Writing autism inside-out autism and representation : a novel and critical essay.
The dissertation adopts both a creative and critical approach to exploring the representation of autism in literature. Much of the autism literature produced so far has arisen in first-world, developed contexts, characterised by a high degree of support and an extensive knowledge base. In this original novel, The Hum of the Sun, autism is presented in a contemporary South African context. Against a background of the rather narrow or limited representations of autism found in Western medical and popular literature, the novel intends to extend the range and focus of existing literary representation by exploring a condition of severely impaired communication in a developing world. The creation of Zuko, a character with autism, explores the extreme scenario of the classic form of the condition, where language is limited or non-existent. A third person narrative describes the experience of Zuko’s character through a visceral, sensory language that focuses on quality and immediate experience rather than cognitive processes. The theoretical component of this study discusses autism through a historical narrative from its emergence as a diagnosis, and the condition’s diversity but tendency to characterise as lack against a norm. The rise in popular representations of autism emerge from constructions in popular media, as well as the public’s fascination with and anxiety about the condition. Autism’s representation spans a variety of genres. Compared and contrasted here are the genres of psycho-medical, fiction and autobiography or life-writing. Such popular representations potentially both create awareness and simultaneously produce stereotypes about the condition. Here the question of the relationship between the different discourses examines the vexed notion of ‘truth’ in the epistemological value of literature. The value of literature as a source of knowledge, and a source of knowledge about autism, is discussed, which illuminates various ethical and aesthetic questions in writing. Representation might be viewed as construction, not reflection, and the role of discourse also determines how autism as a knowledge-object is constructed and shaped by a particular genre and its conventions. Literature is a construct and truth is complex, but literary texts can facilitate understanding and offer a form of truth and illumination about the condition. Within all three genres, attention is given to the use of language, the narrative arc and structure, common stereotypes, plot devices, the resolution and grounding assumptions in relation to the way autism is represented. Finally, the implications of this research for the writing of an autism narrative in the form of the novel, The Hum of the Sun, are examined, with reflection on the ways it is possible to extend the terms of the debate and avoid some of the pitfalls found in the examination of other texts.