barthes, Roland. The Pleasure of the Text. Translated by Richard Miller, with a note on the text by Richard Howard. New York: Hill and Wang, 1975. Barthes, Roland. The Responsibility of Forms: Critical Essays on Music, Art, and Representation. Translated by Richard Howard. New York: Hill and Wang, 1985. Beer, Gillian. “‘Coming Wonders’: Uses of Theatre in the Victorian Novel.” In English Drama: Forms and Development: Essays in Honour of Muriel Clara Bradbrook, edited by M. C. Bradbrook, Marie Axton, and Raymond Williams, 164–85. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977. Belknap, Robert E. The List: The Uses and Pleasures of Cataloguing. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004. Belmonte, Matthew K. “Human, but More So: What the Autistic Brain Tells Us about the Process of Narrative.” In Autism and Representation, edited by Mark Osteen, 166–80. New York: Routledge, 2007. Berg, Gretchen. “Andy Warhol: My True Story.” 1966. In I’ll Be Your Mirror: The Selected Andy Warhol Interviews: 1962–1987, edited by Kenneth Goldsmith, afterword by Wayne Koestenbaum, introduction by Reva Wolf, 85–96. New York: Carroll & Graf, 2004.
Works Cited • 201 Bettelheim, Bruno. The Empty Fortress: Infantile Autism and the Birth of the Self. New York: Free Press, 1967. Bettelheim, Bruno. “Feral Children and Autistic Children.” American Journal of Sociology 64, no. 5 (March 1959): 455–67. Bettelheim, Bruno. “Joey: A ‘Mechanical Boy.” Scientific American 200, no. 3 (March 1959): 116–27. Bloom, Harold. The Brontës. New York: Chelsea House, 1987. Bogdashina, Olga. Communication Issues in Autism and Asperger Syndrome: Do We Speak the Same Language? London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2005. Borges, Jorge Luis. “The Analytical Language of John Wilkins.” In Other Inquisitions: 1937–1952, by Jorge Luis Borges, translated by Ruth L. C. Simms, introduction by James E. Irby, 101–5. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1964. Bosch, Gerhard. Infantile Autism: A Clinical and Phenomenological-Anthropological Investigation Taking Language as the Guide. Translated by Derek and Inge Jordan, foreword by Bruno Bettelheim. Berlin, New York: Springer-Verlag, 1970. Bowker, Geoffrey C., and Susan Leigh Star. Sorting Things Out: Classification and Its Consequences. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2000. Braun, Gretchen. “‘A Great Break in the Common Course of Confession’: Narrating Loss in Charlotte Brontë’s Villette.” ELH 78, no. 1 (2011): 189–212. Brewer, William D. “Mary Shelley on the Therapeutic Value of Language.” In Critical Essays on Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, edited by Mary Lowe-Evans, 152–65. London: Prentice, 1998. Broderick, Alicia A. “Autism as Rhetoric: Exploring Watershed Rhetorical Moments in Applied Behavior Analysis Discourse.” Disability Studies Quarterly 31, no. 3 (2011), dsq-sds.org/article/view/1674/1597. Accessed 13 June 2017. Brontë, Charlotte. Villette. 1853. Edited by Mark Lilly, introduction by Tony Tanner. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1979. Brooks, Peter. “‘Godlike Science / Unhallowed Arts’: Language, Nature, and Monstrosity.” New Literary History 9, no. 3 (Spring 1978): 591–605. Brooks, Peter. Reading for the Plot: Design and Intention in Narrative. New York: A. A. Knopf, 1984. Brown, Homer O. “The Displaced Self in the Novels of Daniel Defoe.” ELH 38, no. 4 (December 1971): 562–90. Brown, Julie. Writers on the Spectrum: How Autism and Asperger Syndrome Have Influenced Literary Writing. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2009. Brown, Roger W., and Richard J. Herrnstein. Psychology. New York: Little, Brown, 1975. Brunton, Finn, and Helen Nissenbaum. Obfuscation: A User’s Guide for Privacy and Protest. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2015. Burdett, Emmeline. “Review of The Madwoman and the Blindman: Jane Eyre. In Discourse, Disability, edited by David Bolt, Julia Miele Rodas, and Elizabeth Donaldson.” H-Disability, H-Net Reviews, December 2014, networks.h-net.org/ node/4189/reviews/55882/burdett-bolt-and-rodas-and-donaldson-madwomanand-blindman-jane-eyre. Accessed 26 July 2017. Cameron, Mark A. Foreword to Finding Kansas: Living and Decoding Asperger’s Syndrome by Aaron Likens, xiii–xvi. New York: Perigee (Penguin), 2012. Carver, William. Where Water Comes Together with Other Water: Poems. New York: Random House, 1985. Challis, Natalia, and Horace W. Dewey. “The Blessed Fools of Old Russia.” Jahrbücher für Geschichte Osteuropas, n.s., 22, no. 1 (1974): 1–11.
202 • Works Cited Chance, Paul. “Interview with Ivar Lovaas.” Psychology Today (January 1974): 76–84. Chase, Karen. Eros and Psyche: The Representation of Personality in Charlotte Brontë, Charles Dickens, and George Eliot. New York: Methuen, 1984. Chew, Kristina. “Autism and the Task of the Translator.” In Worlds of Autism: Across the Spectrum of Neurological Difference, edited by Joyce Davidson and Michael Orsini, 305–18. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2013. Chew, Kristina. “Fractioned Idiom: Metonymy and the Language of Autism.” In Autism and Representation, edited by Mark Osteen, 133–44. New York: Routledge, 2007. Chow, Rey. “How (the) Inscrutable Chinese Led to Globalized Theory.” PMLA 116, no. 1 (January 2001): 69–74. Clemit, Pamela. The Godwinian Novel: The Rational Fictions of Godwin, Brockden Brown, Mary Shelley. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993. Cohen, Margaret. The Novel and the Sea. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010. Cohen, William A. “Why Is There So Much French in Villette?” ELH 84, no. 1 (Spring 2017): 171–94. Cohn, Elisha. Still Life: Suspended Development in the Victorian Novel. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015. Corliss, Richard. “Comedy’s Post-Funny School.” Time, 25 May 1981, 86–87. Cotgrave, Randle. A Dictionarie of the French and English Tongues. London: Printed by Adam Islip, 1611. Couser, G. Thomas. “The Empire of the ‘Normal’: A Forum on Disability and Self- Representation: Introduction.” American Quarterly 52, no. 2 (2000): 305–10. Cowen, Tyler. Create Your Own Economy: The Path to Prosperity in a Disordered World. New York: Dutton, 2009. Crosby, Christina. The Ends of History: Victorians and “the Woman Question.” New York: Routledge, 1991. Crow, Thomas. “Saturday Disasters: Trace and Reference in Early Warhol.” In Reconstructing Modernism: Art in New York, Paris, and Montreal, 1945–1964, edited by Serge Guilbaut, 311–331. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1990. Culler, Jonathan D. The Pursuit of Signs: Semiotics, Literature, Deconstruction. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1981. Cunningham, Allison B., and Laura Schreibman. “Stereotypy in Autism: The Importance of Function.” Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders 2, no. 3 (2008): 469–79. Daiches, David. “Walt Whitman: Impressionist Prophet.” In Leaves of Grass: One Hundred Years After, edited and with an introduction by Milton Hindus, 109–22. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1955. Davidson, Jenny. Breeding: A Partial History of the Eighteenth Century. New York: Columbia University Press, 2009. Davidson, Joyce, and Michael Orsini. Worlds of Autism: Across the Spectrum of Neurological Difference. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2013. Davis, Helen H. “‘I Seemed to Hold Two Lives’: Disclosing Circumnarration in Villette and The Picture of Dorian Gray.” Narrative 21, no. 2 (2013): 198–220. Davis, Lennard J. Factual Fictions: The Origins of the English Novel. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1997. Davis, Lennard J. Obsession: A History. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008. Dawson, Michelle. “‘The Misbehaviour of Behaviourists’: No Autistics Allowed.” No Autistics Allowed: Explorations in Discrimination Against Autistics, 29 January 2004, sentex.net/~nexus23/naa_aba.html. Accessed 13 June 2017.
Works Cited • 203 Defoe, Daniel. Robinson Crusoe: An Authoritative Text, Contexts, Criticism. Edited by Michael Shinagel. New York: W. W. Norton, 1994. Dekel, Mikhal. “Austen and Autism: Reading Brain, Emotion and Gender Differences in Pride and Prejudice.” Nineteenth-Century Gender Studies 10, no. 3 (winter 2014), ncgsjournal.com/issue103/dekel.htm. Accessed 25 July 2017. de Man, Paul. Aesthetic Ideology. Translated by Andrzej Warminski. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996. de Villiers, Peter A., and Jill G. de Villiers. “Commentary on Language and Autism.” In Handbook of Autism and Pervasive Developmental Disorders, edited by Donald J. Cohen, Anne M. Donnellan, and Rhea Paul, 697–702. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1987. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: DSM-III. American Psychiatric Association, 1980. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: DSM-III-R. American Psychiatric Association, 1987. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: DSM-IV. American Psychiatric Association, 1994. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: DSM-IV-TR. American Psychiatric Association, 2000. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: DSM-5. American Psychiatric Association, 2013. Dickens, Charles. The Personal History of David Copperfield. 1850. Introduction by Paul Bailey. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999. Dobson, Michael, and Stanley Wells. The Oxford Companion to Shakespeare. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001. Doherty, Joseph F. “Whitman’s ‘Poem of the Mind.’” Semiotica 14, no. 4 (January 1975): 345–63. Dolmage, Jay. Disability Rhetoric. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2014. Durbin-Westby, Paula C. “‘Public Law 109–416 Is Not Just about Scientific Research’: Speaking Truth to Power at Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee Meetings.” Disability Studies Quarterly 30, no. 1 (2010), dsq-sds.org/article/ view/1070/1245. Accessed 27 July 2017. Duyfhuizen, Bernard. “Framed Narrative.” In Routledge Encyclopedia of Narrative Theory, edited by David Herman, Manfred Jahn, and Marie-Laure Ryan, 186–88. London: Routledge, 2005. Easley, Greg. “The Divine Myth Stewart.” Spy 10, no. 4 (July/August 1996): 50–57. Easton, Anthony. “Autism: An Anecdotal Abecedarium.” Special issue, “Dystranslation,” Kadar Koli 8 (Summer 2013): 98–107. Easton, Anthony. “It Feels Like We Are in the Second Generation of Autistic Discourse.” Tangerines in a Red Net Bag, 17 April 2015, pinkmoose.blogspot.com/. Accessed 27 July 2017. Eco, Umberto. The Infinity of Lists. Translated by Alastair McEwen. Rizzoli, 2009. Elder, Jennifer, and Marc Thomas. Different Like Me: My Book of Autism Heroes. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2005. Eliot, George. Middlemarch: A Study of Provincial Life. 1874. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999. Emerson, Joan P. “Negotiating the Serious Import of Humor.” Sociometry 32, no. 2 (1969): 169–81.
204 • Works Cited Epstein, Mikhail. Predictionary: Experiments in Verbal Creativity. USA: Franc-Tireur, 2011. Feinstein, Adam. A History of Autism: Conversations with the Pioneers. United Kingdom: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010. Ferguson Bottomer, Phyllis. So Odd a Mixture: Along the Autistic Spectrum in Pride and Prejudice. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2007. Fine, Lisa, and John W. Myers. “Understanding Students with Asperger’s Syndrome.” Phi Delta Kappa Fastbacks 520 (2004): 3–39. Fitzgerald, Michael. Autism and Creativity: Is There a Link between Autism in Men and Exceptional Ability? Hove: Brunner-Routledge, 2004. Fitzgerald, Michael. The Genesis of Artistic Creativity: Asperger’s Syndrome and the Arts. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2005. Flanagan, Caitlin. To Hell with All That: Loving and Loathing Our Inner Housewife. New York: Little, Brown, 2006. Ford, Mark. “Pretzel. Review of W or the Memory of Childhood, by Georges Perec, translated by David Bellos; and Life: A User’s Manual, by Georges Perec, translated by David Bellos.” London Review of Books, 2 February 1989, lrb.co.uk/v11/n03/markford/pretzel. Accessed 27 June 2017. Forster, John. The Life of Charles Dickens. 1874. Vol. 2. Edited by A. J. Hoppé. London: J. M. Dent & Sons, 1966. Foss, Chris. “Reading in Pictures: Re-visioning Autism and Literature through the Medium of Manga.” In Disability in Comic Books and Graphic Narratives, edited by Chris Foss, Jonathan W. Gray, and Zach Whalen, 95-110. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016. Foster, Hal. “Death in America.” October 75 (Winter 1996): 36–59. Foucault, Michel. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. 2nd ed. New York: Vintage Books, 1995. Foucault, Michel. The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences. New York: Pantheon Books, 1971. Fowler, H. W., and F. G. Fowler. The King’s English. 1906. 3rd ed. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1931. Francis, Mark. “No There There or Horror Vacui: Andy Warhol’s Installations.” In Andy Warhol: Paintings 1960–1986 (exhibition catalogue), edited by Martin Schwander, 64–72. Kunstmuseum, Luzern: Colophon, 1995. Fraser, Rebecca. Charlotte Bronte: A Writer’s Life. New York: Pegasus Books, 2008. Frith, Uta. Autism and Asperger Syndrome. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991. Frith, Uta. Autism: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008. Frith, Uta. Autism: Explaining the Enigma. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell, 1989. Frith, Uta. Autism: Explaining the Enigma. 2nd ed. Oxford, UK: Basil Blackwell, 2003. Frith, Uta, and Francesca Happé. “Language and Communication in Autistic Disorders.” Philosophical Transactions: Biological Sciences 346 (1994): 97–104. Froehlich, Greer Lucas. “My Autistic Superpower.” Autistic Kitten, 17 May 2015, goo. gl/8S68je. Accessed 27 July 2017. Garland-Thomson, Rosemarie. “The Cultural Logic of Euthanasia: ‘Sad Fancyings’ in Herman Melville’s ‘Bartleby.’” American Literature 76, no. 4 (2004): 777–806. Gaskell, Elizabeth. The Life of Charlotte Brontë. Edited by Elisabeth Jay. London: Penguin Books, 1998. Gerrig, Richard J. Experiencing Narrative Worlds: On the Psychological Activities of Reading. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993.
Works Cited • 205 Ghaziuddin, Mohammad, and Leonore Gerstein. “Pedantic Speaking Style Differentiates Asperger Syndrome from High-Functioning Autism.” Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders 26, no. 6 (December 1996): 585–95. Gilbert, Sandra M., and Susan Gubar. The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1979. Gillberg, Christopher. “Clinical and Neurobiological Aspects of Asperger Syndrome in Six Family Studies.” In Autism and Asperger Syndrome, edited by Uta Frith, 122– 46. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991. Gioni, Massimiliano, and Natalie Bell, eds. The Keeper. Exhibition catalogue. With texts by Ed Atkins, Wilson Bentley, Robert H. Boyle, et al. New York: New Museum, 2016. Glastonbury, Marion. “‘I’ll Teach You Differences’: The Cultural Presence of Autistic Lives.” Changing English: Studies in Culture and Education 4, no. 1 (1997): 51–65. Glastonbury, Marion. “Incommunicado: On Trying to Understand Autistic Lives.” Changing English: Studies in Culture and Education 3, no. 2 (1996): 119–30. Glastonbury, Marion. “Natural Wonders: Responding to Autistic Lives.” Changing English: Studies in Culture and Education 7, no. 1 (2000): 75–88. Glastonbury, Marion. “Wild Work: On Picturing Ourselves and Others.” Changing English: Studies in Culture and Education 6, no. 2 (1999): 135–43. Goldfarb, Russell M. Sexual Repression and Victorian Literature. Lewisburg, PA: Bucknell University Press, 1970. Grace, Elizabeth J. “Autistethnography.” In Both Sides of the Table: Autoethnographies of Educators Learning and Teaching With/In [Dis]ability, edited by Phil Smith, 89–102. New York: Peter Lang, 2013. Grace, Elizabeth J. (Ibby). “Your Mama Wears Drover Boots.” In Criptiques, edited by Caitlin Wood, 11–24. May Day, 2014. Grandin, Temple. Thinking in Pictures: And Other Reports from My Life with Autism. New York: Doubleday, 1995. Grass, Sean C. The Self in the Cell: Narrating the Victorian Prisoner. Oxford and New York: Routledge, 2014. Grinker, Roy Richard, et al. “‘Communities’ in Community Engagement: Lessons Learned from Autism Research in South Africa and South Korea.” Autism Research: Official Journal of the International Society for Autism Research 5, no. 3 (2012): 201–10. Grinker, Roy R. Unstrange Minds: Remapping the World of Autism. New York: Basic books, 2008. Grossi, Dario, et al. “On the Differential Nature of Induced and Incidental Echolalia in Autism.” Journal of Intellectual Disability Research 57, no. 10 (2013): 903–12. Hacking, Ian. “Autistic Autobiography.” In Autism and Talent, edited by Francesca Happé and Uta Frith, 195–207. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010. Hacking, Ian. “Kinds of People: Moving Targets.” In Proceedings of the British Academy: 2006 Lectures, vol. 151, edited by P. J. Marshall, 285–317. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007. Haladyn, Julian Jason. “Empire of Boring: The Unbearable Duration of Andy Warhol’s Films.” Kinema 35 (Spring 2011), kinema.uwaterloo.ca/article. php?id=490&feature. Accessed 27 July 2017. Hammerschmidt, Erika. “887.” Abby and Norma: A Weird Weekend Webcomic, 26 January 2011, goo.gl/ByFYc6. Accessed 27 July 2017. Hammerschmidt, Erika. “Wordplay: Love It or Hate It?” WrongPlanet, 20 April 2011, goo.gl/8xfCs0.
206 • Works Cited Happé, Francesca G. E. “The Autobiographical Writings of Three Asperger Syndrome Adults.” In Autism and Asperger Syndrome, edited by Uta Frith. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991. Happé, Francesca, and Uta Frith. “The Weak Coherence Account: Detail-Focused Cognitive Style in Autism Spectrum Disorders.” Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders 36, no. 1 (2006): 5–25. Hare, Robert D. Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of the Psychopaths among Us. New York: Guilford Press, 1999. Haring, Keith. “Painting the Third Mind.” In Collaborations: Andy Warhol, Jean-Michel Basquiat, 21 November 1988–21 January 1989 (exhibition catalogue), 1–3. London: David Grub, 1988. Harp, Bev. “BADD: Connecting Dots.” Square 8: Squawk about Disability and Society, 1 May 2012, aspergersquare8.blogspot.com/2012/05/badd-connecting-dots.html. Accessed 27 July 2017. Harp, Bev. “A Conversation with Martha Leary.” Square 8: Squawk about Disability and Society, 9 June 2009, aspergersquare8.blogspot.com/2009/06/conversation-withmartha-leary.html. Accessed 27 July 2017. Harp, Bev. “On the (Autistic) Use of Parentheses.” Square 8: Squawk about Disability and Society, 23 March 2007, goo.gl/pD5VNY. Accessed 27 July 2017. Harris, Elizabeth A. “In a Sanitation Garage, a Gallery of Scavenged Art.” New York Times, 23 July 2012, www.nytimes.com/2012/07/24/nyregion/in-new-york-sani tation-dept-garage-an-art-gallery.html. Accessed 3 Oct 2016. Heady, Emily W. Victorian Conversion Narratives and Reading Communities. Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2013. Heilker, Paul, and Melanie Yergeau. “Autism and Rhetoric.” College English 73, no. 5 (May 2011): 485–97. Hendriks, Ruud. Autistic Company. Translated by Lynne Richards. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2012. Hill, Elisabeth L., and Uta Frith. “Understanding Autism: Insights from Mind and Brain.” In Autism: Mind and Brain, edited by Uta Frith and Elisabeth Hill, 1–19. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003. Hinerman, Paige S. Teaching Autistic Children to Communicate. Rockville, MD: Aspen Systems, 1983. Howlin, Patricia. Autism: Preparing for Adulthood. London and New York: Routledge, 1997. Hughes, John. Affective Worlds: Writing, Feeling and Nineteenth-Century Literature. Brighton: Sussex Academic Press, 2011. Hughes-Hallett, Lucy. “Charlotte Brontë: Why Villette is better than Jane Eyre.” The Telegraph 21 April 2014. www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/10547414/ Charlotte-Bronte-Why-Villette-is-better-than-Jane-Eyre.html. Accessed 12 Jan 2018. ICD-10 Criteria for Childhood Autism. World Health Organization, 1992. Isherwood, Christopher. Goodbye to Berlin. In The Berlin Stories. New York: New Directions, 1945. Jacobus, Mary. Reading Woman: Essays in Feminist Criticism. New York: Columbia University Press, 1986. James, Ioan Mackenzie. Asperger’s Syndrome and High Achievement: Some Very Remarkable People. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2006.
Works Cited • 207 Jimerson, Randall C. “Archives for All: Professional Responsibility and Social Justice.” American Archivist 70, no. 2 (Fall/Winter 2007): 252–81. Jong, Erica. Fear of Fifty: A Midlife Memoir. New York: HarperCollins, 1994. Jurecic, Ann. “Neurodiversity.” College English 69, no. 5 (May 2007): 421–42. Kane, Leslie. The Language of Silence: On the Unspoken and the Unspeakable in Modern Drama. Madison, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1984. Kanner, Leo. “Autistic Disturbances of Affective Contact.” Nervous Child 2 (1943): 217–50. Kanner, Leo. “Irrelevant and Metaphorical Language in Early Infantile Autism.” American Journal of Psychiatry 103, no. 2 (1946): 242–46. Kendall, Joshua C. The Man Who Made Lists: Love, Death, Madness, and the Creation of Roget’s Thesaurus. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2008. Kestenbaum, Clarice J. “Autism, Asperger’s and Other Oddities . . . Thoughts about Treatment Approaches.” Journal of the American Academy of Psychoanalysis and Dynamic Psychiatry 36, no. 2 (2008): 279–94. Kim, Katherine J. “Corpse Hoarding: Control and the Female Body in ‘Bluebeard,’ ‘Schalken the Painter,’ and Villette.” Studies in the Novel 43, no. 4 (2011): 406–27. Kimak, Jonathan. “6 New Personality Disorders Caused by the Internet.” Cracked, 30 June 2009, cracked.com/article_17522_6-new-personality-disorders-caused-byinternet_p2.html. Accessed 27 July 2017. King James Bible. 1611. Cambridge/Proquest, 1996. Knight, Christopher J. The Patient Particulars: American Modernism and the Technique of Originality. Lewisburg, PA: Bucknell University Press, 1995. Koegel, Ashley Kern. “Evidence Suggesting the Existence of Asperger’s Syndrome in the Mid-1800s.” Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions 10, no. 4 (2008): 270–72. Konnikova, Maria. “A List of Reasons Why Our Brains Love Lists.” New Yorker, 2 December 2013, newyorker.com/tech/elements/a-list-of-reasons-why-our-brainslove-lists. Accessed 27 July 2017. Kreilkamp, Ivan. Voice and the Victorian Storyteller. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005. Lamb, Charles. “Letter to Walter Wilson.” 16 December 1822. In The Works of Charles Lamb, edited by William Macdonald, vol. 12. London: J.M. Dent & Co., 1903. 12 vols. Lawrence, Karen. “The Cypher: Disclosure and Reticence in Villette.” Nineteenth- Century Literature 42, no. 4 (1988): 448–66. Levine, George. “The Ambiguous Heritage of Frankenstein.” In The Endurance of Frankenstein: Essays on Mary Shelley’s Novel, edited by George Levine and U. C. Knoepflmacher, 3–30. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1979. Lewis, Bradley. Moving beyond Prozac, DSM, and the New Psychiatry: The Birth of Postpsychiatry. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2006. Likens, Aaron. Finding Kansas: Living and Decoding Asperger’s Syndrome. New York: Penguin, 2012. Lippi-Green, Rosina. English with an Accent: Language, Ideology, and Discrimination in the United States. London: Routledge, 1997. Little, Paul. “Send Jobless to Oz? A Poor Solution.” New Zealand Herald, 9 December 2012. LexisNexis, lexisnexis.com/hottopics/lnacademic/?verb=sr&csi=257912. Accessed 27 July 2017. Lobel, Arnold. Frog and Toad Together. New York: Harper and Row, 1972.
208 • Works Cited Locke, John. An Essay Concerning Human Understanding. Edited by Peter H. Nidditch. In The Clarendon Edition of the Works of John Locke, edited by John W. Yolton. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1975. Loftis, Sonya Freeman. “The Autistic Detective: Sherlock Holmes and His Legacy.” Disability Studies Quarterly 34, no. 4 (2014), dsq-sds.org/article/view/3728/3791. Accessed 27 July 2017. “logorrhea.” Oxford English Dictionary. Prepared by J. A. Simpson and E. S. C. Weiner, 2nd ed., vol. 8, 1113. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989. 20 vols. Longmore, Paul K. Why I Burned My Book and Other Essays on Disability. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2003. Longworth, Deborah. “The Avant-Garde in the Village: Rogue (1915).” In The Oxford Critical and Cultural History of Modernist Magazines, vol. 2: North America 1894– 1960, edited by Peter Brooker and Andrew Thacker, 465–82. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013. Lord, Catherine, Susan Risi, and Andrew Pickles. “Trajectory of Language Development in Autism Spectrum Disorders.” In Developmental Language Disorders: From Phenotypes to Etiologies, edited by Mabel Rice and Steven F. Warren. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, 2004. Lorde, Audre. “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House.” Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches. Freedom, CA: Crossing Press, 2000. Main, Andrew (Zefram). Allism: An Introduction to a Little-Known Condition, 30 January 2003, http://www.fysh.org/~zefram/allism/allism_intro.txt. Accessed 15 June 2017. Mallon, Thomas. “Obsessed (Agog, Beset, Consumed, Driven, etc.).” New York Times, 16 March 2008, nytimes.com/2008/03/16/books/review/Mallon-t.html. Accessed 27 July 2017. Marx, Karl. Capital: A Critique of Political Economy. 1867. Edited by Frederick Engels, translated by Samuel Moore and Edward Aveling. London: Swan Sonnenschein, Lowrey & Co, 1887. Mazurek, Monika. “Revising Canon, Revising Syllabus: Teaching Charlotte Brontë’s Villette.” In Studies in Teacher Education: Language, Literature, and Culture, edited by Mariusz Misztal and Mariusz Trawiński, 229–34. Kraków: Wydawnictwo Naukowe Akademii Pedagogicznej, 2005. McCall, Dan. The Silence of Bartleby. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1989. McCarthy, Jenny. Louder Than Words: A Mother’s Journey in Healing Autism. New York: Dutton, 2007. McDonagh, Patrick. “Autism and Modernism: A Geneological Exploration.” In Autism and Representation, edited by Mark Osteen, 99–116. New York: Routledge, 2007. McGuire, Anne. War on Autism: On the Cultural Logic of Normative Violence. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2016. McLaughlin, Thomas. “Figurative Language.” In Critical Terms for Literary Study, edited by Frank Lentricchia and Thomas McLaughlin, 2nd ed., 80–90. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995. McNees, Eleanor. The Brontë Sisters: Critical Assessments. Mountfield: Helm Information, 1996. Mekas, Jonas. “Notes after Reseeing the Movies of Andy Warhol.” 1964. Reprinted in Andy Warhol (exhibition catalogue), edited by John Coplans. New York: New York Graphic Society, 1970.
Works Cited • 209 Meltzer, Donald. Explorations in Autism: A Psycho-Analytical Study. Perthshire: Clunie Press, 1975. Melville, Herman. “Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street.” In The Piazza Tales and Other Prose Pieces, edited by Harrison Hayford, Alma A. MacDougall, G. Thomas Tanselle, et al. Vol. 9 of The Writings of Herman Melville, 13–45. Evenston, IL: Northwestern University Press; Chicago: Newberry Library, 1987. 15 vols. Metzl, Jonathan. The Protest Psychosis: How Schizophrenia Became a Black Disease. Boston: Beacon Press, 2009. Michael, Emily. “Voices in Error: Counting against Competence.” Disability Rhetoric: Disabling Writing, in a Good Way, 18 December 2014, disabilityrhetoric. com/2014/12/. Accessed 27 July 2017. Millett, Kate. Sexual Politics. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2000. Miltner, Robert. “In a Mature Light: The ‘Second Life’ Poems in Where Water Comes Together with Other Water and Ultramarine.’” In New Paths to Raymond Carver: Critical Essays on His Life, Fiction, and Poetry, edited by Sandra Lee Kleppe and Robert Miltner, 46–61. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2008. Mitchell, David T., and Sharon L. Snyder. Narrative Prosthesis: Disability and the Dependencies of Discourse. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2001. Moglen, Helene. Charlotte Brontë: The Self Conceived. New York: W. W. Norton, 1976. Moi, Toril. Sexual/Textual Politics: Feminist Literary Theory. 2nd ed. London: Routledge, 2002. “Monstrum.” A Latin Dictionary (founded on Andrews’s edition of Freund’s Latin Dictionary). Revised, enlarged, and in great part rewritten by Charlton T. Lewis and Charles Short. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1879. perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?d oc=Perseus:text:1999.04.0059:entry=monstrum. Accessed 23 June 2017. Motte, Warren F. The Poetics of Experiment: A Study of the Work of Georges Perec. Lexington, KY: French Forum, 1984. Murray, Stuart. Autism. New York: Routledge, 2012. Murray, Stuart. Representing Autism: Culture, Narrative, Fascination. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2008. Nadesan, Majia Holmer. “Constructing Autism: A Brief Genealogy.” In Autism and Representation, edited by Mark Osteen, 78–95. New York: Routledge, 2007. Nadesan, Majia H. Constructing Autism: Unravelling the ‘Truth’ and Understanding the Social. London: Routledge, 2005. Napier, Elizabeth R. Defoe’s Major Fiction: Accounting for the Self. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 2016. Nazeer, Kamran. Send in the Idiots: Stories from the Other Side of Autism. New York: Bloomsbury, 2006. “non sequitur, n.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, June 2017, oed.com/view/ Entry/128101?redirectedFrom=non+sequitor&. Accessed 26 July 2017. Novak, Maximillian E. Transformation Ideology, and the Real in Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe and Other Narratives. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 2016. O’Dea, Gregory S. “Narrator and Reader in Charlotte Brontë’s Villette.” South Atlantic Review 53, no. 1 (January 1988): 41–57. Olsen, Lance. “Diagnosing Fantastic Autism: Kafka, Borges, Robbe-Grillet.” Modern Language Studies 16, no. 3 (Summer 1986): 35–43. Onions, C. T., G. W. S. Friedrichsen, and R. W. Burchfield, eds. “ricochet.” Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1966.
210 • Works Cited Orrery, John Boyle, Earl of. Remarks on the life and writings of Dr. Jonathan Swift . . . in a series of letters from John Earl of Orrery, to His Son, the Honourable Hamilton Boyle. London: George Faulkner, 1752. Osteen, Mark, ed. Autism and Representation. New York: Routledge, 2007. Owen, David. “Saving Treasures from the Trash.” New Yorker, 12 September 2016, www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/09/12/saving-treasures-from-the-trash. Accessed 3 October 2016. Page, Tim. Parallel Play: Growing Up with Undiagnosed Asperger’s. New York: Doubleday, 2009. Paradiz, Valerie. “Cultural Commentary: Leaving the Ivory Tower of Asperger Syndrome.” Disability Studies Quarterly 30, no. 1 (2010), dsq-sds.org/article/ view/1053/1240. Accessed 27 July 2017. Paradiž, Valerie. Elijah’s Cup: A Family’s Journey into the Community and Culture of High- Functioning Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome. New York: Free Press, 2002. Perec, Georges. “Attempt at an Inventory of the Liquid and Solid Foodstuffs Ingurgitated by Me in the Course of the Year Nineteen Hundred and Seventy-Four.” Translated by John Sturrock. Food: The Vital Stuff / Granta 52 (Winter 1995): 86– 92. Perec, Georges. “The Infra-Ordinary.” 1973. Extracted and translated from L’infra- ordinaire by Georges Perec, Seuil, 1989. Translator unknown. Day-to-Day Data, daytodaydata.ellieharrison.com/georgesperec.html. Accessed 28 June 2017. Perec, Georges. Life a User’s Manual. Boston: D. R. Godine, 1987. Pinchevski, Amit. “Bartleby’s Autism: Wandering along Incommunicability.” Cultural Critique 78 (Spring 2011): 27–59. Plath, Sylvia. The Journals of Sylvia Plath. Edited by Frances McCullough, introduction by Ted Hughes. New York: Anchor Books, 1998. Poe, Edgar Allan. “Daniel Defoe.” 1836. In Essays and Reviews, edited by Gary R. Thompson, 201–3. New York: Library of America, 1984. Polhemus, Robert M. Erotic Faith: Being in Love from Jane Austen to D. H. Lawrence. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995. Popa, Catrinel. “Exploring the Infra-Ordinary (The ‘Oblique Glance’ as Autobiographical Strategy).” Human & Social Studies 5, no. 1 (2016): 73–87. Prince-Hughes, Dawn. Songs of the Gorilla Nation: My Journey through Autism. New York: Three Rivers Press, 2004. Proudhon, Pierre-Joseph. General Idea of the Revolution in the Nineteenth Century. 1851. New York: Cosimo Classics, 2007. Quayson, Ato. “Autism, Narrative, and Emotions: On Samuel Beckett’s ‘Murphy.’” University of Toronto Quarterly 79, no. 2 (2010): 838–64. Quintilian. Institutes of Oratory. Edited by Lee Honeycutt, translated by John Selby Watson, 2006, Iowa State, 10 December 2014, rhetoric.eserver.org/quintilian/. Accessed 27 July 2017. Richardson, Alan. The Neural Sublime: Cognitive Theories and Romantic Texts. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2010. “ricochet.” Oxford English Dictionary. prepared by J. A. Simpson and E. S. C. Weiner, 2nd ed., vol. 8, 895–96. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989. 20 vols. Robinson, Charles E. “Texts in Search of an Editor: Reflections on The Frankenstein Notebooks and on Editorial Authority.” In Textual Studies and the Common Reader: Essays on Editing Novels and Novelists, edited by Alexander Pettit, 91–110. Columbus: University of Georgia Press, 2000.
Works Cited • 211 Robison, John E. Look Me in the Eye: My Life with Asperger’s. New York: Crown, 2007. Rodas, Julia Miele. “Diagnosable: Mothering at the Threshold of Disability.” In Disability and Mothering: Liminal Spaces of Embodied Knowledge, edited by Cynthia Lewiecki- Wilson and Jen Cellio, 113–26. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2011. Rodas, Julia Miele. “‘On the Spectrum’: Rereading Contact and Affect in Jane Eyre.” In The Madwoman and the Blindman: Jane Eyre, Discourse, Disability, edited by David Bolt, Julia Miele Rodas, and Elizabeth Donaldson. Columbus: The Ohio State University Press, 2012. Rosenblum, Ariel. “Treasures in the Trash Museum: A Museum of Salvaged Trash.” PlaceMatters, 2014, placematters.net/node/1908. Accessed 7 Oct 2016. Roth, Ilona. “Imagination and the Awareness of Self in Autistic Spectrum Poets.” In Autism and Representation, edited by Mark Osteen, 145–65. New York: Routledge, 2007. Ruttenberg, Bertram A., and Enid G. Wolf. “Evaluating the Communication of the Autistic Child.” Journal of Speech and Hearing Disorders 32, no. 4 (1967): 314–24. Rutter, Michael. “Commentary on Kanner’s ‘Autistic Disturbances of Affective Contact.’” In Classic Readings in Autism, edited by Anne M. Donnellan, 50–52. New York: Teacher’s College Press, 1985. Ryskamp, Dani Alexis. “Deconstructing ‘Speak’ in Autism Discourse.” Unpublished manuscript, Western Michigan University, 2015. Ryskamp, Dani Alexis. Field Notes on Allistics, 2015–17, fieldnotesonallistics.com/. Accessed 15 June 2017. Ryskamp, Dani Alexis. “Neurodiversity’s Lingua Franca? The Wild Iris, Autobiography of Red, and the Breakdown of Cognitive Barriers through Poetic Language.” Hilltop Review 7, no. 1 (Winter 2014): 21–32. Sacks, Oliver. “An Anthropologist on Mars.” In An Anthropologist on Mars: Seven Paradoxical Tales, by Oliver Sacks, 244–96. New York: Vintage, 1995. Sacks, Oliver. Foreword to Thinking in Pictures: And Other Reports from My Life with Autism, by Temple Grandin. New York: Doubleday, 1995. Sacks, Oliver W. “Rage for Order.” Directed by Christopher Rawlence. The Mind Traveller. BBC Two, 25 August 1998. Sacks, Oliver. “The Twins.” In The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Other Clinical Tales by Oliver Sacks, 195–213. New York: HarperPerennial, 1990. Salinas, Nora. “Teen with Autism Fired from Volunteer Position at McAllen Museum.” ValleyCentral.com, CBS 4 Sinclair Broadcast Group, 4 March 2016, valleycentral. com/news/local/teen-with-autism-fired-from-volunteer-position-at-mcallen-museum. Accessed 27 July 2017. Sarrett, Jennifer Christine. “Alternative to ‘Risk’.” Message to DS-HUM listserv, 29 May 2013. Savarese, Ralph. “The Lobes of Autobiography: Poetry and Autism.” Stone Canoe: A Journal of Arts and Ideas from Upstate New York 2 (Spring 2008): 61–77. Savarese, Ralph James. “Nervous Wrecks and Ginger-Nuts: Bartleby at a Standstill.” Leviathan 5, no. 2 (2003): 19–49. Savarese, Ralph J. Reasonable People: A Memoir of Autism and Adoption: On the Meaning of Family and the Politics of Neurological Difference. New York: Other Press, 2007. Savarese, Ralph J., and Lisa Zunshine. “The Critic As Neurocosmopolite; Or, What Cognitive Approaches to Literature Can Learn from Disability Studies: Lisa Zunshine in Conversation with Ralph James Savarese.” Narrative 22, no. 1 (2014): 17–44.
212 • Works Cited Schuler, Adriana L. “Aspects of Communication.” In Emerging Language in Autistic Children, by Warren H. Fay and Adriana L. Schuler, 87–111. Baltimore: University Park Press, 1980. Schneider, Edgar. Living the Good Life with Autism. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2003. Seidel, Kathleen. Neurodiversity.com. 2004– 14, neurodiversity.com/main.html. Accessed 27 July 2017. Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft. Frankenstein: The 1818 Text, Contexts, Nineteenth-Century Responses, Modern Criticism. Edited by J. P. Hunter. New York: W. W. Norton, 1996. Shelley, Percy Bysshe. The Poetical Works of Percy Bysshe Shelley. Vol. 2. Edited by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley. London: E. Moxon, 1857. 4 vols. Sherwin, Paul. “Frankenstein: Creation as Catastrophe.” PMLA 96, no. 5 (October 1981): 883–903. Shklovsky, Victor. “Art as Technique.” 1917. Translated by Lee T. Lemon and Marion Reis. In The Critical Tradition: Classic Texts and Contemporary Trends, 3rd ed., edited by David H. Richter, 774–84. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2007. Silberman, Steve. Neurotribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity. New York: Avery/Penguin, 2015. Silver, Sean. “Cognitive Crusoe: Care in the Museum of the Mind.” Workshop: A Publication of the Center for Eighteenth-Century Studies at Indiana University, no. 4 (2015): 169–71. Sinclair, Jim. “Don’t Mourn for Us.” Autonomy: The Critical Journal of Interdisciplinary Autism Studies 1, no. 1 (2012): 1–4. Sinclair, Jim. “Why I Dislike ‘Person First’ Language.” In Loud Hands: Autistic People, Speaking, edited by Julia Bascom, 223–24. Washington, DC: Autistic Self Advocacy Network, 2012. Smit-Marais, Susan. “Converted Spaces, Contained Places: Robinson Crusoe’s Monologic World.” Journal of Literary Studies 27, no. 1 (March 2011): 102–14. Snow, Carrie C. “Beyond Visions of Repair: Evoking a Parlance of Capacity and Competence in Research on Asperger Syndrome and Schooling.” In Emerging Perspectives on Disability Studies, edited by Matthew Wappett and Katrina Arndt, 169–88. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013. Solomon, Andrew. Far from the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity. New York: Scribner, 2012. Spiegelman, Arthur. “Thesaurus Creator Made Lists to Fend Off Depression.” Reuters, 28 March 2008, reuters.com/article/uk-books-roget-idUKN2628269520080328. Accessed 27 July 2017. Spitzer, Walter. “The Real Scandal of the MMR Debate.” Daily Mail, 20 December 2001, dailymail.co.uk/health/article-90643/The-real-scandal-MMR-debate.html. 27 July 2017. Stein, Gertrude. Gertrude Stein: Selections. Edited by Joan Retallack. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008. Sterrenburg, Lee. “Mary Shelley’s Monster: Politics and Psyche in Frankenstein.” In The Endurance of Frankenstein: Essays on Mary Shelley’s Novel, edited by George Levine and U. C. Knoepflmacher, 143–71. Berkeley: University of California Press. Stewart, Martha, and Elizabeth Hawes. Entertaining. New York: Clarkson Potter, 1998. St. Pierre, Joshua. “The Construction of the Disabled Speaker: Locating Stuttering in Disability Studies.” Canadian Journal of Disability Studies 1, no. 3 (August 2012): 1–21, cjds.uwaterloo.ca/index.php/cjds/article/view/54. Accessed 27 July 2017.
Works Cited • 213 Straus, Joseph N. “Autism and Postwar Serialism as Neurodiverse Forms of Cultural Modernism.” In The Oxford Handbook of Music and Disabilities, edited by Blake Howe, Stephanie Jensen-Moulton, Neil Lerner, and Joseph N. Straus, 684–706. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016. Straus, Joseph N. “Autism as Culture.” In The Disability Studies Reader, 4th ed., edited by Lennard J. Davis, 460–84. New York: Routledge, 2013. Straus, Joseph N. Extraordinary Measures: Disability in Music. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011. “Stuff Asperger People Like.” Stuff Asperger People Like, 12 July 2008, stuffaspergerpeoplelike.com/2008/07/12/1-making-lists/. Accessed 27 July 2017. Sullivan, William P. “Bartleby and Infantile Autism: A Naturalistic Explanation.” Bulletin of the West Virginia Association of College English Teachers 3, no. 2 (1976): 43–60. Suskind, Ron. Life, Animated: A Story of Sidekicks, Heroes, and Autism. Los Angeles: Kingswell, 2014. Svendsen, Lars F. H. A Philosophy of Boredom. London: Reaktion Books, 2005. Tager-Flusberg, Helen, Rhea Paul, and Catherine Lord. “Language and Communication in Autism.” In Handbook of Autism and Pervasive Developmental Disorders, edited by Fred R. Volkmar, et al. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2005. Tammet, Daniel. Born on a Blue Day: Inside the Extraordinary Mind of an Autistic Savant: A Memoir. New York: Free Press, 2007. Tantam, Digby. “Asperger’s Disorder (ii).” In Autism and Related Disorders: The Basic Handbook for Mental Health, Primary Care and Other Professionals, edited by Geraldine Holt and Nick Bouras, 32–41. Henry Ling, 2002. goo.gl/M2E0xm. Accessed 27 July 2017. Traweek, Sharon. “Unity, Dyads, Triads, Quads, and Complexity: Cultural Choreographies of Science.” In Science Wars, edited by Andrew Ross, 139–50. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1996. Usher, Shaun. Lists of Note: An Eclectic Collection Deserving of a Wider Audience. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2015. Victor, George. The Riddle of Autism: A Psychological Analysis. Lexington, MA: Lexington Books, 1983. “Villette, by Currer Bell.” Spectator, 12 February 1853, 155–56. Villiers, Jessica, Jonathan Fine, Gary Ginsberg, Liezanne Vaccarella, and Peter Szatmari. “Brief Report: A Scale for Rating Conversational Impairment in Autism Spectrum Disorder.” Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders 37, no. 7 (2007): 1375–80. Vološinov, Valentin N. Marxism and the Philosophy of Language. 1929. Translated by Ladislav Matejka and I. R. Titunik. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1986. Warhol, Andy. “Interview with Gene Swenson.” 1963. In Art in Theory, 1900–2000: An Anthology of Changing Ideas, edited by Charles Harrison and Paul Wood, 747–49. Malden: Blackwell, 2003. Warhol, Andy. The Philosophy of Andy Warhol: From A to B and Back Again. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1975. Warhol, Andy, and Pat Hackett. POPism: The Warhol ‘60s. New York: Harcourt, 1980. Watt, Ian P. The Rise of the Novel: Studies in Defoe, Richardson, and Fielding. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1957. Weber, Max. The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. 1930. Translated by Talcott Parsons. Kettering, OH: Angelico Press, 2014. Weinstone, Ann. “The Queerness of Lucy Snowe.” Nineteenth-Century Contexts 18, no. 4 (1995): 367–84.
214 • Works Cited White, M. V. “Robinson Crusoe.” In The New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics, 2nd ed., edited by Steven N. Durlauf and Lawrence E. Blume. Palgrave Macmillan, 2008. doi:10.1057/9780230226203.1448. Accessed 27 July 2017. White, Susan W., Thomas H. Ollendick, and Bethany C. Bray. “College Students on the Autism Spectrum: Prevalence and Associated Problems.” Autism 15, no. 6 (November 2011): 683–701. SAGE. doi:10.1177/1362361310393363. Accessed 27 July 2017. Whitehorn, J. C., and G. K. Zipf. “Schizophrenic Language.” Archives of Neurology and Psychology 49, no. 6 (1943): 831–51. Whitman, Walt. “There Was a Child Went Forth.” Leaves of Grass: Facsimile Edition of the 1860 Text, edited and introduction by Roy Harvey Pearce. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1961. Whitman, Walt. Song of Myself. 1881. Introduction and commentary by Ed Folsom and Christopher Merrill. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2016. Wiley, Chris. Exhibition plaque, “The Houses of Peter Fritz, Preserved by Oliver Croy and Oliver Elser.” The Keeper exhibition, New Museum of Contemporary Art. New York, 23 September 2016. Williams, Donna. Nobody Nowhere: The Extraordinary Autobiography of an Autistic. New York: Perennial, 2002. Wing, Lorna. “Asperger’s Syndrome: A Clinical Account.” Psychological Medicine 11, no. 1 (February 1981): 115–29. Woolf, Virginia. The Common Reader: First Series. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1925. Woolf, Virginia. The Second Common Reader. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1932. Wordsworth, William. “Surprised by Joy.” Poems: 1815. Oxford: Woodstock Books, 1989. Wyatt, C. S. “The Autistic Mind and Patterns.” The Autistic Me, 23 November 2009, goo.gl/T2RMqG. Accessed 27 July 2017. Wylie, Philip, Luke Beardon, and Sara Heath. Very Late Diagnosis of Asperger Syndrome (Autism Spectrum Disorder): How Seeking a Diagnosis in Adulthood Can Change Your Life. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2014. Yergeau, Melanie. “Aut(hored)ism.” Computers and Composition Online, Spring 2009, www2.bgsu.edu/departments/english/cconline/dmac/index.html. Accessed 27 July 2017. Yergeau, Melanie. Authoring Autism: On Rhetoric and Neurological Queerness. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2017. Yergeau, Melanie. “Circle Wars: Reshaping the Typical Autism Essay.” Disability Studies Quarterly 30, no. 1 (2010), dsq-sds.org/article/view/1063/1222. Accessed 27 July 2017. Yergeau, Melanie. “Clinically Significant Disturbance: On Theorists Who Theorize Theory of Mind.” Disability Studies Quarterly 33, no. 4 (2013), goo.gl/avJLFG. Accessed 27 July 2017. Yergeau, Melanie. “Socializing through Silence.” In Loud Hands: Autistic People, Speaking, edited by Julia Bascom, 223–24. Autistic Self Advocacy Network, 2012. Zehme, Bill. Lost in the Funhouse: The Life and Mind of Andy Kaufman. New York: Delacorte Press, 1999. Zelan, Karen. Between Their World and Ours: Breakthroughs with Autistic Children. New York: St. Martin’s, 2003.
Acknowledgments: A Litany •••
First: to my parents—my mother and father, Isabella and Jean, both of whom nurtured and challenged me, who appeared as giants in my world, who exposed me to city life and to nature, to art and to oh, so many people! Who fed me and left me alone, who forged the crucible that let me be myself and made me who I am. My stepfather and stepmother, Klaus and Lori, who tempered the gifts of the original pair, who filled in the gaps and helped to smooth the rough patches, who also fed and nurtured and challenged. Each of you has served as an important model: intrepid, kind, creative, diligent, curious. Everything I do is to make you proud. Thank you. Next: to the extended family of quasi-parents—Larry Sconzo, Aunt Ellie and Uncle Len, my mother-in-law, Mercedez Gomez. But also, all the intellectual godparents— my friend and adviser Jack Hall, again, always; Louis Menand; Michael Davis and Ann Lauinger; Rosemarie Garland-Thomson and Lennard Davis. You also fed me, in all kinds of ways, supported my work, met me where I was and cared for me and moved me along. Thank you. You, too, Micro-Communities Who Make the World in which a Book Like This Even Becomes Possible: to the autism/autistic writers and thinkers who excited and fostered these ideas—Melanie Yergeau, Bev Harp (Squawk!), Anthony Easton, Dani Alexis Ryskamp, Joe Straus, Chris Foss, Valerie Paradiž, Stuart Murray, Kristina Chew, Ralph Savarese, Ari Ne’eman—especially to those of you who read pieces of this work in manuscript; and, to the many others who also generously read parts of this book along the way—James Berger (who, OMG, read the *whole thing!), Anne Balay, Sarah Chinn, Scott Dexter, Ashley Kerr, Merri Lisa Johnson, Anna Mollow, Talia Schaffer, and Catherine Welter. To indexer extraordinaire Paula Durbin-Westby. To the CUNY
216 • Acknowledgments: A Litany Disability Scholars, especially my co-Chairs Mariette Bates and Jessica Murray; to the Columbia University Seminar in Disability, Culture & Society, especially to my partners Lotti Silber and Liz Bowen; to the Twatter sisterhood—Stephanie, Diana, and Elizabeth; and, to my long-term editorial partners David Bolt and Elizabeth Donaldson. For being there so I never really was alone in all this . . . Thank you. I do not forget my partners in the real world of democratic education; scholarly publication isn’t some ethereal exercise, but instead is actually a kind of thinking and writing that grows up in the cracks of the sidewalk of everyday academic life. So . . . to my students at Bronx Community College, who teach me again and again that people can have something important to say and myriad beautiful ways of saying it even when they express themselves beyond the mandates and regulations of approved mainstream language conventions; to my colleagues—David Puglia, Kate Culkin, Joseph Donica, Kathleen Urda, Andy Rowan, Sharon Utakis, Jillian Hess—for the everyday support of could-you-read-this? or what-do-you-think? or just-one-question . . . ; to Frank Giglio and Jose Burgos in Duplicating; to Maryann Russo, who actually runs the English department; and, crucially, to Bob Beuka and Marianne Pita, who chaired the English department while I picked away at this project and whose dynamic support played a huge part in my ever coming to closure. Thank you. But, wait . . . there’s more: the people and groups who hosted this work while it was still baking. I am indebted to Robert McRuer, who invited me to speak at the inaugural “Composing Disability” conference at George Washington; to Diana Paulin, who invited me to Trinity College to give the AK Smith Visiting Scholar Lecture; to Andrew Lucchesi and Emily Stanback, who included me in the English Student Association’s “Cripples, Idiots, Lepers, and Freaks” conference at the CUNY Graduate Center; to Chris Foss, who brought me to speak at the University of Mary Washington; to Club IMPACT at Bronx Community College, which asked me to speak about cognitive diversity; to Lisa Pollich and Project REACH for hosting me at the Borough of Manhattan Community College; to Catherine Welter for including me on her NeMLA panel and subsequently hosting me at the University of New Hampshire; to Rachel Adams and the Future of Disability Studies Working Group at Columbia University for inviting me to present a chapter-in-progress; and to David Bolt, Heidi Mapley, and the Centre for Culture & Disability Studies at Liverpool Hope University for including me in the “Voice of Disability” seminar series. A portion of the third chapter of this book, “On the Surprising Elasticity of Taxonomical Rhetoric,” first appeared in the 2013 “DSM-CRIP” edition of Social Text’s Periscope, edited by Lisa Johnson and Anna Mollow; and an earlier version of Chapter Six, “The Absence of the Object,” originally appeared as “Autistic Voice and Literary Architecture in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein” in Michael Bradshaw’s outstanding edited collection, Disabling Romanticism: Body, Mind Text (Palgrave Macmillan, 2016). Thank you. Even more: for the programs, people, and organizations that invested materially in this project. To CUNY’s Professional Staff Congress, which made reassigned time available for my research and writing; for the sabbatical which gave me space to really
Acknowledcgments: A Litany • 217 spread my wings; for CUNY’s Chancellor’s Research Fellowship, which bought me the extra hours to finally finish the writing; and to Chris Hager and The Janet Prindle Institute for Ethics at DePauw University for providing a writing fellowship and community of scholars that allowed for an authentic re-visioning of this work. Also, to the geniuses who created the Manhattan Research Libraries Initiative that gave me vital access to space and resources at New York University’s Bobst Library, to the friendly librarians and staff at NYU (especially Officer Campbell), to Lew Whittaker, who first introduced me to MaRLI; and to the helpful librarians at The Cooper Union, you were also a part of the making of this book. Indeed, a shout-out here to libraries and librarians everywhere, but especially to those at the British Library, the Brooklyn Public Library, the Bodleian, and York St. John University. The actual makers of the book: to the general editors of the Corporealities series—David T. Mitchell and Sharon L. Snyder—and to the staff at the University of Michigan Press: Editor, LeAnn Fields (unbelievably kind, patient, and caring); managing editor Marcia LaBrenz; editorial assistants Sarah Dougherty and Jenny Geyer; (meticulous) copyeditor John Raymond; and Sam Killian in marketing. Thank you. And, finally, to my family: a long time ago, Klaus, you made a crack about Linnaeus that actually set me on the road to thinking up this whole book; Josh, without you I would never have turned to disability studies in the first place. But . . . you people have also been schooling me from Day One to the value of particularized idiosyncratic aesthetics, mostly just from living your lives. To my daughter, Sofia, avid collector and organizer, inventor of a periodic table of literary genres; to my son, Luca, perseverator par excellence, all local coherence and attenuated abstraction, who forced me to notice Klein bottles; to my brother, Jean, imagining and building landscapes that are real because he makes them real; to my sister, Emma, who keeps a list of all the weird and funny things that people say; to Lori, whose kitchen is actually a laboratory; to my dad, tinkering endlessly with cars and sailboats; to my mom, with her bins of buttons and papers and pencils and fabric trimmings, who introduced me to the joy of the stationery store; and to my most beloved husband, Estuardo, with his collections of vintage fans and Bakelite radios, who dives deep if he dives at all. Thank you. Sadly, this book will have its imperfections. There are people I’m sure I will have left out, books and articles I missed, things I will have misunderstood, ways of seeing and interpreting that will seem wrong-headed to some, or, that will actually be just wrong. Nevertheless, I have felt compelled to write about this stuff, to test these ideas, to experiment. Without quite knowing yet where my words or my thinking or my focus may rankle, I apologize for any mistakes and omissions, which are mine and mine alone. I hope for forbearance from my readers, including a special measure of forbearance from my autistic friends and colleagues. Thank you.
Abby and Norma (Hammerschmidt), 69 ableist stances, x, 68, 72, 123, 182 Ablow, Rachel, 128, 131, 141 abrasiveness, 51, 104, 131, 133 absence, xii, xiv, 61; autistic language interpreted as, 73–74; discretion viewed as, 8, 14, 16; em-dash punctuates, 158-59; of object, 153, 159; of self, 14–15, 59, 101, 130–31, 133. See also nothingness; silence academic language, 65–66 aesthetic, autistic, 29–30, 55, 93, 103–4, 108 aesthetics: infinitude of, 64, 98, 173, 184, 187, 190; neuroqueer, 85, 126, 134, 139, 146; nothingness, 102, 105, 109–10; thing-aesthetic, 168–69 agency, 19–21, 62, 103, 110, 131–32 Alfred L. (autist), 32 Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (Carroll), 22 aloneness, 97, 166; isolationist metaphor, 148, 152, 161–63, 169–71 Anderson, Sherwood, 48, 49 Antin, David, 25, 90, 91–92, 112, 187 apostrophe, 6–7, 19, 27, 34, 45–51, 74, 175, 191; Asperger on, 47, 113, 140, 161, 184; in canonical poetry, 50–51;
discursive culture, 162–63; in DSM, 86–87, 148; ejaculation and, 56; in Frankenstein, 28, 150–51, 159–61; invention and, 69–70; logorrhea and nonreciprocity, 46–47; monologue and soliloquy, 6, 27, 45, 48–50, 68, 154–55; nothingness and, 106–7; side-participant, 162; silence and volubility, interaction of, 28, 140, 148–52, 157, 163; threatening nature of, 46–48; in Villette, 28, 136–38, 140; volubility, 6, 44–47, 133–34. See also monologue Arendt, Hannah, 82 Arnold, Matthew, 128 Asperger, Hans, 8, 19, 41; on apostrophe, 47, 113, 140, 161, 184; on autistic collections, 14, 60–61, 114–15, 140, 174, 182, 183; autistic invention recognized by, 10, 12; on autistic language, 32, 33, 45–46, 140 assemblage, 61, 183 “An Attempt at an Inventory of the Liquid and the Solid Foodstuffs Ingurgitated by Me in the Course of the Year Nineteen Hundred and Seventy-Four” (Perec), 25, 26, 93–97, 99, 109, 154, 172, 174
220 • Index audience: autistic collaboration with, 62, 154; bias, 67; neuroqueering, response to, 127; readerly restlessness, 138–39; resistance to autistic language, 3, 26, 31–33, 36, 71–75, 83–87, 105–7, 141–42; tensions between reader and narrator, 145–46 Auslander, Philip, 191 Austen, Jane, 42, 49, 54 Authoring Autism: On Rhetoric and Neurological Queerness (Yergeau), xvii–xviii, 33, 53 authoritarian/totalitarian thinking, 26, 81–86, 89 “Autie-type,” 144 autism: defining, 9–11; located in body, 10–11, 148; verbal, 28, 38, 73. See also autism poetics; autistic language Autism (Murray), xviii “Autism, Narrative, and Emotions” (Quayson), 43 “Autism and Rhetoric” (Heilker and Yergeau), 5, 43 Autism: Explaining the Enigma (Frith), 101 autism memoirs/autobiography, 10, 19–22, 49 autism poetics, xi–xiii, 81, 106, 116– 17, 125–26, 133, 166, 187, 190–92; categories, 5, 24–25, 28–29, 52, 121; denigration of, 81; as distinctive, 75; dominant constructions, 73; framing, 53, 55–56, 97–98, 111, 173, 181; frustration, dialogic of, 106–8; microlevel, 28; non-autistic repurposing of, 49; postmodern poetics and, 93, 104–5, 143; problem solving, 174; silence and volubility, interaction of, 28, 140, 148–52, 157, 163; withheld speech, 145. See also apostrophe; autistic language; discretion; ejaculation; fragmentary aesthetic; invention; ricochet; silence autism-positive interpretations, 2, 4, 15, 40, 48, 67, 169, 181–83 Autism Speaks, 31, 36–37, 39, 48–49, 130 autist, as term, xvii autist-as-robot, 59
“Autistethnography” (Grace), 63 Autistic Academic (Ryskamp), xviii “Autistic Disturbances” (Kanner), 7, 10, 35 Autistic Hoya (Brown), xviii autistic language: aesthetic, autistic, 29–30, 55, 93, 103–4, 108; appreciation for, 49–50, 58–59; autopsying, 21–22, 80–81, 121; categories, 4–5, 19, 24, 73; in clinical texts, 2, 32–34; complexity of, 5, 23–25, 29, 36, 42–45, 49–54, 59–60, 74–75, 80, 85, 88, 95, 97–98, 116, 148–50, 176–77; cultural history of, 34–38; development, 56, 148–49; eroticization of, 52–53; as failure, x, xiv–xv, 14–15, 47–52, 65–67, 70, 75–78, 86, 111; as formal language, 3–4; hostility toward, 26–28, 46, 73, 81–86, 105–6, 115, 127–30; as incomprehensible/ inscrutable, 14, 31, 35, 38, 39–41, 65–67, 66–67, 100, 105, 125, 142, 152, 183; interpersonal value, 50, 63; as “machine-like,” 27, 57, 61–62, 74; meaning in, 23, 27, 33, 42–45, 52, 55; mutism, 35–36, 105, 114, 149–50; nondialogic, 50, 106, 187; overlapping of categories, 44, 56–57, 63, 69–70, 90–91; pleasure in, 33–34, 43, 52, 63–64, 70, 97, 104, 144, 167, 172–73; possibilities and potentialities, 7, 25, 30, 43, 55, 59, 62–64, 75, 92, 96–98, 121–22, 173; privileging of, xviii, 2, 20; as puzzle for neurotypicals to solve, 31, 39; resistance and, 110, 117–18, 120, 122; rhetorical bridging, lack of, 153, 154; Romantic language, parallels with, 149–53, 160–63; silence and volubility, 28, 148–50, 148–52, 157; solidarity and intimacy, 50, 63; “telegraphic,” 26, 54, 55, 57, 61; thing-aesthetic, 168–69; threatening nature of, 44–48, 55, 72– 74, 84; valued in literary culture, ix, 2–3, 5, 28–29, 93, 181; as “valueless,” 19, 39–40, 101, 116, 163, 184, 188. See also apostrophe; autism poetics; Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders; discretion; ejacula-
Index • 221 tion; fragmentary aesthetic; framing, autistic; invention; ricochet; silence “’Autistic Psychopathy’ in Childhood” (Asperger), 10, 35 Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN), xviii, 36–37 autopsying, 21–22, 121, 148; DSM, 77– 81, 165 Baggs, Mel, 35, 101–2, 152 Bakhtin, Mikhail, 151 Baldwin, J. M., 46–47 banality, 18–19, 60, 82 Barbara K. (autist), 168 Baron-Cohen, Simon, 43, 57, 80 Barrie, J. M., 18 Barthes, Roland, 100, 102, 113, 138–39 “Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street” (Melville), xiv, 12, 27, 117–23; narrator’s position, 122–23 Basquiat, Jean-Michel, 105 Belknap, Robert, 64, 192 Bell, Natalie, 179 Belmonte, Matthew, 57, 62, 171 Bettelheim, Bruno, 31, 41, 47, 74, 101; autistic “hiding,” 27, 35, 129; concentration camp analogies, 21–22, 45 The Big Bang Theory (television show), 119 Bispo do Rosário, Arthur, 185–86 blogs, autistic, xviii, 74, 81 body, ix, xvi, 26, 74, 83, 181; autism located in, 10–11, 148 boredom, 19, 100, 107, 108, 116 Borges, Jorge Luis, 188–89 Born on a Blue Day (Tammet), 37 Bosch, Gerhard, 47, 61, 65 boundaries, 7, 40, 56, 163; in Robinson Crusoe, 166, 169, 175, 178; systemizing as means of testing, 88–89, 93–94, 109, 114 Braun, Gretchen, 126, 128 “breaking through,” metaphor of, 106 broadcast, xiv–xv, xvi, 6, 110, 154, 162 Broderick, Alicia, 39 Brontë, Charlotte. See Villette (Brontë) Brooks, Peter, 141, 149 Brown, Homer, 172 Brown, Julie, 22, 42, 48, 49; on autistic
invention, 65; on Bartleby, 120–21; on central coherence, 61, 141, 182 Brown, Lydia X. Z., xviii Brunton, Finn, 122 bullying, 48, 87, 192 bureaucratic language, 82–84, 86 Butler, Samuel, 71 cabarets, Berlin, 71, 73, 186 Carroll, Lewis (Charles Lutwidge Dodgson), 22, 61 Carver, Raymond, 25, 90–91, 112 catalogue poems, 25–26, 89–92 Celestial Emporium of Benevolent Knowledge (Borges), 188 central coherence/executive function, 61, 141, 182 chanson du ricochet, 45, 106 characters, “autistic”: Bartleby (“Bartleby, the scrivener”), xiv, 12, 27, 117– 23; Mr. Bennett (Pride and Prejudice), 42; Christopher Boone (Curious Incident), 119; Creature (Frankenstein), 147–48; Darcy (Pride and Prejudice), 54; Mr. Dick (David Copperfield), xiii– xv, 111; Jake Bohm (Touch), 35; Jane Eyre, 193n2; Lydia Bennett (Pride and Prejudice), 49; Sheldon Cooper (The Big Bang Theory), 119; Sherlock (television character), 12; Sherlock Holmes, 12, 60, 80, 119; Simon Lynch (Mercury Rising), 35; Mr. Spock (Star Trek series), 80, 81, 119; Tommy, main character, 35; Tommy Westphall (St. Elsewhere), 35. See also diagnosis, speculative/retrospective; Frankenstein (Shelley); Villette (Brontë) Chase, Karen, 139 Chew, Kristina, 20, 23, 52, 55, 62, 67, 144; “idiolectic,” 106 Chinese, stereotype of inscrutability, 39–40 Clemit, Pamela, 149, 151 clinical language, ix, 5–8, 38, 105; autistic tendencies in, 26, 34, 82–84; hegemonic authority, 74, 82–83, 151, 165; Latinate used to suggest objectivity, 46–47; literary criticism entangled with, 11–19, 42–43, 49, 68, 130–32,
222 • Index clinical language (continued) 166; negative assessments, 14–15; quasi-literary valuations, 41; queering of, 13, 81; reappropriation of, 53, 59; things, focus on, 168; undermines autists, 59. See also Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) coercive intervention, 74–75, 105–6 Cohen, Margaret, 174 collecting, 14, 19, 26, 58–59, 173, 180, 186; collections as “soulless possessions,” 14, 60, 114–15, 140 commonplace books, 43 concentration camp comparisons (Bettelheim), 21–22, 45 Corliss, Richard, 191 Cotgrave, Randle, 45 Couser, Thomas, 21 Cowen, Tyler, 58–59 creativity, autistic, 5, 7–8, 26, 50, 53, 174; discretion and, 57, 59, 62–64. See also invention critical disability scholarship, 12, 35, 118–20 critical hostility, 26–28 Crosby, Christina, 139 Crow, Thomas, 102 Culler, Jonathan, 160 cultural history of autistic language, 34–38 Cumberbatch, Benedict, 12 Cunningham, Allison B., 14, 17 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night- Time (Haddon), 119 David Copperfield (Dickens), xiii–xvi, 111, 172 Davis, Helen, 128, 129, 142 Davis, Lennard, 81, 83, 174 Dawson, Michelle, 182 Defoe, Daniel. See Robinson Crusoe (Defoe) dehumanization, xii, 59, 62 de Man, Paul, 160 demi-rhetoricity, 33 details, attention to, 56, 59; Frankenstein, 151, 156; Robinson Crusoe, 168–69, 172–76; Villette, 134–36, 141; in Warhol’s writing, 99, 108
“Diagnosing Fantastic Autism” (Olsen), 35, 42 diagnosis: autistic tendencies in language of, 26, 34; speculative/ retrospective, 11–13, 29, 42, 67, 97, 117–23 Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), 6; apostrophe in, 86– 87, 148; Asperger’s Disorder removed from, 88; authoritarianism of, 82–83, 151, 165; “Autism Spectrum Disorder” criteria, 78–80; autistic qualities in, 26, 41, 77–80, 87, 89, 92–93, 113, 173; autopsying, 77–81, 165; bureaucratic language, 82–84; DSM-5, 9, 78, 85, 88; DSM-III, 81, 88; DSM-III-R, xiv, 45, 88, 140; DSM-IV, 14, 19, 88; DSM- IV-TR, 83–84, 85; false ordering, 83; formatting patterns, 77–78; as index, 80; instability of diagnostic categories, 88–89; listmaking in, 26, 113, 173; mutism as autism indicator, 35; as obsessive, 81, 83; partitioning in, 78; pathologization of, 81; quick-serve menu approach, 9; racial stereotypes, 83, 86; subordinated diagnoses, 85; visual regularity, 77–78 Dickens, Charles, xiii, xv, xvi, 165–67, 171–72. See also David Copperfield (Dickens) Dickinson, Emily, 22, 42, 67 Dictionary of Philosophy and Psychology, 46 digital social networking, 162 diminution, rhetorical, 42 discretion, 6–8, 13–14, 34, 57–64, 185, 187; autistic creativity and, 57, 59, 62–64; banality of, 18–19, 60, 82; detail, attention to, 59, 99, 108, 134–36, 139, 141, 151, 156, 172–76; ejaculation and, 56–57; fragmentation as, 94–95; in Frankenstein, 28, 154–55, 158; identity and, 89–90; local coherence, 8, 56, 59, 134, 140; push-back against, 85–88; ricochet and, 63; in Robinson Crusoe, 166, 170, 172, 175, 177; savant cliché, 59–60; seriation, 89; as telegraphic language, 26, 54, 55, 57, 61; youthful, adult
Index • 223 career and, 63–64. See also listmaking; systemizing Dodgson, Charles Lutwidge. See Carroll, Lewis Dolmage, Jay, 11 dominant non-autistic discourse, 48–49, 73 Donald T. (autist), 32, 52, 65, 66–67, 97 doubleness, linguistic, 70–72, 91, 191 Doyle, Arthur Conan, 12 Durbin-Westby, Paula, 144 Duyfhuizen, Bernard, 154 Easley, Greg, 192 Easton, Anthony, 3, 20, 50, 52, 62, 110–11; infodump formalism, 11, 46, 62–63, 108, 111, 174; on systemizing, 57–58 Eat (Warhol), 107 echolalia, xii, xvi, xviii, 33, 37, 41–45, 60, 104, 111, 117, 176; in poetry, 91; reduction of autistic voice to, 120, 122 Eco, Umberto, 64, 98, 109, 173, 184, 190 ejaculation, x, xiii, xv–xvi, xviii, 7–8, 19, 34, 51–57, 74, 184–85, 187; discretion and, 56–57; equated with rudeness, 52, 54, 55; in Frankenstein, 28, 149–50, 156–57, 160; listmaking and, 26; “minimal adornment,” 55, 56; as non sequitur, 94; in poetry, 94; reappropriation of, 53; ricochet and, 56–57 Elaine C. (autist), 1–2, 32, 52 Elijah’s Cup (Valerie Paradiž), 49–50 Eliot, George, 17, 19, 121, 186 Emergence (Grandin), 22, 37 Emerson, Joan, 71 Emerson, Ralph Waldo, 17, 90 Empire (Warhol), 108 The Empty Fortress (Bettelheim), 35, 65, 163 encapsulation, 8, 26, 49, 55–57 Epstein, Mikhail, 68–69 eroticization of autistic language, 52–53 experimental writing, 69–70, 93 expressive language, xvi, 1, 21, 29, 122, 149, 157–58
facticity, 100, 113 Far from the Tree (Solomon), 3 “Fear” (Carver), 90–91, 112 Feinstein, Adam, xviii, 10 Ferguson Bottomer, Phyllis, 49, 138 Finding Kansas (Likens), 37 Fitzgerald, Michael, 12, 22, 120 Flanagan, Caitlin, 192 flatness, affective, 61 Ford, Mark, 93 formalism, autistic, ix, xi, xviii, 3–4, 8, 29, 93; infodump, 11, 46, 62–63, 108, 174; partitioning, 4–5, 7, 23, 24, 26, 28, 54–56; punning, 69–73. See also apostrophe; discretion; ejaculation; invention; ricochet; silence fortress metaphor, 35, 43, 49, 65, 105, 148, 163, 169–71 Foss, Chris, 20 Foster, Hal, 102 Foucault, Michel, 83, 84, 97, 189 Fowler, F. G., 69, 70 Fowler, H. W., 69, 70 fragmentary aesthetic, 2, 7–8, 53–55, 57, 62, 77, 94–96, 189–90; in DSM, 80, 89, 96; in Frankenstein, 154; in Robinson Crusoe, 165, 177 framing, autistic, 53, 55–56, 97–98, 111, 173, 181 Francis, Mark, 113–14 Frankenstein (Shelley), 28, 147–63, 186; apostrophe, 28, 150–51, 159–61; detail, attention to, 151, 156; ejaculation in, 28, 149–50, 156–57, 160; narrative framing, 28, 147–50, 153–54, 160–61; narrative partitioning, 154–57; punctuation, 154–59; queering in, 153–55, 163; Romantic language, 149–53; serial monologism, 154–55; silence and volubility, interaction of, 28, 148– 52, 157, 163 Frederick W. (autist), 52 Frith, Uta, 12, 14–15, 35, 82, 85, 96, 101, 130–31, 193n1 Fritz, Peter, 179–80, 184, 185 Frog and Toad Together (Lobel), 18–19, 94, 186 frustration, dialogic, 106–8
224 • Index Garland-Thomson, Rosemarie, 118, 120 Gaskell, Elizabeth, 129 Gerrig, Richard, 162 Gilbert, Sandra M., 127, 128 Gioni, Massimiliano, 179 Glastonbury, Marion, xii–xiii, 35, 43, 48, 61–62, 93, 170 Goldfarb, Russell, 129 Gould, Glenn, 48, 49 Grace, Elizabeth J. (Ibby), xvii, 63 grammar, autistic, 11, 56, 58 Grandin, Temple, 22, 37, 80, 191 graphic list, 109 Greaves, Richard, 185 Gubar, Susan, 127, 128 Hacking, Ian, 10, 13, 20 Haladyn, Julian Jason, 107 Hammerschmidt, Erika, 69–70, 72 Happé, Francesca, 22, 61, 168 Hare, Robert, 67–68 Haring, Keith, 105 Harp, Bev, xviii, 39, 52, 53–56, 58, 95, 143, 157 Heady, Emily, 134–35 Heilker, Paul, 2, 3, 5, 43, 70, 132–33 Hirsch, Judd, 191 A History of Autism: Conversations with the Pioneers (Feinstein), xviii, 10 homo economicus, 28d, 168 Hughes-Hallett, Lucy, 125–26 humanity: autism as central to, 30; exclusion from, 149, 163, 166; inhumanity attributed to autistics, 61, 74, 83, 101 humor, autistic, 69–72, 91 hyperlexia, 46 identity, xvii, 10; discretion as part of, 89–90; impact of pathological discourses on, 74–75 idiolectic voice, 106, 152, 154, 162 “If I Told Him, a Complete Portrait of Picasso” (Stein), 2–3 The Imitation Game, 13 incomprehensibility/inscrutability, 14, 31, 35, 100, 125, 142, 183; attributed to Chinese, 39–40; clinical language focused on, 8, 38–41, 65–67, 105;
invention and, 65–67; multisensorial language, 152 infinitude, aesthetics of, 64, 98, 173, 184, 187, 190 infodump formalism, 11, 46, 62–63, 108, 111, 174 information, autistic advantage, 58–59 infovores, 59 infra-ordinary, 115–16, 121 “In My Language” (Baggs), 101–2, 152 intentionality, xi–xvi, xviii, 97, 185 International Classification of Diseases (ICD), 9, 35 Internet studies, 121–22 interpretive positions, 181–83 interruption, xviii, 189; David Copperfield, xiii–xvi, 111; in Frankenstein, 28, 151, 155–56, 158–59, 161. See also apostrophe; ejaculation invention, 8–9, 19, 27, 34, 64–74, 175; academic language, 65–66; ambivalent reception of, 68–69, 71–73; as antisocial, 66–68; apostrophe and, 69–70; doubleness, 70–72; hacking language, 8, 64–65, 123; humor, 69–72; neologisms, 8, 65–69, 73; in Robinson Crusoe, 28; satire, 71; threatening nature of, 72–73; in Villette, 143–44; of whole language systems, 68. See also creativity, autistic Isherwood, Christopher, 71, 73 isolationist metaphor, 148, 152, 161–63, 169–71 Jacobus, Mary, 128 Jeremiah, prophet, 51 Joey, the “Mechanical Boy” (autist), 74 Jolliffe, Therese, 169–70 Jong, Erica, 192 Joyce, James, 23, 61 Jurecic, Ann, 129, 140, 168 Kane, Leslie, 132 Kanner, Leo, xiv, 7, 10, 14, 61; autistic language as “valueless,” 19, 39–40, 101, 116, 163, 184, 188; “classic autism,” 38; dismissal of autistic language, 32, 38, 45, 101, 116, 141, 163;
Index • 225 ejaculation as term used by, 52–53, 150, 184; metaphor, pathologization of, 41, 66–67, 73, 150; no difference between speaking and mute autistics, 38, 132, 141 Kaufman, Andy, 190–91 The Keeper (New Museum), 179–80, 182, 184–86, 189 Kendall, Joshua, 18, 19, 87–88, 121 Kestenbaum, Clarice J., 120 The King’s English (Fowler and Fowler), 69, 70 Knight, Christopher, 104 Koegel, Ashley Kern, 120 Konnikova, Maria, 84, 97 Kreilkamp, Ivan, 145 La disparition (Perec), 93 language: academic, 65–66; bureaucratic, 82–84, 86; expressive, xvi, 21, 29, 122, 149, 157–58; as imperfect, 75; linguistic obstacles, 142–43; Romantic, 149–53, 160–63. See also autism poetics; autistic language; clinical language language hacking, 8, 64–65, 123 Lawrence, Karen, 145 Leaves of Grass (Whitman), 17, 89 Levine, George, 153 lexicopoeia, 68–69 Life of Pi (Martel), 168 Likens, Aaron, 37, 104 lining-things-up, 14–16, 57, 63 listening, 31–33, 37–39, 84, 108–9, 150, 160, 162, 184; apostrophe and, 48– 49, 51; nonlistening, 74, 84, 86, 121. See also audience listmaking, 8, 81, 109, 186; as authoritarian, 26, 81–86, 89; as banal, 18–19; cataloguing, 26, 167, 188–89; creativity of, 26, 173; dismissal of, 17–19, 25–26, 86; in DSM, 26, 113, 173; hostility toward, 81–86; infinitude, 64, 98, 173, 184, 187, 190; in poetry, 89–91; in Robinson Crusoe, 28, 167–68, 170, 173; signification within, 188– 89; subversive, 94, 95; as totalitarian impulse, 81–82 “A List of the Delusions of the Insane:
What They Are Afraid of” (Antin), 91–92, 112, 187 list-poems, 25 litany, defined, 60 literary criticism, xvii–xviii; clinical language entangled with, 11–19, 42–43, 49, 68, 130–32, 166; linguistic privilege, 65–66; non-autistic repurposing of poetics, 49; pathologizing stances, 67; systemizing disparaged, 17–19, 86 literature, autistic textual habits valued, ix, 2–3, 5, 28–29, 93, 181 “little professor syndrome,” 46, 72, 87 Lobel, Arthur, 18–19, 186 “Lobes of Autobiography” (Savarese), 8 local coherence, 8, 56, 59, 134, 140, 173 Locke, John, 134 Loftis, Sonya Freeman, 12, 119 logorrhea, 46–47, 161 Longmore, Paul, 123, 142 looping effect, 10, 12–13, 118–19 Lord, Catherine, 67 Lorde, Audre, 84 “loss” of child, 15–16 Louder Than Words (McCarthy), 15 Lovaas, Ivar, 10, 101, 130, 133 “machine-like” language attributed to autists, 27, 57, 61–62, 74 Marcus, Neil, ix Martel, Yann, 168 Martha Stewart Living, 191–92 Marx, Karl, 167–68, 173 mazes and labyrinths, 43 Mazurek, Monika, 128 McCarthy, Jenny, 15, 101 McDonagh, Patrick, 20, 23, 148, 169 McGuire, Ann, xviii, 2, 101, 106 McLaughlin, Thomas, 159 meaning, xiv–xvi, xviii; in autistic language, 23, 27, 33, 42–45, 52, 55; as hidden, 31–33; meaninglessness attributed to autists, xiv, 17–19, 22, 44, 60, 61; in repetition, 42; in ricochet, 44–45; in silenced text, 27 Mekas, Jonas, 102–3, 107–8, 126 Meltzer, Donald, 118
226 • Index Melville, Herman, xiv, 12, 27, 67, 117– 23 Mercury Rising (film), 35, 60 metaphor, 65, 68–69 Metzl, Jonathan, 83 Michael, Emily, 22 Middlemarch (Eliot), 17, 19, 64, 121, 186 militarized constructions of autism, 43 Millett, Kate, 128 The Mind Traveller (documentary), 80–81 Mitchell, David, 123 Moby Dick (Melville), 67 modernist writing, 6, 35, 92, 126 Moglen, Helene, 145 Molina, Nelson, 180–81, 184, 185–86 monologue, 6, 27; in Frankenstein, 154– 55; pathologization of, 45, 49–50, 68. See also apostrophe More, Thomas, 190, 191 Murray, Stuart, xviii, 20, 21, 30, 44, 101, 171; autistic presence, 31, 104, 108, 115–16, 118–19, 184 museums, 114, 179–82, 184–86 mutism, 35–36, 105; in Frankenstein, 149–50; Warhol’s museum incident, 114
nonreciprocity, 44, 46–48, 51, 116, 152 non sequitur, 94 nonspeaking autistics, 35–37, 75, 131– 32 nothingness, 26–27, 99–116; as aesthetic, 102, 105, 109–10; affectlessness and assertion intertwined, 100, 101, 103–8, 111; apostrophe and, 106–7; surface, privileging of, 93, 100, 102– 4, 113. See also absence Novak, Maximillian E., 177
Nadesan, Majia Holmer, 10, 13 narrative architecture/framing: Frankenstein, 28, 147–50, 153–54, 159–61, 163; Robinson Crusoe, 25, 172–73, 175; Villette, 27–28, 125–30, 141–42 natural history collections, 177 Nazeer, Kamran, 59 Nazi bureaucratic systems, 82, 83, 86 Ne’eman, Ari, 193n4 neologism, 8, 65–68, 73, 143–44, 185; lexicopoeia, 68–69. See also invention neuroqueer, xvi–xvii, 2, 53; as aesthetic, 85, 126–27, 134, 139, 146. See also queer/queering; Villette (Brontë) neurotypical language and norms, 5, 12, 15, 20–21, 31–32, 48–49, 56, 152, 157, 190 New Museum, New York, 179–80 Nissenbaum, Helen, 122 Nobody Nowhere (Williams), 58 Nonconformist, 141
Page, Tim, 62, 174 Paradiž (Paradiz), Valerie, 33, 43, 49– 50, 58, 63, 104, 140, 151, 160 parentheses, 55–56, 95 Parks, Jessie, 80–81 partitioning, 4–5, 7, 23–24, 26, 28, 54–57; in DSM, 78; fragmentation, 94–95; in Frankenstein, 154–57; in Robinson Crusoe, 175–76, 178. See also discretion; listmaking; systemizing patterns, 5, 14–17, 27–29, 42–43, 183, 188–89; in DSM, 77–79, 81, 83; in Frankenstein, 147–48, 151–53, 157; in poetry, 59–60, 63–65, 91–93, 97–98; in Robinson Crusoe, 175; in Villette, 126–27, 140–41 Paul, Rhea, 67 Paul G. (autist), 52 PDD-NOS (Pervasive Developmental Disorder—Not Otherwise Specified), 88
objectification, 39–40 obscurity, 29, 40, 65, 94, 118; in Villette, 138, 140–41, 143, 155, 158 Obsession: A History (Davis), 81 O’Dea, Gregory, 127, 129, 145 “Ode to the West Wind” (Percy Shelley), 159 Olsen, Lance, xiv, 35, 42, 169 “On the (Autistic) Use of Parentheses” (Harp), 55–56, 58, 157–58 ordering. See listmaking; systemizing Orrery, Earl of, 71 Osteen, Mark, 13, 35 othering, 39–40, 48–49 Oulipo group, 93
Index • 227 Perec, Georges, 29, 90, 104; “An Attempt at an Inventory of the Liquid and the Solid Foodstuffs Ingurgitated by Me in the Course of the Year Nineteen Hundred and Seventy-Four,” 25, 26, 93–97, 99, 109, 172, 174; infra- ordinary, 115–16, 121; La disparition, 93; puzzle piece, 96–97, 118 performance art, 190–91 perseveration, 18–19, 22, 41, 57; clinical, 43, 53, 87, 117; in Frankenstein, 147; in Robinson Crusoe, 165–66, 172–73, 175, 178; in Villette, 140; in Warhol’s work, 103, 106, 108, 111, 113 The Philosophy of Andy Warhol: From A to B and Back Again (Warhol), 25, 26, 102–3, 106–16, 148; lists in, 99–100, 108–15 Pinchevski, Amit, 121 Plath, Sylvia, 18 Plato, 75 pleasure, in autistic language, 33–34, 43, 52, 63–64, 70, 97, 104, 144 plot, 120–21; Villette, 126–27, 135–36, 141 Poe, Edgar Allan, 177–78 poetry: apostrophe in, 50–51; catalogue poems, 25, 89–92; patterns in, 59–60, 63–65, 91–93, 97–98 Polhemus, Robert, 129 Pop Art, 100, 102, 113 possibility, 7, 25, 30, 43, 55, 59, 62–64, 75, 92, 121–22; in systemizing, 88–89, 96–98, 173 postmodern poetics, 93, 104–5, 143 precocity, as deficit, 46 presence, autistic, 31, 104, 108, 115–16, 118–19, 184 Pride and Prejudice (Austen), 42, 49, 54 Prince-Hughes, Dawn, 172 private language, 41, 65, 66, 160 problem solving, poetics of, 174 prophetic exhortation, 24, 51 The Protest Psychosis (Metzl), 83 Proudhon, Pierre-Joseph, 82, 84 punctuation, 57, 94–95, 154–58, 187; em-dash, 155–56, 158–59 punning, 69–73, 186, 191 puzzle piece, 39, 96–97, 118, 132
Quayson, Ato, 35, 43 queer/queering, 2, 35, 40, 88–89, 123; Berlin cabarets, 71; of clinical and literary approaches, 13, 81; destabilization of reader, 27; in Frankenstein, 153–55, 163; invention, 66; policing of autistic language, 53; as resistance, xvii, 71; in ricochet, 43; as stance, 186. See also neuroqueer quietude, 28, 145, 147–48, 151. See also silence Quintilian, 51 Raid the Icebox exhibition (Warhol, Rice University), 113–14, 174 Rain Man, 57, 59, 60 realistic novel, 178 repetition, xiii–xvi, 2, 22, 26, 40–42; in poetry, 91–92; in Robinson Crusoe, 28, 174–78; systemizing and, 13–14. See also echolalia; nothingness; ricochet Representing Autism (Murray), 118–19 resistance, 97, 122, 125; audience, to autistic language, 3, 26, 31–33, 36, 71–73, 75, 83, 85–87, 105–7, 141– 42; autistic, 110, 117–18, 120, 122; queering as, xvii, 71 Richardson, Alan, 162–63 ricochet, xiii, xviii, 1, 6, 8, 19, 26–27, 40–45, 74, 184, 191; chanson du ricochet, 45, 106; discretion and, 63; ejaculation and, 56–57; meaning and, 44–45; as nonreceptive, 44; “parroting,” 22, 41, 44; private metaphor, 41; in Robinson Crusoe, 175–76 “risk,” damaging language of, 16 Robinson, Charles, 154 Robinson Crusoe (Defoe), 25, 165–78, 190; aloneness in, 166–67; boundaries in, 166, 169, 175; detail, attention to, 168–69, 172–76; discretion in, 166, 170, 172, 175, 177; as economic allegory, 167–68; fortress-like structures in, 169–71; framing, narrative, 25, 172–73, 175; listmaking in, 28, 167–68, 170, 173; perseveration in, 165–66, 172–73, 175, 178; repetition in, 28, 174–78; things, focus on, 166–68, 173
228 • Index Robison, John E., 49, 61 Roget, Peter, 18, 19, 60, 64, 88, 121 Romantic autism, 147–48 Romantic language, 149–53, 160–63; collaborative writing culture, 162–63 rules, as freeing, 104 “Ruth” (autist), 80 Rutter, Michael, 65, 148 Rydet, Zofia, 180 Ryskamp, Dani Alexis, xviii, 20, 29, 33, 52; on Autism Speaks rhetoric, 37, 48–49; on repetition, 40–41 Sacks, Oliver, 37, 47, 80–81 Saussure, Ferdinand de, 75 savant cliché, 59–60 Savarese, D. J., 37 Savarese, Ralph, 8, 20, 22–23, 33, 35, 43, 63, 118, 144, 186 Schreibman, Laura, 14, 17 Schuler, Adriana L., 47, 61, 169 self, 151–52; said to be absent, 14–15, 59, 101, 130–31, 133 self-advocacy, 36–37, 100–101 self-harm, 105 Selkirk, Alexander, 166 sexualization, 7 Shakespeare, William, 68 Shelley, Mary, 28; Romantic voice, 152. See also Frankenstein (Shelley) Shelley, Percy, 159 Shklovsky, Victor, 33 side-participant, 162 signified, 75, 143 Silberman, Steve, 81 silence, xiv, 2, 6, 34, 35–40, 73, 187; as choice, 75, 132; cultural history of, 35–38; ejaculation and, 57; in Frankenstein, 147; as lack of personhood, 102; nonspeaking autistics, 35–37; presence and, 132–33, 184; quietude, 28, 145, 147–48, 151; ricochet as, 44; in Villette, 27, 127–28, 132–33, 144–45; and volubility, interaction of, 28, 140, 148–52, 157, 163; withheld speech, poetics of, 145. See also Villette (Brontë) silencing, 36–38, 73, 123
Silver, Sean, 169 Sinclair, Jim, xvii, 49 Smit-Marais, Susan, 173, 174 Snow, Carrie, 83 Snyder, Sharon, 123 soliloquy, pathologization of, 49–50, 68 solipsism, xii, 43, 93, 109 Solomon, Andrew, 3, 10 South African apartheid systems, 82, 83 speculation, diagnostic, 11–13, 29, 42, 67, 97, 117–23 Spitzer, Robert, 81 Spitzer, Walter, 130 Square 8 (Harp), xviii standpoint, 2, 59, 61 Stein, Gertrude, xvi, 2, 24, 43, 50, 63, 104–5 St. Elsewhere (television series), 35 stereotypes, 12–13, 26, 39–40; of autistic silence, 28–29; as exemplars for actual people, 12, 119–20; isolation, 169–70 stereotypies, 14, 41, 150 Sterrenburg, Lee, 149 Stewart, Martha, 191–92 stimming, 11, 101–2 Straus, Joseph, 55, 59, 169, 173 “Stuff Asperger People Like” (blog), 81 Sullivan, William, 118 surface: hostility toward, 105–6, 131; privileging of, 93, 100, 102–4, 113 “Surprised by Joy” (Wordsworth), 50 Suskind, Ron, 41 Svendsen, Lars, 103 Swift, Jonathan, 29, 71 systemizing, 7–8, 13–15, 57–64; as absence, 14, 16; bureaucratic language, 82–84, 86; cataloguing, 26, 167, 188–89; as failure, 14–15, 83, 97; lining–things-up, 14–16, 187–88; as means of inclusion and possibility, 8, 88–89, 92, 96–98, 173; as means of testing boundaries, 88–89, 114 Tager-Flusberg, Helen, 67 “Talent in Autism” (Baron-Cohen et al.), 43 Tammet, Daniel, 37, 104, 174
Index • 229 Tantam, Digby, 14, 81 Taxi (sitcom), 190–91 taxonomies, ix, 88–89; counterintuitive approaches, 91–92. See also discretion; listmaking; systemizing “telegraphic” language, 26, 54, 55, 57, 61 teleology, expectation of, xii, 106, 109 terminological clouds, ix, 5 textual history, 84–85 Thackeray, William Makepeace, 128 “There Was a Child Went Forth” (Whitman), 89–90, 91 Thesaurus (Roget), 18, 87, 88 The Who, 12 thing-ness, 104, 168–69, 173 time, structuring of, 173 Tommy (The Who), 12 Touch (TV drama), 35 Treasures in the Trash (Molina), 180–81, 182 triadic structure, 162 Trotwood, Betsey (David Copperfield), xv–xvi unitary language, 151 Usher, Shaun, 97 Utopia (More), 190 utopian texts, 190, 191 valuing: autistic language devalued, 2, 8, 19, 36, 39–40, 86, 97, 101, 116, 163, 181, 184, 188; autistic textual habits, ix, 2–3, 5, 28–29, 93, 181 Victor, George, 60 villanelle, 43, 63 Villette (Brontë), 27, 29, 125–46; apostrophe in, 136–38, 140; detail, attention to, 134–36, 139, 141; digressions, 138–40; ending, 125, 127; hostility toward, 128–30; linguistic obstacles for characters, 142–43; metaphor in, 136; narrative aesthetic, 27–28, 125– 30, 141–42; narrator’s distance, 129– 30; neologisms, 143–44; neuroqueer aesthetic in, 126, 134, 139, 146; obscurity in, 138, 140–41, 143, 155,
158; as passive-aggressive, 127, 131; patterns in, 126–27, 140–41; Paulina, 127–28; plot, 126–27, 135–36, 141; silences, 27, 127–28, 132–33, 144–45; tensions between reader and narrator, 145–46; volubility, 133–36 violence: against autists, 39, 48, 74; totalitarian, 81–82 vocative, 160, 162 Vološinov, Valentin, 162 Warhol, Andy, 25, 26–27, 29, 50, 63, 99–100, 102–3, 116, 126, 167, 186; “boring” films, 107–8; “impersonality,” 102; as listener, 108–9; The Philosophy of Andy Warhol: From A to B and Back Again, 25, 26, 99–100, 102–3, 106–16, 148; Raid the Icebox exhibition, 113–14, 174; self-production, 99–100, 102–4; soup cans, 100, 180; surface, privileging of, 93, 100, 102– 4, 113 War on Autism (McGuire), xviii “war on autism,” 106 waste, 179–81 Watt, Ian, 28, 168, 178 Weber, Max, 83, 84 “we”/”them” pronominal rhetoric, 65 Whitehorn, J. C., 47, 66, 129 Whitman, Walt, 17, 89–90, 91 “Why I Dislike ‘Person First’ Language” (Sinclair), xvii Wild Boy tales, 11, 13 Williams, Donna, 58, 97, 173 Wing, Lorna, 82 withheld speech, poetics of, 145 Woolf, Virginia, 139, 168, 173–74, 178 word-as-thing, 104 wordhoard, 43, 61 Wordsworth, William, 50 world-making practices, 59 Writers on the Spectrum (Brown), 22 Wyatt, C. S., 62 yak-yak-yakking, 49–50, 140, 151, 160 Yeats, William Butler, 42, 61
230 • Index Yergeau, Melanie, 5, 32, 43; “autism abides,” 104; autism as embodied, 10–11, 181; on autistic personhood, 102; on “behavioral excuses,” 54; on clinicians, 77; demi-rhetoricity, 33; discretion, use of, 63–64; on invention, 66; “just her autism talking,” 21, 37, 39, 121; on neuroqueer language,
xvii, 35, 40, 66, 127, 144, 186; on savant expectation, 60; on silence, 145; on “unawareness,” 170 Zehme, Bill, 191 Zelan, Karen, 144 Zipf, G. K., 47, 66, 129