A Literary Journey into Consciousness

October 25th, 2016

How Can You Talk About Autism if You’re Not Willing to Listen?

Posted by Krystal Dillon in Uncategorized

In many ways, Mukhopadhyay’s piece How Can I Talk if My Lips Don’t Move? serves as an example of Gaipa’s 8th strategy: Cross-breeding with Something New. He skillfully, through documenting his own experiences as a person living with autism, adds a new perspective on the debate surrounding what it is like to experience autism. There is an intense stigma surrounding mental illness, and those  who exist on the spectrum fall victim to this stigmatisation as well. Tito speaks about his own experiences with ignorance and discrimination telling the reader that he has been accused of having mental retardation, cerebral palsy and other diagnoses that would explain his “difference”. But Tito offers a new perspective to the debate surrounding autism, arguing that it is just that –difference! It is common for those with autism to be labeled “Other” due to their differing behaviours, but Tito adds insight to this through giving the reader an glimpse into what it is really like to grow up as someone who is not neuro-typical. I love that expression, living with autism does not make one ‘abnormal’ instead they simply experience the world in atypical ways.

One example of his contribution to thinking about autism is when he places his perception in juxtaposition with his mother’s perception. He outlines “She said that when she saw a book, she was aware of what I was doing; at the same time, wanting to make herself a cup of tea” (94). When showcasing his line of thinking we as readers see that his mind simply works in a different way when perceiving the world around him stating “I first notice the color of the bucket. I might easily get distracted by its redness, since it would remind me of how my hands bled when I had fallen from a swing, how I was so absorbed in that red that I had forgotten about my pain” (96). Tito simply experiences the world around him in a different way, he showcases this in his interactions with his mother arguing that the issue is that he simply does not communicate in typical ways. In fact he showcases this in the example of him being exposed to puzzles, he posits “How did I convey my decision to my mother? I pulled myself away from the pieces of the massacred deer” and again when stating “How did I express my discomfort? I pushed Mother’s hands toward the last puzzle piece, hoping she would put it back” (147). Essentially, Tito tries to show that instead of seeing behaviours exhibited by those with autism as “abnormal” and “disruptive” we should try and understand the logic behind the actions, they may simply be a way of communicating that we as neuro-typical individuals simply do not understand. Tito echoes this sentiment arguing “The same experience may be stored and interpreted by another person in a different way” (199).

This book continuously offers the premise that perhaps we have been approaching autism in the wrong way –especially by assuming that because those on the spectrum cannot communicate in the ways in which we do, that they are automatically abnormal or there is something wrong with their brain, that we need to figure out, Tito rejects the idea that autism is a problem to be solved and cured. In the part of his book aptly named Struggling Our Way Out of a Belief System Tito offers something new, but also “Dismantles the Establishment”, another one of Gaipa’s strategies, by critiquing this belief in autism as a problem needing to be solved. He questions the very emblem for autism (a puzzle piece) as indicating that “autism is a disease that needs a cure” (176). He questions his mother’s adherence to a belief system that categorizes him as “less of a person” (176). By writing this piece, Tito effectively offers a new perspective to autism arguing effectively that “being autistic does not make you a person who just happens to exist, that you are capable of forming opinions about everyone” (158). Overall, Tito has made a tremendous impact on the discourse surrounding autism, dismantling problematic approaches to this subject and offering a new framework to approach this difficult conversation.

October 17th, 2016

Do We Have a Right to Closure?

Posted by Krystal Dillon in Uncategorized

After reading Greenidge’s novel, and subsequently perusing through the posts of my classmates, I found myself grappling with the concept of closure. Many posts explained their frustration with the novel’s inability to expound upon certain events, better explain a character’s actions, or answer some of the reader’s questions, and I too found myself frustrated with these same issues. I realized that I also wanted more depth into Laurel’s character, a better ending than the abrupt one we were offered, an explication of what happened to Nymphadora and Dr. Garner, and even more of an emphasis on Charlotte’s obvious struggle with her sexuality. As I asked these questions upon finishing the novel, I began to wonder whether or not it is the responsibility of the author to anticipate and answer all of the reader’s questions.

When dealing with the themes that Greenidge and even Ellison attempt to in their novels, I don’t believe that it is possible for this sense of closure to exist. I think that Greenidge’s aim in this novel is exemplified in a quote that resonated with me which was during the scene in which Adia, her mother, and Charlotte speak about what response they should have towards the experiments run by Dr. Gardner at the Toneybee Institute. Aida’s mother says “Of course it doesn’t make any sense. Nothing about racism makes sense. If it made sense, it would mean it was real, it was the truth. It’s ironic” (186). In this quote I found my answer. What frustrates me about this novel’s puzzling nature, and similarly Ellison’s novel is exactly what the authors want from the reader. In both books we are faced with scenes that are borderline absurd; in Ellison’s novel we see an example of this in the battle royale, and in We Love You, Charlie Freeman, we see this in the very idea that there is a family effectively raising a chimpanzee as a sibling. However these absurd scenes highlight and underwrite the absurdity of racism. How can an author speak about the complexities of race, and inhabiting a black body in oppressive white spaces while existing and remaining in the ‘real’? This is precisely why Ellison opts for his surrealist narrative approach, arguing that the disciplines of realism were inadequate for the type of work he wished to do in Invisible Man. 

To look at Greenidge’s novel and be angry that she could not in the context of 300 pages explain and exemplify the difficulties of racism, sexuality, and family structures is truly the absurdity. However, I think that in the surrealism that preoccupies Greenidge and Ellison’s novels, we can begin to interrogate our own realities. I think that maybe the question is not what Greenidge’s novel accomplished by tackling the very complex themes alive in her book but the efficacy of this novel’s ability to then spark conversations about these topics.

 

Sorry! Now that I have been able to rant about the question that has been nagging me, I can now answer the prompt. I am familiar with Du Bois’ concept of double consciousness and was really interested to how this concept plays out in We Love You, Charlie Freeman. Specifically, one aspect of the novel that I was interested in was the concept of code switching. For example, Charlotte had to modify her behavior given her social surrounding, an action many people of color have to take to create a sense of belonging. For example, Nymphadora speaks of the “rules” given to the black children of her community of how to act around white citizens. They range from “never get angry” to “never wear raggedy clothes” and all of these rules are a result of this double consciousness, because African-Americans are aware of the way in which they are perceived or looked at through the eyes of their white counterparts. This “code switching” is still alive years later in the life of Charlotte, where she feels as though she needs to prove her blackness to Adia and her mother, listing the names of black musicians hoping to be accepted. This idea of conformity even exists within Adia, who at the beginning of this novel was explained to be a revolutionary where Charlotte remarks “they had comfortably settled into the roles of angry black women and the idea of living anywhere else was unimaginable” (140). I was interested in this idea of code-switching as it pertains to the racialized characters in the novel because it speaks to the issue of always being a marker of your race. This book speaks to one of the by-products of racism which is that all of one’s actions is a marker of their blackness. This falls on both ends of the spectrum; the example of the “rules” is so that one’s actions is not capitulating to stereotypical views of blackness so as to be accepted by the white masses, and the second example of Charlotte is how she has to prove that she is “black enough” to Adia and her mother so as to be accepted by her own race. This sentiment is evident in the novel where Nymphadora states that “I do not wish my own skin was white. What I envy is not their skin but their insouciance. I envy the freedom to sin with only a little bit of consequence, to commit one selfish act and not have it mean the downfall of my entire people” (52). Overall, I find it interesting how Du Bois’ ideas permeate and drive the narrative of Greenidge’s novel.

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