Friday, October 28, 2005
The absent-minded professor becomes more difficult to handle, however, when his behavior verges on the dysfunctional. All vocations attract certain personality types; academe appeals particularly to introspective, narcissistic, obsessive characters who occasionally suffer from mood disorders or other psychological problems. Often, these difficulties go untreated because they are closely tied to enhanced creativity, as can be the case with obsessive-compulsive disorder, major depression, bipolar disorder, and the kind of high-functioning autism known as Asperger's syndrome.
“Nutty Professors” is a facile, tendentious work of self-aggrandizement, projection and “othering” -- that is, the reinforcement of social hierarchy by means of the devaluation of individuals who do not fall within social norms. The article constitutes an act of symbolic violence against the subjects of its author’s disdain and against all disabled individuals. It opens with a chaotic pastiche of imagery drawn from film, television, literature, and history, followed by a superficial, inaccurate description of Asperger Syndrome. The author retroactively “diagnoses” two disliked former colleagues, then baldly announces her inclination to discriminate against academic job applicants based on her speculations about their possible disability status. As I read the article, I shivered to think that my family members on the autistic spectrum, who have considerable potential to excel in academia, might encounter the kinds of harsh judgments and inflexibility on the part of potential employers and colleagues that are so abundantly displayed by Mikita Brottman.