Unraveling

Remaking Personhood in a Neurodiverse Age

2020
Author:

Matthew J. Wolf-Meyer

Unraveling

Developing a cybernetic model of subjectivity and personhood that honors disability experiences to reconceptualize the category of the human

Matthew J. Wolf-Meyer draws on narratives of family and individual experiences with neurological disorders, paired with texts by neuroscientists and psychiatrists, to decenter the brain and expose the ableist biases in the dominant thinking about personhood.

Unraveling is a work of cultural reimagination. Matthew J. Wolf-Meyer knits together neurological, psychiatric, and neuroscientific theories about ‘the brain’ in this broad-based inquiry into ‘communicative disorders.’ He insists that the many possibilities and blocked channels of communication depend on the interdependency of subject, personhood, family, community, and polity. He joins leading scholars in disability studies and feminist theory, illuminating the thoroughly social nature of all embodied communication and thus its ethical and political reliance on making a world where differences are welcome.

Rayna Rapp, New York University

Twentieth-century neuroscience fixed the brain as the basis of consciousness, the self, identity, individuality, even life itself, obscuring the fundamental relationships between bodies and the worlds that they inhabit. In Unraveling, Matthew J. Wolf-Meyer draws on narratives of family and individual experiences with neurological disorders, paired with texts by neuroscientists and psychiatrists, to decenter the brain and expose the ableist biases in the dominant thinking about personhood.

Unraveling articulates a novel cybernetic theory of subjectivity in which the nervous system is connected to the world it inhabits rather than being walled off inside the body, moving beyond neuroscientific, symbolic, and materialist approaches to the self to focus instead on such concepts as animation, modularity, and facilitation. It does so through close readings of memoirs by individuals who lost their hearing or developed trauma-induced aphasia, as well as family members of people diagnosed as autistic—texts that rethink modes of subjectivity through experiences with communication, caregiving, and the demands of everyday life.

Arguing for a radical antinormative bioethics, Unraveling shifts the discourse on neurological disorders from such value-laden concepts as “quality of life” to develop an inclusive model of personhood that honors disability experiences and reconceptualizes the category of the human in all of its social, technological, and environmental contexts.
Unraveling

Matthew J. Wolf-Meyer is associate professor of anthropology at Binghamton University. He is author of The Slumbering Masses: Sleep, Medicine, and Modern American Life and Theory for the World to Come: Speculative Fiction and Apocalyptic Anthropology (both from Minnesota).

Unraveling

Unraveling is a work of cultural reimagination. Matthew J. Wolf-Meyer knits together neurological, psychiatric, and neuroscientific theories about ‘the brain’ in this broad-based inquiry into ‘communicative disorders.’ He insists that the many possibilities and blocked channels of communication depend on the interdependency of subject, personhood, family, community, and polity. He joins leading scholars in disability studies and feminist theory, illuminating the thoroughly social nature of all embodied communication and thus its ethical and political reliance on making a world where differences are welcome.

Rayna Rapp, New York University

This is a book for our times—a deep dive into the problematics of personhood in relationship to the neurological. This book, alluringly readable, vigorously challenges our conceptions of what makes a human being human and advocates for an anti-neoliberal vision of complex selfhood that is not dependent on predictable norms. While this subject could lend itself to predictable advocacy, Matthew J. Wolf-Meyer stays ahead of the reader's assumptions and provides a new and thoughtful way of conceiving big questions concerning the very definitions of life, thought, value, and ethics. A must read for anyone interested in neurodivergence and disability in general.

Lennard J. Davis, author of Obsession: A History

Unraveling

Contents

Preface: Blind-Man-and-World

Introduction: Let’s Build a New Nervous System

1. Neurological Subjectivity: How Neuroscience Makes and Unmakes People through Neurological Disorder

2. Symbolic Subjectivity: How Psychoanalysis and the Communication of Meaning Disable Individuals

3. Materialist Subjectivity: How Technology and Material Environments Make Personhood Possible

4. Cybernetic Subjectivity: The Fusion of Body, Symbol, and Environment in the Facilitated Person

5. Facilitated Subjectivity, Affective Bioethics, and the Nervous System

Epilogue: Living and Dying in the Nervous System

Acknowledgments

Notes

Index