The Curious Incident of the Metaphor in the Book

A few weeks ago I wrote about Susan Sontag’s essay “Illness as Metaphor”. Sontag’s concept was to analyze society’s response to a disease the same way a literary critic might analyze society’s response to a text. In the 80’s, she wrote of AIDS as the tragically metaphorical illness of that age.

I wonder if autism might be the metaphor for our new millennium, or at least our new millennium’s first decade.

Autism is a psychological syndrome characterized by emotional shutdown. (UPDATE: see comments below about the fact that I didn’t know as much as I should have about autism when I wrote those words, or this entire article.) Severely autistic people shy away from human contact and social enjoyment, often absorbing themselves instead in repetitive tasks or private fascinations. They tend to be quiet but needy, warm but remote. They are not mentally retarded, and can be extremely smart and talented — in fact it’s hard to tell if autistic people are even victims of a disease, or rather just “different”. To use a grossly reductive simile (not a metaphor, just to clarify), an autistic person simply doesn’t seem to be running the same operating system as everybody else.

One of the better novels going around right now, Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is a baroque spin on autism. It’s narrated by a brilliant British autistic teenage boy, who has been told by a teacher to keep a journal (in real life, the character of the boy is fictional, based on subjects the author worked with as a caregiver). The plot of the book is laid out in the first couple of paragraphs — a neighbor’s dog has been killed with a garden fork, and the narrator is determined to figure out who did it.

There’s a small cast of characters, all of them suspects in the murder: a father, a mother, a nasty stepfather, a dad’s girlfriend, a few odd neighbors. They are all highly flawed, to say the least. His dad is cheerful but quite dodgy, while his mother is loving but completely useless. We start to feel the panic this kid lives with everyday of his life — not just because he’s autistic, but because the people around him are truly such a mess.

The book is causing a sensation because of its realistic voice. It feels like a Nick Hornby novel told by the ‘Rain Man’. As we read, we sink into the funny world of an autistic mind. Here, certain colors are good, and certain other colors dangerous. Your numerous superstitions are enormously real, and you must consult with several environmental oracles before you make any major decision. On the emotional level, you are deeply vulnerable to and afraid of everyone around you. Most of your movements are defensive blocks. You are sad and lonely, but you do enjoy your things and your habits. Private time is nice. Math is comfort food — whereas food itself is a hazardous affair since you cannot eat two foods that touch each other on a plate.

The book is being marketed as a postmodern literary mystery, but I trust I won’t be spoiling anything when I say the book doesn’t actually offer much on the mystery front. We find out who the dog’s killer is halfway through the text, and the answer is simply blurted out to little effect. This is the author’s intention, though, because the book wants you to feel unbalanced, unsure of what’s going on. In short, the book wants you to feel autistic, and I think it succeeds.

The book is also timely, because there is an alarming rise in the incidence of autism. WIRED magazine author Steve Silberman wrote an influential article a few years ago claiming that autism and autism-related syndromes like Asperger’s were becoming modern epidemics in some parts of America, especially areas like San Fransisco where there are many scientists, computer programmers and engineers.

There are many new theories about autism and Asperger’s syndrome, and it is impossible to delve into this topic without pausing to question what it means for anybody, autistic or not, to live in our over-stimulating, over-stimulated world. The autistic response is a response many of us have used in certain situations. Block out the intruder. Strangers are dangerous. Touch is bad. Change is scary. Barriers are important. Mysterious forces control us, and only our routines and our rituals keep us safe.

Interestingly, Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time spends some paragraphs on a discussion of the words ‘simile’ and ‘metaphor’ (and I was just imitating the book’s narrator when I pointed out the difference between a simile and a metaphor above). The book drops several cultural/literary references, from Sherlock Holmes to Marilyn Savant, and it doesn’t seem much of a stretch to wonder if Haddon’s obsession over the word ‘metaphor’ were not a nod to Susan Sontag’s famous article.

I’d like to know what you think of the idea of autism as a metaphor for today’s prevailing sense of life.

59 Responses

  1. I read the curious incidentI
    I read the curious incident

    I read “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time”.

    It was very good book. If you liked that check out “Motherless Brooklyn” by Jonathan Lethem — A hard boiled detective novel where the main character has tourette’s syndrome.

  2. ObesityObesity would be a

    Obesity would be a better candidate because it’s self-induced, nearly worldwide, life threatening, and also belongs with the bigger and better ethos that’s so much a part of the American ethos. Literary-wise, short story anthologies are rarely
    on the NY Times best seller’s list yet 500 page thriller-page turners sell a million copies and after you’re finished reading them, you’re left with nothing but time killed or wasted.

  3. Good point, Geoff — yeah, I
    Good point, Geoff — yeah, I did read ‘Motherless Brooklyn’, and I was going to mention that novel in this article too (until I realized the article was already too long).

    I did like Haddon’s take on autism better than Lethem’s take on Tourette’s, though. Both books are admirable efforts, though I felt “Curious Incident” had more heart. I also like Nirvana’s song “Tourette’s” better than Lethem’s novel. In terms of metaphorical diseases, though, I really like the idea of an era in the world characterized by Tourette’s syndrome. Maybe if we’re lucky, that will become the theme of our next decade.

  4. Hmm, Warren, your words are
    Hmm, Warren, your words are harsh (what world wants to be defined by obesity?) but probably apt. Then, of course, there’s another good metaphorical disease in bulimia, yin to obesity’s yang.

  5. Autism and Refrigerator
    Autism and Refrigerator Moms

    Autism was blamed on cold mothering in the 50s when in fact it is a serious neurological disorder. Being mentally disabled myself, it is hard for me to take such a serious subject and use it metaphorically.

    What I truly think will happen in the coming years is not autism as a metaphor, but PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) in abundance and in reality. The soldiers in Iraq and those who have served before are walking wounded. The improvements of body armor and the like have meant that while physical casualities are lower, wounds to the body and mind are higher. The States will experience a growing population of those with PTSD, which is characterized by severe anxiety, panic, intrusive memories, nightmares, depression, and often self-destructive behaviors. A hidden but palpable pain. If this can be taken as a metaphor, then it involves the “shell shock” of nervous disorders from being at war, living with real or imagined terror, and fear. I believe a country that goes into something with a “tough soldier” attitude and comes out distressed is really general psychic mood that will come to pass.

  6. At Least, In the CityI don’t
    At Least, In the City

    I don’t know, I was reading some of the symptoms of autism, and I was thinking, “that’s your average city dweller!” Save for the math obsesssion and food not being able to touch each other, a lot of people that live in the city have to develop their own barriers for, I suppose, city protection. Such as don’t walk down the street and make eye contact with anyone. If you make eye contact, the person might be crazy. (Which is usually true.) Stay on guard. Don’t talk to strangers. Etc.

    Then in the suburbs there’s a chosen autism, if you will. People rambling around in giant cars, and going to the coffee shop and drinking the same coffee, but not talking to each other, because of invisible social and econmomical seperations.

    Then out in the country, there’s no autism. Everybody talks to everybody. And there’s no fear.

    I’ve come across people with autism and other psychological situations. Sometimes I wonder (and perhaps sometimes it’s true) if there’s true genius going on in some of their minds. But their bodies don’t process it out as normal so we see differently then what they are actually thinking.

    And hearing about autism being increased in areas of brainiacs makes me wonder. Is there a connection to being really smart and autism or being around technological devices? I don’t know. But it makes you wonder.

  7. Autism as Metaphor?Computer
    Autism as Metaphor?

    Computer autists
    in a form of autism, normally well adjusted human beings may be found to prefer a computer screen and a comfortable chair to the hustle and unpredictable bother of the noise and boisterousness of flesh and blood human associates.

    Autism is a fascinating neurological condition; asperger’s a sub-type; but people with mild forms of either of these have an option to stay secluded. Young sensitive adolescents who suffer in the company of rough and tumble classmates can choose to pick less threatening friends in forums or even selected chat rooms.

    Could those people have managed to function better in a 19th Century environment? Is the net contributing to wider forms of autism in the general public?

    Is it easier to withdraw these days and avoid dealing with inner and outer obstacles?

    Some of my best friends have been autistic. Not true, but one of my students of puppetry did prove to offer a fascinating monologue with a puppet of his own creation.

    Being together with that one student did more to enlighten other kids and at the same time to push away any of their own autistic tendencies than therapy could have ever done.

    Is autism the metaphor of the times?

    Autism does not signify escape, but rather offers permanent access to withdrawal when required.

    Over stimulate the autist and you’ll see pacing, muttering gibberish, covering his ears all as efforts to re-balance overloaded circuits.

    We know what that is. Some of us do it more subtly than others. Meditation, taking a fast break – movie, sex, bar, going for a walk – all are methods to re-balance.

    Is autism the metaphor of our time?
    It’s beginning to work for me.

  8. Sickness and CureYes, I can
    Sickness and Cure

    Yes, I can see autism as a metaphor for today’s way of thinking. There is that “don’t look them in the eyes” thing when you are walking on the sidewalk in a big city. But it’s more than that. I think part of it is the government’s fault. No, I’m not paranoid. Think about it. You can get in trouble for so many things now. It’s easier not to share a damn thought with anyone unless you really know them.

    Personally, I used to talk to everyone, everywhere, all the time; but somewhere along the line I found that I can only take on so much of other people’s burdens and, to maintain my own sanity, I retreat from excessive sharing with other humans, with the exception of my family.

    Here’s a tangential thought: One of my coworkers looked over my shoulder and saw me reading the 24 Hour Poem during my lunch hour. He asked about it, so I explained it, and he said, “But if all those people are writing, the end product would sound like some schizophrenic!”

    I said, “Well, maybe. Yeah. But it’s good.”

    I don’t even know the implications of that, but there must be some. Maybe it means that in a sick world (or a world with autism), the raving poets are actually more sane.

  9. As the population grows and
    As the population grows and we become more crowded upon one another and communication becomes more of a staple of modern life through the computer, TV etc., and one is forced into more human interaction through too much schooling and too much socialization through sports, clubs ballet practice,music lessons; perhaps autism is only the body’s reaction to this saying “just let me have a little peace and quiet”. One wonders what the numbers would be for autism for such places as India and China where the human contact perhaps has even of a profound effect though in both places a history of an out such as through meditation or highly introspective religious practices might have subdued the need for autism.

  10. Tough SubjectI saw The
    Tough Subject

    I saw The Curious Incident in the book store and have been meaning to pick it up. Now I definitely have to.

    Due to my father’s work, I spent a lot of time as a child in the company of autistic children and teenagers. So much so that I adopted a couple of their habits while on long car-rides, or any time boredom set in, much to the irritation of my family.

    I can see the idea that maybe the stimulation of our society could cause people to block things out, but non-autistic people have a choice. A small percentage of non-A.S. autistic people may have an extraordinary talent in one area, but they generally suffer from a mild to severe form of mental retardation. It sounds as though someone has been viewing the situation through rose-colored ink. The things they endure without any control or ability to understand what is even happening to them are horrendous.

    People who suffer from what was originally named as autism cannot be mainstreamed into society. They often live their lives cracking their skulls on the walls, being victimized by grande-mal seizures, or trapped inside a stereo speaker, unable to even recognize the sound of their own voices.

    People who are afflicted with A.S. are an entirely different story. They can communicate with the outside world to a large degree. They can be mainstreamed into regular schools and can expect to someday be able to earn a living.

    The rest of us may be trapped by our own consumerism, but we have a choice to tune out. Those with autism are a captive audience.

    Maybe I’m biased, but I don’t like autism as a metaphor. People are born into autism or A.S. and there is no escape. I may change my mind later, but that’s what I think at the moment.

    Oh that’s great. I’m a really tough broad and now these memories of these kids has been dug up and I’m crying like a baby. Brilliant. Nice work Asher.

  11. I can see your point, Bill.
    I can see your point, Bill. That’s an interesting way to look at it. Of course I like to think the “raving poets” are the sane ones. I also have to say that you’re extremely brave to have explained the poetry party to the chance onlooker.

    My explanation to a co-worker would have been something like, “stick a sock in it moron.” I guess that wouldn’t have explained much.

  12. That’s hilarious. Tourette’s
    That’s hilarious. Tourette’s as the theme of our next decade! That’s something I would like to see!

    I’ve known one person with Tourette’s. He was a barker/growler. I didn’t even realize he did it until someone else pointed it out to me. I heard he grew up to be a journalist in Florida.

  13. Wham! as MetaphorThinking
    Wham! as Metaphor

    Thinking about modern life, I find that there is really no more apt a metaphor than the song “Careless Whisper” by the earth-shatteringly great pop duo known as Wham! I know that you probably think I’m joking, but no, seriously, think about it:

    I’m never gonna dance again
    Guilty feet have got no rhythm

    It’s an incredibly succinct, emotionally accurate portrayal of shame and the self-deprivation that follows. Because really, what are we if not a culture caught in the throes of a love-hate relationship with ourselves and our consumerist greed? Further complicating matters is our conflicting desire to be in touch with the natural world, to better ourselves by lessening the clutter of our daily existences.

    Yes, how many times have you thought about self-improvement by cutting something out of your life? Maybe it was dancing (in the case of poor George Michael), or perhaps alcohol or crack? Or it could have even been carbohydrates (are you aware that “meta” (an important part of the word “metaphor”) is really an anagram for “meat”? I don’t think I need to explain that further). But you know, human nature being what it is, despite our best intentions, we end up salsa dancing, drinking Fuzzy Navels and dusting off our crack pipes while eating a heaping plate of tater tots.

    Why? Because.

    Really, as it says at the end of “Careless Whisper”:

    But now, who’s gonna dance with me?
    Please stay…

    we always find ourselves desiring that which we had given up, because that’s life.

    Yes. Life. As described by Wham! The true poets of our time.

  14. It always seems to be going
    It always seems to be going great until someone pushes your pipe while you’re busy peeking out the blinds.

    Do guilty feet lack rhythm? I mean, really. Don’t we dance better when we shouldn’t be?

    Pass the chore-boy I say…pass the chore-boy.

  15. Hey, but I think city life is
    Hey, but I think city life is getting trashed in some of these responses. Bill, you mention how people act in big cities, but I think people are really friendly here in New York. Seriously. We don’t look down when we walk or anything … when you were up here at the Bowery, wasn’t it a friendly time?

  16. Well, I’ve come to understand
    Well, I’ve come to understand that autism and asperger’s syndrome encompass a wide spectrum of behaviors, with a lot of in-betweens and gray areas.

    I have friends with autistic children, but I’ve never spent a lot of time getting to know one of them. I do have a close relative who seems to fall into patterns of asperger’s syndrome, though. He’s an extremely charming kid, very social and smart — he just can’t eat two foods that touch either on the plate, and sometimes he reacts to things in ways that make no sense to anybody else.

    I guess because of my personal experience, my comments might reflect more on asperger’s than on autism. I really don’t know much about it so I hope I haven’t said anything incorrect.

  17. M e t a p h o rWell, the idea
    M e t a p h o r

    Well, the idea of autism as a metaphor for today’s sense of life is certainly interesting and you seem to make a pretty good case in that there is a heightened sense of awareness, protection and search for security for a lot of people currently. However, I’m not sure it’s completely necessary to reduce life to illness as metaphor. That really seems to say something about how we look at life, doesn’t it? To follow your line of thinking, though, and digging deep into the societal and commercial aspects of your explanation, perhaps a more apt diagnosis of society or life in general would be clinical hyperactivity or ADD. Though some may argue that ADD is a myth, you might say life is as well.

    To move beyond illness, I think a more accurate metaphor for current times would be metaphor itself. Things can no longer be simply as they are — or what they are, rather they fall victim to the “new black” phenomenon. Everything is the new black, the trendy comparison. Retro chic, as it were. In some respects, there may be nothing truly “new”. Just as everything old is new again, Iraq is touted as the new Viet Nam. American Idol, the new Star Search. The Tickle Me Elmo was the Cabbage Patch Kid of the 90s, the veritable Hula Hoop of its time. Every year some new upstart is lauded to be the era’s Elvis; John Travolta becomes, yet again, the John Travolta of the new millennium. And the aughts are the 80s to the 90s’ 70s. This could be because we need to put things in context of events that are already familiar, or that we just can’t accept people and things as they are on their own. Perhaps this categorization and familiarity harkens back to the autism metaphor, but it doesn’t need the entirety of autism to be accurate. Because in reality, autism is just the metaphor of metaphor — and metaphor is, after all, the new black of the 21st century.

  18. I don’t know about Wham as a
    I don’t know about Wham as a metaphor, but I might agree with Wham as a disease.

    No, actually, I take that back. I don’t want to get anyone mad at me.

  19. I think that is a brilliant
    I think that is a brilliant analysis. Can you remind me what “the new black” means?

  20. I think if we have to explain
    I think if we have to explain it to you, it loses something.

  21. I think I read somewhere that
    I think I read somewhere that John Travolta is the new black, which is fitting, considering the fact that John Travolta is, quite obviously, metaphor.

  22. I have heard the same thing
    I have heard the same thing about “refrigerator moms”. Really sad, especially considering how hard these mothers have had to work.

    A few people seem to have said that it might be disrespectful to people who have an illness to discuss that illness as a metaphor. Personally, I don’t see it that way. I feel that all of us are in this thing called life together, whether we are born sick or healthy or gifted or “different”, and, in some sense, we all suffer from each other’s diseases. I think it’s fair game to discuss this, as long as it’s not in an insulting or mean-spirited way.

  23. It’s true … I also wonder
    It’s true … I also wonder how autism might have manifested itself throughout history. Completely unknown.

  24. Brooklyn is right about my
    Brooklyn is right about my time in New York. It was a very friendly & positive experience; I had no trouble whatsoever. I didn’t mean to stereotype New York.

    I really think that in all cities and towns, big or small, people are starting to close out others more than they used to, but when people with similar interests come together, it’s a good thing. Like poets, writers and artists, for example.

    Here in Jacksonville, FL, I happen to work downtown. My God, the Super Bowl hoopla is in full bloom! But that’s just an aside.

    About three blocks from where I work is a liquor store, a gas station, and a hospital. I’ve been to all three. Not so often to the hospital as to the other two. Everytime I’m in that area, I have people asking for money. I used to give it to them when I had it. They have several variations. It’s either, “My car ran out of gas and I’m down here from Georgia visiting my mother in the hospital,” or “I just got out of the hospital from a heart attack and I got no way to get to the homeless shelter; do you have some change for the bus?” or sometimes even, “I need twenty-seven more cents to buy a quart of beer.”

    The thing is, I just can’t afford to help everyone who approaches me, and I can’t always tell who is scamming me and who’s not. I started out by saying, “I’m sorry, I wish I could help” but sometimes I just ignore them. Shut them out of my mind.

    Now the good news. Because of the Super Bowl, our city has opened up a large, temporary homeless shelter, for one week, to sweep all the bums off the streets long enough so that the out-of-towners don’t see them. So this will be a good week to be homeless in Jacksonville.

    Oh, that guy who came right out and asked for money to buy beer? I laughed and gave him a buck.

  25. And “Wake Me Up Before You Go
    And “Wake Me Up Before You Go Go” is a metaphor for sleep apnea.

    But let me not talk falsely now, the hour is getting late.

  26. I have no idea why John
    I have no idea why John Travolta is the new black or what that in the world that means, but I do think ADD is a good candidate for disease of the decade. Everybody has it, and apparently we can blame all our flaws on it. Just what we need! An all-purpose disease we can all enjoy together.

  27. I guess it just goes to show
    I guess it just goes to show … whatever we are familiar with, that is what makes us feel safe. I can’t imagine anybody walking the streets of a large city and feeling nervous. But if I go out to the country, I do get that vague sense of unease mixed with excitement and anticipation. Like, where will I find coffee? Where’s the nearest good bookstore and record store? Why can’t I find a cab?

    It’s not about city vs. country — I think it’s just about familiar vs. strange.

  28. But sociological autism, if
    But sociological autism, if such a thing exists, isn’t necessarily self-induced. It’s the reaction people have to adverse stimuli in their lives. Maybe.

  29. Could you explain what you
    Could you explain what you mean by “some kind of insight near 2000”?

  30. I’m curious to know how the
    I’m curious to know how the conditions you describe compare & contrast with, say, Japan. I’ve heard that people have learned to live within close proximity to one another there, but I don’t know if it’s by ignoring each other or interacting more with each other.

  31. Woody Allen says the same
    Woody Allen says the same thing. He feels more comfortable in the city than in the country. I saw him on TV talking about it. He said, “What if you got sick in the country? How do you get a cab?”

  32. I’m with Rog. Can someone
    I’m with Rog. Can someone please explain what the “new black” means?

  33. Tough Subjects todayI agree
    Tough Subjects today

    I agree with what Pelerine had to say. Of course, I have to, having grown up in a lunatic asylum, my father having been a doctor there.

    On the other hand, there certainly are psychopathic tendencies triggered by the system of society. Induced by class pressure, by frustration, S/M stereotypes, the ‘taboo of latent fears in the society of defense’ – all topics we addressed in that ‘revolutionary’ era, polishing up the theories of Freud, Reich Watts, et al…

    But those were times when people didn’t avoid the others’ eyes as much as they do today, when fear wasn’t as wide-spread as it is today, also in relationships – and in the working environment. In the Western World.

    Now, there are characteristic ‘autistic’ tendencies, perhaps not so much in the ‘clinical’ sense, but an epidemic, a mass disease, nevertheless. A new dark age, of joblessness, of global fears, of distrust and insecurity. Not admitting weakness, age, having, e.g., lost (the ability to) love,
    running away from responsibilities, especially for other people.

    Many ‘autistic people’, however, take the disguise of extremely extroverted behavior, rotten and filled up by fears inside – and showing the sort of symptoms that Levi described.

    I have a boss like that, playing the incident commander, but shying away from systematic measurable work, practical responsibility, only uttering hysteric critique, collecting nervous love affairs.

    And the working day is filled up with 80 % + with ‘psycho-terror’ (not self-confirming work): reflections about colleagues, the future (which is held systematically grey and insecure (not even giving a reason for defense, conter-action), without decision, orientation, in a medium of fear: joblessness, age, global decay, tensions of power, critical development), changes (the feeling of uselessness, motionlessness, but also continuous supervision and stress).

    Unproductive, no link to material solidarity, but many reasons for hiding, not talk about hiding…

    In such a medium I love (/have) to play, to scream out some insaneness … like Billectric showing my strange weird (lively) interests in literature, the sun, thoughts and how they are crafted (also openly trying to trace myself), and smiles.

    Against society’s autism. Knowing each era had its disease, correlated to the economic conditions.

    Just heard Poe’s ‘Alone’ – and turned to (post-)war German authors and lyricists B

  34. The new black. Well, it’s
    The new black. Well, it’s either a phrase that was (and still is) commonly used to describe must-wear colors in fashion (example: Pink is the new black), that has carried over to describe other trends, or it’s a racial slur.

    Choose your own adventure.

  35. I understand your position
    I understand your position and did not mean to suggest that it was inappropriate to discuss, merely that I had a hard time imagining it.

    Rather I chose another illness or disorder that I see as more prevalent and more in keeping with the times. PTSD is also a serious illness but I think it can be discussed metaphorically too. We shall have to overcome along with our fellow Americans the trauma of war and terror.

  36. Desensitized, man if you all
    Desensitized, man if you all could see where I live. I remember the first place I got up here the famous fire house on Schroeder St., I sat out there one whole Sunday morning just watching and wondering how the hell I could live in the hood. Now I love it, ya got Hollins Market half a block-up, with all the food you’d need, a beautiful historic neighborhood where Poe and Mencken once lived, and every year on Memorial Day weekend this place turns into Bohemian paradise when we have the Sowebo Festival. I’ve lived in the country, the city and the burbs, I have to say I’m a city boy for sure.

  37. Man, that sounds pretty cool.
    Man, that sounds pretty cool. You should write more about the area where you live. Take all those things you just mentioned, expand on each one.

  38. Meta is an anagram of
    Meta is an anagram of meat…okay…I can see that but don’t really make the connection…very amusing…very gonzo very meta meat–which is what soy hot dogs?

    I’m surprised any one writes like you…

  39. John Travolta becomes, yet
    John Travolta becomes, yet again, the John Travolta of the new millennium.

    Everything is dead, long live everything.

  40. Light goes on in wired
    Light goes on in wired head… Thanks Bill, you’re right and my new writing site at the Insane Writers Guild might just be the place for me to expound.

  41. Thanks for explaining, Beth.
    Thanks for explaining, Beth. Yeah, I definitely agree about post-traumatic stress disorder (although that’s a disease caused by experience, whereas autism/asperger’s seem to be biologically rooted, though nobody knows exactly how). Still, I think about this often. When the latest US-Iraq war began, I kept thinking about how the first US-Iraq war produced Timothy McVeigh. Maybe your point and mine are not opposed to each other but rather closely related.

  42. I’m curious as to why we seem
    I’m curious as to why we seem intent on describing life/society as any type of illness at all. If you want to be completely reductive you could classify anything as PTSD.

  43. WIREMAN, I could tell you had
    WIREMAN, I could tell you had a city mind like mine. Well, we all find our homes …

  44. Societies carry a psyche as a
    Societies carry a psyche as a collective just as individuals do. And societies can be sick. Indeed a movement against psychiatritic dehumanization claimed that it was the society and not the individual who was “insane” or ill. And that so-called illnesses in individuals were in fact sane reactions to an insane or double bind of the world around them.

    PTSD is quite specific and I tried to specify it as related directly to the “shell shock” of the walking wounded. It is caused by exposure to perceived threats and one could argue that our exposure via the media gives us mild forms of the response. It is also a bio-chemical response to over stimulation of the fear area of the brain, which sends and receives signals much more quickly and fluidly than the “higher” or “rational” brain; thereby creating a circuit in which the brain is flooded by fear responses but can not shut them down. This circuit becomes a vicious cycle that rewires the brain. I believe that extreme anxiety, excessive fear, intrusive thoughts, self-destruction, and other symptoms are safely categorizes as PTSD or related anxiety disorders. And if several articles recently, including one from the group that took over poets against the war, have focused in detail on how many cases of PTSD are “coming home.” It is in our own backyard and it will be an issue for some time to come.

  45. Well, to answer sad tomato’s
    Well, to answer sad tomato’s question: even though this is a serious topic, I guess I did bring it up just for the sake of discussion. When I read Susan Sontag’s article, I wondered the same thing. I’m just sort of trying the method on to see how it fits.

    I am personally probably more interested in the topic of autism and what this condition means, than in the whole metaphor angle.

  46. Yes, I guess, in Japan, they
    Yes, I guess, in Japan, they do live so close that they decide to get along so as not to drive each other crazy. Lucky that.

  47. At a Loss for
    At a Loss for Metaphors

    Christoper turns and says, “Elevator.” I know he is ready to ride, but I don’t understand. What is it? Why do elevators facinate him so much? He is incredibly beautiful. All of my autistic students are. There is this way about them. The earnestness in their stares. The intesity. I’m always the outsider. They are sure about what they want. Pure intention.

    So I say, “Ok.” We walk to the administration building to take on the eight stories. He has a routine. I watch Chris almost knock people over to get into the elevator. I want to apologize, but it’s funny to me. I’m always amused. The doors open. He charges in and pushes all the buttons. I’m ready to ride. His pleasure in these moments is all I care about. I guess I just want to understand. His world belongs to him and I’m jealous.

    My world seems to belong to so many people. My bosses, the school district, my family, friends, my neurosis, god. So many expectations, obligations, duties, responsibilities, but Chris. Well, he has his world and it is sureley his own.

    So we ride. Up and down, up and down, and when it is time to eat, I say, “Chris, it’s time to eat.” and he says, “Eat!”

    We hit the bottom floor, and then it happens. A bright pink, red, yellow sign anouncing registration information for new students. He loses it. He yells, runs toward the sign, pulling his hair and destroys it. At 6′ 180lbs and black, this is not a comfortable moment for many in the building. I’m ready for the racism, for the misunderstanding, for the fear of a large black man losing it and I know I can’t simply explain, “He’s autistic, the sign is too much, it’s too pink, and red, and loud, it’s hurting him, he is just trying to contain the amount of information he is receiving!” But no one gets it. Chaos! They’re scared and I’m thinking, “This is how we all feel, but we are afraid of the ones who can say it out loud, and no one other than a large black man can capture this moment.” Chaos unfolds. Security rushes in, students grip onto each other and their books. He turns and looks at me, the sign has been destroyed. I say, “Well done Chris, well done.”

    Metaphor? I’m still working on it, but I think it’s coming to me.

  48. The Net as AutismIts like
    The Net as Autism

    Its like Caryn said metaphor has replaced metaphor with metaphor

    ‘John Travolta becomes, yet again, the John Travolta of the new millennium.’

    Why does everyone assume I don’t care what they think? I have this new critical theory that all readings of fiction and subsequent literary crit are actually fiction because the interp is bound to the cognates of the reader.

    Actually I thought Jamelahs and F.C.s responses to the cue was some of the more funny reading i’ve done in awhile…I guess what I’m saying is that you probably think I don’t care what you think because you think thats what I should think. Like anyone else I can’t lie i Like it when like what I write…can that really be surprising? Of course that whole question of the artist not giving a damn about reception in true art comes to the head of this old punk sometimes but I hate to talk about Ayn Rand because I really don’t like her but see is correct-humans are creatures of contract–you provide a space and I post hoping for a response–sucess is getting a Keynes type deluge of responses and increasing the value of yourself by demanding more currency for the production.

    So if everyone liked or really didnt like what I wrote to the point where they all read it it would be of more value to me you see. In fact, if people liked me or didn’t like to the point I became a pop culture fixture I could make alot of money selling books. Autism as a metaphor only in the fact that despite t.m., psycho-therapy, internet dating etc…society has become more cut off.

    Its like me living in the Dakotas and reading Barthes…great none of the English Grad Students at SDSU have any idea what I’m talking about, of course via the new media()internet etc…) I can stay connected with other people who are into post-structural thought. Not being able to talk to my ‘peers’ about what I’m thinking about and carrying on dialectic with people 1000’s of miles away is a form of autism. Like Cassabon of Eco’s novel the plan of high thought becomes more important then interaction with phatic inflections.

    Fifty years ago I would either have to not think thoughts like I do, mostly for lack of exposure, or travel to Minneapolis or Madision WI to carry them out. You see society hasn’t changed, the individual has. Society is like well society and the new individual like the old one. The slight differences in the two characters are so non-apparent they are hardly with mentioning.

    For my case, at least, autism is reading Foucault and being able to have discourse with people about Foucault without ever seeing a face. The new autism is the old autism just with a different method. In the end the strata of polar sentiments because non-important, only the extreme can be tolerated. I go days without talking sometimes I read. surf the web, but like Gide wrote in his last novel, I would say something if I thought someone would say something back that wasn’t phatic. The net is the new autism. Who is to say all autism is bad?

  49. Autism is USYou’re on to
    Autism is US

    You’re on to something here. Autism is THE singular metaphor for our society. I was living in Europe last year and heard from more than one person that American society in particular was becoming more and more autistic. Autism in the sense of being unable to put yourself in another’s shoes and imagine what they’re feeling. Autism in the sense of lacking this type of empathetic projection, and the behaviour modification and consideration and compassion that follows from it. Autism in the sense of being unable to imagine, and to feel, reactions other than your own to a situation. Autism in the sense of being so alienated from your own emotions that you oscillate only in binary, between the discrete states of obsession when you get your own way; and panic, fear, and anxiety when you don’t. Autism in the sense that it’s only you. Autism in the sense that you are the center of the world, and all else is the environment surrounding you, distinguished by mobile vs. immobile (rather than friend vs. enemy, or conscious vs. not, or even just animate vs. inanimate). Autism in the sense that socialism becomes impossible to imagine, because ‘social’ becomes a word without a definition. Or a soul.

    Autism is a disease. But it is also a metaphor, and it works. Think about it. Think of the people on their cell phones during movies. Think of the people sleeping around endlessly because there’s no hierarchy of the Other, there’s just others orbiting equally around the center, which is the Self. And then rationalizing it as the ultimate personal democracy; partners are all equally interchangeable. Think of the people who ‘need’ monster trucks to hold all the groceries from the supermarket. Think of the adults having temper tantrums at work. Think of the people voting consistently against social services. Think of the people who cannot map possible responses to their actions, and use that in advance to modify their approach or learn from their mistakes, because they can’t imagine any responses but their own. Think of the people who really can’t, or won’t, feel your pain. Think of them if you want, but they’re not thinking of you.

    Are these people actually autistic? No, probably not most. But is their social behavior well-described by autism as a metaphor? Most emphatically: yes. Empathy is withered and dying as a social practice. “Do unto others…” is a character string without normative force. Philip K. Dick’s world is here, but even he was not ambitious enough to see the full horror. The cyborgs are among us all right, and the empathy test works to distinguish the humans from the machines. But they are not robots, in our reality. They ARE us. Who we’re becoming, anyway. Sadly, this metaphor scales.

  50. Of course, I see it so clearly now! A neurodivergence featuring reduced synaptic pruning (relative to the brains of allistic people) is merely a “psychological syndrome characterized by emotional shutdown.” How long have you had to update this blogpost? 18 years?

  51. Hi Naughty Autie – I definitely see your point. Since writing this, I’ve read “NeuroTribes” by Steve Silberman and I no longer would write a sentence like “Autism is a psychological syndrome characterized by emotional shutdown”. (I have also have a couple of autistic people in my life to learn from.) So, thank you for pointing out that I should update this. I’m not in the habit of rewriting my reviews from 18 years ago, but I’ll add a note.

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