Monday, May 16, 2011

Still simmering

One thing that I like about blogging is that one never knows what to expect in the comments that come into my blog. I tend not to get prolonged discussions at my blog, which is possibly a blessing in disguise as such stuff can be time-consuming. Occassionally I am delighted to receive comments from authors of books or works that I've mentioned in my blog, but I was rather surprised that an article that I published back in 2007 has recently been commented on.

It appears that a feud over whether or not a deceased famous person was or was not on the autistic spectrum is still simmering four years after a medical journal paper was published that raised the matter. The famous person is the late Janet Frame ONZ CBE, an acclaimed author from New Zealand whose life story was depicted in the movie An Angel at My Table. Janet Frame was misdiagnosed with schizophrenia when she was young and endured years of institutionalization and electroconvulsive treatment before her diagnosis was overturned. She came close to being lobotomized. Frame died during the year 2004. The literary estate of Frame's is administered by her niece Pamela Gordon, and in recent years has released a novel and poems posthumously. Pamela Gordon was not pleased when in 2007 Dr Sarah Abrahamson's paper proposing that Frame had high-functioning autism was published in the New Zealand Medical Journal. It appears that relations haven't been very cordial between Abrahamson and Gordon since then.

Abrahamson has been writing a blog for a number of years about fictional characters who display autistic features, including characters in work by Janet Frame. If you have enjoyed reading my piece about autistic fictional characters you could well enjoy reading Dr Abrahamson's blog. One thing that appears to be absent from Dr Abrahamson's writing is an acknowledgement and explanation for what appears to be an advanced level of social and personal insight displayed in the writing of Janet Frame, considering that autism is generally accepted as a condition that is inconsistent with having even average levels of insight into the personal and social areas of life, while it is also true that Frame did appear to have many features typical of autistic biographies in her life story. Is there something wrong with the idea of Frame being on the spectrum, or is there something wrong with the dry textbook definitions of autism that Dr Abrahamson appears to have based her writing on? How could there even exist an autistic novelist, considering that novels are generally about the inner lives of human characters and include at least some description of social situations? Janet Frame, James Joyce, Greg Egan, George Orwell, Sherwood Anderson, Helen Demidenko, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Herman Melville, Patricia Highsmith and Herman Hesse are all novel or story writers who have been identified as possible cases of autism/Asperger syndrome. What gives?

Pamela Gordon also has a blog, one that represents the literary estate of Janet Frame, which give details of publications of Frame's work. In this blog Gordon has some articles arguing against the idea of Frame being on the spectrum, not very convincingly in my opinion. It's interesting that this matter is still simmering all these years later. I guess it's also interesting that I'm still here writing about it all.

An Angel @ My Blog

Aspies on TV

Was the brilliant NZ author Janet Frame autistic?

Did Janet Frame have high-functioning autism?
Sarah Abrahamson
Journal of the New Zealand Medical Association. 12-October-2007, Vol 120 No 1263

A referenced list of 175 famous or important people diagnosed with an autism spectrum condition or subject of published speculation about whether they are or were on the autistic spectrum


Anonymous said...

Hi again:
Yes, we're still going on about this! I'm sorry you think my idea of autism is dry: the format of a medical journal is a little dry bu definition, and perhaps my writing skills are not up to some bloggers. I do know many actual autistic people to compare though, including one of Janet's other relatives. However, the idea of autistic people not being able to think inside the mind of others is not accurate, as this can be achieved with more effort (intellectual theory of mind), especially if the person is similar to oneself or well known to the person, and in those with high IQ. Note that Janet was fascinated with psychology, and spent a lot of effort trying to understand other people, without always a lot of success in practical ways until later in life. Note Janet also wrote mainly in detail in her novels about the internal workings of thinly disguised versions of people she knew and herself, many of whom are autistic. I find some of her depictions of totally fictional characters (eg, the younger sister in Owls do Cry) not very convincing, and almost like a cartoon. And noone is perfect at this, I think a lot of the books about autistic people (eg. The curious story of the dog etc) written by the non-autistic are not very convincing at all. That's why people like to watch The Mentalist (ie extreme social skills etc)!

Lili Marlene said...

Well, if autistic people have no impairment in understanding other minds that are similar to their own, and have no problems with creating convincing autistic fictional characters, and neurotypical people are happy to admit that they do not understand the minds of autistic people, doesn't that just prove that the supposed impairments of theory of mind in autistic people are an illusion that is a side-effect of being different and a minority?