Author Archives: laura

Thaxton Analysis 10, Blog 7

This manga by Keiko Tobe is incredible and I’ve read lots of manga. I almost just want to shove this tome onto others when they don’t understand autism, because this depiction of it seems to be the least problematic that we’ve seen so far. It illustrates Sachiko, Masato, and Hikaru’s (and later Kanon) plight with coming to terms with disability, finding resources, and finding reprieve and help in others. Hikaru’s autism is intrinsically at the heart of the story, as much of the conflict in the manga itself rises from it. Whether it be coping with Hikaru’s outbursts, Sachiko’s attempts to find a haven for him, or other characters who oppress them, the family definitely has their hands full in raising a child with autism.

As I said, I really, really enjoyed reading this manga.  I think it stays true to “manga culture” and seeing a depiction of autism in that culture, for me, has not been an experience until now. Hikaru may not say much at all in this story, but his presence on the page is noteworthy. He takes a lot of dominance on the page when he’s in the scene or even being talked about. In the same vein, I feel like the story is less about Hikaru and more about Sachiko. If I had to say, I’d pin her as the protagonist (obviously, right?). Sachiko is definitely trying to beat the system that seems to be built against mothers like her with autistic children. All throughout the story, she goes to welfare facilities, daycares, has to interview for elementary schools in hopes they’ll accept her child—and often, she’s met with a lot of grief. The mothers with “normal” children don’t like how disruptive and “off” Hikaru is, and therefore puts Sachiko further away from them. Sachiko finds relief finally when she’s around others who understands her predicament, which, slowly but surely, includes her husband.

I felt like this manga not only played with the presentation of neurodivergence and autism, but also in traditional family values and the sort. Masato is the salaryman, Sachiko the stay at home mom. Eventually, the two compromise and Sachiko picks up a job and Masato climbs down the business ladder. I feel like these traditional values get flipped a bit when they both come to terms that their family isn’t “normal”. It seems to reflect the change and the adjustment that Sachiko and Masato have to do in order to help preserve their child. Just a tiny thing I noticed, but seems to be a big deal especially when dealing with this older Japanese culture.

The part that surprised me the most was near the end when Sachiko has her daughter. Sachiko can’t remember the first time that Kanon called her “mommy” when the word was a milestone for Hikaru. “I’m sorry I can’t be as happy as I was with Hikaru.” she ruminates. This was an interesting section that I feel showed a lot about Sachiko’s character. Here is a woman who is used to having to go the long way around, the higher road, the bumpier road, the hardest path yet taken—and yet when faced with a child who acts neurotypical, she almost can’t be thankful. Nothing with Kanon is hard (at least not yet, I feel). She doesn’t have to “try” to “earn her love”. It makes me wonder how the story would go if she had Kanon first—female, neurotypical—and then Hikaru later on in the manga. It would make for a very different story, no less, but what level of tenacity does Sachiko acquire from a neurodivergent child that she doesn’t seem to achieve with a neurotypical? (If I’m saying this right at all).

 

Thaxton Analysis 10, Blog 6

This manga by Keiko Tobe is incredible and I’ve read lots of manga. I almost just want to shove this tome onto others when they don’t understand autism, because this depiction of it seems to be the least problematic that we’ve seen so far. It illustrates Sachiko, Masato, and Hikaru’s (and later Kanon) plight with coming to terms with disability, finding resources, and finding reprieve and help in others. Hikaru’s autism is intrinsically at the heart of the story, as much of the conflict in the manga itself rises from it. Whether it be coping with Hikaru’s outbursts, Sachiko’s attempts to find a haven for him, or other characters who oppress them, the family definitely has their hands full in raising a child with autism.

As I said, I really, really enjoyed reading this manga.  I think it stays true to “manga culture” and seeing a depiction of autism in that culture, for me, has not been an experience until now. Hikaru may not say much at all in this story, but his presence on the page is noteworthy. He takes a lot of dominance on the page when he’s in the scene or even being talked about. In the same vein, I feel like the story is less about Hikaru and more about Sachiko. If I had to say, I’d pin her as the protagonist (obviously, right?). Sachiko is definitely trying to beat the system that seems to be built against mothers like her with autistic children. All throughout the story, she goes to welfare facilities, daycares, has to interview for elementary schools in hopes they’ll accept her child—and often, she’s met with a lot of grief. The mothers with “normal” children don’t like how disruptive and “off” Hikaru is, and therefore puts Sachiko further away from them. Sachiko finds relief finally when she’s around others who understands her predicament, which, slowly but surely, includes her husband.

I felt like this manga not only played with the presentation of neurodivergence and autism, but also in traditional family values and the sort. Masato is the salaryman, Sachiko the stay at home mom. Eventually, the two compromise and Sachiko picks up a job and Masato climbs down the business ladder. I feel like these traditional values get flipped a bit when they both come to terms that their family isn’t “normal”. It seems to reflect the change and the adjustment that Sachiko and Masato have to do in order to help preserve their child. Just a tiny thing I noticed, but seems to be a big deal especially when dealing with this older Japanese culture.

The part that surprised me the most was near the end when Sachiko has her daughter. Sachiko can’t remember the first time that Kanon called her “mommy” when the word was a milestone for Hikaru. “I’m sorry I can’t be as happy as I was with Hikaru.” she ruminates. This was an interesting section that I feel showed a lot about Sachiko’s character. Here is a woman who is used to having to go the long way around, the higher road, the bumpier road, the hardest path yet taken—and yet when faced with a child who acts neurotypical, she almost can’t be thankful. Nothing with Kanon is hard (at least not yet, I feel). She doesn’t have to “try” to “earn her love”. It makes me wonder how the story would go if she had Kanon first—female, neurotypical—and then Hikaru later on in the manga. It would make for a very different story, no less, but what level of tenacity does Sachiko acquire from a neurodivergent child that she doesn’t seem to achieve with a neurotypical? (If I’m saying this right at all).

 

Thaxton Analysis 8, Blog 5

If you are looking for meaning in this story, mental dysfunction is the place to start.” says John Lents on his blog devoted to Phillip K Dick’s work.

After reading Martian Time-Slip, I, of course, had to research more about the book itself. It lead me to Lents’ blog which analyzes both the schizophrenic and autistic mind as it is depicting in PKD’s book. In my own reading of Time-Slip, I became unnerved when I realized that children like Manfred, the autistic character of the story, are being “euthanized” in a way to procure a more stable population on Mars. Perhaps a “better” population. Perhaps trying to induce “natural selection”. Perhaps, trying to be like a Martian Hitler. I’ll go with the latter.

First of all, the very fact that there is a lot of German subtext in the story should tell you one thing about the portrayal of neurodivergent individuals. This affected me initially because of the manner in which PKD writes the overarching plot. The UN is coming to “relieve” Mars of their neurodivergent population. Nazis are coming to procure the master race of blondes and blue eyed boys with no crazy in them at all.

Which, is problematic at best because it merely is targeting those who have a more visible “disability”. Yet, the book is a product of PKD’s 1962 publishing date for the book. Autism is not yet its own jurisdiction. Autism and schizophrenia still have some kind of connection. Insane asylums. One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest nurses with large needled syringes.

When Manfred was a baby, she had never talked to him or shown him any affection. Having been trained as a chemist, she had an intellectual, matter-of-fact attitude, inappropriate in a mother. She had bathed and fed the baby as though he were a laboratory animal … so naturally he became autistic.” (37).

PKD is merely using the 1962 view of autism to create Manfred. Manfred is autistic because his mother is a refrigerator mother, and that’s how autism came into being, back then (not to mention the inherently sexist quip that having a matter-of-fact attitude is inappropriate as a mother). Yet, children who have autism have no representation at this point. There’s no Rain Man to point a finger at and say, “Yeah, my kid most like that”, and there’s no deeply analytical view of Sherlock Holmes as an autistic savant to read about, and there’s merely no mention of Asperger’s or of a “spectrum”.

Do I blame PKD for writing Manfred in this way? No. It is a product of the time; it is a product of his perceptions. Just like how Martian-Time Slip becomes a product of the characters’ perceptions. Manfred is given special abilities to “see the future” to make him a utility in the novel. He merely doesn’t exist as himself. He adds to the motives and desires that other character’s want in the story. Plot device.

Do I blame this John Lentz man for saying that the only meaning in the story comes on account of taking advantage of these plot devices? No. But, it’s honestly just another rung for the neurodivergent of authors continuously failing them in the past. If Martian Time-Slip was published in 2015, we’d have a different situation on our hands.

This all makes me think about myself as a writer, and about my brother. Yes, I would love to write a piece of fiction that revolves around a character with autism, but how the hell do I do it without being problematic at best? These are things I think I will come to learn as a writer, eventually, but not right now.

Lentz, John. “Cracks in the Reality of Martian Time-Slip”. Phillip K Dick: A Voice of Existential Uncertainty. 2012. http://quovadisfuture.blogspot.com/2012/04/cracks-in-reality-of-martian-time-slip.html

Thaxton, Analysis 6, Blog 3

“I’ve heard that theory of the Therapeutic Community enough times to repeat it forwards and backwards—how a guy has to learn to get along in a group before he’ll be able to function in normal society; how the group can help the guy by showing him where he’s out of place; how society is what decides who’s sane and who isn’t, so you got to measure up.” –Chief, pg. 47

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (OFOCN), by Ken Kesey begins with a new patient entering the Combine, or the mental institution. While the story is told from Chief Bromden’s perspective, the subject of the book itself lies within the interactions between the other characters. Chief becomes our all-knowing, seemingly omnipotent narrator. He has the ability to eavesdrop and report it back to the audience with a heightened sense of awareness about the world around him. In spite of this, he is labeled a Chronic, labeled insane, and labeled neurodivergent.

The above quote is the epitome of the differences between the neurotypical and the neurodiverse. It also further asserts that neurodiversity is a social construct created by the neurotypical, or “society”, as Chief puts it. Chief states that their group meetings and the “reporting on one another” is beneficial and essential for their “treatment”. If they become more aware of their “insane” habits or “insane” thought processes, which often presents itself through conversation, then they will know what part of themselves to repress to be “normal”.

Society decides who’s sane and who isn’t, he says. Chief might have his own personal shortcomings, but he is brilliantly aware of what goes on around him. When McMurphy comes about and disrupts their status quo, he is able to understand who McMurphy is as a person. McMurphy claims he “isn’t a loony”, and I think Chief would agree because of the differences between McMurphy and the rest of the crew. Likewise, McMurphy was thrown in the Combine when he started to display worrying symptoms of “insanity”, which is described as “bouts of passion” and a “sex addiction”. Society frowns upon these, and therefore, he is placed among the Acutes and the Chronics.

With OFOCN, we readers are getting a firsthand insight into a neurodivergent character. The story is told entirely from his perspective (so far anyway), and we have to determine whether or not to trust him. This mental institution is delivered to us through Chief’s lens and his words. Sometimes, we don’t know if reality is being represented, or we are given a façade. For example, I mean the scene on pages 82-87. Are we experiencing Chief’s “real” and “unrestricted” world? are we experiencing the world of Chief off his medication? or is the institution full of machines and people who murder in the night?

So far, I’m really enjoying OFOCN and I’m so roped into it and captivated that I can’t wait to see how the world that Kesey has illustrated will pan out. Chief’s narrative voice is so distinct and clear, and if the story was told from a different perspective, I don’t think it would be granted the same effect on readers.

Thaxton, Analysis 4, Blog 2

“Open the window, then! You have been at your club all day, I perceive.”

“My dear Holmes!”

“Am I right?”

“Certainly, but how?”

He laughed at my bewildered expression.

“There is a delightful freshness about you, Watson, which makes it a pleasure to exercise any small powers which I possess at your expense … [I see the] gloss still on [your] hat and boots…” (13)

In The Hound of the Baskervilles, we see the iconic duo at work again as detectives. This time around, Sherlock and Watson are investigating a death that eventually is revealed to have been perpetuated by “the hound” owned by “the Baskervilles”. In the passage above, and through the story, we see Sherlock using his “savant-like” observational skills on Watson (as he did in the openings of other books), and we see him explaining evidence in a similar, striking, and oddly precise manner.

Thinking of Sherlock Holmes as someone on the spectrum was not a knee-jerk reaction for me. I had never considered individuals with savant-like abilities to have ASD. Perhaps, because I really didn’t see savants as being on the spectrum, because it seems otherworldly. Sherlock is the same in that, he seems otherworldly. In Baskervilles and other stories, he displays a rigid mannerism and certain obsessive interests that would categorize him to be on the spectrum. But, I feel as though the audience sees Sherlock as “incredibly gifted” and not “autistic” or an “aspie”.

“But wait—we’re not talking about a real person here. Holmes was a fictional character, created for the amusement of Londoners in the late Victorian and early Edwardian periods. How can a fictional person be diagnosed with a developmental disorder?” (Albrecht)

In reading this article and looking at the story and how Sherlock is characterized, it made me think of the common characteristics and “stigmas” that are attached to ASDs. This article summarizes my thought succinctly:

“While the cultural fantasy of the autistic detective may seem to dispel the darker fantasy of those with cognitive disabilities as dangerous criminals and social problems, such detective figures may actually work to reinforce these stereotypes. Furthermore, the presumably redemptive fiction of the autistic hero often proves oddly dehumanizing: even as his incredible feats of deduction are praised as a work of genius, Holmes is objectified by his beloved Watson, who constantly compares the brilliant sleuth to machines and repeatedly describes him as ‘inhuman.'”  (Loftis)

I like how Loftis compares how although Sherlock is put on a pedestal for all that he does, the very act seems to “dehumanize” him. He is quickly sorted out as an “other” and an “outlier”. Neurotypical individuals can’t look at a person and figure out where they’ve been all day by the dirt splotch on their shoes—they can’t count cards in a matter of milliseconds, or determine the day of the week in the 1950s off the top of their head. But those who can—we label them genius, we label them as “incredibly gifted”.

So, I think what I’m trying to get at in this entry is, does Watson aid in showing Sherlock as merely a “gifted person”, or is Watson aiding in the overall characterization of Sherlock? How can a fiction person be diagnosed with a developmental disorder? How is Bartleby depicted to have ASD? Because he is strange? Or because he has patterns and routines?

I suppose I’m interested in these ideas mostly because I’ve always wanted to write a story or some kind of fiction revolving around an autistic character, but I almost feel that just stating that is already “dehumanizing” them. “This character, they’re autistic,” seems flippant, where I’d like to create a sense of “maybe this character is on the spectrum because of their tendencies?”

What is the seemingly fine line between stigmatizing a character and dehumanizing them rather than representing a disability in fiction?

 ——

 Albrecht, Karl. “Did Sherlock Holmes Have Asperger Syndrome?” Psychology Today. 2011. Web.
https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/brainsnacks/201110/did-sherlock-holmes-have-asperger-syndrome

Loftis, Sonya Freeman. “The Autistic Detective: Sherlock Holmes and his Legacy.” Disability Studies Quarterly, vol. 34, no. 4. 2014. Web.
http://dsq-sds.org/article/view/3728/3791

 

Thaxton, Analysis 2, Blog 1

“Herman Melville was a truly great American writer. His Asperger’s syndrome helped him to be a great observer and to focus… persons with Asperger’s syndrome are capable of this [success in a career].” – Michael Fitzgerald

Throughout my college career, I may have read Bartleby at least two other times. And in those times, none of my professors even mentioned that the text could be analyzed in an “autistic perspective”. I never learned that Herman Melville himself displayed characteristics of those with Asperger’s Syndrome, and that many theorized if he was on the spectrum or not. Until now, I felt cheated.

Part of me wants to believe that the teachers merely forgot to mention that Melville wrote Bartleby to be similar to him—similar to someone with AS. Part of me thinks that they simply did not know either, and if they did know, they didn’t know how to roach the subject of talking about AS and ASD. I also wonder about the stigmas that those two disorders have, and if that has impacted the conversation surrounding Melville and his work, if that’s why no one mentioned it, because the entire story would be deduced to: “Bartleby had autism and the story ended with him becoming institutionalized.” It breaks my heart.

Fitzgerald mentions throughout his argument that Melville displayed many common characteristics of someone with AS:  eccentric social behavior, narrow interests, motor clumsiness, and a tendency to be controlling. I think that his inference about misogyny here (pg. 54) seems like a stretch and doesn’t polarize the two from each other enough to the reader. Nonetheless, Bartleby, as a supposed translation of Melville, displays these similar qualities. He repeats himself throughout the story, and he refrains from social interaction with his co-workers. Bartleby thrives in the workplace through routine and structure and also through independence. When these aspects of the job begin to change, Bartleby becomes insubordinate. When Melville felt the same shifts in life, he displaced it onto his family.

Reading Bartleby and regarding Melville through an “autistic perspective” is vital to understanding the breadth of the story. Bartleby, who acts “luny”, is sent away to prison at the end instead of being understood. The lawyer, who feels compassion for him, in the end cannot empathize and cannot resolve his own misunderstandings around his employee. Like many real life individuals with autism, they become institutionalized because of this frustrations and misunderstandings. This builds the negative stigmas surrounding AS and ASD, and the educational process goes down the drain.

So why don’t more English teachers teach stories about AS and ASD individuals to their students in high school? Why has it become so taboo to the point that even fiction is uncomfortable to speak of? I wonder about my own teachers, even still, and perhaps they just preferred not to teach it that, to deduce Bartleby to a series of stereotypes to be misinterpreted; but, by doing so, a great message is being lost to those who need to hear it.

This individual wrote a compelling blog post about Melville’s story in regards to the conflict being “neurotypical vs. neurodiverse”. He states that there is a “double empathy” problem between the two groups, as neither can truly understand each other in total empathy (that most ASD individuals lack). Thinking of who to blame in the story, (lawyer? Bartleby?), it is interesting to think of the double-empathy problem to see that no one is truly “at fault” (though debatable).