Enjolras on the Autism Spectrum?

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Marianne
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Re: Enjolras on the Autism Spectrum?

Postby Marianne » Thu Dec 16, 2010 8:24 am

But I have to admit (because this is a personal hobby of mine) that, if you can take Enjolras at face value on any level (that's a big if), he's kind of fun to speculate on. In fanfiction and the like, of course, as MmeJavert said. I wouldn't have the nerve to speak for Hugo on the subject.


Oh yeah, definitely. I wasn't trying to shut down the conversation or imply that anyone is WRONG WRONG WRONG for interpreting Enjolras that way, just that I don't see it. And I agree that while Hugo almost certainly didn't intend for him to be on the autism spectrum, as no such thing had even been identified and Hugo had other purposes in mind, it is possible to read Enjolras "at face value" as you said, and come up with things that Hugo never intended but that make sense.

Compare it to slash for example. Slash for 19th century literature is ludicrous on the face of it--taking modern concepts of sexual orientation and slapping them onto characters who lived before the idea of a homosexual identity emerged, who come from a book that was written before the idea of a homosexual identity emerged, whose authors may or may not have intended hints of same-sex attraction but almost certainly wouldn't have thought of any of the characters as "gay" because the idea barely existed. And yet... while the question of "why do people write slash?" is extremely complex, a huge component of it is the need for queer readings of texts. The itch to subvert and to pick out the undercurrents of sexual difference in the overwhelmingly straight world of storytelling, to say "just because they ignored it or didn't represent it in the way we think of it today doesn't mean it was never there," is apparently so pressing that it pushes fans--not just academics or activists--to write slash.

I think there's a similar case to be made for mental disorders, and not just because they too tend to either get kicked under the rug or portrayed in horribly offensive ways. The article Jess posted suggests that mental illness, like sexuality, has a tendency to take on the shape of the box that best fits it--it doesn't mean anyone's faking it or can change it consciously, but that the way it manifests depends on social structures for most of the population. So no, autism hadn't been identified in Hugo's day, and he wasn't deliberately writing about it, and nobody in the book is a textbook Aspie. But very few people at that time probably were textbook Aspies--they might've had a lot of the traits, but the traits hadn't yet been grouped into a specific way of identifying them, and probably manifested rather differently, especially in higher-functoning people. So it's valid to look for ASD traits in a character even if the author never thought of it, and the threshold for when you can consider a character an Aspie is much lower. And beyond that, well, if there's a need for these kinds of readings--whether it's so that readers can have characters to identify with, or out of a general desire to fuck with the assumption that everyone is neurotypical unless proven otherwise--then I'm not going to argue with them.

ALL THAT SAID... I think Javert is a much better candidate for such a reading than Enjolras. *ducks and runs*
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Re: Enjolras on the Autism Spectrum?

Postby Hannah » Thu Dec 16, 2010 11:36 am

Yeah um I'd just like to jump in and say that I think that non-neurotypical analysis of fictional characters is just as important as thing like queer interpretations and ....ngghhh the way this kind of got jumped on makes me extremely uncomfortable! I can't really organize or gather my brain-thoughts rn to say more than that, but. ...Yeah.

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Re: Enjolras on the Autism Spectrum?

Postby MmeJavert » Thu Dec 16, 2010 2:10 pm

I really didn't mean to make it seem like I was jumping on anyone. :( Just that it's something that bugs me, and I have a hard time explaining why, especially because when people do the same thing to modern fiction like Harry Potter I really couldn't care less. It's probably the historical aspect of it, but... it really does make me squirmy inside to see people taking characters from novels written in the 1700s and 1800s and applying the late 20th century mental, psychological, psychosocial, and neurological terms to them. It sort of doesn't fit; it sort of seems to me like using the wrong set of measurement units -- using meters to describe electric current, for example. I have a strange mind and don't know why this bothers me. And yeah, I don't care what happens in fanfiction, it's just that when people start applying the labels to the characters as they appear in canon it really bugs me on a personal level, I guess. I shouldn't take it personally. Because I can vaguely see the traits in Enjolras (and yes, like Marianne said, more in Javert), but it isn't as though I'm going to immediately jump to the next conclusion of pseudo-diagnosing anyone.

And I guess the reason it got dogpiled was that it looked like everyone didn't want to be the first/only person to say something or harsh anyone's squee. It bugged me from the instant I saw the first post on the topic, but I wasn't going to say anything unless someone else did because I didn't want to look like the one person ruining everyone's fun. And when I saw Marianne had said something, I decided to just expand on it with my opinion ... and so did a few others.

Man, don't take my opinion as fact or gospel truth or anything really important; I have a bunch of odd pet peeves and personal squicks, not to mention I have troubles seeing the world in anything but black and white. You can see where this is a problem concerning this topic. ;) it's just that if I start seeing autistic!Enjolras become a fanon trope I might just scream, almost as much as the pissy bossy demagogic uncanonical Enjolrati that have been on ff.net recently -- for meta purposes it's slightly different
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Re: Enjolras on the Autism Spectrum?

Postby Hannah » Thu Dec 16, 2010 2:37 pm

I get where you are coming from, MmeJavert, but as I understand it, this is not a thread for people to ~impose~ their ~modern ways of thinking~ on historical characters, it is a thread for people who usually cannot attempt to identify with characters in this way without getting shut down; if you don't think anything's *wrong* with it but you just don't see it *personally*, why do you think it's necessary to explain for paragraphs about why he is not "that way"? I think it's interesting that you say it bugs you for some reason you cannot put your finger on, because I think the reason it is bugging people that they cannot put their fingers on has a lot to do with the stigma associated with non-neurotypical people in general. Of course, there's no way *I* can see why it's bugging you on some subconscious level, but that's my hypothesis.

Because I am sure you guys are all thinking of this as a balanced discussion or whatever but what is actually happening here is... members of a marginalized group are daring to venture so far as to share interpretations of fictional characters that they can personally identify with in a way that USUALLY THEY BASICALLY NEVER CAN, and you are coming into what they were hoping would have been a safe space for that activity and telling them that they are wrong; you shouldn't be taking the idea of Enjolras as autistic personally, you're right, but you can bet your ass that the non-NT people on this board are taking the RESPONSES to this thread personally! Because what you are sounding like, whether or not you mean it, is that these fictional characters we are all so fond of are too good to be the same as them.

I really don't mean to shut down any of this conversation any more than you all did by saying this, but ... Yeah.

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Re: Enjolras on the Autism Spectrum?

Postby Marianne » Fri Dec 17, 2010 12:08 am

Just to clarify, Abaissé does not have a safe-space policy. I don't know if that's what you meant or if there was any appeal to authority in the "what they were hoping would have been a safe space" part, but given that lots of forums do have such rules where the mod policies are explicitly social-justice-oriented and not being 100% supportive of marginalized groups will get you banned... I think the words are loaded enough to require clarification. So here it is: everyone is welcome here as long as they play nice with others. That includes people with opinions you may find problematic or offensive. You're welcome to tell those people to stop pissing in your Cheerios, and that is indeed what you're doing, but there are parts of your post that make it sound like Abaissé is/should be a mod-enforced Cheerios-Pissing-Free Zone and it just isn't.

And yes, this applies more broadly: Abaissé isn't a feminist or queer safe space either, its primary purpose is to be a Les Mis discussion forum. If someone wants to come in here and argue against the validity of slashy readings, it will cause a shitstorm of argument but moderation will not be involved unless it gets nasty.

[/mod hat]

And personally, not as a mod but as a member, I don't want either side of this discussion to get shut down, because I think non-NT readings are valid but it's a complex topic and the discussion is interesting.

Part of the reason I don't see it has something to do with MmeJavert's footnote about fanon--there's like a third of the Asperger's diagnosis that fits Enjolras, but it would require some pretty damn creative thinking to make him hit the other two-thirds. So while I love the idea of ASD people being able to point to an admirable, fascinating literary character and say "see, this trait and that trait and thus-and-such pattern of behavior ARE represented in literature, I can see myself in there, and he's not a grossly stereotyped or token textbook Aspie and those traits are both advantages and limitations for him," I am leery of taking that and running all the way to "...and therefore he has Asperger's and Hugo doesn't know it and all the times he didn't fit the other criteria for the modern diagnosis are just mistakes." Not that ANYONE here has done that, but if there's one thing Les Mis fandom is good at it's pasting bullshit character traits onto Enjolras. Which is why it's important to realize that mental health patterns are affected by society and its ways of expressing them, and that "Enjolras is on the autistic spectrum" is a subversive rereading that takes elements of his characterization and puts both a modern and a non-NT spin on them, not a flat-out assumption that "he's socially reserved and has really intense interests and there seems to be a disconnect between how he and his friends think of social interaction, therefore he is also super-literal and prone to sensory overload and doesn't get nonverbal communication and probably stims." Because we've seen that he's not super-literal and he's okay with nonverbal cues, and there's no evidence either way for the other two. That's not nearly enough to disqualify such a reading--I mean it's not like we're going "M. Gillenormand sure acts like he has some sort of social anxiety!"*--but I think it's important to take into account. Because it prevents miscommunication where people think you're making wild assumptions, it keeps both you and the people reading your posts from dragging the coolness of the idea too far into wild-assumption land, and it promotes a more nuanced and less stereotyped view both of characterization and of mental illness.



* And er, before anyone thinks I'm making fun of social anxiety--I'm not, I was looking for an example of something a lot of people here can relate to and trying to think up the most ludicrous possible character to apply it to. Substitute in "Courfeyrac is clinically depressed" or "Cosette has antisocial personality disorder" or whatever will give the best comic effect.
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Re: Enjolras on the Autism Spectrum?

Postby Hannah » Fri Dec 17, 2010 12:13 am

Nope, I wasn't saying Abaisse has any mod-enforced rules about it being a safe space. I understand that it is not.

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Re: Enjolras on the Autism Spectrum?

Postby Knitterlywitch » Fri Dec 17, 2010 12:40 am

I'm sorry I started this conversation and that everyone is all angry now, you all can shut this down if it is making people angry.

:(

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Re: Enjolras on the Autism Spectrum?

Postby Knitterlywitch » Fri Dec 17, 2010 1:01 am

Hannah wrote: but you can bet your ass that the non-NT people on this board are taking the RESPONSES to this thread personally! Because what you are sounding like, whether or not you mean it, is that these fictional characters we are all so fond of are too good to be the same as them.



Yeah... At least I am. But then again, I am over-sensitive. Like I said above, I am a little sad I started this thread. But that's my problem and isn't anyone's fault. I hope I'm not huring anyone.

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Re: Enjolras on the Autism Spectrum?

Postby MmeJavert » Fri Dec 17, 2010 2:24 am

Hannah wrote:I get where you are coming from, MmeJavert, but as I understand it, this is not a thread for people to ~impose~ their ~modern ways of thinking~ on historical characters, it is a thread for people who usually cannot attempt to identify with characters in this way without getting shut down; if you don't think anything's *wrong* with it but you just don't see it *personally*, why do you think it's necessary to explain for paragraphs about why he is not "that way"? I think it's interesting that you say it bugs you for some reason you cannot put your finger on, because I think the reason it is bugging people that they cannot put their fingers on has a lot to do with the stigma associated with non-neurotypical people in general. Of course, there's no way *I* can see why it's bugging you on some subconscious level, but that's my hypothesis.

Because I am sure you guys are all thinking of this as a balanced discussion or whatever but what is actually happening here is... members of a marginalized group are daring to venture so far as to share interpretations of fictional characters that they can personally identify with in a way that USUALLY THEY BASICALLY NEVER CAN, and you are coming into what they were hoping would have been a safe space for that activity and telling them that they are wrong; you shouldn't be taking the idea of Enjolras as autistic personally, you're right, but you can bet your ass that the non-NT people on this board are taking the RESPONSES to this thread personally! Because what you are sounding like, whether or not you mean it, is that these fictional characters we are all so fond of are too good to be the same as them.

I really don't mean to shut down any of this conversation any more than you all did by saying this, but ... Yeah.


If that's what you thought it was sounding like, then I apologise.

I could clarify again, especially since you seem to have this theory that I am apparently neurotypical and am jumping on people who are not like me. And maybe that comes across, which is not what I wanted. (By the way ... I had NO FUCKING CLUE what NT stood for, until someone used the long word. I do not know all the PC terms for everything. I don't know everything, and I hate when people assume that I do and look down on me when I don't.)

My problem is *not* that people are reading traits of autism or Asperger's into their favourite characters. My problem is *not* that people are finding ways to identify with their characters. My problem is that people are taking that reading, that interpolation, and expanding it to say: "here is why I think Enjolras has autistic traits." That's what it looked like, and my mind has been rebelling. I have never been capable of expressing myself very well, and I have felt squirmy about this topic for ages a) because it bugged me and I couldn't quite explain it and b) I felt that as soon as I did someone would jump right on me.

The word "autism" did not exist when Enjolras lived. Asperger's syndrome did not exist as a classification when Enjolras lived. Same with homosexual and transsexual. These are not words you're going to apply to someone of that time period, because they did not exist. This is honestly my primary reason for getting buggy about the words. Yes, I write slash, but reading slash stories wherein characters primarily identify as gay makes me squirmy THE SAME WAY. It's the words.

I guess that makes me a prescriptivist because like I said in my post, describing 19th century mental conditions with 21st century words just doesn't work. I would feel the same way about a post asking, if Enjolras lived today, whether he would vote Democrat or GOP. It's the wrong time period; it's jarring. You're using autism and Asperger's to describe a character whose world did not know or recognise these things. I hate when people try to shoehorn historical people and characters into modern boxes.

I do NOT have a problemw with people saying, "Hey, Enjolras and his reserved demeanour reminds me of myself and my traits of autism/my Asperger's/my condition," I do not have problems with people saying that they identify with their personal favourite characters. It's when they try to stuff those characters into their favourite boxes FOR that reason that I get wiggly. And yes, it's very much trying to keep lazy characterisations out of fanon Enjolras.

It's the historical characters in the historical novels. If you took your favourite modern day novel and said they were autistic based upon the traits the author bestowed on the character, it wouldn't have any effect on me because it would be a valid interpretation: the characters live in a world where autism exists. If you started a discussion thread about Luna Lovegood's Asperger's, I wouldn't bat an eye because it would exist in that time frame of those books.

I didn't want to post on this, but it bugged me for so long and it really did look like people wanted to make this a valid reading of Enjolras. You are reading into the canon something that was not put there. It is not an invalid way to read a book or a character. But deriving something from canon does not mean it is canon. We all may have our fun with Enjolras having the hots for Grantaire based on those classical allusions, but canon is not explicitly supportive of Enjolras having sex with Grantaire. And I think as long as a) we're not trying to use late 20th century boxes to describe early 19th century characters and b) calling it CANON, I'd be less bothered. And maybe no one has gone there or said that, but it looked like it was going that way.


Enjolras is a metaphor. The ideal personified. Republic, revolution, idealism in a human. He will therefore exhibit behavioral extremes. He was the priest of the revolution. Before all else he chastely dropped his eyes. Yet he had friends, he studied. If Enjolras was a living, breathing human being, those harsh edges and sharp distinctions would be softened, his black and white would have tones of grey. You cannot explain his idealism with a mental illness; to say that his idealistic nature comes from mental illness removes the entire core of his character.

However, to say that in his pursuit of the ideal he exhibits certain tendencies, that's a different story altogether. The way he single-mindedly works towards the Ideal Republic might be a symptom of autism, but it might NOT.

I will tentatively suggest this, too: we tend to read in our favourite characters something of ourselves. Whether or not the characterisation or the traits are there, we will sometimes see those things if they are a part of ourselves. I am not saying this is wrong or bad, but I AM saying that you have to take that with a grain of salt. I identify a lot with Grantaire, some days, and tend to project my own depressive/ADD mind onto him, but I'm not ever going to put that on him as a canonically-accurate label. And I'm not implying there's something wrong with me for doing so, and I certainly don't want to imply that Knitterlywitch is wrong for seeing autism or Asperger's in Enjolras -- it's just that there are lines that look like they've been crossed. There is no visible canon support for autistic/Asperger's Enjolras. He is the ideal revolutionary republican in person. Hugo made him to be "perfect" in that respect. No, having autistic traits or Asperger's does not make you less perfect. But his ideals and the pursuit of such are not symptomatic of anything other than his own convictions. That is the reading I see, and I'd like to see counterpoint on why you DO see it as such.



Now, to be slightly modly:
Knitterlywitch, don't ever apologise for posting a topic for discussion! One of the reasons I love Abaissé is that we are all wonderfully intelligent people with informed and wonderful opinions, and if we all agreed all the time about everything it would be boring. I like alternate points of view. Sometimes I am wrong. I may be the Voice of Mod and All-Powerful where the board is concerned but I don't know or understand everything and I don't always get it all right. The times I've posted on the topic took me ages to post and then when I did I just didn't like the way anything came out.


And in general, as Marianne said: We do not call this a safe space. As administrator, I will not EVER tolerate someone making tasteless jokes or speaking carelessly about triggering concepts, but triggering concepts are not off-limits entirely. Things may be said that may upset people here. Please try to approach everything with an open mind, rather than ready to be offended. No one is required to be perfectly politically correct here at all times; the requirement is not to be an asshole, to say mean/rude things deliberately. If you are easily offended or easily hurt, or you have certain topics on which you are likely to be easily upset or triggered, you may want to steer clear of them. And yes, this applies to me as well as everyone else on this board. Please keep an open mind and of course be mindful of Abaissé Rule #1.

Me, personally, and me, as a mod, I apologise if I have ever said anything that upset you and it seemed to you it was out of line. Again, I am not perfect. I'd rather you called me out on it than sat there silently because "it's the MOD." Dude, I'm a person, just as fallible, even more so because I read everything and try to get involved in everything. You are all welcome to PM me or e-mail me if I said something to you that bugs you. I have tried very hard to stay open-minded and inclusive of all thoughts, but I often fall short.
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Re: Enjolras on the Autism Spectrum?

Postby Knitterlywitch » Fri Dec 17, 2010 2:31 am

MmeJavert wrote:

Now, to be slightly modly:
Knitterlywitch, don't ever apologise for posting a topic for discussion! One of the reasons I love Abaissé is that we are all wonderfully intelligent people with informed and wonderful opinions, and if we all agreed all the time about everything it would be boring. I like alternate points of view. Sometimes I am wrong. I may be the Voice of Mod and All-Powerful where the board is concerned but I don't know or understand everything and I don't always get it all right. The times I've posted on the topic took me ages to post and then when I did I just didn't like the way anything came out.

-------------------------
Me, personally, and me, as a mod, I apologise if I have ever said anything that upset you and it seemed to you it was out of line. Again, I am not perfect. I'd rather you called me out on it than sat there silently because "it's the MOD." Dude, I'm a person, just as fallible, even more so because I read everything and try to get involved in everything. You are all welcome to PM me or e-mail me if I said something to you that bugs you. I have tried very hard to stay open-minded and inclusive of all thoughts, but I often fall short.


It is fine. Thanks for the apology.

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Re: Enjolras on the Autism Spectrum?

Postby Hannah » Fri Dec 17, 2010 2:38 am

I totes get what you are saying and I really appreciate the efforts you are making and make to understand and listen to what I am saying, too. I 100% understand what people are saying about historical accuracy and etc etc etc. but I don't think that was really the point? I mean, ok, this is silly but I am going to compare it to vampire!Marius. Hear me out. XD These threads are both exclusively about something that is quite obviously not what the author had in mind, but which can be extrapolated from the text and are entertaining to think about, right?

The only clear difference is that if someone said "no, I object to this because I can't stand vampire fiction and Victor Hugo wouldn't have have used those tropes or terms to signify vampires", or whatever, no one would be hurt because their wary attempt to see themselves in a character they liked had been 'disproven'? IDK. I get that it's not the same, I am being silly and Knitterlywitch genuinely sees Enjolras as having identifiable traits for her, but... do you see where I am coming from with that.

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Re: Enjolras on the Autism Spectrum?

Postby MmeJavert » Fri Dec 17, 2010 2:56 am

Oh yes, I can kind of see that. The difference in MY mind is that, while the vampire thread to me looks pretty obviously meant to be more humorous than serious -- this thread looks the other way around. And I honestly think it's fine to say that you like Enjolras and want to discuss what may be autistic traits -- I just have my issues, with the thought and the implications that I saw here that it is valid in canon and that it's a box that fits. And no, historical accuracy may not be the POINT, but ... well, I think I and others have been bitten by the godawful treatment Enjolras seems to get in fanfiction and fanon. And I may have gone overboard in trying to hold off another canonically unfortunate characterisation of him.
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Re: Enjolras on the Autism Spectrum?

Postby Hannah » Fri Dec 17, 2010 3:03 am

MmeJavert wrote:well, I think I and others have been bitten by the godawful treatment Enjolras seems to get in fanfiction and fanon. And I may have gone overboard in trying to hold off another canonically unfortunate characterisation of him.


Yeah, I see this too! I think it's the pre-emptive-ness that is the issue in this case: no one has written a badly portrayed on-the-Autism-spectrum Enjolras, and getting leery because they *might*, or comparing it to other traits of badly-written Enjolrasesess ("bitchy", etc) seem to equate on-the-spectrum-ness with those other traits, to some extent. Not saying I don't think people could do some horrible shit with this idea, but they could also do some good shit, I guess! And.. well, IDK. I mean, I get that people get frustrated about fanon-Enjolrases, there is a fairly vast collection of pretty terrible ones (you could probably make some kind of hideous museum), but I think the jump from "we could see it this way" to "but that would result in some terrible-ass fic" is a bit, yeah, like you said, pre-emptive. I mean the idea of Enjolras as a person who has sex with dudes has resulted in a LOT of fic, both horrible-ass and amazing, but that doesn't have anything to do with the validity of talking about Enjolras as a person-who-bangs-dudes.

...If that makes sense

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Re: Enjolras on the Autism Spectrum?

Postby Aurelia Combeferre » Fri Dec 17, 2010 5:41 am

...yeesh, this got a little touchy. Let it be known that I respect everyone's opinions on the subject. Yes, it is true that classifications and diagnoses for developmental/mental conditions did not exist in 1868. Which is why I am not sure that Enjolras (or other favorite characters of mine) could be diagnosed exactly as on different spectrums, even though they exhibit traits that seem to fit the diagnoses thanks only to our hindsight courtesy of today's medicine.

Granted, I did point out that there are some signs, but I would have to take a better look at diagnostic criteria first. Which in hindsight, wouldn't exactly fit, especially given how *little* we know of Enjolras outside of his being the revolutionary principle personified.

It's interesting to note how behavior which could, in other eyes, be read without batting an eye or so, can be considered as a little "off" when viewed through other lenses.
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Re: Enjolras on the Autism Spectrum?

Postby Knitterlywitch » Sun Dec 19, 2010 5:08 pm

Aurelia Combeferre wrote:It's interesting to note how behavior which could, in other eyes, be read without batting an eye or so, can be considered as a little "off" when viewed through other lenses.

Does that mean if you're looking for it you'll see it?


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