Curiosity vs Presumption

Several of my classmates have noted something very important to take into consideration when discussing The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. Mark Haddon says himself “curious incident is not a book about Asperger’s… labels say nothing about a person. they say only how the rest of us categorise that person.” Kelly said something very similar in her own post, which was a great way to end and tie up her post and point in general, “This is a story about Christopher Boone, not a story about Asperger’s.” I think in a case like this, it is easy for someone to be lost in those labels that we so quickly jump to categorize people in. Our traditional ways of thinking and the ways consciousness is ‘suppose’ to work play a significant role in how we respond to Christopher as a narrator.

This is seen heavily with Greg Olear right away with his title accusing Haddon of “Perpetuat[ing] Negative Stereotypes.” At first, you could almost agree with Olear for exploiting Autism and Asperger’s, but then you realize, wait, Haddon never specified what Christopher had exactly. It was never flat out revealed in plain language, in plain label. As you get further through Olear’s review, it’s revealed. Okay, your son has been diagnosed with Asperger’s. This is where Olear becomes part of the very problem he is trying to combat. His own experience with Asperger’s and Autism interferes with his ability to read a story about Chris. This no longer is a story about Chris, it is a story about Asperger’s. Chris would not be a portrayal of Asperger’s if people would read about Chris without imposing their own interpretations or labels on him. Olear wants an accurate portrayal of Asperger’s, well if curious incident isn’t an accurate portrayal of Asperger’s, the simple answer would be: it’s not Asperger’s. If Chris entered a hospital for a diagnosis, would he be diagnosed as having Asperger’s? The answer shouldn’t matter, especially since there is an individual within every person who is categorized as having Asperger’s. Unfortunately, Olear’s presumptuous nature and readiness to apply labels as he sees fit, heavily influenced by his own experience and without regard to other interpretation, will be overwhelmingly matched by the masses.

On the other hand, if we are to give way to curiosity without allowing presumption, we would be able to view this story as a story of a character, without imposing labels. Michiko Kakutani seems to be able to see Christopher for who he is a little better. She is aware of the possible labels that could apply to Chris saying, “(the form of autism he presumably suffers from).” Presumably. Not only has everyone been presuming that Chris has Asperger’s, they have allowed that relationship to define one another. Asperger’s defines Chris’ character and in turn Chris is a representation of Asperger’s. This is not the case at all, which it seems Kakutani tries to point out by describing Chris with specific habits, preferences and traits.

Ironically enough, the very type of negative stereotyping that Olear wants to battle, seems to be something he is perpetuating himself by imposing labels, while someone whom he would disagree with, such as Kakutani, who doesn’t seem convinced that this book is merely a story of Asperger’s, but of Christopher as an individual, is achieving what he is so determined to promote. The point to take away from all of this criticism and debate, is that these disorders, these labels, cannot be applied so easily, just as any individual cannot be a representation of any of these labels. This same approach should be applied to any label and allow us to challenge conventional ways of thought when it comes to thinking about consciousness and identity.

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Mukhopadhyay with the Pig and the Frog

Throughout Mukhopadhyay’s writing, there are instances where it seems that he utilizes what Gaipa would call piggybacking and leapfrogging. At times, it seems that Mukhopadhyay is merely expanding upon what others have said about his condition, affirming the name of autism. However, at points, he seems to leapfrog it, by presenting aspects that were questioned in his own point of view. As the reader progresses through the book, these strategies in Mukhopadhyay’s writing seem to have an interesting affect on the reader, where the reader begins to question thoughts on autism in general. Thus, the reading, without doing so directly, has the same effect of critical writing that would “take on the establishment.” Whether the use of these strategies were intentional or not can be up to interpretation.

The moment of the staircase that Mukhopadhyay recalls takes something that “normal” people have created and turns the perspective inside out by showing his own thought process. Tito wanted to take the stairs because the purpose of their existence was to be walked up and down upon. Depicting this train of thought in his writing causes the reader to challenge their own perception on the purpose of things and allows them to become aware of different perspectives, in this case, the perspective of someone with autism. By doing so, it challenges most traditional thoughts on autism in general.

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An Individual Who is not Invisible is Intolerable

Another forewarning, this post has turned out to be more of a rant on individuality and free thinking. By the end of the post I find it to be way off our subject matter, but I suppose if I had read it over and wrote more, there could be some ideas on society, individualism and how it affects our perception of society and how society can control how we think, but in an effort to keep this rant short, I will not add any more.

As some of my fellow bloggers have pointed out in their posts about Ellison’s Invisible Man, the text really resonates with what is currently happening in our political environment. It saddens me that this actually appears to be the case, as I feel like our country has been reverting to antiquated ways of thinking. They are sentiments I would have assumed to be long forgotten. As a result, I have found myself appealing to many, repeatedly, to no avail, until I’m blue in the face about an idea I feel surfaces in this text rather prominently.

There is a striking passage in the epilogue where the narrator says, “I was never more hated than when I tried to be honest” (Ellison 572). I usually try to steer completely away from politics as I find it full of problem solvers who don’t want to solve the problem. If you want a problem solved, look to your scientists, your engineers. If you want to argue a problem until you can’t breathe, look to your politicians. It seems now that society is so divided into different factions of endless variety and they are all pitted against one another. We seem to live in a time when the masses would rather fight over differences than actually address issues. To conform to one movement or another makes you right, because there is only right and wrong, you and them. There is no grey area and in your faction, you are invisible.

What is so frustrating about these different movements and polarized stances on issues, the left and right politics, the have and have nots, the Trumps and Clintons, is that there is no individual thought. So much regurgitation of what media and the rest of society beats over our heads has really turned us into separate herds of sheep. Really angry sheep. So much do I see people “appreciated” when they try “to “justify” and affirm someone’s mistaken beliefs” (Ellison 573). Many times something is being argued over and the people will refer to a source of information. However, what they argue are the points of those who have their own biased opinions and sometimes even more sinister, their own agendas. I don’t see people think for themselves and try to come up with their own interpretations and explanations. They do not educate themselves on the issues and sadly enough, what I see the least of, is the willingness to compromise, the ability to see the fault of both sides.

I found it difficult to read Invisible Man maybe because I saw the same nonsense that frustrates me so much today. However, there is something to be taken from the text: being visible. While conformity will bring agreeableness and your affirmation of others will bring you their approval, it is not you, it is what society has placed over you. Your honest thoughts are not known and therefore are invisible. Perhaps it is time to voice your honest voice. On that note, I’m going to cut what seemed to turn into a rant.

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Connecting the Mind

Before we begin, please be aware that I go off on quite the rabbit hole of thought and ask a lot of very big questions. Somewhere along the line I completely abandoned relating it to our previous readings, so continue at your own risk.

Damasio makes several interesting points that deserve much attention. Thinking of consciousness as a series of images and the organisms feelings toward those images is a very simple way of breaking down consciousness. However, he says that “The framework needs to break down the phenomenon of consciousness in components amenable to neuroscience research” (Damasio 19). The question here then is what creates the images? What are the images made of? What brain functions create the images in the mind? This quickly leads to a rabbit hole of going smaller and smaller. “The conscious mind seems mysterious; because quantum physics remains mysterious, perhaps the two mysteries are connected” (15). I find myself excited to see that my thinking tends to be along the line of Damasio’s that the answer to our questions seems to rest in physics; that consciousness is the workings of energy beyond our current understanding.

Damasio’s description of the protoself acknowledges that images are not only “about the body,” but “are attached to parts of the body that bombard the brain with their signals… The images… are different from… visual or auditory.” (21) Basic physics describes that energy is unable to be created or destroyed, only transferred. That being said, energy is also transferred between the self and its environment. Would having a full understanding of energy at that level reveal that the same connection the brain has to the body is also a variant of an energy based connection between the self and the environment? Do we actually share a deeper connection to the objects around us that go beyond making the object belong to us in our consciousness, but consciousness is a result of being linked to said objects?

If we do indeed have this connection via energy that is not yet understood, we can begin to pick apart some of Damasio’s assumptions. “The wider-than-the-sky imagery” is “interruptible only by sleep, brain dysfunction, or death” (25). If we don’t know the essence of what creates consciousness, can we be so sure that it is interrupted? Is it possible to rethink consciousness and sub consciousness? It may lead to a dead end, but a confirmation of something implausible is just as valuable when piecing together a mystery such as this. Therefore, another piece of the puzzle may be in investigating what happens to consciousness at the time of death. If it turns out that consciousness is in essence energy, and energy can only be transferred; does that then mean that consciousness is transferred at the time of “death?” If it is so, then where does it transfer to? How does it change? Damasaio I find is good for plunging me into the rabbit hole, but the act of doing so has the influence to raise many worthwhile questions.

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The Shaking Woman Who Revealed Hysteria in the Yellow Room

After the first read of “The Yellow Wallpaper” I got the image of a woman who slowly lost her mind or suffered from some sort of cognitive disorder. I think the order in which I read the different works helped come to this conclusion in a way that struck me as a moment of realization. At first, before reading The Shaking Woman, I had the impression that the narrator in “The Yellow Wallpaper” suffered from something, but the identity of that something was a little ambiguous.

When Hustvedt discusses the history of hysteria and its perceived symptoms in a historical context, there are several aspects of “The Yellow Wallpaper” that seem to jump off the page. First, we notice that her illness is perceived to be heavily intertwined with her emotions “I’m sure I never used to be so sensitive. I think it is due to this nervous condition.” Right away the illness that she has is ambiguous and with her husband dismissing many of her concerns, it gives the perception that this illness is more common among women.

Furthermore, Hustvedt describes some of the historical reasoning for the causes of hysteria. “Antonius Guainerius believed that vapors rising from the uterus caused hysteria…” and that it “beset unmarried and widowed women who were deprived of sexual intercourse…”(Hustvedt 10). After reading this, the first thing I thought of was how neglected the narrator of “The Yellow Wallpaper” was. John seemed to be gone more than not and no mention of any romance or sexual relationship.

Although the historical context of hysteria could give us a better understanding of her condition and reveal hints toward hysteria in the text, I still could not shake another interpretation. The fact that her husband was a physician and she was brought to a strange building in the countryside, the bed was nailed to the floor, there were bars in the windows of her room, she was able to be locked in, the presence of a nurse, a specific schedule for medicating her all make it sound like this is a story from the viewpoint of a woman who has lost her mind and has delusions. Could John merely be a doctor? Could the house she is in be a psychiatric hospital with barred windows? Is her lack of strength due to an over medicated body? The people she fancies seeing “walking in these numerous paths and arbors” could be other patients or even hallucinations, to which her doctor (John) dissuades her from entertaining with her “imaginative power and habit of story-making… is sure to lead to all manner of excited fancies” (Stetson 649). While hysteria gives us a more reductive although outdated and historical way of diagnosing Stetson’s narrator, there is still the possibility that this narrator is already institutionalized and we are getting a first hand account of her delusions.

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I Felt a Song in my Brain

Although only 14 lines, Emily Dickinson manages to accomplish a lot in her poem “CXII” or “I Felt a Funeral in my Brain.” Many aspects of it are lyrical and reading it over several times even after discussing it, it still remains a favored piece to analyze. Focusing on certain words throughout the stanzas, you could infer that Dickinson is describing some sort of nervous meltdown or an episode of suffering from anxiety. It also suggests that this may be due to her surroundings being full of people and a desire to be secluded and away from people in general, “I and silence some strange race.” It suggests that her nature is to be silent and by pairing herself with silence also suggests a lack of companionship or company, but being a race, she sets herself apart from the rest of the people.

However, their crowding her does have an affect. The repetition of “treading, treading” and “beating, beating” not only give their respective stanzas a very lyrical, song like flow to the strictly constructed rhyme scheme, but it also mirrors a pulsing, like an oncoming migraine or state of despair that would accompany anxiety. “Mourners to and fro” could possibly stand for people hustling about their business, “to and fro” being the rather literal hustle of everyday life, but the mundane nature of their repetitive schedules making them mourners of life.

It finally seems to overtake her when in despair she feels that “all the heavens were a bell.” Noise is everywhere, she can’t escape these people, the very air tolls on her mind as her anxiety becomes unbearable, she being but an ear has no choice, but to be subjected to this smothering.

When analyzing the poem in this way, the timelessness of it makes it rather lyrical. The very structure as well of each line and stanza make the poem almost sound like. She falters only once very slightly with the meter of each line that seems to follow an 8, 6, 8, 6 meter structure. Line five seems to be the only spot where this is violated, but it is so subtle that it does not interfere with the flow of the poem, especially being that the anomaly exists in a line that does not contribute significantly to the a, b, c, b rhyme scheme.

In fact, I think it is the rhyme scheme and the meter that make this poem read like a song. It’s subject matter too describes something that transcends her time, the anxiety certainly something that could happen to anyone even today. Even if this were not about anti social anxiety brought about by being uncomfortably crowded, it’s language and setting is still something that is very universal and will continue to instill a sense of anxiety.

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Ralph, Roth and Helen Concerning the Neuronovel

Lodge’s Thinks definitely raises some interesting ideas about consciousness and really pits two opposing ways of thought against one another personified in Helen and Ralph. Thinks then, overall, is both deterministic and reductive as per Roth’s remarks. It is rather easy to determine that Ralph represents the reductive and Helen, whom at first seems like a literary tool to assist the reader in understanding Ralph’s neurological jargon, ends up being the deterministic counterpart to Ralph’s ideas.

I noticed that others have brought up the conversation between Helen and Ralph about her husband’s passing early on in the novel and agree that it raises some interesting points and questions. Helen delivers the question straight on to the reader on page 35, “So you think that when we die we just cease to exist?” This raises the question of afterlife and what happens to our consciousness. Helen seems to believe in a “spirit” or “soul” at this point, a product of her Catholic upbringing and thus rather deterministic in nature, while Ralph takes her terms and explains them as methods “of talking about certain kinds of brain activity.” Ironically, Helen, who seems to believe in a life after death is afraid of if, while Ralph, whose reductive reasoning suspects nothing after death seems to be indifferent to his inevitable fate. Helen then voices the very fear of many: that “it seems pointless to spend years… if nothing of that self survives death.” I’m surprised to find that both Helen and Ralph turn to what seems to be legacy building, or an attempt to be remembered after death. Is then the point of existence to be remembered?

To further establish Helen as the deterministic counterpart, we need to dissect the circumstances that lead her decision making. It is the outside influences that guide her to her eventual affair with Ralph. If her reasoning was merely reductive in nature, she would have succumbed to her initial desires for Ralph early on. However, societal norms surrounding the death of her husband and more importantly, Ralph’s marital status and her upbringing as a Catholic delay the affair. It is only when other outside forces, or rather, everyone else’s infidelity is revealed that she subjects herself to adultery.

More literally, Helen and Ralph have a conversation concerning the self that firmly shows their polarity in opinion and thought. There is “some quality of experience that is unique… that can’t be described objectively or explained in purely physical terms. So one might… call it an immaterial self or soul.” However, although Ralph agrees with the existence that Helen alludes to, he insists that “it’s still a machine.”(102)

Towards the end, the novel seems to give way to the deterministic. Lodge does so cleverly by utilizing a few different methods. Giving Helen the “final word” seems to suggest that the deterministic way of interpretation should have the final word. While Ralph is rather composed in his opinion of consciousness, he is flawed in his own stream of consciousness, being influenced by outside circumstances and to follow in Lodges footsteps of romping through these thoughts, Ralph’s sexual drive should be viewed by him as merely reproductive hard wiring, but his brush with death seems to interfere this. His decisions toward the end become based upon outside influences (mostly other characters). The structure of the novel’s narration seems to be designed to instill a feeling throughout. In the beginning, the narration is very rigid, a clear ping pong transition between Helen and Ralph narrating with the occasional third intervening for sake of omnipresent convenience. However, as relationships complicate, events intermingle and outside influences shape the chaos surrounding the characters, the narration seems to do the same. Chapters with correspondence between characters appear, third person and dialogue between other characters take over other chapters and at times, the style of narration changes and confuses, such as Ralph’s entry that begins almost identically as Helen’s, but quickly changes as he explains the absence of the pearlcorder, the device he had used to narrate most of the novel. Finally, everything seems to come to a point toward the end, Ralph’s Czech blackmailer, possible cancer, a web of infidelity, Helen’s departure, the investigation into Duggers and his suicide. Bombarding the reader at the end stirs emotion, our own consciousness influenced by the sudden chaos as we empathize with the characters who have grappled reductive and deterministic throughout the novel.

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