Author Archives: schillererica

Schiller, Analysis 5

First of all, I would like to say what a beautiful, thoughtful, well-written manga this is.  A lot of care and love went into this work, and it is very much reflected in the end result, which is truly a work of art.  This is one of the best, most thought-provoking manga I’ve ever read–and I’ve read a lot of manga.

I once read a quote regarding world travel that said something like, “If you’re American, and want to experience culture shock from a completely modernized society, you should visit Japan.”  I recalled this piece of advice when I was thinking about this manga and the cultural differences it shows in its treatment of autism.  To be honest, I’ve been reading manga about day-to-day Japanese life for so long, I’ve become completely accustomed to many of the little peculiarities other Americans seem to find disarming.  This manga, however, shone a light (if you’ll pardon my pun) on an unglamourous, complicated part of reality that gains very little recognition in Japan: mental illness and disability.

As we discussed in class, and as any foreigner reading this manga can immediately tell, the basic Japanese way of life is very largely rigid, conformationalist, and traditional.  There are some among the Japanese youth who make it a priority to challenge conventional standards and practices, but by and large the consensus seems to be that this is a “phase,” so to speak–once you’ve left your twenties, you’re expected to “grow out of it” and “settle down” into an “acceptable” way of life.  In Japan, difference is mostly frowned upon, or at least regarded as an unnecessary complication for those around you.  Even dying your hair–no matter how unnoticeable, flattering, or well-done the color may be–carries a stigma of immaturity and irresponsibility.

Is it any surprise, then, that in a culture that prioritizes convention, politesse, and self-sacrifice, mental illness generally goes undiscussed?  Japan’s national suicide rate ranks it at 17th in the world.  The US is 50th.  You can see the pressure that Sachiko places on herself to be a model wife at the beginning of the book, as well as the pressure that her husband, Masato, places on himself to be a good employee and provider.  The expectations that Sachiko faces are totally normal: a common compliment in Japan, in regards to things like cooking, cleaning, and laundry, is, “You’ll make a good wife.”  Similarly, the reaction many people have to Hikaru–of bemusement and bafflement–is the same reaction they might have to any “disobedient” or “ill-behaved” child.  Hikaru has difficulty getting along in Japanese society largely because all societal difficulties and differences are regarded poorly in Japan–even more than in American society, the expectation of conformity and adherence to the “unspoken” is extensive.

Works Cited: 

Hirose, Yumiko, and Hiroki Sasamori. “Current Status and Issues of Autism Education in Japan.” NISE, http://www.nise.go.jp/kenshuka/josa/kankobutsu/pub_d/d-292/d-292_14.pdf. Accessed 28 Nov. 2016.

Suicide statistics from Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_suicide_rateCalvin College openURL resolver

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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.

Schiller, Analysis 2

Is Sherlock Holmes autistic?  The question is compelling, but the difficulties presented by the puzzle that is the savant detective make it impossible to say for certain.

Firstly, Holmes is indeed a fictional character.  There are aspects of fiction which need not (and therefore frequently do not) conform to the limits of reality, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s mysteries are not immune to this particular aspect of fiction.  Sherlock Holmes was a remarkable man, insofar as he existed in the confines of Conan Doyle’s mind.

Secondly, as we discussed in class regarding both Holmes and Bartleby, autism did not yet technically exist in the minds of Victorian England; it wouldn’t become a valid diagnosis, and therefore a known condition, until the 20th century.  For this reason, we know that Conan Doyle couldn’t have been intending to write a specifically autistic character, simply because the idea of autism and all the traits associated with it did not yet “exist” in the public mind.

We are left, therefore, with an interesting point of inquiry that must inevitably have no firm answer.  As we discussed in class, there are both supportive and discouraging pieces of evidence for placing Sherlock Holmes on the spectrum.  I had all these in mind while reading Hound of the Baskervilles, and found once again that I could reach no satisfactory conclusion.  Holmes exhibits some traits commonly identified with autism, to be sure, but the ease with which he appears to navigate social and emotional communication and recognizes emotions in others (particularly in Watson) continues to throw me for a loop.  The lack of an emotional disconnect makes me feel that even though we’re looking at a savant, we are not, perhaps, looking at an autistic savant.

I wonder, at times, whether it is Watson’s impressions of Holmes that create this emotional quality to their interactions.  Certainly Holmes’s interactions with Laura Lyons, Henry Baskerville, and others in this chapter are much more callous and unconcerned–and yet, Holmes seems almost unable to forgive himself when Henry Baskerville is injured by the titular hound.  Though the circumstances were beyond his control and the injury is minor (more shock than anything else), Holmes seems to feel personally responsible for Sir Henry’s condition: “We owe you a deep apology, Sir Henry, for having exposed you to this fright.” he says immediately after the event; later, he comments, “That Sir Henry should have been exposed to this is, I must confess, a reproach to my management of the case . . .”

There are, of course, problems with viewing Sherlock as autistic, as we discussed in class.  For one, not all those on the spectrum have savant qualities, and savant qualities are not restricted to those with autism.  That autism has been defined by those high-functioning, savant individuals like Temple Grandin and Raymond Babbitt creates a stereotype that has consequences for all those on the spectrum.  I look forward to our in-class discussion on this topic, as I find myself stumped on where to go next.

Works Cited:

Loftis, Sonya F. “The Autistic Detective: Sherlock Holmes and his Legacy.” Disability Studies Quarterly 34.4 (2014). Web. 3 Oct. 2016. <http://dsq-sds.org/article/view/3728/3791&gt;.

Schiller, Analysis One: Autism in the 1800s

While reading Bartleby the Scrivener and our course readings about Herman Melville, I became both curious and troubled by the difficulties faced by those on the spectrum during Melville and Bartleby’s period of life–namely, the late 19th century.  The fact that Bartleby ended up jailed in a place called “the Tombs” deeply disturbed me, and provoked me to do a little more research into what exactly the Tombs was, as well as what sort of conditions Bartleby would have faced while he was there.

As it turns out, the Tombs was the colloquial name for a prison in the Five Points area of New York City.  It was a dark, damp, and dreary place, probably due to its being built on top of a poorly filled-in pond; the building’s foundations were partly sunk into the messy bog the pond had become, and it was constantly suffering from leakage and flooding, as a result.  It was eventually condemned by the Grand Juries.

This imagery recalled for me the dark, dreary institutions described in last week’s reading, and it struck me then that I could not tell on first read whether the Tombs was a prison or an institution (I had to go back and re-read the passages describing it to be sure).  Even the fairly friendly jail-minder was very similar to the overseers found in institutions.

The comparisons between the two seem to almost jump out: the dark, dreary environment; the physical confinement; the menial labor to which inmates and patients are often consigned; the indifference or even disgust of the overseers who keep track of the inhabitants; the discomfort and revulsion with which outside society treats those who are condemned to live within the walls–even the substandard medical care and lack of general regard are comparable.

Why do we treat those on the spectrum like criminals?  It gives me some comfort to know that we’ve come a long way since the 1800s, but institutionalization remains a feature of our society.  Those who society cannot bother to consider or deal with are given substandard qualities of life, and while it can be argued that this sort of treatment is necessary for those who have committed criminal acts, what crime has an autistic person committed besides being born?

There is a part of me that feels we have a long, long way to go, despite all the progress we’ve made, if we still treat the neurodiverse as if they’re something to be shut away, to be ignored.  As we discussed in class, institutional space is created by the neurotypical for the neurodiverse–aren’t the neurodiverse capable of creating their own spaces?  Even in the 1800s, Bartleby manages to do just that: create autistic space by himself, for himself.  As Brown said in her analysis, he is clearly comfortable and desires to be in the office, despite all the obstacles he faces.  Perhaps if the people around him were imbued with fewer prejudices against his “odd” behavior, Bartleby wouldn’t have ended up dead in a prison yard.

Source(s) Cited:

Pentecost, Neil. “The Tombs.” NEW YORK CITY looking back. N.p., 9 Dec. 2011. Web. 19 Sept. 2016. <http://newyorklookingback.blogspot.com/2011/12/tombs.html?m=1&gt;.