This paper suggests a distinction in modes of perception between an immersive "environmental" awareness attuned to variations in the surroundings directly lived as a complex relational field, and a subtractive awareness, attuned to affordances in the field of experience, which extracts discrete objects and positional griddings from its moving complexity. Accounts by "classical" autists (formerly called "low-functioning") of their perceptual experience and its relation to objectification and language are used to develop the concept of environmental awareness. The distinction between environmental awareness and subtractive awareness is deployed not as a dichotomy, but as a polarity governing a continuum of variable intermixing between the modes. Environmental awareness is backgrounded but not lacking in "neurotypical" experience. Each mode of perception along the spectrum is construed as a mode of existence and form of life, differing notably as regards the role accorded to nonhuman elements of experience. This suggests an ethic of neurodiversity as part of a politics that would be ecological in the broadest sense.
The notion of existence involves the notion of an environment of existences and of types of existences. Any one instance of existence involves other existences, connected with it and yet beyond it. This notion of the environment introduces the notion of the ‘more and less’, and of multiplicity.1 (Whitehead)
“There was very little difference in meaning,” says autist Daina Krumins, “between the children next to the lake that I was playing with and the turtle sitting on the log. It seems,” she continues, “that when most people think of something being alive they really mean, human.”2
What is it we really mean, when we say human? According to autism activist Amanda Baggs, we certainly don’t mean “autistic.”3 We mean neurotypical, we mean expressing oneself predominantly in spoken language, and most of all, we mean immediately focused on humans to the detriment of other elements in the environment.4 “Most people attend to human voices above all else.” (Krumins)
“I hear the rocks and the trees.” (MM)5
For autism researcher Simon Baron-Cohen, to hear the rocks and the trees on an equal footing with the voices of children is a sign of what he calls mindblindness. He defines mindblindness as an “inability to develop an awareness of what is in the mind of another human.” To have mindblindness, he says, is to lack empathy. It is to be generally unrelational. He says that this is what defines autists.6
Yet from the autist, we hear neither a rejection of the human, nor a turning away from relation. What we hear is an engagement with the more-than-human: “I attend to everything the same way with no discrimination, so that the caw of the crow in the tree is as clear and important as the voice of the person I’m walking with.” (Krumins) And an engagment with a more textured relating: “My world is organized around textures. […] All emotions, perceptions, my whole world […] [has] been influenced by textures.”7 (Krumins)
To experience the texture of the world without discrimination is not indifference. Texture is patterned, full of contrast and movement, gradients and transitions. It is complex and differentiated. To attend to everything the same way is not an inattention to life. It is to pay equal attention to the full range of life’s texturing complexity, with an entranced and unhierarchized commitment to the way in which the organic and the inorganic, colour, sound, smell, and rhythm, perception...
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This volume is dedicated to the question of how dance, both in its historical and in its contemporary manifestations, is intricately linked to conceptualisations of the political. Whereas in this context the term "policy" means the reproduction of hegemonic power relations within already existing institutional structures, politics refers to those practices which question the space of policy as such by inscribing that into its surface which has had no place before. The art of choreography consists in distributing bodies and their relations in space. It is a distribution of parts that within the field of the visible and the sayable allocates positions to specific bodies. Yet in the confrontation between bodies and their relations, a deframing and dislocating of positions may take place. The essays included in this book are aimed at the multiple connections between politics, community, dance, and globalisation from the perspective of e.g. Dance and Theatre Studies, History, Philosophy, and Sociology.