These debates point to an apparent paradox in our understanding of autism: is it a disorder to be diagnosed, or an experience to be celebrated? How can autism be something that must be ‘treated’ at one level, but also praised and socially accommodated at another? Many people in the neurodiversity community say that autism is just a natural variant in the human condition. But should autistic individuals have the same legal rights as everyone else? Or are their needs different, and if so, how? If we are invited to be skeptical of clinical approaches, how can we decide who qualifies for additional support? The fundamental conundrum is that, over its troubled history, views have shifted about whether autism is part of a narrative description of an individual’s developing life, or whether it’s a measurable category that others have the right to count, demarcate and define.
When the nature of work changes, companies reward new ways of feeling about it. The rise of white-collar work in the 1950s birthed the risk-averse organization man, whose highest values were loyalty and orderly conduct. The deregulation of the 1980s made virtues of aggression and ruthless competition. The new economy is characterized by instability and disruption; its ideal worker is calm in the midst of it all, productive and focused. The mindfulness training his company offers isn’t so much a perk as it is the means of turning him into a new type of person. He can work all weekend, multitask frantically on Monday morning, and reset mentally just by breathing in and out on his lunch break. His employer is not just the center of his overflowing, unpredictable working life but the center of his simple, dependable spiritual life too.
Mornings are normal, but they are not regular. While they happen daily, each morning of course starts and ends at a slightly different time, as the sun rises earlier in the summer and later in the winter. Our society follows a regular 24-hour cycle that glosses over each day’s variations. Morning shows are one way that mornings become regulated. Beyond merely establishing a set schedule, morning shows provide a sense of continuity. The same hosts appear every morning, continuing a conversation that picks up on the previous day’s stories and events. A morning show points to the newly risen sun in the sky. It says that today’s morning is just like yesterday’s.
Chronological decades have little material significance. To a biologist or physician, the physiological differences between, say, 39-year-old Fred and 44-old Fred aren’t vast—probably not much different than those between Fred at 38 and Fred at 39. Nor do our circumstances diverge wildly in years that end in nine compared with those that end in zero. Our life narratives often progress from segment to segment, akin to the chapters of a book. But the actual story doesn’t abide by round numbers any more than novels do. After all, you wouldn’t assess a book by its page numbers: “The 160s were super exciting, but the 170s were a little dull.” Yet, when people near the end of the arbitrary marker of a decade, something awakens in their minds that alters their behavior.
Taylor has journeyed deep into the human psyche, and if you accompany him on the pilgrimage afforded by these Complete Stories, you will emerge transformed.
“Winter” is an insubordinate folk tale, with echoes of the fiction of Iris Murdoch and Angela Carter, that plays out against a world gone wrong.