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Title:Aesthetics, poetics, and cognition: a new minor literature by autists and modernists
Author(s):Barber Stetson, Claire Elizabeth
Director of Research:Valente, Joseph
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Valente, Joseph
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Mahaffey, Vicki; Frost, Samantha; Gaedtke, Andrew
Department / Program:English
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):literary modernism
Abstract:This dissertation begins by recognizing that many texts written at the end of the twentieth century by individuals with autism spectrum disorders share distinctive aesthetic and poetic characteristics with experimental modernist texts. Despite the literary significance ascribed to modernism, texts in both genres are still characterized in terms of lack—when literature by autists is analyzed at all. They are often treated as incoherent collections of juxtaposed fragments, which depict isolated protagonists struggling to unify their experience. This perspective is reminiscent of Uta Frith’s theory of weak central coherence, which pathologizes autists for the way that they process information. Frith’s theory and the critical maxim that modernist texts are “fragmented” are both revealed as ideologies that flatten the texts and people that they are used to analyze. They restrict the spatial relationships possible among these texts, the elements of which they are composed, and their environments. To reorient such discussions, this dissertation takes a methodological approach grounded in post-structuralism and disability studies. These theoretical areas equip readers to abandon claims of “incoherence” and instead chart multidimensional textual maps, which reveal ever more lines of flight. Specifically, Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari’s concept of a minor literature provides a framework that facilitates the analysis of contact among texts by authors from T.S. Eliot to Tito Mukhopadhyay. Less restricted by temporal boundaries than most, this literary category also depends less on a writer’s identity than a minority literature. Alternatively, a minor literature attends to the way writers subordinate a major language’s communicative function to experiments with the materials of which it is composed. It is from this perspective that authors in a minor literature become “strangers” to language. These authors interrupt cognitive processing through literary style, which is a means of joining disparate elements. Rather than juxtaposing texts by modernists and autists, this dissertation considers them adjacently as both contiguous and continuous: “always in contact…but also always repelled.” An adjacent reading gives readers access to new spatial relationships that reveal new possibilities in environments that otherwise appear arid. Overall, this project performs the kind of textual reorganization that Eliot lauds in “The Function of Criticism” (1923) by “review[ing] the past of our literature, and set[ting] the poets and the poems in a new order” to accommodate “new and strange objects in the foreground.” It reassesses the relationship between foreground and background to accommodate texts that give their characters and readers access to spaces in which alternative relationships are possible.
Issue Date:2015-09-09
Rights Information:Copyright 2015 Claire Barber-Stetson
Date Available in IDEALS:2016-03-02
Date Deposited:2015-12

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