I’m presenting at four conferences between March and June. Two are smaller-scale, on-campus conferences with no travel required on my part. Two are national and are in California. Three of my papers will relate to ASD in some way. (And the fourth somewhat touches on disability studies.)
The papers for the two small conferences have already been written for the most part — they were portions of other projects, things written for past classes and so forth. So — two things less to worry about, I suppose. But four seems like a rather big, intimidating number right now.
I’m starting to get excited about CCCC (Conference on College Composition and Communication), which is the first conference in my slew of conferences. I’ve never been to CCCC, but from what I gather, it’s absolutely huge. And it also happens to be the big conference for my field. So, while the bigness of the conference (as well as the prospect of public speaking) have throttled me into anxiety mode, I am looking forward to attending sessions, some of which concern autism and rhet-comp. I’ve already begun scheduling my days in Excel.
My CCCC paper considers telepresence as a metaphor for autistic bodies. Typically, telepresence refers to telecommunications and the idea of virtual presence (or virtual reality): for example, when talking with someone on the phone, or even via IM or video conference, there are moments when the other person seems really there, even though they’re only virtually there. Lev Manovich, in The Language of New Media, describes telepresence as a sort of anti-presence. This whole “there but not really there” concept seems very applicable to disability when applied to issues of passing, of visibility versus invisibility. In describing the operative functions of digital media, Manovich maintains that “…telepresence can be thought of as one example of representational technologies used to enable action, that is, to allow the viewer to manipulate reality through representations” (165).
In light of Manovich, I analyze the ways in which those considered to have high-functioning autism are authored into enacting normalcy, a virtual and imposed identity: in what ways do professors regulate their students’ compositions into texts of normalcy, texts of autism, texts of defense? How does disclosure affect one’s tendencies—both bodily and rhetorically—toward (in)visibility? How do these telepresent masks resemble “good” writing or speaking?
Telepresence isn’t a perfect metaphor for the “autistic condition.” But the idea of putting up a virtual, communicative front in order to “pass” for NT, the idea that this metaphorical, bodily telepresence is often a forced thing — and the ways in which autistics are made to feel that this telepresent identity is “right” or “necessary” or “desirable” — bothers me, and I think it warrants exploration. And a metaphor of telepresence is certainly more adequate than the stupid puzzle piece. This metaphor actually considers how others (NTs, in particular) construct autism and autistics. The telepresence metaphor doesn’t blow off autistics as profound mysteries who are short a few cognitive pieces. At least, that’s my take, anyway. 🙂