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.”
This is a valiant effort by the young Heidegger. It will be hotly debated for two reasons: it opens a new road for research and it closes the old road of cultural optimism. That we all die is finally acknowledged as more than a mere contingent fact about our bodies. That a realization of this fact kills off any hope we might have had about a certain openness of our minds is what Heidegger concludes about the nature of our being.
He closes §34 in this way: “(.) it’s not superfluous to note that this interpretation has a pure ontological purpose and is very far from any moralizing criticism of the everyday Dasein as well as from cultural-philosophical aspirations.” Then §35 is entitled: “Idle Talk” (Gerede) – and the first sentence specifies the term should not be read as pejorative.
A new One is born amorally hovering over the old One. As it is announced to be the first -and therefore the last – One, it is potentially the most judgmental One ever. The question then is whether one could not take comfort in reading Heidegger as if it were idle talk.
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
This book should be written because it would clarify how thinking things through, in the way we autistics do for everyday survival, is both painstaking and necessary for all of us. That is also the reason why the title should not read “The History of Autistic Philosophy” – not because we cannot diagnose dead philosophers but because it would increase the rift between everyman’s everyday struggles and philosophy as thinking things through.
It is not the case that all philosophers are (somewhat) autistic. Still all original philosophy is, in a very practical sense, autistic as it takes mundane, unquestioned facts to be deeply problematical. When Aristotle talks about wonder the metaphor is that of a child picking a toy apart to see how it works. It is such wonder that fuels reaching for the unreachable. Reaching for the unreachable is at the same time exhausting as it makes one retreat into the safe confines of a predictable world where everything can be taken as self-evident: a world of unquestioned repetitive ritual, prejudice and superstition.
I believe that my (I call dibs!) Autistic History of Philosophy will improve understanding of one another as well as of our selves. Let me explain myself:
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.
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