I am taking some of the free classes offered by Coursera. I am currently taking a social work class on the Social Context of Mental Health and Illness, which is fascinating. I’m taking an Introduction to Epigenetics class that is challenging but I scored 100% on my first exam. I recently finished auditing a class on Medical Neuroscience and I’m currently auditing a class on Audio Engineering for which I will be building a ten-watt practice amplifier to study electronics and sound waves. I’m starting a series of courses from Berklee School of Music on composition and recording later this month.
I am taking these classes because I am fascinated by the subject matters and because the things I learn will help me to understand my life better (especially classes in neuroscience, health, genetics, etc. since I am Autistic and these are useful things to understand if I want to understand the physical reality of my neurotype.) The music classes will help me to become a better musician and sound engineer. I think Coursera is a great resource for people who love to learn and want to broaden their horizons but do not do so well in traditional classrooms for whatever reasons. Taking Coursera classes is transforming my life and here is a Coursera blog article about another Autistic person who is blossoming through taking Coursera classes as well: Not Impossible: The Story of Daniel, a 17 Year Old with Severe Autism & His 6 Completed Coursera Courses
I am also currently taking a literature class, taught by Professor Weinstein from Brown University, that attracted me with the title “The Fiction of Relationship.” I think it is pretty obvious why an Autistic would find that title appealing. I am nearly half-way through that class and I wanted to share my most recent assignment here because I found myself writing about autism and I thought others might like to read what I wrote.
The assignment was to make a short piece of creative writing (short story, poem) based on Kafka’s stories with a 150-200 word rationale for how it relates to the fiction of relationship in the story and in real life.
Autism As Metamorphosis: A Poem
“When you stop speaking, you’re one step away from no longer being a human.”
– Professor Weinstein, Kafka Group Discussion, 20 minutes.
Gregor Samsa awoke as an insect. He was thrown out with the garbage, barely noticed by his family.
Maxwell Eyer was born autistic. His father ignored the little broken body after he beat his son to death.
Who stole the child, can you tell me? Did vaccines build this shell, this hardened carapace? Or was it faeries who crept away in the night, leaving the changeling in his place? Gregor Samsa never asked why as his father shattered his delicate exoskeleton. Jori Lirette did not ask why as his father removed his estranged head from his foreign body.
The insect cannot speak. Inside, Gregor loved, Gregor mourned, Gregor starved, Gregor dreamed. The autistic flaps his hands, he spins in circles. If he cannot say, “I hurt,” if he cannot say, “Daddy, I love you,” is he human? Inside he loves, he mourns, he starves, he dreams. Gabriel Britt’s father saw little more than the insect as he suffocated his six-year-old son to death.
James Joseph Cummings Jr, William Lash III, Marcus Fiesel, Ulysses Stable, Christian Clay Jenkins, Jeremy Bostick, Rohit Singh – these are Other. These are Gregor Samsa. These are autistic children destroyed by their fathers, destroyed so the family could walk again in the sunlight, unencumbered by the secret shame that once held them prisoner.
What cannot be comprehended is destined for destruction. If we cannot find our own point of transformation, we risk throwing apples at our children, having mistaken them for insects.
This poem examines the very real tragedy of fathers who murder their autistic children, juxtaposed against the “anti-Oedipal” (Weinstein, lecture 5.4) story of Kafka’s Metamorphosis in which Gregor Samsa’s father kills him because he is no longer able to see Gregor’s humanity inside the insect to which Gregor had transformed overnight. Just as the reader can understand that Gregor is still “in there” and witnesses the great tragedy of his death at the hands of an unforgiving father, those who care about the fate of autistics understand that there is a human child “in there” and mourn the tragedy when that child’s parent is unable to see past the illusions of non-speaking autism and resorts to killing their child who has come to represent little more than a drain of personal and financial resources with no more value than an insect.
The fiction of relationship in a case like Gregor’s, where he becomes an insect, or in the real world cases of murdered autistic children is the illusion that Gregor (or Maxwell, Jori, Gabriel, et al.) has become “Other” in any sense different from the foundational human condition in which everyone is “Other.” Because someone does not “look human”, because they cannot speak, because they move differently – this does not make them Other in any way more real than the way that all humans, by virtue of living inside a different skin with a different brain and thoughts impenetrable to us, are inherently Other.
Relationship is a happy illusion. Other is an unfortunate illusion. But the truth of human lives, mingling together, is a complex mid-point between connection and Other. So long as disabled children can be othered as easily as an insect, art does not have a privileged role in illuminating the illusion of metamorphosis. So long as parents can kill their own children for the burden of their disability, life illuminates the metamorphosis viscerally, undeniably, tragically.
Brown, Lydia. “Honoring the Dead”. Autistic Hoya. 2 March 2013. Web. 7 July 2013.
Kafka, Franz. The Metamorphosis and Other Stories. Trans. Willa and Edwin Muir. New York: Schocken Books, 1995. Kindle.