Until Further Notice I Am Alive – review

A brave, poignant, fascinating book. Tom Lubbock was a writer, illustrator and art critic. He died of a brain tumour in 2011. ‘Until Further Notice I Am Alive’ (Granta Books)  is his account of his life post diagnosis.

A horribly ironic twist in the nature of his tumour was where it was situated in his brain. It was in an area that controls language. So he gradually lost control of speaking and writing. But that did not prevent him recording the progress of the disease during the last three years of his life.

The resulting memoir is quite beautiful. It’s never depressing, gloomy or self-pitying. Lubbock is unflinching in the face of mortality and there’s something very reassuring for the reader in his acceptance of the fact of death – his and one’s own. It’s a study in living and dying with dignity.

Lubbock’s loss of words is, in the end, no barrier to his ability to communicate.

There is little else I can say about this book other than read it.

Language – a barrier to communication

‘Autism and the Edges of the Known World’ by Olga Bogdashina

Whether your interest in autism is personal or professional, this magnificent book will appeal to you. The author Olga Bogdashina has worked widely on matters to do with the condition. She is a teacher, researcher and lecturer. She lectures around the world. She was recently in Inverness and is an inspiring and motivational speaker. She’s the director of the first day centre for autistic children in Ukraine. She also has a grown-up son with autism.

‘Autism and the Edges of the Known World’ is her new book.

Her particular interest is in sensory-perceptual and communication problems in autism.

I was attracted to both the author and her book on two counts. Firstly there was a professional interest. As a teacher of children with special needs, I regularly work with pupils who have either autism or its close relative, Asperger’s Syndrome.  Secondly, as a writer, I’m fascinated by language – how it both shapes and expresses what we think and understand. So what happens if a person has no language – neither oral, sign, nor written. How do they think and how do they make sense? How do ‘they’ communicate with ‘us’?

Bogdashina unpacks all our assumptions about the ‘real’ world. She asserts that ‘neurotypicals’ (non-autistic people) are restricted – ‘the verbal determines and confines their thinking’.

In a particularly fascinating section – especially for writers – she looks at how language reflects culture. She highlights an example at a U.N. conference where interpreters in three different languages translated the same phrase as ‘I assume’, I consider, and ‘I deduce’.  She also points out how Western thought and metaphysics are rooted in the Newtonian rather than the Einsteinian. We inhabit a static 3D space and Time is conceived as perpetually flowing. She looks at a study into the language of the Hopi Indians and compares it to Western constructs. The Hopis’ world view and language are highly subjective in comparison to our own – supposedly –objective take. The Hopi operate in a world of zero dimensions – there is no concept of simultaneousness – distance includes time – things happening (simultaneously, to our way of thinking) in a distant village are events in the past. More distant = more past. 

She also asserts that creative people are best at communicating with people ‘locked in’ by autism – they can think outside the box – take a lateral approach.

I’ll let the cover blurb do the summing-up here:

‘In this ground-breaking book, Olga Bogdashina examines traditional theories of sensory perception and communication in autism. Drawing on linguistics, philosophy, neuroscience, psychology, anthropology and quantum mechanics, she shows that a wider perspective can reveal much about how the nature  of the senses informs an individual’s view of the world, and about how language both reflects and constructs that view.

Examining the ‘whys and hows’ of the senses, and the role of language, she challenges common perceptions of what it means to be ‘normal’ or ‘abnormal’. In doing so, she shows that autism can help to illuminate our understanding of what it means to be human,  and of how we have developed faculties that shaped our cognition, language and behaviour. Her findings lead her to explore phenomena commonly associated with the paranormal – including premonitions, telepathy and déjà-vu – which, she suggests, can largely be explained in natural terms.’

I endorse every word of the blurb – read this book and you’ll learn a lot about autism – but more importantly you’ll learn about yourself.

The book is published by that beacon of educational publishing houses ‘Jessica Kingsley Publishers’ and is available on Amazon.