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Authoring Autism: On Rhetoric and Neurological Queerness

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In Authoring Autism Melanie Yergeau defines neurodivergence as an identity—neuroqueerness—rather than an impairment. Using a queer theory framework, Yergeau notes the stereotypes that deny autistic people their humanity and the chance to define themselves while also challenging cognitive studies scholarship and its reification of the neurological passivity of autistics. Sh In Authoring Autism Melanie Yergeau defines neurodivergence as an identity—neuroqueerness—rather than an impairment. Using a queer theory framework, Yergeau notes the stereotypes that deny autistic people their humanity and the chance to define themselves while also challenging cognitive studies scholarship and its reification of the neurological passivity of autistics. She also critiques early intensive behavioral interventions—which have much in common with gay conversion therapy—and questions the ableist privileging of intentionality and diplomacy in rhetorical traditions. Using storying as her method, she presents an alternative view of autistic rhetoricity by foregrounding the cunning rhetorical abilities of autistics and by framing autism as a narrative condition wherein autistics are the best-equipped people to define their experience. Contending that autism represents a queer way of being that simultaneously embraces and rejects the rhetorical, Yergeau shows how autistic people queer the lines of rhetoric, humanity, and agency. In so doing, she demonstrates how an autistic rhetoric requires the reconceptualization of rhetoric’s very essence.


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In Authoring Autism Melanie Yergeau defines neurodivergence as an identity—neuroqueerness—rather than an impairment. Using a queer theory framework, Yergeau notes the stereotypes that deny autistic people their humanity and the chance to define themselves while also challenging cognitive studies scholarship and its reification of the neurological passivity of autistics. Sh In Authoring Autism Melanie Yergeau defines neurodivergence as an identity—neuroqueerness—rather than an impairment. Using a queer theory framework, Yergeau notes the stereotypes that deny autistic people their humanity and the chance to define themselves while also challenging cognitive studies scholarship and its reification of the neurological passivity of autistics. She also critiques early intensive behavioral interventions—which have much in common with gay conversion therapy—and questions the ableist privileging of intentionality and diplomacy in rhetorical traditions. Using storying as her method, she presents an alternative view of autistic rhetoricity by foregrounding the cunning rhetorical abilities of autistics and by framing autism as a narrative condition wherein autistics are the best-equipped people to define their experience. Contending that autism represents a queer way of being that simultaneously embraces and rejects the rhetorical, Yergeau shows how autistic people queer the lines of rhetoric, humanity, and agency. In so doing, she demonstrates how an autistic rhetoric requires the reconceptualization of rhetoric’s very essence.

30 review for Authoring Autism: On Rhetoric and Neurological Queerness

  1. 4 out of 5

    0

    (w)riting like t/his is pun-ishing to the reader(s?) and nearly always less smartifying and (un)queer than the writer (demirhetorically) "thinks" it will be >:( the basic gist of the book seems to be that autistics express themselves differently than allistics...which seems obvious to me. in the face of hegemonic schemas that pathologize and dehumanize autistics, it's worth insisting upon, but I did not appreciate parsing 250 pages of neologisms, jargon, and wordplay to get there. some interesting (w)riting like t/his is pun-ishing to the reader(s?) and nearly always less smartifying and (un)queer than the writer (demirhetorically) "thinks" it will be >:( the basic gist of the book seems to be that autistics express themselves differently than allistics...which seems obvious to me. in the face of hegemonic schemas that pathologize and dehumanize autistics, it's worth insisting upon, but I did not appreciate parsing 250 pages of neologisms, jargon, and wordplay to get there. some interesting questions about the relations between autism and queerness are forestalled by yergeau's rather annoying tendency to fall back upon the academic appropriation of "queerness" as signifying something akin to différance that can be completely divorced from the realms of sexuality and gender. which i hate. autism's dynamism and haecceity do not make it "queer" (nor do they make it "mestiza," ugh), they simply indicate its conceptual vagueness. moreover, as yergeau argues with the example of zeno's flying arrow, dynamism and vagueness are not *unique* to autism, but are properly ontological predicates that can be applied to all existing things. if literally anything and everything can be said to be "queer" (and i'll be damned if this is not the prerogative of parasitic *hip* theory), then the term becomes meaningless. with that being said, i am thrilled to see a book about autism, written by an autistic person, that is critical of the dominant discursive frameworks that position autistics as, on the one hand, failed subjects, and on the other hand, advocates for them to be included in the universal category of humanity, where "human"=a rhetorical subject. yergeau argues that, regardless of whether they literally speak or not, autistics *do* possess rhetorical capacities in their embodied intentionality, which is socially oriented to a more-than-human world. here, yergeau draws upon merleau-pontyan theorists to elucidate the ways in which autistic subjectivies are expressed through pre-symbolic, affective and embodied modes of communication. she eviscerates ABA and baron-cohen's cisheterosexualizing tendencies and suggests an ambiguous affinity between being autistic and being queer. and finally, she celebrates the autistic tendency to repeat gestures, words, routines, (echophenomenality) as akin to a kind of nietzschean joyous affirmation of eternal recurrence (without drawing the connection explicitly).

  2. 4 out of 5

    Uma Dwivedi

    this is really one of the best books I’ve ever read. it’s also just so upsetting to consider in such depth and with such rigor how the autistic is constructed in opposition to all that is human. ultimately, it’s worth it, as yergeau is a genius and much of what they say here has fundamentally altered the way I think about language, rhetoric, semiotics, socialist, and humanity

  3. 5 out of 5

    JB

    The first book about autism which I wholeheartedly recommend. The academic style is in some ways a necessary evil but is still unfortunately exclusionary. None the less, it's a sharp, insightful, and truthful book I recommend to anyone, if a crash course in queer theory and gender studies can be had first.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Carol

    If autism is a rhetoric unto itself, then we must confront the idea that being autistic confers ways of being, thinking, moving, and making meaning that are not in and of themselves lesser - and may at times be advantageous. It has been a good long while since I read a book about rhetoric, and I’d forgotten how hard it is. I’m not sure a reader would make it through without a background in literary theory. Fortunately, Yergeau infuses the text with a lot of personality and humor, and it’s a subje If autism is a rhetoric unto itself, then we must confront the idea that being autistic confers ways of being, thinking, moving, and making meaning that are not in and of themselves lesser - and may at times be advantageous. It has been a good long while since I read a book about rhetoric, and I’d forgotten how hard it is. I’m not sure a reader would make it through without a background in literary theory. Fortunately, Yergeau infuses the text with a lot of personality and humor, and it’s a subject I have many strong feelings about: the idea that autism/neurodivergence is a narrative identity, and the best people to define and describe that identity are the people living it.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Betsy

    I absolutely loved this book! As an autistic person, myself, I thought it was a challenging read in many ways; but it was lovely. Melanie Yergeau uses words in ways that are thrilling. I often had to pause and look up word-meanings and such (which is unusual for me to need to do), but it was 100% worth it and I'm planning to reread this book every year until I am unable to read.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Jessica

    "What autism provided was a discursive framework, a lens through which others could story my life. ... My very being became a story, a text in dire need of professional analysis. This, my body, this was autism - and suddenly, with the neuropsychologist's signature on my diagnostic papers, I was no longer my body's author." (p. 1) "... autism politics routinely reward those who are multiply privileged. The logics of ableism are intertwined with the logics of racism, classism, and heterosexism." (p "What autism provided was a discursive framework, a lens through which others could story my life. ... My very being became a story, a text in dire need of professional analysis. This, my body, this was autism - and suddenly, with the neuropsychologist's signature on my diagnostic papers, I was no longer my body's author." (p. 1) "... autism politics routinely reward those who are multiply privileged. The logics of ableism are intertwined with the logics of racism, classism, and heterosexism." (p. 5) "... it is impossible to deny that the arguments structuring public knowledges, understandings, and felt senses of autism are grossly ableist, powerfully violent, and unremarkably nonautistic. (p. 5) "Autism research operates on the hope that there will be no autistic future." (p. 19) "Autism is core to my very being. It's how I sense, interact with others, and process information. Autism is my rhetoric. But what's at risk here is who tells my story and, more broadly, who tells the story of my people. What's of concern is who gets to author our individual and collective identities, who gets to determine whether we are, in fact, narrative creatures, whether we are living beings in rhetorical bodies, whether we are even allowed to call ourselves human." (p. 21) "Autistics don't tell us what we want to hear, nor do they tell it to us in the manner in which we wish to hear it." (p. 22) "Autism treatment enterprises, many of which share origin stories with gay conversion therapies, enact a rehabilitative response as a means of de-queering the autist." (p. 27) "Autism disclosure is often agonistic, expectant of allistic refutation. The ability to say, "I have autism," for example, is often viewed as evidence that one does not have autism - or, at least, not real or severe autism." (p. 33) "...researchers must confront the idea that being autistic confers ways of being, thinking, and making meaning that are not in and of themselves lesser - and may at times be advantageous" (p. 34). "Autism, I am suggesting, is a mode of becoming, is continuous motion that defies the clinical" (p. 43). "Ironically, champions of functioning labels often purport that eradicating such labels would collapse or singularize autistic difference; and yet, all the while, such continua are themselves a profound flattening of the diversity of humanity one might find under the label autism." (p. 51) "... autistic writer Star Ford relates autistic perception as a negotiation between foreground and field, between expanse and parts, in which detail isn't experienced as detail but as direction of focus, as textural totality. .... Ford suggests that autism is a divergent way of perceiving, an interbodily, beyond-the-skin experiential of detail and overwhelm and intricacy. It is not the prosocial rhetoric of making toy cars go vroom, but is rather an engagement with the materiality of the toy car abd tge rubbery feeling of wheels against skin." (p. 56) "Autistic moves remake moments" (p. 65). "The neuroqueer is that which is in continuous, teleporting motion." (p.72-73) "Queerness and disability may not be equivalent or even analogical, but they are resonant and interweaving constructs, and they are norm-shattering ways of moving," (p. 84) see more p. 85 "In clinical settings, autistic practices are often better termed autistic symptoms, for when autism modifies practice, practice resides in the pathological." (p. 90) "Autistic people have long identified with or as the queer - whether by means of sexuality or gender identity, or by means of a queer asociality that fucks norms. ... One one level, autistics are of necessity queer because ours is a condition that defies sociality. .... autistic people theoretically hold little to no referentiality with regard to gender and sexuality, with regard to any norms of any kind. Ours is disorientation rather than orientation. Our relational capacities are queerly configured and queerly practiced." (p. 92-93) "Behaviorist discourse employs the language of recovery ... While behaviorism makes no claim of cure, it does make claims of optimal outcomes, lessened severity, and residual (as opposed to full blown) disability, Recoverym then, is not the process of becoming straight or cisgender or nondisabled, but is rather the process of faking the becoming of normativity." p 105 "Under a social model, societal barriers, segregation, barriers to inclusion, and discrimination are what constitutes disability. Moreover, social models of disability (especially U.K. models) generally make a distinction between disability and impairment. Whereas disability is social construction (and a social oppression), impairment represents embodies experience and the phenomena that accompany having a neuro/physio/divergent body. ... The social problems of disability, then, are not problems of brains, tissues, or bodies, but are rather societal infrastructures, material and conceptual, that privilege specific embodied experiences of the world." p. 107 "Many of the gains made in disability rights and community participation have arguably come into being because of the social model." p. 108 "In this professional moment, I became unprofessional: this is the effect that studying oneself often has, especially when self is a neuroqueer self." p. 138 "... the vast majority of autistics are not children. ... That adults can receive autism diagnoses often comes as a shock to those outside the autistic community, including the very professionals who conduct diagnostic assessments - because isn't autism a childhood thing?" p. 156 "... Krumins notes that others viewed her communion with an among things as a young girl being unladylike rather than a young girl being autistic. Cisnormativity governs autism's diagnostic constructions. ... ABA is more aptly termed a sociosexual intervention than a mere social intervention, seeking as it does to make neuroqueer subjects virtually indistinguishable from their neurotypical, heterosexual, and cisgender peers. Becoming nonautistic is likewise becoming nonqueer-for anything that registers as socially deviant may fall under autism's purview." (p. 159) "... diagnosis is clinically framed as identifying the pathological, generally for the purposes of eradicating or mitigating the freshly labeled pathology. To seek diagnosis for acceptance-for something like autism-flips the bird at what diagnosis generally intends." (p. 165) "Part of the autistic experience is not being believed." (p. 167) "In the absence of ethical, friendly, or sustained academic research on autistic rhetorics and cultures, autistic people have generated their own robust methodologies and means for determining, contesting, and theorizing notions of autistic ethos." (p 169) "But I do not subscribe to functioning labels because functioning labels are inaccurate and dehumanizing, because functioning labels fail to capture the breadth and complexity and highly contextual interrelations of one's neurology and environment, both of which are plastic and malleable and dynamic. Functioning is the corporal gone capitalistic-it is an assumption that one's body and being can be quantitatively measured, that one's bodily outputs and bodily actions are neither outputs nor actions unless commodifiable." (p. 176) "To be autistic is to live and lie in a between space-the crevices that neurotypicals can ignore often function as the entirety of what neuroqueer subjects perceive." (p. 177) "Any approach to autism is an approach towards autistic people." p. 206 ______________________________________________ Social stories that reinforce cis/heteronormative behaviors p. 29 trans and gender issues p. 70-71 Reginald "Neli" Latson (autistic while black) p.82 ABA p. 98, 147 tic vs stim

  7. 4 out of 5

    Jack

    'Under such logics, I have written this book, presumably unaware of my reader and my (non)self. The involuntary actions, thoughts, writings, and behaviours of my autistic body negate my claims to writerhood, rhetorichood, and narrativehood. Instead, this book might be better understood as a cluster of symptoms. Achoo. You're welcome.' (pg. 13) ––– 'Autistic narrative persists. It persists in the face of discourses that would render us arhetorical and tragically inhuman. It persists across genre and 'Under such logics, I have written this book, presumably unaware of my reader and my (non)self. The involuntary actions, thoughts, writings, and behaviours of my autistic body negate my claims to writerhood, rhetorichood, and narrativehood. Instead, this book might be better understood as a cluster of symptoms. Achoo. You're welcome.' (pg. 13) ––– 'Autistic narrative persists. It persists in the face of discourses that would render us arhetorical and tragically inhuman. It persists across genre and mode, much of it ephemeral and embodied in form. Autistic people persist and insist on the narrativity of their tics, their stims, their echoed words and phrases, their relations with objects and environs. We persist in involuting, in politicising the supposedly involuntary. We can't help it after all.' (pg. 23) ––– 'If autism is a rhetoric unto itself, then we must confront the idea that being autistic confers ways of being, thinking, moving, and making meaning that are not in and of themselves lesser—and may at times be advantageous. This is not to deny the existence of disability, nor is it to suggest that every autistic action is of necessity a symbolic, meaningful, or social move. Rather, it is to suggest that not only is autism a world (à la Sue Rubin), but that autism is a negotiation between rhetorical and arhetorical worlds. And, while at times these worlds may be idiosyncratic or mutually unintelligible, these worlds hold value, meaning, and at times meaninglesness. They are inventional movements, stimpoints that force us to question long-held notions about rhetoric and its privileged topoi.' (pg. 205) ––– I filled up about 38 pages of my notebook with quotes while reading this over the course of a few weeks. It's one of the most intellectually stimulating and inspiring books that I've read in a very long time. Yergeau's writing is so rich, so multifaceted, so full of irony and sarcasm. I'm sure I'll be returning to this many times in the future.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Diane

    Beautifully written. Wonderful insight on autism, its history with behavioral sciences and relationship with queerness.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Jake

    Another book which uses and maybe, abuses the word "neurological". The proper word that should be psychological. Alas, it is no crime as it seems people do that more and more these days. I best not loose the Forrest for the trees . In many ways, I found this book to be kinda annoying and wasn't a huge fan. I will admit though there were virtues. The substance which is, a polemic on those that abuse those with autism by treating them as near monsters. It moves on to attack anyone who is discriminat Another book which uses and maybe, abuses the word "neurological". The proper word that should be psychological. Alas, it is no crime as it seems people do that more and more these days. I best not loose the Forrest for the trees . In many ways, I found this book to be kinda annoying and wasn't a huge fan. I will admit though there were virtues. The substance which is, a polemic on those that abuse those with autism by treating them as near monsters. It moves on to attack anyone who is discriminatory to those with separate brains. The "Neuro queer ones". Of course those once again. Where is the physiology? In modern times many in the humanities take the word brain, so as to make their field sound more scientific. It is though generally bereft of any neuroscience and as such it is somewhat deceitful. Rather brain is used synonymous in many of these cases as mind and behaviors. Look technically its not wrong, but like. Where are my neurons?? What is the physiological underpinning of the behaviors you are describing. For the love of god dont talk about a macro structures like the pfc and some other random set of circuits you may have once seen while skimming a pop sci article or a psych 101 class. Overall there was good stuff here. I agree we should be MUCH more accepting of differences in our society. We tout a love and acceptance of individuality but when we see something truly individualistic we yell and scream. recommended for : Autism/ lgbt activists those who are interested in individuality those interested in the issues and dangers of diagnosis Those who are wondering what a high functioning autistic person is like

  10. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth

  11. 5 out of 5

    Nicole Ramer

  12. 4 out of 5

    Allison

  13. 4 out of 5

    Steph

  14. 5 out of 5

    Sabrina Manero

  15. 5 out of 5

    Amanda

  16. 5 out of 5

    Cheryl

  17. 5 out of 5

    Liz Miller

  18. 5 out of 5

    Nick Walker

  19. 5 out of 5

    Sinan

  20. 4 out of 5

    Laura Z. Weldon

  21. 5 out of 5

    Martina DF

  22. 4 out of 5

    Joanna

  23. 5 out of 5

    Mills College Library

    616.85882 Y473 2018

  24. 4 out of 5

    Laura Birkin

  25. 5 out of 5

    Josh Guberman

  26. 5 out of 5

    Christy

  27. 5 out of 5

    Laura

  28. 4 out of 5

    Daniel Jr.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Lei Crowe

  30. 4 out of 5

    Anna Stevens

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