Reclaiming Identity: The Potential of Autistic (Self-) representation in Life Writing and Literary Fiction for New Forms of Subjectivity.
Autism in Plural focuses on the contemporary proliferation and popularity of published self-narratives by people diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. These self-narratives, also called autie-biographies or autie-narratives, are all concerned with the question: what does autism mean for me as a subject? The research therefore focuses on the way in which people deal with the label of autism spectrum disorders, rather than on the discussion of the nature or reality of the condition. In other words, the emphasis lies on what, following Alison Kafer (2013), Karen Barad (2007) and Ian Hacking (1997), can be called “autism as a set of practices”. This leads us to the question whether practice – the way of dealing with a label – can influence or have effects on the diagnostic category.
Of course there are many different ways in which people can deal with a diagnosis, but the sheer number and the popularity of autism self-narratives indicates that writing about one’s own experience is one way or strategy. The question that arises is where this urge to express the self comes from. Who or what triggers us to talk/write/draw/dance about our experience and ourselves? Writing and self-expression can be private matters, a therapeutic activity, but the act of writing (and self-expression in general) is not self-evident. The relation with language, communication and narrativity is for many reasons highly complex for people with autism.
Apart from the practice of writing, my research also pays attention to the product that results from this practice of self-expression. When someone publishes a self-narrative, both off and online, she or he enters into the public sphere and the self-narrative becomes part of a broader cultural phenomenon, such as the memoir boom. This entails that it must regarded in relation to existing narrative patterns, genres, a creative industry and an audience. This complex relation between writing practice and writing product is extremely interesting and leads to the following key question: How do autie-narratives function as cultural products and as subject-constituting practices that generate categories of identity, make them recognizable and reproducible on the one hand, and question, problematize and undermine them on the other hand.