Autism As Artistic Device

by Matt Sitman

Tom Cutterham asks what Christopher and Oskar, the autistic narrators of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, respectively, can teach us about contemporary subjectivity:

The kind of knowledge Christopher and Oskar lack isn’t information — they both have plenty of that. It’s technique. And imagining that lack means we imagine its negative image as well: the subject-supposed-to-know, the person without autism, who can read minds through his or her far more complete grasp of the social world. In other words, we readers see things the narrator can’t, even though he is the one doing the description. It’s precisely this dramatic irony that drives the affect of the novels. The disparity in knowledge doesn’t just create distance between reader and narrator, it creates a kind of closeness, too.

Such relationships with characters makes us feel a little bit like parents. That is, they makes us feel the kind of care that comes with knowledge and power. We know what kind of chaos and hurt will ensue when Christopher turns up unexpectedly to live with his estranged mother and her lover, and just because he doesn’t, we hope it’ll turn out all right anyway. And at the same time that we root for Christopher and Oskar not to get hurt, we excuse the pain they cause to other people. They don’t know what they’re doing, so it’s not their fault.

Recent Dish on autism here and here.