Woods’ “Nature and the Inner Man”

November 15, 2016

I chose Woods’ article because I was interested in the stark contrasts between nature and the courtly settings in the poem. I felt a lot of the points he made were apparent when I read the poem, but I had assumed the struggle for Gawain was between a lowly, natural state of man and a higher, rational state closer to god. The religious elements of the story stood out to me more as Gawain’s duty to a Lord and “the Lord” were often conflated. I assumed Gawain’s guilt served to show every man needs to show humility considering he’s apt to fall back on animal like instincts to survive. Woods gave lot of insight into this idea with Avicenna’s inner or lower thoughts, and the rational soul unique to humans. These ideas gave me more historical context for how I had already chose to read the poem, that is following the usual themes in romance narratives.

By the end of the article though, Woods gave more historical context that made me look at the poem in an entirely different context. He suggests that while looking at Gawain as a rational man that’s dealing with the natural world is a necessary part of the reading, a more intriguing view is “Gawain as a prototype of late-medieval individuality, or as an early symptom of bourgeois sensibility” (226). I thought this was fascinating because I read it with the assumption that historically prevalent view was of man being rational because of God-given reason. Woods’ suggestion though makes me rethink the order or events that made this a popular theme in romance narrative. Rather than think that Gawain’s courtly mannerisms upheld popularly held beliefs, I now feel like narratives such as this are why they became popular in the first place, especially because of the associations to piety. He makes interesting points throughout about Gawain’s interaction with different surfaces and the overt richness of most of them seems to imply to me that this struggle for moral perfection is a somewhat aimless journey afforded to few. The fact that Woods calls it an “early symptom of bourgeois sensibility” also makes me curious as to how the problem transforms in following works.


Were they offended by what they read or what they felt?

November 1, 2016

All of the critics seem to touch on the topic of Haddon’s responsibility as an author depending on the intended audience. Both Bartmess and Olear are assuming the majority of the readership will be neurotypical readers and worry how someone unfamiliar with Asperger’s will react to the book.

Bartmess doesn’t think that a neurotypical audience can read Haddon’s protagonist the same as they read a neurotypical one (though Miller suggests Chris reads like an “imperfect narrator”, like any neurotypical one). According to Bartmess, Chris is alarmingly without empathy, and an elitist that would rather that people unlike him would just die (while Miller thinks Chris shows immense sympathy and is only guilty of thinking his views are the best, like everyone tends to do). Bartmess takes issue with Haddon’s book having become an introductory text that informs neurotypical people about Asperger’s. This means that Chris’s problematic qualities, of both inflicting violence on others and being oblivious to abuse directed at him, is normalized among a neurotypical audience from the start.

I think Olear implicitly had a similar problem with the book as Bartmess, specifically with Chris’ unlikable character. I don’t think either Bartmess or Olear is comfortable with the idea that Chris’ personality is so trying on the neurotypical people in his life, to the point that the abuse towards him becomes ordinary. In the case of Olear, I think the unaddressed abuse upsets him as his son’s neurotypical caretaker. Haddon’s book shows the after effects of a marriage that fell apart from the stress of raising their son with Asperger’s. As Bartmess pointed out, the book seems to expect Chris’ violent outbursts, and excuse the abuse towards him (almost as if he deserves it) whenever it fails to openly condemning it.

Bartmess received a lot of backlash for her criticism from other people also with Asperger’s. They claim she made the mistake of assuming, not Haddon, because some readers with Asperger’s actually do relate to Chris. It’s obviously impossible to say all “aspies” have exactly the same symptoms. Being a pervasive disorder that effects personality, it’s also impossible to assume they would all share exactly the same personality. It’s Chris’ personality that Bartmess takes so much issue with. It seems strange that Bartmess can’t acknowledge experiences of Asperger’s that differ from her own (a few people suggested comorbidity to explain some symptoms). Similarly, Olear insists that if Chris does have Asperger’s, it must be some extreme form because most aspies are on the high-functioning end of the spectrum.

Both Bartmess and Olear have an aversion to Chris’ portrayal and claim it’s because they worry how neurotypical people will respond to it. I think it’s possible though that their criticism is a way to justify their personal dislike of Chris’ personality. By placing the fault in how Haddon wrote him, they don’t have to acknowledge how they’re basically rejecting a neurodivergence unfamiliar to them.


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