Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Because I need a schedule...

...here's my reading/blogging schedule for the week:

  • Monday--read Introduction to Foucault Reader, started Madness and Civilization
  • Tuesday--read Madness and Civilization
  • Wednesday--finish Madness and Civilization, start The Birth of the Clinic
  • Thursday--read The Birth of the Clinic
  • Friday--finish The Birth of the Clinic
  • Saturday--blog out Foucault
  • Sunday--blog out Foucault
  • Monday--blog out Foucault
  • Tuesday--Start working with UB (9-5), work on dissertation prospectus from 9-11 every night through month of June
...and my "tentative" dissertation schedule (that's subject to revision):
  • July 1st--Prospectus draft to Dr. T
  • September-ish--Defend Prospectus
  • September-August 2008--Write dissertation from 9-11 every night. Goal: 2 pages/night. 10 pages/week.
  • August 2008--Completed rough draft to Dr. T
  • August-October/November--Revise rough draft
  • December/January--Defend dissertation
  • May 2009--Graduate

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Engendering Idiocy

One last interesting observation from Trent:

"Before the war, moral idiots were [...] almost always male, and like him they were portrayed as responding to the good efforts of the asylum to rescue them from their moral degeneracy. when the superintendents wrote about this type of idiot, their illustrations were of 'boys' who had improved both intellectually and morally under the tutelage of the institution. A decade after the war the discovery of female moral imbeciles, whose moral imbecility included the ability to bear illegitimate children, added a new urgency to the type. With their discovery, images like those of Grubb and other male moral idiots began to compete with new and more threatening images. In a few decades, the threat of a baby in the arm would substitute for the promise of a book in the hand" (Trent 23).

"Moralizing Idiocy"

Seguin's definition of idiocy rested on "educational potential" (Trent 18).

However, Linus Brockett, in 1855, took idiocy as a reflection of physical abnormalities:

"We should define idiocy...as the result of an infirmity of the body which prevents, to a greater or less extent, the development of the physical, moral and intellectual powers" (qtd in Trent 18).

R. J. Patterson notes "Idiocy, then, has a physical rather than a mental origin" (qtd in Trent 18).

As Trent notes, "For these early reformers the pathological emphasis was associated with a widely held view of degenerative and polymorphous heredity. Idiocy was related to many 'sins of the father': intemperance, poverty, consanguinity (meaning marriage between cousins), insanity, scrofula, consumption, licentious habits, failed attempts at abortion, and overwork in the quest for wealth and power. 'The vast majority of idiocy in our world,' claimed Brockett, 'is the direct result of violation of the physical and moral laws which govern our being; that often times the sins of the father are thus visited upon their children; and that the parent, for the sake of a momentary gratification of his depraved appetite, inflicts upon his hapless offspring a life of utter vacuity'" (qtd in Trent 18).

"A moral component was linked closely" (Trent 19).

I found this description of an "idiot" in 1860 particularly relevant for autism studies: "Given to making bizarre noises, masturbating frequently and in public, eating their own excrement, and abusing themselves, these transformed 'worst cases' convinced audiences of the salubrious effects of careful and intensive education" (Trent 19). It was, particularly, this description that got me thinking about the archival research into 19th century "idiots"--these behaviors are very, very common among autistics.

"Pathologizing Idiocy"

Another interesting quotation:

"For Seguin, idiocy was a failure of the will. Training techniques mastered by Seguin were used to excite the will, to invigorate the muscles, and to train the senses, all leading to higher cognitive development. Idiots unwilling to exercise their senses were blocked from this higher development. Thus the lack (or failure) of will was manifested as a functional blockage. Proper education through what he called physiological training, coupled with moral treatment, was the only successful way to break through this blockage" (Trent 16).

"By 1852, Wilbur had identified four types: simulative idiocy defined people whose development was merely retarded and who could be prepared for 'the ordinary duties and enjoyments of humanity'; higher-grade idiocy defined those who would eventually enter common school ' to be qualified...for civil usefulness and social happiness'; lower-grade idiocy applied to people who could become 'decent in their habit, more obedient, furnished with more extended means of happiness, educated in some simple occupations and industry, capable of self-support under judicious management in their own families, or in well conducted public industrial institutions for adults idiots'; and incurables were idiots for whom education was a goal in itself (New York Asylum for Idiots 1852, 18-21). Going beyond Seguin then, Wilbur defined idiocy to emphasize gradations of the condition. Idiocy became types of idiots" (Trent 17).

Some rhetorical reasoning...

Another thought I've been bouncing around since the VTech shootings and the media speculations that Cho was autistic: the emphasis on deductive reasoning in regard to disability, criminality, and Cho.

Cho was psychotic.
Cho was autistic.
Autistics are psychotic.

Or, for that matter:

Cho lacked empathy.
Autistics lack empathy.
Cho was autistic.

For a discussion on the criminality of autism? There's plenty of discussion out there on the "lack of empathy" arguments made in regard to autism and schizophrenia, autism and criminality...

"Inventing Idiocy"

So, I'm still reading through Trent's book--due back tomorrow to the library--and here's some important points I've noted thus far:

Interesting note in regard to "idiots" in early 19th century: "Although postrevolutionary Americans might feel humor, sympathy, benevolence, and even admiration for the familiar local idiot, after the panic of 1819 they began to view idiocy with a mixture of curiosity, anxiety, and after the Civil War, fear. This change of perspective--from particular individuals to a general type--began with a major shift in the way Americans dealt with a host of so-called dependents (the unemployed and criminals).

Before 1820, most dependent people (but especially the unworthy) were linked by what was believed to be their common moral frailty. Ignorance, idleness, intemperance, and prodigality, which led to hastily arranged marriages, gambling, frequenting the pawn broker, prostitution, and so forth--were associated with America's depend populations (Society for the Prevention of Pauperism 1818, 3-6). Only their 'worthiness' distinguished one dependent group from the other, and only the worthy received local public assistance. This help usually came in the form of so-called outdoor relief, that is, relief that respectable dependents received in their homes or in the homes of care givers."

So, points to note here--

1. Contemporary contexts to create own shift in regard to "fear" of autism. Catalyst that prompted the contemporary fear--as reflected in media and metaphors used to describe autism? Began in 1990's or so... So, what prompted this newfound fear? More importantly for rhetoric, how specifically is the fear reflected in the media? "Army of autistic children."

My initial answer: I think the Internet has something to do with this fear. Of course, this is just speculative, but I can't help but believe that the availability of resources and information has increased awareness of autism--both for good and bad. Grinker believes in Unstrange Minds that autism rates haven't gone up; rather our awareness of autism has enabled better diagnoses. Availability of information, via the Internet, for starters, in my opinion. But, with information and newly diagnoses cases of autism comes fear of a disability that we know so little about. Add to that the fear of technology... (I'm thinking Katherine Hayles' work on posthumanity might be something to looking into for this sort of discussion. Maybe a later post?)

2. The first paragraph makes for an interesting discussion on "high-functioning" and "low-functioning" autism ("low-functioning" is more typically replaced with "classic" autism). While scholars have noted the connection between "functioning" and productivity (Trent discusses this also on pages 24 and 25), but I'm thinking there's also a connection here between high and low functioning and morality. High-functioning--able to reason "right" from "wrong." Low-functioning--not as clearly discernible. Additionally, the possibility of morality more recognizable/thought in "higher" functioning autistics. Going back to fear here, we fear what we don't know/can't control. If "low-functioning" autistics can't be taught "right" from "wrong," they are potential dangers to society--in theory, of course. I think this morality issue is a relevant one, especially considering my paper for SAMLA on autism and God.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

"Inventing the Feeble Mind"

I'm reading Inventing the Feeble Mind: A History of Mental Retardation in the United States right now, and I'm struck by James Trent's lengthy discussion on mental "idiocy" in the 19th century. Which has me thinking about a couple things:
  1. "Crisis" or "epidemic" rhetoric of autism is reliant on autism as a construction of 20th-21st century epidemiology. Autism has to be caused by mercury, pollution, toxins... But...
  2. One could look at archival material of "idiocy" in 19th century, if one were so inclined, to "identify" autistic individuals in 19th century using 20th century diagnostic criteria. While this isn't something I necessarily want to do in my dissertation, it's a relevant point and one that could be further explored in a lengthier study.
  3. If autism did exist in 19th century (as I believe it did) then why the need to begin any history of autism with Kanner in early 20th century? Why not go back and look at archival research of "idiots" in America in 19th century? "Idiots" existed. So, why does "autism" only begin with Kanner? My answer: ease of accessibility. If one were to look at archival material/records of "idiots" and their behaviors in 19th century, that would be a HUGE undertaking. Enormous. (Maybe a smaller analysis would be appropriate for a chapter/section of one's dissertation?) But, to do a comprehensive exploration of autism and mental impairment in the 19th century? That's a huge undertaking. One reason being the accessibility of records and documents. BUT to look at 20th century cases of autism? Not as hard. One, the diagnostic criteria exists already. Two, media. **We don't know about what we don't know about. **
Just some thoughts I was bouncing around in my noggin this morning...

Back to work...

The Spring semester's over, so it's time to start cracking down on the dissertation. The Summer of the Dissertation.

Thoughts I'm bouncing around:

  • First, proposal draft to Dr. Thompson by July 1st.
  • I'm going to read and work on writing at least 2 pages a day during July and August. During June, I'll be busy working for Upward Bound but July and August are just for drafting out ideas. Whether they become part of the dissertation or not, who knows, but they'll become part of my "writing out" my thoughts. Can't get to Z without going through A, B, C...
  • Write one chapter a semester. Maybe two if the momentum is going. I'm going to utilize my strengths--endurance. I'm good at doing a little bit everyday. So, that's the plan. 3-4 pages a week during the long semesters. Maybe more, maybe less. This should have me completed and ready to defend in December 2008 and to graduate by May 2009.

Some good news...

My proposal was accepted at SAMLA. I'll be presenting my paper in November with some notable names in autism research. Yea, me.