Toward a Postcolonial Neurology: Autism, Tito Mukhopadhyay, and a New Geo-poetics of the Body

From the Journal of Literary and Cultural Disability Studies (4.3, 2010)

The article proposes the need for a postcolonial neurology, countering recent concerns about the dilution of the term postcolonial when used as metaphor. Adapting George Lakoff and Mark Johnson’s notion of “philosophy in the flesh”—the fact that cognition is embodied, which is to say radically conditioned by physiological systems—it analyzes the nonfiction work of Tito Mukhopadhyay, an Indian writer in America whom the medical community would describe as “severely” autistic. The article contends that Mukhopadhyay’s alternative embodiment gives rise to both a different sense of relation and a different way with words, each in some respects preferable to the neurotypical standard. Paying attention to Mukhopadhyay’s body challenges—with proprioception, sensory processing, over- and under-inclusion of details in his apprehension of the environment, word finding, a drive to associate, a persistent animism, and synesthesia—it suggests that he is a cross-cultural, cross-sensorial migrant: a neuro-cosmopolitan armed with metaphor in a world that is often quite hostile to the neurological other. Finally, it situates Mukhopadhyay’s writing squarely in the burgeoning neurodiversity movement, which, though recognizing the difficulties that autism often presents, nonetheless asks that it be treated and accommodated as difference.

Read Toward a Postcolonial Neurology (PDF).