Reading/Book Talk: Ralph Savarese, The Body Is a Big Sagacity
March 12 @ 4:00 pm - 6:00 pm
Thursday March 12,4-6 PM,
239 Greene Street, 8th floor commons
Ralph Savarese (Grinnell College)
The Body Is a Big Sagacity: Reading Leslie Marmon Silko’s Ceremony with Autist Jamie Burke
From: See it Feelingly: Classic Novels, Autistic Readers and the Schooling of a No-Good English Professor
Discussant: Kristie Koenig
Jamie Burke, a white, autistic self-advocate, learned to speak through innovative occupational therapy at the age of thirteen. At Syracuse University, he minored in Native American Studies, having long been interested in the nations of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy. Burke and Savarese, who is also white, spent several months discussing Leslie Marmon Silko’s novel Ceremony, which relates the story of a mixed-race veteran who returns from combat to the Laguna Pueblo reservation in a state of traumatized dysfunction. Burke’s familiarity with Native American culture and his talents as a “spatial visualizer” helped to illuminate the novel’s spiritual geography, which has perplexed some readers. As the two men explored a new emphasis in the scientific literature on motor impairments in autism—both their wide-ranging repercussions and potential amelioration—Burke connected his own improbable journey to speech with the protagonist’s improbable journey to wholeness through ceremonial movement. What emerged in their conversations was a more dynamic understanding of readerly identification and, just as important, a new conception of health or well-being. The very idea of allyship, across racial, ethnic and neurological differences, seemed as thorny as ever yet somehow reinvigorated. A blend of ethnography, neuroscience, literary analysis, and disability studies, the talk pushes back against sweeping claims of imaginative and interpretive incapacity in autism.
Bio: Ralph James Savarese is the author of two books, Reasonable People: A Memoir of Autism and Adoption (Other Press, 2007) and See It Feelingly: Classic Novels, Autistic Readers, and the Schooling of a No-Good English Professor (Duke UP, 2018). He is also the co-editor of three collections, including the first on the concept of neurodiversity. A fourth, The Futures of Neurodiversity, is under contract with the Modern Language Association. In 2012-2013, he was a neurohumanities fellow at Duke University’s Institute for Brain Sciences. A documentary about his son’s inclusion journey appeared on PBS in 2017 and won a Peabody Award. Titled Deej, it follows DJ from high school to Oberlin College, where he was that institution’s first nonspeaking student with autism. Ralph teaches American literature, creative writing, and disability studies at Grinnell College in Iowa.
Co-Sponsors: NYU Departments of Media, Culture, and Communication, English, and Occupational Therapy.