“Some reflections on System Rhetoric, Dissent and Networks of Care” by Oyku Akin

In the third chapter of Autistic Disturbances, On the Surprising Elasticity of Taxonomical Rhetoric, Rodas points out that DSM manual seems autistic when judged by its own standards of autism, but also that such a critique depends on disparaging the qualities of autistic expression. She directs our attention to the way how taxonomies, classifications and lists -in short, what she calls system rhetoric- has come to bear the burden of being always already violent and inhumane, especially in circles of critical thinking, through the critique of western rationality with its focus on hierarchy, progress and efficiency and as it relates to atrocities of colonialism, slavery, genocide and even capitalism. Thus, system rhetoric is often presented as an inherently totalitarian and violent rhetoric in stark opposition to human freedom and creativity, best expressed in narrative style. However, Rodas points out that system rhetoric and aesthetic does not necessarily and essentially lack creativity or flexibility. This statement has several implications, first and most explicit one concerning autistic discretion and expression and its value, its possibilities and its beauty, which is the core argument of the text to my understanding. However, her text also manages to poke at the sores of the philosophical body in the postmodern moment, in which science and reason have been diagnosed as rotten, and pronounces hope in opposition of the nihilism that surrounds both modernity and the postmodern thought that reacts against it. And as far as the relations between system rhetoric and totalitarianism goes, although Rodas explores Nazi regime and Arendt’s argument about the banality of evil to account for the cultural image of system rhetoric, it is also possible to think about it differently if one considers that totalitarian regimes are not necessarily about silence and erasure of dissent or dialogue; they are about coercion, compelling others to speak, to join, to show loyalty, to express desire and to conform with the existing order. To quote Roland Barthes slightly out of context, fascism does not prevent speech, it compels speech. It is important to remember here the power narratives have in the service of ideology, even though their particular shape can change -from confession culture to Goebbels Ministry of Propaganda and to fake news of the current climate. From this perspective, this sort of system rhetoric and aesthetic is not necessarily violent: in fact it could be very much dissent itself when juxtaposed against a totalitarian regime that operates through coercion to narrate one’s own being in conformity with the story of existing violent order to show loyalty. Thus, a tale about greatness of a nation can be just as oppressive as a list classifying people into races and the shape of rhetoric doesn’t make a difference, nor their shape can tell us more about their creativity or rigidity; in the end both the form and the content can not be thought separately from the power structures they depend upon. We can say that in those power structures both dominant and hegemonic meanings as well as alternative and resistant meanings are produced. Thus, instead of dismissing a system all together, Rodas explores the alternative meanings produced in that system, alongside the hegemonic and invites us to appreciate its creative and productive possibilities.

In fact, a lot of the readings we were assigned last week explore how both hegemonic and alternative meanings are produced within structures of power. If we are talking about a culture of autism it means we are also discussing who represents and is represented by this culture, which is always already shaped by power structures along the lines of race, gender, sexuality, age and so on: especially in case of autism, as with many disabilities, we are talking about a network of care in which dominant meanings associated with autism and autistic expression and behavior often reflect and influence the existing power relations. Hilton’s article on Avonte’s Law is a prime example of this phenomenon, showing how neither the problematizing of wandering nor it’s offered solution take place in a neutral or apolitical sphere. Instead, autistic behavior and decisions about autistic behavior take place in a large network of care from schools to hospitals and from state to family, and are coded with dominant meanings of autism (or race) produced in these networks, often failing to account for experiences of autistic people themselves. Whose reality and whose culture is this?

The answer to such a question, I think requires going beyond a clear division of neurotypicals and neuroqueers (or neurodiversities). Firstly, because we are all implicated and related in a network of care and dependency, but also because there seems to be something suspicious about neurotypical or normate itself. What capacities are we accepting as necessary and foundational, and how are they chosen, through which methods and which criteria, in which conditions? I wonder who among us is truly normal, meaning they can sustain an unproblematic relationship to their world and environment- even in the most conventional standards of normalcy: no depression, no mental illness, no handicaps, no sexual dysfunction, no drugs, no isolation. No wandering. What gives?

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