Sunday, February 19, 2017

The Autism Mirror

In the day I wanted the door shut. In the night I wanted it open, to keep an eye on anything that might enter. Carol came in through the mirror. Carol looked just like me, but the look in her eyes betrayed her identity. ... I would cry and look desperately into Carol's eyes in the mirror, wanting to knokw the way out of my mental prison. I began to hit myself in frustration - slapping my own face, biting myself, and pulling out my hair. If my mother had not been so good at it, the abuse that I poured out on myself would have put her efforts to shame. - Donna Williams, Nobody Nowhere: The Remarkable Autobiography of an Autistic, 1992

I think I subconsciously project myself into the things and the people around me. In a way I feel like an observer of my physical self, I. E. the version of me that communicates, senses, and interacts with its surroundings. Almost as if my senses are a movie theater, and my body is the main character, and instead of controlling it I am only witnessing my thoughts and my actions secondhand, in the same way somebody would witness a piece of fiction told in first person. Looking in the mirror is the place I'm most likely to have a moment of cognizance. It's where I see my body and I realize I am not the imaginary man in the sensory movie theater. The body I see doesn't belong to a protagonist in a theoretical fiction. It is mine. And when other people look at me, that is the way they see me. And when they remember me, what they remember is that physical manifestation. And for a brief moment, I lose the sense of self I project to the entire universe and I feel as if my sense of self is isolated to a geographic location inhabited in a universe containing many selves. Not only my self, but the selves of every other thinking creature - A friend of mine with high-functioning autism, 2017
1ST MAN But when I look in the mirror, I see some lumpy fool - "me", an...object. Reason says I have to be that thing - it moves when I move, talks when I talk. But the thought is too horrid to fathom. (He sighs) I stare into the mirror until I find a way to reconcile the two notions - how can I and that...thing be the same?
GIRL But what about now? Do you still see this "me"?
1ST MAN No, I see you. And now it makes even less sense. - Me, The Box, 2013
This article has been provoked as a consequence of the time I spent working in an early intervention centre for autistic pre-scholars. During my time in this centre I noted a particular fascination some of these children had with their mirrored image. This fascination appeared almost as fixation, accompanied with a mixture of both frustration and bliss, indicating perhaps a lack of mastery of the mirrored image and rather like the myth of narcissus, an entrapment in their own mirrored ideal ego. The question that springs forth from this observation, asks whether or not autism can be attributed to a failure at the level of the Mirror Stage? The Mirror Stage, as defined by both Lacan and Francoise Dolto, is one of the most important stages in the development of Subjectivity. It is at this stage that the child identifies with its own mirror image, a stage that is usually mastered from about six to eighteen months. For Lacan, this act marks the primordial recognition of one’s self as “I” as an imagined whole being, separate from the mother, where the mother is the first mother. It is a necessary pre-curser for entry into the symbolic order and into ownership of language. Prior to this stage the child’s body is in an autistic state, it is a fragmented body with a primitive rudimentary ego where there is little delineation between self and mother. The purpose of the Mirror Stage is to reflect to the child an imagined whole self, outlined with a clear separateness from the mother allowing for the development of the ego and the sense ‘I’ or ‘me’. - Alison Barry, Autism: Lost in the Mirror?, 2014
Right now, I am thinking about a mirror. It was a mirror in one of the rooms upstairs, in the house where I spent my second and third years of life…I would stand in front of it because I believed the mirror wanted to tell me a story. And I believed that the mirror wanted to tell me a story because I wanted to tell it a story…..One day, while I stood in front of it, I realized that it was easy to go through it and come out through it. And I realized that I could go in or come out only when the world behind me became transparent. Absolutely transparent. And where would all the colors of the world behind me go? I realized that the mirror would absorb all the colors within its own stretch of self. The blue sky behind the window would look bluer in the mirror. The sun-baked hills would turn browner in it…Stories waited for me behind the mirror. So I was needed on its other side. There was no great trouble to go through the mirror to the other side. All I needed to do was stare intensely at any shadow on the corner of the wall as it was reflected in my eyes. - Tito Rajarshi Mukhopadhyay, How Can I Talk if My Lips Don't Move: Inside My Autistic Mind, 2008 
GIRL Outside this Box, there's something more wonderful than you could ever imagine. Your "I" still exists, but somehow it exists....more. And, yes, there is an outside, but every outside is something else's inside.
1ST MAN It doesn't matter. This Box is too impenetrable to ever leave - I will never know.
A pause
GIRL As your conscience, I'm going to ask you to do one more thing.1ST MAN Yes?
GIRL Step through the mirror.
1ST MAN (He is confused, then he gets an idea) Ah. You're using a metaphor. What does it mean?
GIRL No, I mean it. Literally, step through the mirror.
1ST MAN But that's impossible.
GIRL (Reaching her hand through the mirror) Trust me.
1ST MAN, shocked, takes her hand and walks through. He looks at her.
1ST MAN You're real.
GIRL You're real, too.
- Me, The Box, 2013

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