Friday, October 26, 2007

Outside Perspective

I think there is great parallel play in both the New Yorker article under the same name and Livesey’s book Banishing Verona—actually I believe they are more perpendicular than parallel, if I am going to use this geometric metaphor.
Livesey does an interesting job of making the neurology of her characters the least of the characters' worries. I constantly have to smack myself when I get frustrated when I read, thinking ‘where is the psychology; where is the disorder,” when I am not really reading the story. I really have to get in the mindset of the story, not the disorder. It brings this to a larger point. These people are not their disease. They’re not “schizos” or “mentally disabled’ no more than I am a “man” or people are “gay” or “Asian.” I think as a society we tend to be seriously label conscious –look at the modern day prom or turn on MTVs super sweet sixteen if you don’t believe me—and Livesey does a great job of tearing away for that. I wonder if it is a seriously an American problem and doesn’t exist as much in the UK, but I find that hard to believe. When I’m reading her books he characters realities seem to be so secure that they almost don’t seem ill at all. That their way of thinking, like Zeke finding places to store food and water when working, makes perfect sense, or doesn’t seem too bizarre—and infact, our reality of “normal” life seem a bit strange. Take this section on page 135 in her book into advisement:

He had noticed that before, how people slammed a loose cupboard door, poked at a hole in her show, making sure that what was already fragile fell apart.

We all do those things, perhaps subconsciously and yet her characters, that may not get things like a simple social interaction on the street, pick up deep, subtle things like this passage noted above, how we tend to prode and poke our problems, making them worse. I'm guilty of such.

Perhaps I was rash in my judgments not to see any parallels in these pieces—I was never that good in geometry, infact I believe I passed mostly because my great colouring skills shows serious “effort” on my part.

Our New Yorker articles states “people with Asperger’s syndrome can tell us of their experiences, their inner feelings and states, whereas those with classical autism cannot. With classical autism there is no ‘window,’ and we can only infer.” So they offer this unique sense of view which they CAN explain to us. Asperger’s syndrome is so interesting to me. They are anthropologists in their own right. They have to study our (because they don’t seem to belong to it in their own minds) culture and find their way. With our customs and beliefs. Think of him reading Emily Post’s “Etiquette,” to learn everything about what was proper— I know my grandmother would have been happy and he would have been invited over any Sunday dinner. Because if you think about it, our beliefs must be strange to a complete objective party. For Religion, Christians attend church and drink the blood and eat the flesh or a man, or believe they do; in death, we drain the blood of the body, we embalm the corpse with chemicals so they last, like preserve in the kitchen cabinet. To us these activities seem so normal (mostly), but it would understanding how “outside the box’ these individuals would feel existing in a world where they wouldn’t understand the individuals!
Can you think of any other rituals that would appear “strange” to the outside individual?
Do you agree with this? Would you consider them outside or just another facet of humanity?
Are they missing our or are they more connected because they must learn, understand and then accept these rituals that we naturally associate into our lives?
Or should they celebrate what they call “neurodiversity?”
Is this part of our evolution or just a simple reordering of genes?
-- I know I’ve asked a lot here so just run with an idea or try to tie them together.

On a final note:
As quoted in the New Yorker, “My first and most powerful obsession was music—the same records played again and again while I watched them spin, astonished at their evocation of aural worlds that I not only instinctively understood even as a toddler but in which I actually felt comfortable.”—Again we see music as a cure or atleast a coping mechanism. Now unfortunately I missed Sacks’s talk (and we’ve seen that in his case studies like our ever famous Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat) but did he give us any insight into the magic of music? Is there some about the implicit organization of chaos with notes on a sheet of music? Or is it simply soothing? What?

Hope you all had a good study break and I look forward to seeing you Monday,


Emmy P. said...

As I was reading Banishing Verona I did notice the similar characteristic of Aspergers being an undertone to Zeke's persona as opposed to the defining characteristic. His constant analysis of peoples feelings and how he should respond to them doesn't seem so far out of the realm of reality to me. When leaving the house for a walk and going to the grocery store we must keep an eye out for our surroundings and the people within them in order to protect ourselves. We have to be able to judge whether the angry man on the subway is of potential danger or if he is just having a bad day, we have to know whether or not we should stay or change train carts.

The only issue with those that have Aspergers is that they appear to construct a rigid set of standards for emotions and behaviors: if someone appears to behave as X then I must always respond with Y. Clearly this can cause complications, facial expressions and tones can often be deceiving and change the meaning of what one says or does.

Like Sacks, I too wonder if there can be a self without emotion, if there are other things that define the self such as perception. I also wonder that if a sense of perception exists does that mean there is also an emotional presence that may not necessarily be there to consciously call upon and act upon. Livesey and Sacks do a great of job of maintaining that despite certain deficits, while the individual may not necessitate the capacities to "be" the way the rest of us are, they are a different form of the self, an alternative self.

Stephens only interest was to draw, to perceive architecture and make it his own and he was good enough at it, even had books published. I often wish that I, as a writer, could totally immerse myself in writing. See the world as I see it and translate that into words, with out another worry or care in the world. But as we saw with Jose, not all autistic savants or others who are mentally challenged are as privileged.

It is difficult to say whether or not society will become educated enough to accept alternative modes of thinking and create ways to integrate them into society. I guess we can only hope.

Ashley Leone said...

Wow, okay, I'm glad I was not the only one who felt this way. I suppose I've grown so accustomed to absorbing facts from Sacks, LeDoux and our other writers that provide concrete material, that when the fiction comes around I expect the wording to be so blunt. I asked myself the same questions at first, What disorder am I exactly facing right now?, because I was reading "Banishing Verona" by itself. Then I simultaneously read "Prodigies" and "An Anthropologist on Mars", and all the subtlety kicked in. I believe Emmy is right when she says Aspergers is more of an undertone to Zeke. In the Sacks reading, my comprehension of the disorder became this idea of autism and obsessive compulsive disorder more or less twisting themselves into one. It seemed really habit forming and hard to break away from (even though, clearly, from the Sacks cases, a little encouragement and a lot of patience can help people with autism and Aspergers a long way), and when I read "Banishing Verona", I couldn't help but wonder if this was a romanticized version of the disorder. Zeke definitely had issues on the plane, but in terms of the actual disorder, would he really have impulsively flown to America for someone he barely knew? Of course, all cases and disorders differ, so it could be plausible, but after reading the Sacks chapters, I assumed that Aspergers was so much more difficult to overcome.

I feel like there can't be much of a self if a persons feelings are not defined; how we respond or react to situations ultimately shows who we are. But I also believe that people suffering from Autism and Aspergers are not completely devoid of emotion. It seems more like the body's inner issue of connecting the dots, thus providing immense difficulty emoting. Stephen seemed quite passionate when singing Tom Jones or drawing his private collection of pictures...

On page 248 of "An Anthropologist on Mars", Sacks mentions the slight possibility (something needing to be further researched) that humans, environmentally and genetically, may be aiding the progression and growth of autism. Babies exposed to rubella prenatally showed more autistic tendencies; this safety issue cost the functioning of numerous beings. It may be somewhat off topic, but it just got me to thinking of how many of our illnesses and diseases (heart, liver, and kidney problems, cancers, etc.) grow exponentially because of our poor decisions concerning health and life-style choices. Not that autism can be entirely blamed on rubella, just a side thought about how humans should probably care a lot more about maintaining themselves than they actually do.

maggie said...

Like Emmy and Ashley, I was not convinced by Livesey’s portrayal of Asperger Zeke. I believe her novel was not very successful in evoking the life and perspective of a man with Aspergers; however it provides a perceptive look at the ways in which the world reacts to those with Aspergers. Zeke possessed many fitting characteristics of Aspergers like the inability of understanding social clues and obsessive compulsiveness with certain tasks. In these respects Livesey makes a very traditional Asperger character, but I cannot reconcile these attributes with the fact that Zeke easily sleeps with and fails in love with Verona. His attachment to her seems completely against what Sacks and especially Page write about. Page comments on how surprising it was for him to engage in a loving romantic relationship and says, “Learning to make genuine connections with people-much as I desperately wanted them-was a bewildering process.” I can’t see a character like Zeke in the real world being able to one have an intimate physical interaction with a virtual stranger and secondly formulate an intense emotional bond with that virtual stranger.

What I did appreciate in Livesey’s novel were the interactions and relationships people had with Zeke. His parents, Gwen and Don, were an interesting combination of complete ignorance and disregard for Zeke’s disability and somewhat understanding or at least recognition of his disability. Others like Emmanuel see Zeke simply as an odd ball. And then there is Verona who has this very intimate relationship with Zeke. These characters probed the question, how much of a disability is Aspergers? What is the right balance of treating those with Aspergers as handicapped and as functional human beings (of which they are both). The fact that their handicaps are in the social realm, and not in traditional areas of disabilities, make interactions and providing services for them a complex job.

As far as examining the character and perspective of those with Autism and Aspergers Sacks raises an endlessly interesting question. Emmy and others brought up his question of personality and sense of self in those with these developmental/neurological disorders. Its been discussed that with out emotion people cannot have a very acute sense of self and those with Autism are closed off emotionally. However, I think you must be careful when making these claims. Those with Autism are closed off emotionally from the world, but that does not mean they are closed off internally. Page speaks on how he is aware of his feeling, I believe Stephen and Temple have a very emotional connection to their work considering it is their way they see and relate to the world. Those with Autism and Aspergers defiantly have an idea of who they are. In fact I would argue they are can have a greater sense of self than “normal” people because they are so in tune with their talents, obsessions, and sense of order they make in their world. They may not ask themselves what these personality characteristics mean in the greater context of the world; they just simple know this is how they need to function in the world.

Patrick said...

One of Ashley's comments above struck me: "I feel like there can't be much of a self if a persons feelings are not defined; how we respond or react to situations ultimately shows who we are." This is the main thing that I struggled with through all of the reading. It felt as though there was a clash between what was seen on the outside and what was held within. I don't think this means that there is "no self," but it definitely gets at the main issue with autism and Asperger's.

After reading the story about Stephen, I wanted to see more of his art. So I did a Google search of him. That guy is pretty famous. And seeing more of his drawings--especially those of New York City--was very interesting. In this search I found a few videos on YouTube. Watching him work and interact, there is a clearly a self within him. There is a sensation of warmth to him, whether that comes merely from a more animalistic (as Temple describes it) sense or not. So, there is definitely a complex situation here.