Tracing Autistic Expression in Literature

The language of autism has been “pathologized and devalued,” according to Professor Julia Miele Rodas (Bronx Community College). Her new book, Autistic Disturbances: Theorizing Autism Poetics from the DSM to Robinson Crusoe, proposes a “poetics” of autistic expression by tracing speech and language patterns particular to the disorder that arise in literature and poetry.  

Rather than use a person-based approach, Rodas analyzes the writing of Gertrude Stein, Walt Whitman, Daniel Defoe, Andy Warhol, and others, examining how their work invokes resonances, structures, tones, and more. All of which, she argues, invite a greater understanding of autistic language. 

Rodas clarifies that her point is not to retroactively diagnose any writer or pop culture figure, nor to pathologize autistic language. Instead, her book positions “devalued” autistic language alongside “valued” literary and poetic language in order to shift how readers view autistic expression. “It is the language of the everyday, but it is not ordinary language,” she writes.

Speaking with SUM, Rodas explains, “I hope that scholars and readers of literature will notice autistic resonances in texts they already love, and that they’ll think about how familiar texts owe a kind of debt to autistic ways of speaking. Also that people will recognize that autistic ways of speaking have authentic value and folks will invest more in listening to autistic people in everyday life.”

Rodas will deliver a talk about her new book on Sept. 5 at CUNY’s School for Professional Studies. That event arises out of a larger lecture series on Disability Studies she has been co-organizing with several other CUNY faculty and graduate students. It is co-sponsored by the CUNY Disability Scholars group.

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Book Cover: 'Autistic Disturbances' by Julia Miele Rodas
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Autistic Disturbances: Theorizing Autism Poetics from the DSM to Robinson Crusoe
University of Michigan Press, 2018

Work By
Julia Miele Rodas (Professor, English) | Profile 1 | Profile 2

Colleges and Schools
Bronx Community College

Bonus Content
CUNY Disability Scholars: Upcoming Events

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