Talking to a friend who suffered a psychotic breakdown made me curious. I know how it feels to suffer an autistic meltdown and I therefore know it feels nothing like it looks like. If only because it may well look like nothing is the matter. So how then would a psychotic breakdown feel like? Is that feeling as inaccessible to me as the grandiose schizophrenia stories make it out to be? I can’t be curious without feeling like the little kid Aristotle has talked about in his book alpha: I just need to open the box to see how it works. Here I go.
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.
“In the chain of supplements, it was difficult to separate writing from masturbation.” De la grammatologie, Derrida, p. 235.
Some people say it is ludicrous to diagnose historic figures with autism. They, consciously or not, rely on deconstruction to make their point. The word autism only exists from the 20th century and imputing it to historic figures is trying to accord a reality to it which it cannot have. This is bollocks. Instead of deconstructing (i.e. unmasking) a naïve view of things, it reconstructs some kind of innocent naïveté in which nothing goes wrong except by oppression. As if everything we supplement in this society is foreign to the true nature of it. As if words like autism are intrinsically violent and we need to put on our “original” masks of aboriginal innocence. Bollocks – nothing is further removed from the actual text Derrida has written. It is back to the ideas of Rousseau – as if Derrida had not written his supplement on that supplement. It is a reactionary idea common in progressive thought that got scared from its own conclusions and hides in a window-dressed conservatism.
Let me take one of those wild associations of Derrida – masturbation and writing – and do the right thing to show via hyperbole how autism can be literally traced to Homeros – the first (blind!) writer and how the idea of supplement is unavoidably also that of autism as a kind of mental masturbation.
Diagnosed at 48 I am one of those whom people find it hard to accept as autistic. I find it hard to accept the pressure to feel somehow happy about it. That pressure comes under the form of “now you know, you can better learn to live with it”. At the end of The Bridge season 4, the therapist tells Saga Norèn to finally do “what she wants” now she’s liberated from the doubt and guilt that marked her struggle in life. This is disastrous advise in my opinion, and more disastrous still in the case of autism, and this post tries to say why. It’s a post that runs counter to a certain feeling in autistic circles that you can embrace it and find success in life. It’s not a happy post as I refuse to be recovered by a modern fashion to see everything in the light of success. I believe that is autistic as well and maybe I’ll be able to start to explain why.
“With many the question of life’s worth is answered by a temperamental optimism that makes them incapable of believing that anything seriously evil can exist.”
So says William James in his essay “Is life worth living?”. He identifies a deafness for the craving for death by those who self-evidently want to live. Those those have the floor and I do not know how to express my wish of death without being met by distress or comfort. And I do not know which of these two is worst. Both are just shields against what reasons I would like to express for being this way, a way I have always been.
The discussion, then, never starts and therefore never ends. That in itself is unbearable – not having an ear means not being able to develop the language in which to speak about it. So, with James: “Let us search the lonely depths (..) together and see what answers in the last folds and recesses of things our question may find.”
It’s such fun to see how people are ever so busy to make our problems go away. They are so busy to the point of being blind to the many marvels of our ways. How many stop and wonder at the world of wonder lying buried behind our wonkish eyes?
“Oh”, I hear you say, “but you have so many problems, and not only because you cause them too”. And that’s oh so true. We live with our problems from day to sleepless night, in which we wonder what problems – on top of our own – we are causing you.
The thing is though that in between all of our problems – and between all of the problems we cause you – we have a life that sometimes is worth living too. If you’ll just let us live it in the way we oddly do, you may wonder if it doesn’t even have something in it for you.
So if you have the time, stop and wonder at my merry autistic ways. Maybe you would at some time like to do some research on that some time too?
Posted in JoB
Tagged ASD, autism
Heidegger says: “Already the ‘thinking of death’ is publicly considered as the cowards fear.”
I die a thousand deaths each and every day.
They creep up on me like shivers up my crooked spine.
Make me catch my breath into my chronically shrunken lungs.
Slowly swell my prostate as if I was hit – hard – in the fucking groin.
Makes my mind spin into feeling (oh so!) special.
At the end of a life I feel like I am on top of the world,
before it all comes a-crushing crashing down. I melt – down –
to being dead inside. Life springs from that, I mean: for now at least.
‘Bummer!’ being booming business nowadays, I just go for “Mens insana in Corpore non sano.” Is it so strange to want death or is it just a part of life I happen to know better than most? The idea that dying is a once-in-a-lifetime thing at the end of life is entirely strange to me. Which makes me strange but maybe not a stranger to you.
Permit me an accusation in the form of a confession.
‘Let me try this. I don’t get it. Does this matter? Did that?’ I looked forlorn and was taken by others to look for loneliness. Maybe I was. Who could tell? I felt abandoned to my own wits which I happened not to have about. ‘What now? Try again!’ and again and again it hit me like a noise in a flock of noises fluttering about in the room picking on me, one at a time but at the same time all together.
I said: “Cafeterias are torture chambers. They should be banned.”. That was a weird thing to say judging from the awkwardness that ensued. I shut up. I played with the dough that formed itself between me and the others. I knew I could shape it, condense it and – when in shape – manipulate it. ‘Human relations are made of clay.’, I didn’t say that as I couldn’t get a grip on them in the there and then.
Freeze or fleece, that is the question.
It’s common to see autism linked to (a lack of) imagination, sense of humor, empathy and a host of other human qualities. That makes me wonder. After all, I feel ‘all too human’ to identify with robots or “very-large-brained” apes. I kid you not: these are analogies made by a leading autism researcher in a best-selling book. He might defend himself by saying it was an attempt at vulgarizing science. That does not change the fact such comparisons are, plainly and simply, vulgar.
Maybe it’s because since my diagnosis I finally form part of a minority (instead of merely feeling that way) that I’m more philosophically sensitive about generalization (instead of merely finding them bullshit). Denying human qualities to people is inhuman. It isn’t any less inhumane to qualify that such qualities are statistically less present in a certain set of people. We’re after all not talking about length or the ability to dance or dress well.
So, the problem has to lie in a confusion of how the word is understood. Clearing up such misunderstanding then has the double benefit of understanding better what such human qualities are not and taking away related false generalizations holding a minority down.
This is what I attempted to do in a (philosophical) way in this paper for one case: that of autism and imagination. I do not believe it is an easy read but if you want to check it out at the level of the abstract, you’ll find that below the fold as a (non-?)appetizer. Continue reading
“Selves can only exist in definite relationships to other selves.”, G. H. Mead, Mind, Self & Society, The University of Chicago Press, p. 164.
I am in therapy. The question is: what makes me tick like a time bomb? The idea is that if we find the detonator we can defuse my self-destructive tendencies to so avoid my lights going on red. I feel the hand of therapists guided by society inside my mind carefully and meticulously disentangling the faulty wiring. Let’s hope they aren’t too nervous because I am. I can go from green to red and back again without ever giving off a warning orange.
I so should give them a helping hand. So let me explain my self (if even only to myself).