A Cyborg Autobiography: Autism & the Posthuman
Palen, T. van der
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Autism is omnipresent in contemporary culture: it can be considered the 'zeitgeist condition.' As such, it characterises this zeitgeist, which is often theorised as moving in the direction of the posthuman. However, whereas popular notions of autism and the posthuman or cyborg tend to lay stress on either an absence or an overabundance in autistic people of rationality and a supposedly diminished capacity for empathy, and appear to envision the posthuman as disembodied and radically independent, a critical posthumanist perspective on autism would instead emphasise the autistic's and the cyborg's embodiment and interrelationality. Instead of imposing a humanist narrative on autistic people which celebrates autistic autobiography as a step in the direction of normality, whilst all the same mistrusting autobiographical texts written by non-verbal autistics, such an approach attempts to engage responsibly and respectfully with the actual content of such texts. This thesis argues that autistic autobiography can be read as being posthumanist, calling into question humanism's disregard of the body, its nonetheless implicit 'ableism,' its reliance on language as a neutral medium, and its demand for a very limited, independent subjectivity. The thesis draws on Derrida's notion of phonocentrism, on Merleau-Ponty's phenomenology of the body, and on Deleuze and Guattari's vital materialism. Its argument is supported by the autobiographical texts of Tito Mukhopadhyay, Ido Kedar, Naoki Higashida, Carly Fleischmann, and Amanda Baggs.