Content: psychiatric abuse
I am thinking about a field. This field is filled with pinwheels. I stim in this field. Hands wrenching, full and swaying body movements, words that are cool and crisp, words like pulchritudinous, all echo-localized, parallelism is repetition but repetition isn’t always parallel, pinwheels, pinwheels, pinwheels.
I am lately working on a book project, a book project about the neurologically queer and how we crip rhetorical traditions. In support of my book project, I’ve had to read a great deal of psychiatric literature. By psychiatric literature, I mean the kind of literature that beholds the mentally disabled as though we are animal crackers. The gaze, the psychoanalytic gaze: Autistics are anthropomorphic cookies, and doctors will probe and digest our body parts, piece by piece.
Somewhere in the field, a pinwheel crumbles under the weight of painful metaphor.
Daily reading, part one. Ivar Lovaas constructs his shock room in the late 1950s. He lines the floor with electrodes. He sends in a child patient, a child patient with a flappy, swaying, stimming body. He flips a switch. The child convulses. She learns a lesson, until she stims again, until she finds her neuroqueer self wiggling and spinning in clinical spaces with shocking gazes.
Daily reading, part two. Frances Tustin in 1972 declares that the nipple is an autistic object. I first read Tustin while in the field, my hands roaming, fingers tangled in rubber bands. “The nipple is an autistic object,” she writes. Several years earlier, Bruno Bettelheim analyzed drawings from his “feeble-minded” child patients, in search of nipples. Nipples he found. Nipples, and breasts, black breasts and white breasts, racialized interpretations of autistic drawings, nipples, finger paintings plentiful in nipples, oh, the rhetoricity of the nipple.
I am stimming as I read of these things, clinicians and their autistic objects. Tustin suggests that stimming, that autistic gesture writ large, is a kind of psychogenic nipple play. Autistics are always searching for breasts, for that which we supposedly lost. While I ponder Tustin in the field, I channel SAT prep books. Breasts are to autistics as car keys are to neurotypicals. Analogies abound. I imagine Tustin rummaging through a pocketful of breasts, a fruitless search. I look at the dust jacket on my book, where a reviewer in 1995 notes that Tustin’s work is still relevant “today.” How long must we dwell in “today”?
Part three, 1967. Bertram Ruttenberg and Enid Wolf declare that echolalia — the repetition of words and phrases — is a kind of autistic autoeroticism. (Or, is autistic autoeroticism redundant?) Nipple, I mutter to myself. Nipple, nipple, nipple. I think about arousal and the so-called prison that is autism, a prison so-called by breast-obsessed shrinks and the proteges of B.F. Skinner. I think about rhetorical arousal, erotic rhetorics, autistic eros, the electric current that narrates our history and our present. I wonder about the nipple as an autistic placeholder: the meaning in movement, the queering of pinwheels in a field, where autistic objects of all sorts commune.