I read every night to my teenage son, who has severe autism. Only recently has he been calm enough to tolerate this, but it’s become an enjoyable ritual. I’m not sure what he understands, yet as I read Helen Macdonald’s memoir, “H Is for Hawk,” about a woman’s year of grief and falconry, J gets a dreamy look on his face. On nights he’s worried I’ll forget, he’ll come to me and demand: “Read bird hawk!”
As a teacher, book columnist and novelist, I’m something of a professional reader. Casting about for what to read to J next, I’ve noticed a surge of books with autism in them. I don’t mean books about autism, but, rather, novels that include characters who have autism or that use symptoms of the disorder as a metaphor or plot device, or to stylize language.
These portrayals drove me to revisit “Illness as Metaphor” (1978), Susan Sontag’s critical look at the “literary transfiguration” of illness. Tuberculosis, a microbial infection characterized by sputum and wracking coughs, became the “romantic disease” of the 19th century, its fevers and pallor standing in for creativity, beauty and moral superiority. Novels of the era were populated with beautiful TB deaths whenever an innocent deserved a peaceful and painless end, perhaps most memorably Little Eva in “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.”
With the virtual eradication of tuberculosis in the 20th century, it receded as a dominant form of illness — in art as in life. Cancer filled the void, but with darker metaphors of shame, external disfigurement, war. Like cancer and like TB before the discovery of the mycobacterium tuberculosis, autism is a condition whose etiology remains largely a mystery.
Bruno Bettelheim, in his influential book “The Empty Fortress: Infantile Autism and the Birth of the Self” (1967), famously blamed the disorder on emotionally frigid “refrigerator mothers,” and doctors recommended that children with autism be separated from their mothers and institutionalized.
Sontag concluded that the truest way to portray illness was without metaphor, and it might seem that Bettelheim was writing in the metaphor-free space of observational science. But though his publishers touted him as a child psychologist, he had no credentials other than having attended three introductory classes in the field.
Vestiges of the “refrigerator mother” metaphor continue in literature. Cormac McCarthy’s postapocalyptic novel “The Road” (2006) takes place in a “cold autistic dark.” The narrator of Jonathan Lethem’s novel “The Fortress of Solitude” (2003) compares himself with his childhood friend Arthur: “It was a form of autism, a failure at social mimicry that had kept me from the adaptations which made Arthur more Brooklyn than me. … I’d had to hide in books, Manhattanize.” The book’s title refers to Superman’s hide-out in the frigid polar wastes of the Arctic, and, intentionally or not, echoes Bettelheim’s empty fortress. Lethem has cited autism as a source of literary inspiration: “It’s evocative for me. I’m enticed by it.”
More recently, in Don DeLillo’s “Zero K” (2016), a near-future novel about the attempt of the hyper-rich to attain eternal life, a character named Jeffrey observes a class of special-needs children: “The boy at the end of the table who can’t produce the specific motor movements that would allow him to speak words that others might understand” and “the girl who could not take a step without sensing some predetermined danger,” adding, in a nod to Sontag, “She was not a metaphor.” And yet the end of the novel features a presumably autistic child pressed into metaphoric duty, when the same character, riding a New York City bus at dusk, watches a boy repetitively bouncing in time to “prelinguistic grunts” and “howls.” As the sun’s last rays illuminate the columns of skyscrapers, Jeffrey reflects: “I didn’t need heaven’s light. I had the boy’s cries of wonder.”
Thus autism becomes a metaphor for higher human understanding, a transcendent plane beyond language. In DeLillo’s novel “The Body Artist” (2001), an odd character appears inside the rented house of the female body artist of the book’s title. His language is limited to nonsensical word groupings and repeating what is said to him — an echolalia that is a hallmark of autism. Unable to discern even his name, the body artist calls him “Mr. Tuttle,” after a bumbling teacher from her childhood. Readers often infer that Mr. Tuttle is a ghost, a figment of the body artist’s imagination. But DeLillo told one critic that he intended the character to be real: “a kind of dead end — or one step beyond all human striving toward expressibility. What do we express, finally, at the end of it all? A kind of muteness, perhaps.”
That autism explodes the conventional American nuclear family narrative makes it irresistible as a metaphor for the stresses of life under late-stage capitalism. In Helen Schulman’s “A Day at the Beach” (2007), a wealthy Manhattan couple navigate the worst day of their lives: the 9/11 disaster, which causes them to flee their swank downtown home (to the Hamptons) and strains their marriage — already at the breaking point owing to a son who shows clear signs of autism. In Gary Shteyngart’s “Lake Success” (2018), a son’s autism diagnosis similarly destroys an elite Manhattan family’s dreams. The high-living protagonist leaves the scene of an altercation with his wife and nanny over his son and heads straight to the Greyhound station to start a picaresque journey to the other end of the country — a journey in search of an old girlfriend and, one surmises, an autism-less American dream.
Like TB and cancer before it, autism can accumulate moral weight. In Louise Erdrich’s “Four Souls” (2004), a white settler who has despoiled the Minnesota pine forests and cheated its Ojibwe inhabitants subsequently endures the immolation of his business empire as well as the birth of a son with “vacant” eyes, “the very picture of idiocy,” who makes “hideous” sounds and cannot be “soothed out of his gross repetition.” Here is the transfiguration of a neurobiological disease into one that lays waste to the mind, taking along with it all the qualities that make us human. In “Lake Success,” the protagonist eventually returns home to his son, and — just as Little Eva’s beautiful tubercular fade in “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” spurs her father to promise to free his slaves — in Shteyngart’s novel, autism becomes a vehicle for the father’s spiritual growth.
I ask myself why using autism the way these books do feels wrong. As a child who was disappointed to find the only Asian characters in any book in the library to be the Japanese-American family in “Farewell to Manzanar,” I am acutely aware of the importance of feeling represented in literature. And yet, when it comes to autism appearing in literary fiction, I instinctively feel a need to protect my son from these portrayals. He’s not an Ojibwe curse, a savant or an alien. Nor is he an emotionless cipher with no inner life.
As a writer, I understand the absurdity of trying to place restrictions on what can and can’t be written about. Keats defined negative capability as an artist’s ability to transmute an experience or idea into art even if she hasn’t experienced it herself; without it, we’d have no historical fiction, no “Madame Bovary,” no “Martian Chronicles.”
The crux of the issue is that with autism there is often, not metaphorically but literally, a lack of voice, which renders the person a tabula rasa on which a writer can inscribe and project almost anything: Autism is a gift, a curse, super intelligence, mental retardation, mystical, repellent, morally edifying, a parent’s worst nightmare. As a writer, I say go ahead and write what you want. As a parent, I find this terrifying, given the way neurotypical people project false motives and feelings onto the actions of others every day.
With this divided consciousness, I am endlessly appreciative of “The Reason I Jump” (2013), a book by Naoki Higashida, a Japanese man with autism who is nonverbal and beset by behaviors that would, by conventional standards, cause him to be labeled, like my son, “low-functioning.”
Higashida’s mother created a special alphabet grid that eventually allowed her son to communicate by pointing. While still a teenager, he wrote “The Reason I Jump,” describing what it feels like to have autism.
The book made its way to the English-speaking world after being discovered and translated from the Japanese by the novelist David Mitchell and his wife, KA Yoshida, who have a son with autism. Mitchell wrote that “‘The Reason I Jump’ consolidated my wife’s and my suspicions that, in fact, people with autism feel what everyone else does. They just cannot show they feel it.” This book is a single author’s perspective, not a textbook, but I’m grateful for Higashida’s hard-won voice: “You can’t judge a person by their looks. But once you know the other person’s inner self, both of you can be that much closer. From your point of view, the world of autism must look like a deeply mysterious place. So please, spare a little time to listen to what I have to say.”
My son, J, has a beautiful, warm smile. He also screams and barks for no particular reason I can discern. He laughs loudly at “inappropriate” times. He repetitively jumps up and down and calls it “dancing.” He has hit and bit me and my husband, and hit himself as well. His disordered language is a neurological effect, not a tendency toward gnomic utterances. The dysfunction of the mirror neurons in his brain does not render him a Lethemesque “failure at social mimicry.” The noise and stress of ordinary conversation can cause him to shut down, yet I would never say that he is cold or lacks emotions or prefers to stay inside himself.
I don’t know what J is thinking, but I know that he is thinking. Sontag wrote movingly of the anguish experienced by cancer patients in a culture where a harrowing disease is also associated with shame. Now that my son appears to enjoy it when I read to him, I hope to introduce him to a wide variety of books, being mindful to avoid those that reduce his experience — and, by extension, him — to a literary construct.B:
黄大仙资料大全及准“【哇】【啊】～【呜】【呜】【呜】……”【谁】【想】【到】，【小】【姑】【娘】【突】【然】【就】【抱】【着】【她】【的】【脖】【子】【特】【别】【委】【屈】【的】【哭】【了】【起】【来】 【慕】【小】【小】【连】【忙】【抱】【着】【她】，【手】【轻】【轻】【拍】【在】【她】【的】【背】【上】【哄】【了】【起】【来】。 “【乖】【啊】，【没】【事】【了】【没】【事】【了】，【不】【怕】，【已】【经】【没】【事】【了】。” 【小】【女】【孩】【儿】【抱】【着】【慕】【小】【小】【的】【脖】【子】，【哭】【得】【可】【伤】【心】【了】，【整】【个】【小】【脸】【都】【哭】【红】【了】。 【旁】【边】【的】【三】【个】【小】【男】【孩】【儿】【皱】【吧】【着】【一】【张】【小】【脸】。 【小】【胖】
【眼】【前】【这】【一】【幕】，【实】【在】【太】【诡】【异】，【太】【恐】【怖】【了】。 【几】【乎】【眨】【眼】【间】，【周】【围】【那】【些】【人】【全】【部】【都】【被】【烧】【得】【灰】【飞】【烟】【灭】【了】，【仿】【佛】【根】【本】【就】【没】【有】【存】【在】【过】【了】【似】【的】。 【而】【刚】【才】【自】【己】【一】【直】【警】【惕】【的】【那】【个】【大】【个】【子】，【至】【始】【至】【终】【都】【没】【有】【出】【手】。 【这】【一】【刻】，【中】【年】【人】【终】【于】【意】【识】【到】【了】，【眼】【前】【真】【正】【恐】【怖】【之】【人】，【并】【非】【是】【大】【个】【子】，【而】【是】【眼】【前】【这】【个】【清】【瘦】【青】【年】。 【面】【对】【如】【此】【神】【鬼】【一】【般】
【深】【夜】【寂】【静】，【林】【婉】【心】【才】【渐】【渐】【入】【睡】，【门】【外】【的】【索】【亚】【愁】【眉】【耐】【心】【等】【待】【着】，【耳】【闻】【她】【轻】【浅】【均】【匀】【的】【呼】【吸】【声】，【他】【一】【手】【覆】【上】【门】【把】【手】，【一】【到】【白】【光】【从】【掌】【心】【划】【过】。 【微】【光】【透】【过】【门】【缝】，【映】【在】【床】【上】【熟】【睡】【的】【女】【人】【脸】【上】，【静】【溢】【安】【宁】。 【索】【亚】【阖】【上】【门】，【打】【开】【床】【头】【的】【暖】【灯】，【床】【上】【的】【人】【眉】【梢】【微】【微】【一】【动】。 “……”【索】【亚】【抬】【手】，【手】【掌】【覆】【在】【她】【的】【额】【头】【上】，【婉】【心】【这】【才】【完】
【电】【梯】【在】【中】【途】【停】【下】，【等】【到】【电】【梯】【门】【一】【打】【开】，【几】【个】【红】【着】【脸】【的】【小】【姑】【娘】【掩】【面】【蹬】【蹬】【蹬】【跑】【了】【出】【去】。 【不】【过】【等】【到】【工】【位】【上】，【打】【开】【电】【脑】【的】【第】【一】【件】【事】，【就】【是】【爬】【进】【她】【们】【的】【员】【工】【内】【部】【交】【流】【群】【里】，【一】【阵】【啊】【啊】【啊】~ “【终】【于】【见】【到】【了】【传】【说】【中】【的】【神】【颜】，【土】【拨】【鼠】【式】【尖】【叫】！” “【那】【个】【小】【弟】【弟】【真】【的】【好】【好】【看】，【另】【外】【的】【两】【个】【人】【我】【只】【看】【了】【一】【眼】【就】【没】【敢】【再】【看】，【连】【偷】【瞄】【一】
【多】【吉】【顺】【着】【朱】【颜】【手】【指】【的】【方】【向】【看】【过】【去】：“【哦】，【你】【说】【那】【几】【辆】【车】【呀】？【不】【是】【游】【客】【的】，【是】【前】【几】【天】【到】【这】【里】【来】【的】【一】【个】【考】【察】【团】【的】，【他】【们】【有】【十】【几】【个】【人】，【东】【西】【也】【特】【别】【多】，【我】【亲】【自】【带】【领】【牦】【牛】【队】【往】【返】【了】【好】【几】【趟】【才】【把】【东】【西】【运】【完】。” “【人】【多】，【用】【的】【东】【西】【肯】【定】【多】。”【桑】【吉】【符】【合】【着】【说】。 “【不】【光】【是】【吃】【的】【用】【的】【帐】【篷】【这】【些】，【还】【有】【些】【设】【备】，【挺】【沉】【的】。” “【科】
【文】【弥】【之】【走】【后】，【怀】【菊】【跑】【来】【禀】【告】【说】，【薛】【子】【峰】【前】【来】【求】【见】，【这】【令】【文】【弥】【之】【十】【分】【地】【诧】【异】。 【该】【不】【会】【这】【家】【伙】【又】【想】【找】【我】【什】【么】【麻】【烦】【吧】？【唐】【风】【心】【想】。 【自】【和】【薛】【子】【峰】【签】【订】【完】【协】【议】【后】，【他】【们】【确】【实】【已】【经】【很】【长】【时】【间】【没】【有】【见】【面】【了】。 “【薛】【公】【子】【怎】【么】【会】【大】【驾】【光】【临】？” 【看】【着】【薛】【子】【峰】【慌】【里】【慌】【张】【的】，【唐】【风】【寒】【暄】【说】【道】。 “【这】【些】【天】【不】【见】【唐】【兄】，【甚】【是】【想】【念】，
【十】【月】【一】【日】，【本】【书】【终】【于】【在】【一】【个】【如】【此】【喜】【庆】【的】【日】【子】【里】，【迎】【来】【了】【结】【束】。 【这】【是】【第】【二】【次】【完】【结】【感】【言】，【也】【是】【真】【真】【正】【正】【的】【完】【结】【感】【言】。 【至】【于】【上】【一】【次】【的】，【主】【要】【目】【的】【是】【劝】【大】【家】【不】【要】【继】【续】【看】【下】【去】【了】，【因】【为】【后】【面】【十】【几】【万】【字】，【都】【是】【洪】【荒】【巨】【水】，【不】【想】【浪】【费】【大】【家】【的】【订】【阅】【钱】$_$ 【这】【本】【书】，【一】【共】【一】【百】【二】【十】【万】，【写】【了】【将】【近】【一】【年】。 【毫】【无】【疑】【问】，【本】【书】【扑】
【夜】【江】【寒】【才】【不】【管】【岑】【曦】【凤】【她】【去】【不】【去】，【他】【不】【管】【药】【王】【到】【底】【是】【多】【么】【强】【大】，【自】【己】【的】【女】【人】【自】【己】【不】【需】【要】【别】【人】【保】【护】。 【药】【王】【可】【以】【说】【是】【这】【个】【世】【界】【最】【大】【的】【实】【力】，【虽】【然】【他】【们】【的】【战】【斗】【力】【是】【这】【个】【大】【陆】【最】【弱】【的】，【但】【是】【他】【们】【医】【术】【惊】【人】，【起】【死】【回】【生】！【而】【医】【术】【又】【与】【毒】【术】【分】【不】【开】，【因】【此】【他】【们】【的】【防】【守】【特】【别】【好】。 【大】【陆】【上】【的】【每】【一】【个】【国】【家】【都】【当】【药】【王】【那】【里】【面】【的】【人】【当】【宝】，【每】