Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Neurodiversity and Bakhtin's Awkward Postanarchism, by Zach Richter

Editor's Note: This is the script of the paper Zach Richter read at the Society for Disability Studies conference panel on Neuroqueering in Minneapolis a few days ago. He has generously allowed us to reprint it by popular demand, but please keep in mind he is also polishing it up for more formal academic journal publication. Love, Ib

What we have heard earlier in this presentation some introductions to the basic concepts of neurodiversity, neurodivergence, and neuroqueerness, this paper will be an application of those concepts to things like anatomy, postanarchism and ontology or the study of being.

The area of poststructuralist theory known as “postanarchism” has long sought to be what Hakim Bey calls an “ontological anarchism”, but is at this point very very lost in that journey. Through a neurodivergent (neurologically unusual, primarily in Autistic usage) application of Bakhtin’s theory of the lower bodily stratum, I will truly unleash here what might be a crip postanarchism.

Awkwardness can be said to describe that which is physically unwieldly and socially incoherent and as such exemplifying the incongruence of disability and sexuality within both social and materialist models. Awkwardness informs a concept of crip and queer embodiments as experienced in a place of confusion between materialist and discursive origin points. Just as disability cannot be distilled and fully understood as either inaccessibility or bodily limitation, sexuality is not reducible to choice or genetics. Awkwardness names the chaotic liminal space of misunderstanding between existential and archetypal presence---always eluding grasp within any singular explanation and as such presiding over a complexity of experience that fails to fit within any singular conceptual or methodological format and is defined by a sense of perpetual motion and dynamism.

The concept of ontology dates back to Existentialist usages such as Heidegger which comes up with a body thrown into a sea of absurd phenomenon. But ontology is, in a more contemporary sense, a philosophical plumbing of bodily works. Likewise, Bakhtin’s lower bodily stratum suggests that in the modern canon, the orifices, where fluids actively are released or enter the body, has been painted over.

Similar to Fecal elaborations on Bakhtin’s work, this presentation does seek to bring such bodily fluids back to their lost prominence. Autistic people experience unique gut problems. Many of us are allergic, some get frequently nauseated or have chronic stomach discomfort. Autistic people, it is also noted, have sensory issues. The Markert brothers’ Intense World theory of Autism, which has recently come into popularity and controversy in the discipline of psychology, alleges that sensory issues underlie many of the problems that autistics have in integrating with neurotypical and neuronormative societies. In opposition to Enlightenment era views of the mind as the center of the sensory faculties, here I argue emphatically that the stomach is where Autistics experience emotion and the five or more senses.

But more than a mere affirmation of the alchemical pot in the abdomen, this essay seeks to dislodge the head. Since the middle ages, it has been alleged that the head is the center of consciousness. Some of this tendency to prize the peculiar bulbous body part has come from Western society’s doubtless obsession with reason and rationality. Within Galen’s concept of the Tripartite Soul, it is the head that is associated with reason.

Likewise, as documented by Foucault in History of Madness, the call to regulate one’s passions or emotions has long been echoed by religious, medical and state authorities. Instead of another curative suggestion that would foreclose on passions for a little more reason, I ask for the passions to revolt against reason itself and urge representatives of the sensory faculties to challenge the dominance of rationality.

What would a re-centering of human consciousness in the lower bodily stratum imply?

The stomach is not so singular and phallic as the head, but is more a liminal or cross-roads space. Some things are being digested, muscles are moving, blood is flowing up and down to get to the poles of the genitals and the head, the stomach also dances with the inhale/exhale of the lungs and it is a pivot point for the spine, either indicating focus or uprightness. It is thus subject to the wiles of all four humors---it is a place of hybridity, where all is mixed. 

Furthermore, the stomach is a space of between-ness that caters to a coalition spanning the entire disability community. Placing consciousness in the stomach and even inadvertently privileging a settled stomach does not negatively affect a certain disability community cohort, as it does when physically disabled people claim sanity and intellectual ability in a compensatory move. To all, even those whose stomachs are impaired, a settled stomach is strictly a positive development.

Like unmanageable bodily fluids that exist through numerous bodily tubes, Awkwardness is given expression through history in a series of attempts to grasp and emergences. The Awkward has been ever-emergent. Awkwardness has been defined as meaning turned the wrong way, but in its medicalized context, it has come to refer to physical clumsiness and social difficulty discretely. In James’ The Awkward Age, the awkward gained a new meaning as an ill-fitting temporality. The adaptation of that thinking found its way into psychoanalysis, producing theses that identify the pre-teen years as a vital period in which heterosexuality is under threat, in which an individual’s capacity as a worker is either naturalized or weakened in a permanent way. This clinical reading of James’ novel ignores another potency in the text, that the Awkward Age refers not to the catty attitudes of the novel’s main characters but to the periodicity of the Victorian early-industrial backdrop to their drama. Finally, in contemporary times, Awkwardness is metaphorized and becomes an affect of incongruence. To truly wrestle with what Awkward truly means we must engage with a recent British advertisement with the message that awkward comes not from impaired embodiment, but an abled gaze. The advertisement is not mistaken, but its message rings true to the archive of detours, incoherence and unfitness that accompanies the awkward.

To demand a cutting off of the head anatomically is anarchist in that it means a coalition which is not led by hierarchical top-down authority, but by an intermingled gurgling mass.

To center on the stomach is also an admission that denies Romantic notions of an impenetrable or singular will. The flows and affect of a stomach are not reducible to one direction but seemingly are capable of many aberrant or normal contractions. We turn to the stomach because indecision and ennui are also major parcels of technomodernity. The head, in its physical aesthetic existence, is a round obelisk, outstretched alone from a more complete body. It is by definition, an isolated extremity. 

Awkward provides a new model for engagement with heteronormativity and ableism as systems that work to eschew that which is fixed. The origin of deviance is ultimately unknowable---our anomalousness is somewhere between multiple intentions, bodily trajectories and infantile alienations. To try to simplify the Awkward is always either a violent intervention punishing and making further incongruence or a model of a private reaction that would see the entire body and its misery as a reaction to an unkind situation. 

Either version is mistaken: properly following complex embodiment means recognizing the constant dynamism at the basis of this difficulty in fitting. 

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1 comment:

  1. This is SO amazing. It is going to take me many readings (in a good way) to absorb it. THANK YOU Zach!!