She was sitting in the waiting room. A nurse told her there had been an emergency. She had no clue how long ago that was. The nurse seemed alarmed – his big body wanting to pull away to whatever the matter was while his gentle face remained with her for a short moment. There, there, he said, we won’t be long. Was this long? Sessions lasted for about 45 minutes she knew. Is that long? She thought about what she was to tell the doctor. She always had to tell something to the doctor, who would listen patiently and silently as she would move about restlessly. She hated silence. It made her hear herself more clearly. So she tried to think about what she was to tell the doctor. She envied the doctor who had it all worked out. All worked out except for her maybe. That was her fault – going around in circles, waiting for some sign that would never come.
She heard a rustle. Suddenly he was there. I’m Guido, he said. I”m Agnes, she said, before she could even be startled. It is about 45 minutes then, if this is the next patient. But was he? Are you?, she asked. What?’, he wanted to know. The next patient? He didn’t answer. The whiteness of the room was always painful but – when Guido opened the door to the doctor’s office – a flash of light hit her in the left corner of her left eye. She closed them to follow the flash turning into a fireball bouncing around in her sleep. Come, Guido waved at her with one long arm, the rest of his body already disappearing through the doctor’s door. She hesitated. The arm became every shorter but kept waving until there was only a hand, palm upright fingers gently beckoning her to come. It was not allowed, she knew, even if nobody had ever told her that. Some things you just know although most people – she knew – knew more things in that way than she did.
Afraid to remain for another unspecified time in this silent white room, she stood up and followed suit. Continue reading
We struggle with strangeness. Whether we fear who’s different or merely fear those who fear the different differently from us, home’s where our differences largely go unnoticed. It struck me how self-evident it has become to see public announcements, on a hurricane for instance, accompanied by somebody translating them into sign language. It’s difficult not to see this as progress; therefore difficult to see it as anything but self-evident. But it’s not self-evident. It’s the outcome of a struggle by strangers incapable of hearing and once discarded by society and probably labeled “deaf and dumb”. Well, it is their struggle and that of caring people who provided an understanding home to them in which they could be understood and, hence, come to their own understanding. How did they realize such a remarkable feat making acceptance of deaf people into something “so general as to make it unthinkable to see it as someone’s original idea”? The latter is Kafka’s description of that immediate insight which, once made, seems to become so entrenched in custom it is like it could not have been otherwise. Wittgenstein would probably say it becomes part of the grammar of deafness that it is a difference that ought to be accommodated. Still, however self-evident it may seem now it was anything but self-evident not so very long ago.
How can that be? What can we learn from it?
Posted in JoB, Kafka, Wittgenstein
Tagged autism, cultural optimism, Davidson, deaf, disability, diversity, Foucault, Goethe, Kafka, politics, tones, universals, Wittgenstein
My research starts from a tension between a disorder view of autism, as codified in DSM-5 , and a positive identity view of it, as advocated by the neurodiversity movement . In the DSM-5, autism is defined behaviorally and at the same time coupled to an innate developmental disorder. For a diagnosis additionally the criterion of dysfunctioning has to be met. From the autistic point of view (specifically in cases, like mine, of being diagnosed with autism as an adult) this means getting entangled in a moral dilemma, in the Catch-22 mentioned above: “If I accept to be autistic I am considered crazy, but if I do not accept to be autistic I go crazy.” I argued that going beyond this Catch-22 requires taking into account the ethical dimension when trying to answer theoretical questions as to ‘what autism is’.
Below is a short (well, 1000 words) English summary of my Master’s thesis in Philosophy, the full summary can be found here and a summary in Dutch is published here.
You want to feel my pain and you want me to feel yours. I suffer from chronic back pain. I am autistic. I am also a middle-aged white male born from middle class parents. You do not feel my pain. You cannot know how it is to have an autistic perspective. And I cannot feel what it is like not to be privileged. All we can do is try to understand each other. And to do that the first thing we need to do is to accept what the other reports and accept it at face value. Literally at face value. Because when you say (or I say) that we feel the other’s pain we deceive ourselves into knowing something we cannot know. We are frauds. And, no understanding can come from fraud whatever good intentions we may think we have.
Now you may say that the word empathy doesn’t exactly mean that. You might be right. It is a word and therefore something that needs to be understood in context. Like you need to understand me in context, I need to be give you the benefit of the doubt. That said, you cannot feel my pain, you cannot take my perspective for that would simply be arrogance, and arrogance never leaves room for self-doubt. “What then?”, you might say (if you feel for me enough to be open for my perspective, otherwise just leave this – and me – be).
It’s hard to write an autistic history of philosophy. History is such a conventional concept. I don’t know whether I really get it. Maybe history is the product of philosophy instead of it being the other way around. If so, good riddance to the Kantian idea philosophy has to make progress just like science does. Science only makes progress in the room created by philosophy in the first place. There you have it: an autistic thought that makes a problem of its own starting point. Like a dog chasing its tail I have already condemned myself to a project that can have neither start nor end. A project that as well could have been called an autistic philosophy of history.
It’s hard to write an autistic philosophy of history. Philosophy, according to Descartes, is about clear and distinct ideas, but whether there can be such a thing is a matter of fierce debate. Maybe ideas are just a product of history instead of universal and timeless things to be discovered. I don’t know whether I really get that either. It would seem there are as many ideas as there are histories and that surely makes ideas too shady to be of any use at all. For instance, why not say that the tail is chasing the dog? Or indeed that the kidney of the dog likes to swirl. This project could then as well be relabeled as ‘history of autistic philosophy’ being apparently about brains, like mine, that are prone to swirl.
You might fear this may go on endlessly. This presumably is why some philosophers, like Hacking, deny any reality to autism. And one can also obviously deny that, if there’s such a thing, I am it; because whatever the status of the concept autism, it was not meant for a person attempting to articulate why he fails to be able to articulate his idea in a clear and distinct way. So at this point I can only ask for your trust in charitably trying to interpret, with a mind open to the possibility of fusing our horizons, what I’m trying to convey. This betrays Davidson and Gadamer, respectively, as my historical philosophical inspirations – and my conviction that any true philosophy should be a philosophy of trust.
The question for me then becomes why so much philosophy is preoccupied with fear. As an autistic I know a thing or two about fear. And so I have stumbled on my method after all: meticulously collect the dichotomies produced by philosophy and inspect how they’re the truly productive element of history. Making problems to enable new solutions, if you will. As an exercise I start with trust and fear (or certainty and uncertainty for those who prefer analytical parlance) as they are items of a specific phenomenological relevance in my lived experience as an – if you allow me – autistic person.
This is a train crash. I am the train. Born awkward, sickly, with a curved spine I wanted it all. And I got it. Unfortunately I am insatiable. So I kept on going. And going. And going. I kept on going despite pain in my back. I kept on smoking despite being short of breath. It was my body that failed first but I kept on going until my spirit broke. And then I kept on going because I did not want to admit I could not get it all. Could not get it all my way. It’s a matter of keeping afloat since then. Slowly deflating and realizing I am going under. In no way is this a train crash and in no way am I a train. It’s a sizzle not a boom.
What I got is people I love and what is happening is that I alienate them by what they are perceiving as me acting increasingly like an alien. Neither the one confident to get things done even it it took applying force, nor a one that can just be tranquil facing his bad luck and coast along accepting the force others apply to him. I am a loser. I act as a loser. I feel like a loser and the question is: can they love a loser? Can they love that man in the same body that once ruled supreme and that now hosts the man that just wants to give up? It’s a genuine question to which I have no answer. I say to myself this will be a last blurb of a darkness I need to exit. It will not be. Maybe it’s therapeutic. Then again maybe not.
Here are some facts:
Posted in JoB
Tagged autism, personal, self
“Free at last!”, he thought and was taken to a waiting room where he sat, waiting, for half an hour. To be precise: 36 minutes and 52 seconds. He did not know whether that timing was irony or fate or both. Nobody told him. He did not ask. It was all new to him. It was a once in a lifetime thing. On the hour a shadow grew on the semi-transparent door whose milky appearance was being watched by five pairs of eager eyes. They had dropped in at irregular intervals and they had not said a word. Nor had he. Eyes had crossed from time to awkward time. Eyes had then been averted swiftly to stare at the milky door hoping to be free again from this torture of captivity.
The consultant’s door swung open and she said merrily: “I’m Hyacinth and I will be your coach. Thank the Ministry of Innovation.”, the way she said it included the capitalization. The Ministry was to be thanked so we murmured “tandeministrovation” – and she looked at us the way one looks at naughty children who still have a lot to learn. And we had, and only a limited time to learn it in, so “Come, come,” she said, “we have a lot of work to get through today.” We went meekly and took the places assigned to our names in the typical ministerial cleanroom, a spacious co-working place designed to stimulate creativity. I felt a little drab. “Chins up!”, she said, pointing to a whiteboard wall, “Here’s our plan for the rest of the day.”