Schiller, Autism in Philip K. Dick’s “Martian Time Slip”

Philip K. Dick’s “Martian Time Slip” is supposed to take place in the future, but the time period in which it was written betrays the many ideas of autism and of mental illness that people held in the 1960s.  The future in “Martian Time Slip” is rife with many uniquely mid-20th century tropes, all of which arise from the time’s understanding of both schizophrenia and autism.  Steiner’s thoughts on his wife at the beginning of the novel, for example, reflect the belief in “refrigerator mothers,” or that he and his wife are somehow personally responsible for Manfred being on the spectrum.

Furthermore, autism is deeply associated with schizophrenia as a mental illness, and is seen as another type of divorce from “reality” (or, as Jack Bohlen repeatedly feels, society’s fabricated veneer of normalcy) and as something that ought to be curable.  Indeed, Manfred himself is helped to “functionality” by the Martian native Bleekmen, who manage to “pierce the veil,” so to speak, and bring out Manfred’s “hidden self.”  It is not only implied, but outright stated and shown that Manfred’s autism is a revisable condition.  If the cause can be found, then he can be “cured”–the reality that there could be a cause that simply has no cure is never once really considered by anyone involved.  Jack Bohlen’s schizophrenia is said to be a lifetime reality, so why is Manfred’s autism not treated the same way, especially if it is indeed considered an offshoot of schizophrenia?  Dick’s treatment of autism is a baffling contradiction that reflects the prejudices of the day.

Works Cited:

Makins, Virginia. “Escape From Silence.” How Autism was seen in the 1960’s, edited by Larry Arnold, The Guardian, 17 July 1966, http://www.larry-arnold.net/Neurodiversity/Observer/Observer66.htm. Accessed 13 Nov. 2016.

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