“We each have Skype accounts and use them to discuss [Moby-Dick] face to face. Once a week, we spread the worded whale out in front of us; we dissect its head, eyes, and bones, careful not to hurt or kill it. The Professor and I are not whale hunters. We are not letting the whale die. We are shaping it, letting it swim through the Web with a new and polished look.”—Tito Mukhopadhyay
Since the 1940s researchers have been repeating claims about autistic people's limited ability to understand language, to partake in imaginative play, and to generate the complex theory of mind necessary to appreciate literature. In See It Feelingly Ralph James Savarese, an English professor whose son is one of the first nonspeaking autistics to graduate from college, challenges this view.
Discussing fictional works over a period of years with readers from across the autism spectrum, Savarese was stunned by the readers' ability to expand his understanding of texts he knew intimately. Their startling insights emerged not only from the way their different bodies and brains lined up with a story but also from their experiences of stigma and exclusion.
For Mukhopadhyay Moby-Dick is an allegory of revenge against autism, the frantic quest for a cure. The white whale represents the autist's baffling, because wordless, immersion in the sensory. Computer programmer and cyberpunk author Dora Raymaker skewers the empathetic failings of the bounty hunters in Philip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Autistics, some studies suggest, offer instruction in embracing the nonhuman. Encountering a short story about a lonely marine biologist in Antarctica, Temple Grandin remembers her past with an uncharacteristic emotional intensity, and she reminds the reader of the myriad ways in which people can relate to fiction. Why must there be a norm?
Mixing memoir with current research in autism and cognitive literary studies, Savarese celebrates how literature springs to life through the contrasting responses of unique individuals, while helping people both on and off the spectrum to engage more richly with the world.
Reviews and Endorsements:
"Impassioned and persuasive. . . . A fresh and absorbing examination of autism." — Kirkus Reviews
"This idealistic argument for the social value of literature and for the diversity of autism as a condition is a rewarding endeavor. . . ." — Publishers Weekly
"This is a powerful book — one that really must be experienced. It is a book that unlocks doors to the many rooms of autism and is likely to surprise the thinking of anyone who steps into them. It carries within it the possibilities of new perspectives on literary work, a greater understanding of autistic neurology, and the chance to meet some remarkable individuals. Read it." — Michael Northen, Wordgathering
"Savarese has produced a masterpiece, simultaneously dense and accessible. His voice moves freely—alternating among lyrical, narrative, and instructive—never losing the flow, never dipping into pedantry, never soaring too far toward the abstract for the reader to follow. Not only is this collection of essays brimming with the most important information and ideas about autism, it is a collaboration of rare beauty." — Maxfield Sparrow, Thinking Person's Guide to Autism
"See It Feelingly is a bold and astonishing act of cross-cultural translation. By immersing the reader in what he beautifully terms 'conjoined neurologies encountering the splendor of a classic book,' Ralph James Savarese dismantles damaging myths about the limits of the autistic mind while penetrating to the heart of how literature changes our lives." — Steve Silberman, author of, NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity
“This deft and impassioned hybrid—part memoir, part disability study, part portraiture, part literary criticism—is a book of revelations about reading, neurodiversity, and American literature. I was repeatedly startled by its slow cascade of correctives and insights—deepened, widened, and enlarged. It is a necessary book.” — Edward Hirsch, author of, How to Read a Poem: And Fall in Love with Poetry
“This compelling, thought-provoking book takes the reader on an intimate journey into the worlds of five autistic adults through their interpretation and response to classic literature. Drawing upon the neuroscience of autism and his own experience as a teacher and a father of an autistic son, Ralph James Savarese offers a powerful and hopeful perspective on autism, disability, and the value of diversity in humankind.” — Geraldine Dawson, Director, Duke Center for Autism and Brain Development, Duke University
"Finally, there is someone ‘outside’ my unusual world who cares deeply about autistic experience. Ralph James Savarese has avoided the typical human mistake of comfortable distance and, a true student of literature, immersed himself in the vibrant web of living lyricism where all things, including words, are not only equal, but one. I am so happy to have seen the birth of this work, not as a person on the spectrum, but as a primal poem." — Dawn Prince, author of, Songs of the Gorilla Nation: My Journey through Autism
Table of Conents:
Foreword / Stephen Kuusisto xi
Prologue: River of Words, Raft of Our Conjoined Neurologies 15
1. From a World as Fluid as the Sea 23
2. The Heavens of the Brain 57
3. Andys and Auties 86
4. Finding Her Feet 122
5. Take for Grandin 155
About The Author
Ralph James Savarese is the author of Reasonable People: A Memoir of Autism and Adoption and coeditor of three collections, including one on the concept of neurodiversity. He has published widely in academic and creative writing journals. In 2012-13 he was a neurohumanities fellow at Duke University's Institute for Brain Sciences. He teaches at Grinnell College in Iowa.