Let’s face it, someone always has something to say about everything. Literature, autism, and fictional characters are not are the exception. A response always seems to be made because people view the world, their surrounding differently. We have our own reaction to the stimuli we encounter on a daily basis. Sometimes it’s the same and sometimes it is not but that does not mean our way of perceiving and feeling encompasses everyone else’s. The main arguments of many of the reviews was the author’s injustice towards those who are diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome. However, there are reviews who accept the book and its portrayals in a more positive way.

William Shofield, the 18 year old student with Asperger’s syndrome, sees in Christopher many characteristics that he himself does have that are a result of his condition. He makes the short and concise list at the end of his reviews and concludes that like Christopher he too “likes his food separate” he also doesn’t like “big crowds. . .new places” and he finds it hard “to talk to people and make himself understood” (2). This list resonated with me because this list could be on many other people’s list of things they are not comfortable with or like. Sometimes I feel like I am not making sense and people are not understanding me. I do not have Asperger’s syndrome but that doesn’t mean I can’t see similar characteristics of myself in Christopher, just like it doesn’t mean that everyone with Asperger’s syndrome can say they see themselves in Christopher either. The autistic spectrum is a great example of how broad and diverse one diagnosis can be. Why is the spectrum so broad? Because no two people are the same! Mark Haddon could not of written a character that encompassed all the different traits that are associated with the every part of the spectrum. Shofield eloquently states that this story “is a better description of how the mind of a different person with some kind of special need looks upon how things work and come about (1).” In this story we enter a thinking process that is strange to us because it is not how we perceive or view the world. Our identities have not come into contact with this condition and therefore our perception has not been shaped by it either. We can’t say we understand Asperger’s or that we know what it is like for every person who has it because that is not possible. But we are exposed to it and maybe we become inclined to do our own research to uncover more about it in order to better understand it in a way only we can.

I really appreciated Shofield’s review because he didn’t try to sway my opinion about Haddon’s book. He stated his own views and how the book affected his mind and way of thinking. I cannot however, say the same thing about Elizabeth Bartmess’s response to the book. I was not a fan of her review because she seemed to believe she knew my understanding and feelings towards the book. I say this because in one particular line she states, “Haddon encourages the (non-autistic) reader to sympathize with Christopher’s parents -even when he’s supposedly writing from Christopher’s point of view.” The reason this sentence stood out to me is because she was doing exactly what she disliked about the book, the idea that one person represents a whole group. I am non-autistic and I did not sympathize with Christopher’s parents. They were old enough to make their own decisions they knew right from wrong and yet they committed a lot of mistakes throughout. There is also a part where she mentions that “the book normalizes abuse, presents the autistic protagonist as responsible for it, and suggest that he is not harmed by much of it.” This sentence alone reminded me of the controversy over rape and how some people believe that if a woman dresses provocatively then she is responsible for getting raped and therefore she can’t possibly be harmed by getting what she so called “wanted.” This belief outrages me because it’s an excuse to put the blame on someone else for their own mistakes. I do not believe that the abuse did not harm him. Maybe it did and in his own way he was broken by it but could not express it in a “normal” way and to see it as such is a problem because his “normal” is not my “normal” or your “normal.” I know Christopher does not represent everyone who has Asperger’s syndrome and it saddens me to think how much we stereotype and how problematic stereotyping is among us all.

It felt so good to read a book like How Can I Talk If My Lips Don’t Move by Tito Mukhopadhyay because of how genuine it felt. I had never read something like this, and it felt so refreshing to read after the previous books we have read dealing with dark subjects and situations that didn’t seem very hopeful. Tito’s voice immediately resonated with me, his innocence and strength were always reflected throughout. You sort of felt like you were watching him grow up as the book progressed (and not only because he actually mentioned he was older in some parts), but because you could feel it through the words in the pages and the emotions they provoked. It was like climbing that staircase he loved so much, each step being a stepping stone in his life.

In last week’s class I mentioned identity and how language can shape the way you perceive the world and how it can also therefore influence the way you live your life. We know that sign language, a mode of communication, was a very prominent and important aspect in understanding the characters in We Love You, Charlie Freeman. The ability to sign allowed them to perceive the world and the events they experienced. I want to argue that the same happened with Tito. Yes, Tito has autism but that doesn’t define who he is. He has created his own identity with the way he communicates and the way he understands and interacts with the world. There was a scene towards the end for example where we learn that Tito has to understand and learn about physical pain and what it means to feel physical pain that really resonated with me. Tito writes, “To learn the sensation of physical pain, I had to mentally experience it. . . I now began to be more conscious of an upset stomach or a pain in my bones ” (I have the Kindle version so I’m not sure what page it’s on exactly, it’s more towards the end under the title Am I in Pain? Sorry!). When I experience pain I automatically know what it is, if I stub my toe I scream because it hurts, I don’t have to think about whether I am in pain or not. I’m conscious of the pain as it happens but Tito is not. He had to experience the pain by using my mind, and it was until he educated himself about what physical pain was that he began to understand it enough to be consciously aware of it at the moment. There is a correlation between his identity and the level of consciousness he experiences when placed in different situations. Meaning, that maybe because he had to learn more about what it means to be in pain his idea of pain is a lot more complex and informed than my way of perceiving and feeling pain because I don’t try to understand it.

I’m not sure if my thoughts made any sense in this blog post or what I want to get through but I decided to venture off from the blog option because I felt very compelled to speak up about Tito and how his story and way of writing, his language and experiences, really resonated with me. Through his words and language (modes of language too because of the poems) I got to see how he viewed the world. A view that isn’t limited by his autism but furthered by his desire to understand and question everything he knows and doesn’t about a world that no one really understands completely, yet he’s accepting of the unknown and he isn’t afraid to challenge it.

In my response  I would like to explore the little excerpt from the back flap of the book (the one where the author’s picture is included) that states this book “becomes a provocative and compelling exploration of America’s failure to find a language to talk about race.” I bring up this passage because this personally helped me understand the presence of the sign language throughout the story. There are numerous languages and modes of communication but for some reason this doesn’t seem to matter because this topic of race can’t be understood in any form of language or communication. It’s a topic that is so universal yet it can’t be contained or explained in a way that is understood, and because it is not understood it can’t be really solved. For some reason this personally reminds me of PTSD where the event the person experiences can’t be understood at the moment it happens or even after the fact. Therefore,  because it can’t be understood the event seems to be unresolved and it repeats and repeats in order to attempt to be understood and resolved. Personally, to me this is what racism is, a vicious cycle of trying to understand and resolve an event that seems to have no clear resolution. The book, I believe, seems to acknowledge this with the time frame from Nymphadora’s story and struggles in 1929 and earlier and the lives/memories of Charlotte and her family members. For example the readers are exposed to the hard life of Laurel whose family was “the only black family in a one-hundred-mile radius” in Maine (Greenidge, 56). We get to hear the stories and struggles caused by racism over a period of time.

I also want to talk about a very important part in the book when Charlotte tells Adia and Marie about the book she has just discovered, Man or Beast? and the response we get from both characters. Marie states, “Nothing about racism makes sense. If it made sense, it would mean it was real, it was the truth. Its ironic” and then further down she says “. . . you’re just as unreal as all of it. That’s why it’s not possible to ‘do anything'” (186). In response to her mother’s claims Adia says “We need marches and signs and we need to write to the outside papers” (186). This furthers my interpretation and connection to racism and PTSD, neither traumas make sense because racism is in fact very traumatic. Adia’s response reminded me a lot of The Invisible Man and the Brotherhood, the group the invisible man joined to fight for the oppressed and the failure it had within the members but also with the community it was supposed to help. Then Marie brings up the last point I want to discuss when she says that exposing the Toneybee “won’t shift anything monumental in our collective consciousness” (186).The phrase “collective consciousness” brings to light a phenomenon that challenges the belief that language and unity will change anything and it’s a really sad thought.  This presents the idea that both Greenidge and Ellison’s books present about a community of oppressed individuals/groups and the how racism is universally known and acknowledged yet it is so hard as a community to change something so unjust and cruel. That’s why I think so many problems are presented in both stories and no clear answers are presented, because it’s a topic that is so real that it wouldn’t be fair to take away from the reality by resolving it in the confinement of a 300 or 500 pages. It makes the readers think and want to act on it to help resolve it.

While I was reading this novel I felt myself forgetting about the invisible man, I mean yes he repeated it numerous of times throughout the book, but there were also pages where the speaker would have no voice. . . even though it is him in fact who is recounting all these events and people. What I mean by this is that this book was very long but there were moments where the reader would be listening to stories being told about so many other people and the invisible man was just there in the background, kind of like a wallflower. There are many instances where I feel this occurs, especially in the long story about Trueblood that seems to be a horrible attempt to hide a rape but also the scene where the speaker and Mr. Norton, the white trustee of the college the speaker attends, become entangled in the craziness that occurs in the Golden Day and we hear a lot from the vet during all the mess. The excerpt I want to explore presents a response made by the allegedly loony vet towards Mr. Norton about the invisible man’s state of being, if you will. The excerpt reads:

“‘You see,’ he said turning to Mr. Norton, ‘he has eyes and ears and a good distended African nose, but he fails to understand the simple facts of life. Understand. Understand? It’s worse than that. He registers with his senses but short-circuits his brain. Nothing has meaning. He takes it in but he doesn’t digest it. Already he is – well, bless my soul! Behold! a walking zombie! Already he’s learned to repress not only his emotions but his humanity. He’s invisible, a walking personification of the Negative, the most perfect achievement of your dreams, sir! The mechanical man!'” (Page 94)

The vet’s words reminded me a lot about something Demasio said in last week’s reading and that I also remember reading from someone’s blog about someone being there but at the same time not being there. A sort of separation from the corporal body and the brain or consciousness. The vet is saying that the speaker is physically present because he is using his senses. His senses help establish a state of being physically present because you can physically touch something, or smell something that surrounds you and that could help you know or understand, make meaning of where you are. However, the vet then adds that there is a failure between what he feels, his senses, and how this message is sent to his brain. Apparently there is no connectivity between the senses and the brain, therefore preventing him form making meaning of anything. I’m not very sure if I am understanding this correctly but I felt like a very vague and less complex example could be a person who smells fresh baked cookies but his mind can’t associate the smell with what the object actually is.  The senses are present but the connection between the senses and the brain are not. And because he lacks the connectivity between his senses and his brain then he is sort of stripped of his own humanity by others, even though the vet says that it is the speaker’s own fault for repressing his unconsciousness. I do believe that he is present because of his awareness of the severity of the situation but there are many things throughout that he doesn’t seem to understand, but then again neither did I. Would that mean I was unconscious while reading this book?  Does not understanding mean being unconscious? I don’t really know where I am going with this but this observation sparked in me the idea of speaker’s vulnerability and the association between consciousness and how the lack of consciousness could lead to a feeling of being invisible.

“What is consciousness made of? What is mind made of? How does the brain do mind?” These are only a few of the puzzling questions Demasio presents in Chapter 1 of The Feeling of What Happens. These questions and many ideas throughout his work really fascinated me because they are questions that you have to stop and think about and then you kind of have to hope that these questions will be answered. On page 9 Demasio presents this idea of “feelings as knowing“. There is a sort of dependence then between feeling and knowing, an idea that because we can feel a leaf for example then we know that the object is a leaf. The fact that we know it is a leaf changes the way we interact with it, how we experience it, and perceive it. He also states throughout his work and the title as well that there is a strong connection between self, consciousness,subjectivity, and feelings. When he describes subjectivity he says that “a defining trait of subjectivity is the feeling that pervades the images we experience subjectively” (page 10) and that the “decisive step in the making of consciousness. . .is making the image ours” (page 10).  So if I’m understanding we make the image ours by the way we feel during the certain experience, with our senses, and our perception.

This idea is mirrored in Dehaene’s Consciousness and the Brain who mentions this concept of qualia. We discussed this idea of qualia when we read Lodge’s Thinks. . .. Dehaene states “the heart of the problem, they believe, lies in another sense of consciousness. . .”phenomenal awareness”: the intuitive feeling, present in all of us, that our internal experiences possess exclusive qualities, unique qualia such as the exquisite sharpness of tooth pain or the inimitable greenness of a fresh leaf” (9). This mention comes after he discusses that studies can now be conducted to help researchers identify how the brain responds to external stimuli in order to understand when the brain, the self,  and the mind. This reminded me of Ralph and the many experiments he discussed throughout the book and the debate he had with Helen one time about how real it would be to make an intimate object feel the same feelings as humans, one of those feelings being grief. Helen was hesitant that such an object could feel something so strong as grief without actually experiencing it and knowing what they experienced. So according to Dehaene qualia is in Demasios’ terms a feeling that allows us to know our own unique interpretation of stimuli that is present all around us.

Personally I feel like I’m always back to the beginning with understanding and obtaining an answer to the questions Demasio, Dehaene, and even Lodge have presented their readers because there is so much mystery and complexity with the mind and brain, as two individual entities and then as a relationship between the two but it is interesting to accept that maybe we won’t always have any answers because our feelings, perceptions, and experiences are just too vast to be explained by one single element or feeling.

I was quite fascinated by the book The Shaking Woman or A History of My Nerves. Mostly because even though she was very well informed and knowledgeable about diseases, illnesses, the brain, mind, and everything in between, it seemed like she presented her story in a very truthful way. Meaning she often discussed questions that trouble us all without necessarily giving us the answer but providing us with information so we could have our own interpretation of it. For example she brings about the question we have asked during class, “How do I see and feel and think, and exactly what is my brain?” and “Is my mind the same thing as my brain?” We could be given so much information on both entities as individual concepts or about the correlation that exists between the two and we would still come up so so many interpretations and answers. Her discussions of hysteria are also the same I feel. She discusses the history of hysteria and even how the changes in the name have occurred in order to, I feel, accommodate society. It’s also interesting how this word is associated with a woman, because woman have been stereotyped as emotional and therefore irrational. Hustvedt mentions in her writing that if she had gone to see a psychiatrist “he would have to be careful about me.” Much like the speaker’s husband in “The Yellow Wall-paper” seems to be very controlling of her. I interpreted this with the line on page 648 that says “He is very careful and loving, and hardly lets me stir without special direction.” The speaker’s husband John in “The Yellow Wall-Paper” sounds exactly like the physciatrist Hudes describes in her story as being the one in charge of taking care of this sick person. The speaker in “The Yellow Wallpaper” isn’t even allowed to write because John won’t let her, he is so in control and everything she does. Hustvedt writes in her book that “all patients have stories, and those stories are necessarily part of the meaning of their illness” and then begins to describe how she worked with a 15 year old girl who ended up writing her story on a piece of paper. Then she poses an interesting thought of whether it is “possible to distinguish between her illness and the story she had told [her] of violence and rape. Wasn’t that narrative part of the sickness itself.” This is an interesting question that is mirrored in a scene in “The Yellow Wall-Paper” where the speaker says “I verily believe she thinks it is the writing which made me sick” (650), referring to John’s sister. Here the speaker also seems to acknowledge,but refuses through a lack of agreement in her tone, that there is a correlation between her sickness and her writing.

There is also a narrative she seems to have created out of the designs and physicality of the wallpaper, it’s rips, the colors, its wear and tear. It could be argued that the speaker of “The Yellow Wallpaper” is like the girl Hustvedt worked with that intertwined her story in the one she wrote for Hustvedt to read. Mostly because the speaker of “The Yellow Wall-Paper” has created a female figure who seems to live in the pattern of the wallpaper and wants to get out as it is described on 652, a figure that haunts her possibly because of how much of herself she sees in this made up figure because she too wants to leave this place and room. I still don’t think I fully understand the ending of the story and whether she really was that woman trapped in the wallpaper. If definitely an interesting story to ponder over.

 

**I bought the book The Shaking Woman on an online website and I can’t seem to figure out where the page numbers are on the screen so apologies for not incorporating page numbers in my quotes.

John Donne’s “Present in Absence” embraces this idea of absence that Emily Dickinson’s poem “I Felt a Funeral in My Brain” rejects. Donne’s title alone presents this strong contrast between the idea of presence and absence. He acknowledges them as being two separate entities but recognizes their dependence on one another through his use of this paradox. He presents multiple paradoxes in lines 6, “Absence doth join, and Time doth settle” and again in lines 12 where he states “Absence is present, Time doth tarry.” While the placement of these two lines are not adjacent to one another they correlate very well. Absence joins the stage and stays there. While Time stops and remains at a stand still. These two statements are, I believe, dependent on a person’s perception or the perception that is created by the mind. You could be in a room full of people but still feel alone. When you’re bored or receive shocking news it’s like the whole world stops because your whole body and mind are in somewhat of a shock. In line 19 he states “By absence this good means I gain,” and presents that he has actually gained something through absence. Whereas most people see absence as a loss or a lack of something, he sees it as a gain. According to my interpretation his mind has allowed him to be with this “mistress” he speaks of, whether it is a metaphor for something else or an actual mistress, and that is why even though there might be a physical absence there is still the presence through the memories the mind has recorded and saved.

Dickinson’s “Time and Eternity” also explores this idea of “Present in Absence” in a more bleak way. I say this because of the diction she uses throughout her piece. The words that describe the actions are harsh and cruel. For example in line 3 she writes “Kept treading, treading. . .” and in line 7 she describes the service as “beating, beating.” Both words describe actions of destruction. Her brain then sort of becomes the one creating this destruction because she states this “funeral” is happening in her brain. She also makes the association between her brain and her soul in line 10 when she states that the noise from the lifting of the box made “a creak across [the speaker’] soul.” There is an action that occurred in the brain that caused a reaction in the soul. It could be argued that this association was present in Donne’s poem as well because he seems to have strong feelings for the person he talks about. However he never uses the term should or anything similar. Feelings are often more associated with the soul than the mind. I say this poem explores the idea of “Present in Absence” because of the last line of the poem. I took all three words and looked them up in the dictionary, not because I didn’t know what they meant but because I wanted to try and understand why Dickinson chose the words she did, what other possible meanings they could have or if there was an underlying message. Wrecked was just what it is, it deals with something being ruined and destructed. “Solitary” besides meaning alone or absence and the word “here” had a definition that I didn’t think of at first. It means present and more specifically it is used to answer a roll call. When I put the definitions of these two words together I get absence, present or present in absence. Dickinson’s mind has created an absence even though physically she might not be. She acknowledges this is something that is occurring in her brain in the first line.

Donne and Dickinson have created their own interpretations of what it is like to feel this absence, both physically and emotionally, and have explored how the mind and one’s perception can transform this absence into a presence or something more.

*I chose option two for this blog post but instead of writing it in the style of a novelist I wrote it in the style of Ralph.   

Well if you ask Daniel, the bat who lives out by the tree near the river you’d get a different story, but that’s because he wasn’t fortunate to live a life like I have. And let’s be honest, who really cares about his story. So I can see why you chose me to answer your question. And here’s my response, I love it. Of course that could very well be because I’m a survivor. Still going strong too. I’ve been flying around these trees for a solid 25 years now. Five more years until I reach that life expectancy. I wouldn’t be surprised if I lived a good five years after that, it’s all a part of surviving to be the fittest and I’m ready to be crowned.

 

They don’t call me flying fox for nothing. . .okay so what if that’s just my species. I still give us all a good name. And don’t think it’s only because all the female bats want me during the mating season. None of my other fellow male bats seem to give the ladies a good enough show to make them interested in a private afterparty. It’s not my fault they don’t appreciate the big tools nature has provided them with. . .referring to their wings why of course. You see we’re one of the largest bats around, wingspan the size of a supermodel’s legs. Let me just spread out my bad boys, let you have a good long look. We pretty much have human arms as wings. . .I’m pretty sure we share some of the same DNA.

 

We’re all already a special type of breed, given the fact that we don’t use echolocation. Now I know you might not understand so let me explain. Most bats can’t see, it’s not that we’re what you call blind because we can see shadows of light and darkness. . .but not color, so you might as well be blind because you’re blind to a whole other reality that is perceived through color. So as I was saying, most other bats just use sound waves as their guide. So let’s say for example that you close your eyes and I hide somewhere nearby, then you call out your name and I echo back whatever it is you said. You’d be able to locate me through my voice, the distance, if my voice is muffled by something in front of it and so on. It’s obviously not as easily as if you were awake but you see my point. They are different realities. It’s obviously a lot more complicated than that but I don’t want to have to explain it to you more than once, that could take awhile.
So to answer your question, I don’t know what it’s like to be a bat. I just know what it’s like to be me as a bat. . .and trust me that’s probably the most interesting response you’ll get around here.

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