A Literary Journey into Consciousness

November 6th, 2016

Does Autism Say More About The Neuro-Typical?

Posted by Krystal Dillon in Uncategorized

Murray’s reading of Bartleby the Scrivener centers around autism represented as difference. I think that we can read Melville’s story just as we read the categorization of those with autism in the world outside the text. The portrayal of autism has been overwhelmingly seen as the presence of difference. By diagnosis, autism seems to mark one’s deviation from the norm –odd behaviours, lack of social cues/interaction, etc. Melville’s story follows this framework. The narrator begins the story documenting moments of difference in his employees. As a result, he seems to situate himself in the position of ‘normal’ or neuro-typical. In order to do so, he needs to mark the ways in which the other character’s behavior differs from his own. Through this process of Othering, As Murray states “the lawyers various reactions to Bartleby form exactly such an idea of self in opposition to his scrivener’s seeming deviancy” (54). Seeing Bartleby’s categorization as a process of Othering I asked one question: Does the creation of the term ‘autism’ say more about those on the spectrum or about the neuro typical? In many ways, Melville’s story shows the narrator’s process of formulating an identity however, he does so through the process of placing himself in binary opposition to his scriveners. He defines himself based off of his difference to those around him –Turkey, Bartleby and Nippers. It is only when Bartleby threatens to disrupt his sense of self that he quickly diminishes his behavior to the realm of the abnormal.

Given that autism in its myriad experiences and definitions exists on a spectrum as diverse as the spectrum of the neuro-typical, I have been plagued with the question of why we seek to define it at all? By reading Murray’s analysis of Bartleby the Scrivener I think that I have found the answer. Just as “Bartleby’s autism threatens to unravel the secure individualized sense of destiny” in Melville’s tale, those on the spectrum deconstruct the fixed identity of those who lie under the guise of neuro-typicality. The very language that we use of ‘neuro-typical’ and ‘neuro-diverse’ tread dangerous ground, as they create a binary. In a binary one concept will always maintain a privileged position, therefore by reinforcing the idea that there is such a thing as ‘neuro-typical’ we promote the idea that neuro-diversity is a disability. I believe that just as Bartleby is a “deeply radical figure” in Melville’s text those who exist on the spectrum are radical in that it is able to complicate our understanding of our own subjectivity (54). By recognizing that we are all in a sense neuro-diverse and that to some extent ‘neuro-typicality’ is a myth, we eradicate the ability to approach the world with a “prejudiced gaze” (56). I think that we all, to some extent move through the world in similar ways to Melville’s narrator, by defining ourselves through our interactions with others. However, this ability to define based on difference contributes to this problematic way of thinking about mental illness. By seeking to understand those on the autism spectrum through documenting the ways in which their behavior ‘differs’ from ours and approaching this disorder based on absence we overlook their ‘presence’.



134 Responses to ' Does Autism Say More About The Neuro-Typical? '

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  1.    Brandon Hernandez said,

    on November 7th, 2016 at 7:44 pm

    Hey, Krystal. Great post. I can definitely see the binary and how it will remain if we keep using the term ‘neuro-typical’. The narrator can definitely be seen as the ‘neuro-typical’ and using the “outside-in” perspective as said in the Savarese, Zunshine article (p.23).

    As far as your question goes, until scientific research finds more, I think it says more about ‘neuro-typicals’ and our judgments against those who aren’t “normal.” Like Murray says, “the disabled are talked about a lot but rarely conversed with” (p.60).

  2.    Chani Rubenstein said,

    on November 8th, 2016 at 11:37 pm

    Hi Krystal! You make a very convincing argument for something that I was pretty sure I was vehemently against. I can see what you’re saying about Murray on Bartleby, though. He is dangerous because he challenges what is expected. He is a luminal character who sort of belongs in both worlds.
    The fact that I just said “both worlds” is an issue, as Brandon pointed out. How are we supposed to strive for a place of peace and neuro-friendly if we insist on calling things one or the other? I know a number of people with neurologic disorders who don’t identify as “other” or different. These markers are very personal, and shoving a label on someone is sometimes damaging.
    Amethyst Schaber speaks of “passing” for neuro-normal. I mean, even listening to her talk about this made me sad. Why should she have to pass? What is it that she is passing as? Zunshine points out that some neuro-typical people do things that most cannot, just as people with ASD and other form of neurodiversity vary. Why can’t we have people like Bartleby in our society? Why did Bartleby have to die? Is our society not ready to accept anything but this binary? I think that I’m Melville’s time, Bartleby could not have survived. Perhaps we are almost ready for a Bartleby in our society. Be well, and rock on, guys!

  3.    Zainab Bhatti said,

    on November 10th, 2016 at 2:47 am

    Hey Krystal! I like how you evidently read this text as autism, and how that is portrayed as difference. When I initially read this book, can’t recall if I was in high school or a freshman in college, but I read it as something completely different. The instructor at the time discussed the significance of this text as it speaks to individualism, choice, etc. Never would I have ever even considering that Melville’s work is about autism.. Thanks for sharing!

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