guest post 1: jack smith

‘i sat with the kid i tutor, preverbal ASD, ADHD, mitochondrial disorders etc etc etc and less than that and he just laughed for hours. i gave him lunch and tried to play with him (blasting 70’s pop tunes at ear-piercing volume and me covering my ears like he does when he knows he done something wrong, screaming and he screams with joy) then the fire alarm goes off cause the sausages have burnt a little too much and we jump up he’s got his hands over his ears laughing while i try to open the windows and fan the smoke and i freak for a little cause i’m the responsible one who’s fucked up and then with him i laugh we laugh at me and it aint constuctive p-stage key stage xyz play so much as us looking into each others faces and i have no idea what he sees but he’s smiling an inch from my smile and they tell me “they say you shouldn’t use metaphors with autistics” but later when i move my finger close to his face and touch the cheek and scream like a smoke alarm he sits and giggles before ignoring me for an hour and walking about the house chuckling and if i try to get involved he pushes me away and i love it i love his joy.’

some notes on neurodiversity

don’t you think it’s the most glorious articulation of liberation politics ever?
i feel like  the ‘neurodiversity’ movement is not beyond criticism, if only because there is a multiplicity of movements there, as ever, with aims and principles varied and contradictory. But, even in the most liberal of its expressions, neurodiversity still asks for something incredible – a recognition of difference that is embodied, but not necessarily performed to the stage-directions of the diagnostic manuals that continuously reproduce the Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) identity categories as legally recognised disabilities, as disorders of neurological development still gathered under the umbrella of the disorders of the mind.
neurodiversity, in its worst and best iterations always seems to ‘demand the impossible’ – it’s a cliche but works right – to validate and invalidate the diagnosis, to secure a right to a fair assessment, to claim a belonging to a ‘spectrum’ that is fast losing its once binarist epistemology – from the ‘classical’ Autist to the more palatable ‘Aspie’ (DSM-V abandons Asperger’s Syndrome totally), fast-shedding its associations with the decidedly neurotypical culture of fascination with ‘savants’ (as distinct from geniuses proper because can’t ‘show their workings-out’, therefore receptacles of human nature’s mysterious workings, therefore automata) and ‘splinter skills’ (how many toothpicks have i just thrown in your face?). Even the ‘high functioning’ pole has gotten into the habit of reporting the failure to function at all. How long until the anomalous accounts connect into a culture of the appropriate degree of severity to warrant clinical attention? Perhaps, some advocates (brave, blogging, book-deal breaking Ted-talking parents) speculate, due to continuous official revisions, autism will no longer be a useful concept or word at all, its ‘original’ (Kanner’s strict, austere, beyond-all-reasonable-doubt) specificity stretched beyond recognition.
And yet – a classically stubborn thinker  – neurodiversity says ‘We are all Autistic’, whether we flap or bite or hiss or hit or shit ourselves sometimes or all of the time, whether we speak the language of normalcy with exceptional precision or with selective mutism or not at all, whether we had ‘behavioural’ problems at school or were rule-followers. Neurodiversity says, ‘We all’ share a neurotype that is not the one that makes it easier to do neoliberalism. Neurodiversity is not afraid of neuroscience, but wants a clean break from state psychiatry, and, perhaps more pressingly in an ‘age of de-institutionalization’ that has been associated with the proliferation of ASD diagnoses aka ‘the Autism Epidemic’, it wants at the very least a democratic regulation of state psychology and its ‘early intervention’ in childhood doxa.. But really I feel like even then that is just a temporary measure before neurodiversity will abolish every last one of those Applied Behaviour Analysis [NO HANDS!!!] programmes, of the governmental care-complexes that exploit the free labour of the (parent) mother to over-privilege the diagnosis and discipline and you guessed it punishment of the kids (citizen-identity-at-stake), which somehow coincides with the cuts to the services for adult Autistics (citizen-identity-failed) that may require them. After all, says neurodiversity, you still characterise the developmental disorder as ‘pervasive’, so why do you only seem to care about white middle-class cis boys which show the correct early signs of an ‘extreme male brain’?
Neurodiversity says, Autism is not a disease, but nor is it a Szaszian metaphor for how shit life is under the relentless and violent imposition of state forms. Autism is a disability, but only insofar as the disabling conditions persist. And yet, it seems Autism will exist after capitalism, whatever happens.
And that is because neurodiversity has conceptualised the possibility of Autism as joyous life. Beyond the ‘triad of impairments’ – communication, social interaction, ‘stereotypy’ – there is a way of being, a way of braining, a way of wor(l)ding the ‘intense world’ that is still being discovered by the ActuallyAutistic, still being written, typed up in-between individuals a lesson to be carefully, ‘pedantically’ planned that may one day just wreck all the oppressive, obsessive economies, (socio)ecologies, stereotypies, taxonomies and theories of mind.

poem 0

sweat caught in oil slick

shake colour colour thick

blocked up and spilled to the top and covered

with a hot pressure rice-cooker lid

shake shake pain between bone a trapped nerve

thick thick

tic tic

bone pain back bone

i smell the good food like oil that steals the air away

from subcutaneous blood

the hand hurts where the nerves hurt

the table moved onto my wrist as they collide

as i fell

onto a soft wrist with my hard wood bones

hands heavily propped

at 90 degrees bent i’m carrying the world

under my wooden lid

i hid and i cry without face just the head

and in my head i said

i miss you feeling my sadness

with your thick yellow thread

when i cry or don’t cry

yellow bird

 

poem 1

I stare the chalk, down

I soak the wall, in

The music is too, loud

Too loud and the fragments of chalk sandpaper

Repeat

Too loud and scratch patterns of chalking paper

Swim tightly, crushing my teeth, lightly

Chalk powdering wet crumb-boulders

into my shrunken

lungs

until I

collapse

 

I give into the heat

and my hands go hard

Letting my blood go thick

I’m letting my people drown

On either side of

me

And I feel the veins hit me

in my chalk-ribbed rocking boat

My lips – sails

My legs – ropes

And in a thousand high chords

The strings of anxiety of my wrists

Are pulling a million invisible seams

Apart until I

collapse

notes on sensory exclusion: the two senses of public good

I think a reasonable way to begin is here, right now.  I am sitting in one of the research centres of my university. It is a space for research postgraduate students like me to do their work. It is one of the few places on campus where I am able to do so, but it is far from being somewhere I can do so best. Despite all the emphasis on the ‘facilities’ that are provided for our ‘community’, like a hot water tap and a couple of extra computers, the main aspect of study for me is sensory. What it feels like, literally, to work in a certain space.

Here, the lights are copious and bright, and the white light seems to reflect in depthless white sheets off the white smooth of rounded plastic tables. All the surfaces are smooth and depthless, just like the single-hue sculptures of Anish Kapoor, sharply and economically framed, but concave, convex without end.  The tabletop is brighter, more luminous than my computer screen. There seems to be no meaningful distance between the white light and me. There is no depth to the room. Everything is here, happening – to me – at the same time. I try to imagine a different sensory point of view to mine, what might it be like to work here in a different body and I cannot.

I just left a talk given by Nina Power. She gave a paper on the public, the state, protest, legal subjects. She considered a number of concepts like ‘public space’, ‘public opinion’, ‘public order’, and their relationship with the polis, police, policy. She considered the simultaneity of these fictions and functions. Negatively affected by the state that segregates those it exploits from its definition of ’the public’, negative publics emerge. Refugee and migrant movements, police violence movements, free education movements, Sisters Uncut. Nina talked about the way in which those excluded from the fictional ‘public’ (in the name of which the law acts as such, punishing or permitting X as it sees fit) – whether by virtue of the fact of their documentation and/or dissent – find themselves excluded on all counts. That is, temporally, spatially, politically. Collectivities are constituted in the negative. This is, in a way, the real public, or that pole of ‘the public’ with actual bodies.

The university has its own privatised spaces that are meant to be shared and common. I think of sensory exclusion as another mode of slicing the public into fantasies of the good of the public and the ghosts that are its threat. What kind of body can withstand the private, prestigious, card-access-only spaces of the (public) university? What is the individual body implied? The light is too bright for me means body unfit for the light, unfit for the room or in other words failing of test of fitness, of fitness for academia. I fail the reasonable test for access, I lose my membership to the room, my citizenship of the polis (Goodley et al:20). The university is not a tower but an ivory city-state, and to identify with the polis is to coincide with police, the law of the land, the law of the good proper.