I have no words for how wonderful this poem is. I keep playing it for myself. Thank you, Rhi!
How ironic — or rather, how fitting — that during “Autism Awareness Month”, I should have an up-close-and-personal encounter with Simone Weil, the iconoclastic philosopher of the World Wars Era who found a strong footing in mysticism. I’ve quoted her before, I’ve admired her from afar, and I’ve wondered about her. But until I made the autism connection, I didn’t quite “get” her.
Now I have. Now I do.
Simone has got to be one of the most (if not the most) autistic thinker / philosopher I’ve ever heard about, let alone read. I mean, seriously folks, this woman was an Autist Extraordinaire. Of course, her over-the-top exuberance of Self was augmented by her Frenchness — and certainly no offense to the French. Quite the contrary. That 100% passionate expression of Self is one of the things I’ve learned to love about my Gallic cousins. And in fact, my ancestors were French, as well, so there’s something of that in me, as well.
Last night I read a paper by an (apparently neurotypical) academic who explored a bit of Simone’s “autism” — dealing mainly with her perseverative focus and nonlinear thinking. She also explored Emily Dickinson’s neurodivergence a bit, but to be honest, I just skimmed through that section. I was most interested in Simone; Emily was out of the range of my own narrowed focus.
I finished the paper feeling decidedly un-sated, if not a bit indignant. First of all, Nothing About Us Without Us – that is, don’t be writing stuff about autistic folks, unless you actually talk to us to do a reality check. Second of all, considering Simone’s broad and deep expressions of hallmark female phenotype autism, the author picked out the two most obvious (and most easy) parts of Simone’s presentation, and didn’t seem to think it important to spend much time on any of the other many, many aspects of her autistic experience, let alone expression.
Further, the author seemed to think that Simone’s way of being was essentially performed for a utilitarian purpose — essentially “using” her autistic traits as a means to an end: reaching a different state of consciousness.
The whole paper made my head and heart ache, to be honest (so I’m not linking to it here — you can DM me on Twitter if you want to know the details.
But that visceral assault aside, this calls up a wide array of opportunities to Speak Truth to Power — to confront the ignorance and presumption of formal academics who appear to think they’ve got the right to pass judgment on their social science subjects: autistic individuals. What’s more, it really highlights the need and the necessity to enlighten some folks about what this autism business is all about for folks who aren’t 8-year-old white boys rocking and lining up their collection of cars, or 20-year-old fanboys who sit in front of their gaming consoles and PCs all the live-long day, making snarky comments about women and using Asperger’s as an excuse.
I have to wonder — in this day and age, when communication is so quick and relatively easy (easier than it was back in the day, when you had to hand-write a letter and hope that the postal carrier would get through hostile territory to your intended audience), when science is being thrown wide open, and more and more is being written and discussed about “atypical autism” — especially among women — how is it even possible that these misconceptions persist?
Okay, okay, the paper dates back to 2013, and work on the female phenotype is still relatively recent. Appallingly recent. And awareness about the female / atypical autistic experience is only now approaching what I consider a critical mass (tho’ I could be wrong, being in my little rarified world, here). But still. The rank ignorance and presumption that oozes from the paper… ugh.
But let me be positive about this. Let’s look on the bright side. Light shines brightest in darkness, and there’s a ton of darkness about autism in the world. So, the lights we shine might actually be noticed. One can hope. The fact that someone even wrote a paper about Simone Weil’s autism… that’s encouraging. Even if it’s partial, it’s a start. And it’s an annoying enough start to motivate me to do something about it.
So, that’s good.
It’s really good, in fact. ‘Cause I’ve been wanting to write up some extended blog posts — perhaps even publish a book — about the interior view of Simone Wei’sl autism, and I’d been thinking, “Well, there’s not a huge need for that…” Then I read this paper. And now I’m pretty well convinced that, yeah, there’s a need.
And this ties in with the rest of my work, as well, incidentally. It ties in with my memoir Into the Deep, which I’m finishing up and will be publishing this summer. It ties tightly in with my narrative there, because (for God’s sake), people need to get it through their heads that autism is not some social construct, it’s not some utilitarian means of subverting the dominant neurotype, it’s not an affect we choose, but rather, it is part and parcel of who we are and shades every aspect of our being (watch Rhi’s poem above again, please — it does a soul good).
Being autistic isn’t some invention. Nor is it an unfortunate result of a drug reaction. It’s a fundamental aspect of who we are — for me, at least, The One Most Critical Defining Aspect of Who I Am and How I Am, which is just as inseparable from my nature, as it was from Simone Weil’s.
And in exploring these aspects, in teasing out the subtleties and learning to recognize them — both in the living and the long-gone — we can learn a bit more about the human condition, get to know the proverbial canaries in the coal mine who have a differently intimate perspective on what the world is about, and expand our appreciation of just what it means to be human, what it means to be alive.
I’m still trying to figure out how best to go about this project. I’ll meander through it, I suppose, in fits and starts. I always do. I’ll follow a thread and then double back to see what else is there. And I’ll dig a whole lot deeper than most might think is necessary (or even appropriate). It’s not just about coming up with an easy explanation of why some long-gone genius was as quirky as they were. It’s about reclaiming the autistic experience as a thread that’s woven through our history, and tying it to our present experience in an uninterrupted theme. It’s about better understanding the atypical / female autism phenotype through the words of someone who left a legacy of thousands upon thousands of pages of observation and insight, being brazenly who and what she was, regardless of what anyone thought.
Every once in a while, we happen upon a treasure that’s been locked up too long. Simone Weil’s autistic experience and presentation is one of them. People haven’t had the proper key to open that treasure chest, but now — guess what? — we do. And I’m about to turn her academic crypt into an autistic greenhouse.