Category Archives: Book

Studying narrative in film and novels through data visualization

I love statistics and numerical analysis, a love that many people do not share — statistics is one of quickest ways to halt a dinner conversation. Statistics is a style of argument that is neither right nor wrong, as useful as any other logical process and has a beauty in summarising or visualizing the subjects under examination in ways that allow two or more things to be compared.

In the case of film, it can be hard to communicate the incredible experience of sitting for an hour or two, absorbed in action, dramatic tension and emotion. Critics reviews and plot summaries (like those on IMDb) are one method of side-by-side comparison, or even more briefly in the star-ratings (e.g. 8.5 out of 10 for “Psycho”). This post describes some numerical and sampling techniques that I use to create single-image summaries of films and books. These images make stunning wall posters and I have had a few printed as big as 30″ by 20″ to display.

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Asperger syndrome film discussion group

AutismFeature Films
Feature films with a leading autistic character

In each of the last two years I have been involved in a film discussion group run by and for people with an Asperger syndrome or autism spectrum diagnosis. The group has fluctuated in membership between four and twelve people, with a core of continuous members. We have watched predominantly feature films and documentaries in which at least one principal character is explicitly identified as ’autistic’ within the film, in publicity material or according to audiences. Our group has displayed a phenomenal knowledge of cinema, television and relevant links to other art forms such as fiction, graphic novels and computer games with the same characters. The film discussion group has been a positive experience with a good reception.

The enthusiasm of the group and the incredible depth and breadth of knowledge about cinema and media shows a huge wealth of systematic learning while viewing, perhaps at a level that family and others are not aware. Reading ’comics’, playing console games and watching ’kid’s TV’ can have undiscovered depths of meaning for people who have limited opportunities to discuss their particular interests.

I hope this blog post might encourage you to start discussion groups of film, fiction or whatever areas interest you, and I would be pleased offer advice or attend further sessions. I would be especially interested in any public screenings of autism-themed films — the Cork Film Festival screening of “Life, Animated” (http://corkfilmfest.org/events/life-animated/) and panel discussion (which I was thrilled to be part of) was packed, and all the feedback that reached me was incredibly positive.

Some initial resources that might help are a Guardian article on “How to start a film club” (https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2014/sep/12/how-to-start-a-film-club) and a BBC Radio 4 feature on “Running a bookclub” (http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/features/book-club/running-a-club/). You can find a starter list of autism-themed films (http://gallery.stuartneilson.com/index.php?album=Autism-films/Autism-feature-films) and fictional books (http://gallery.stuartneilson.com/index.php?album=ASD-fiction) on my website.

(Thanks especially to those who provided the resources, planning skills and personal support to get our group running, regularly, on time and in a comfortable space).

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Coleridge and sensory dreams

I recently went on a charming little journey through time to track down a quote attributed to the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834), “we do not feel horror because we are haunted by a sphinx, we dream a sphinx in order to explain the horror that we feel”. The context and the journey through references adds beautifully to my earlier post about dreams and nightmares. Coleridge was disturbed by his nightmares throughout his life and shared his thoughts about their origins.

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Autistic expression in “The Sound and the Fury” by William Faulkner (1929)

Faulkner, William - The sound and the fury“The Sound and the Fury” is typically viewed as a difficult book, involving a stream-of-consciousness style and multiple perspectives to explore events the final throes of a plantation family in Mississippi just 30 – 60 years after the abolition of slavery in the United States. One of these perspectives is that of Benjy, a character usually described as an ‘idiot’ in the words of the twentieth century. He might now be termed ‘proundly intellectually disabled’. Some authors have identified traits they recognise as autistic. His correct diagnosis is not relevant to the depth that Faulkner brings to the character’s own mind and perspective in the first section of the book, written in the first person as the consciousness of an adult man who has no spoken words.
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“The Eagle Tree” by Ned Hayes

Book cover of The Eagle Tree by Ned HayesI read and loved “The Eagle Tree” by Ned Hayes, an absorbing and intense story of a boy’s love for trees and his intense fascination with the world and natural processes that surround him – an environment that, unfortunately, everyone else seems oblivious to. Amongst this natural beauty is The Eagle Tree, possibly the last Ponderosa Pine west of the Cascade Mountains. The tree can’t be saved, but perhaps it can be climbed before it is too late.

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Ten books on disempowerment and psychiatric states

These are ten books I have read recently that have a common theme (some looser than others) of disempowerment and psychiatric states. People who have diagnosed psychiatric illness, or are perceived ’differently’, are less likely to be believed or to be treated with respect. These books present the feeling of disempowerment from a first-person perspective, with varying degrees of success. They also present some of the negative consequences (for the person and community) of disbelieving and disrespecting the ‘Other’. Some of the characters receive inadequate medical care because their providers are too hurried or too disinterested to follow through the characters’ expressed needs. The police are not inclined to assist or believe ‘unreliable’ characters, at a cost to their own investigations.

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“In A Different Key” – A story of one perspective of autism

Donvan, John - In a Different Key “In a Different Key: The Story of Autism” by John Donvan and Caren Zucker is a lengthy and panoramic history of autism. I can recommend it for its sheer depth of research and quality of referencing, with the proviso that it presents a history of parents of autistic children. The degree to which autism is portrayed as a tragedy and the loss of a normal child will be unpalatable to many people who have autism themselves.

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Single-sourcing text – Managing thoughts in multiple documents


Single-sourcing

’Single-sourcing’ is a method of content management common in technical editing, and something I have used in various forms for years to manage my thoughts and notes, and (ultimately) any presentations or publications that come from them. The aspiration of single-sourcing is to have one document source which can be transformed (without further editing) into multiple output formats.

SingleSourcing

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Non-fiction on the autism spectrum

ASD-non-fictionThis is a brief post to note a collection of short reviews about non-fiction books about autism, relevant mostly to adolescents or adults who have a diagnosis. They include autobiography from Luke Jackson, Temple Grandin and Liane Holliday Willey; historical work from Uta Frith, Adam Feinstein and Steve Silberman; and practical intervention texts from Tony Attwood, Mohammed Ghaziuddin and Florica Stone.

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Neurotribes by Steve Silberman — Autism in history and the present

Silberman - NeurotribesThis is an important book and, above all, a book of the now — some commentators have talked about the creation of a “pre-Neurotribes” and a “post-Neurotribes” public understanding of autism, which is probably correct. The amalgamation of Asperger syndrome into autism spectrum disorder within the DSM-5 in 2013 rewrote the definition of autism and Steve Silberman delineates the new landscape of the autistic spectrum and its population.

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