A Callin Conversation with Lorenzo Barberis Canonico and O.G. Rose

Neurodiversity and Literature

On superpowers, energy management, literary theory, the value of expanding the neurotypical, and more

Recently, we had the great pleasure of speaking with Lorenzo Barberis Canonico on the role of neurodiversity in fiction, which inspired discussions on a host of other relevant topics such as literary criticism and sociology. Lorenzo has made numerous presentations on neurodiversity, and it was an honor to speak with him on the topic in literature.

You can find the whole presentation and Callin Exclusive here.

A few notes:

1. The novel itself is mentally divergent. There are countless voices, quick changes of setting, associational logic, and the like. Novels are not formally neurotypical.

2. Creativity is an asymmetrical risk. We likely won’t make it, but if we do, the payout is huge. We arguably must be crazy to try to make it as an artist, which suggests why art might be full of neurodivergent people: they simply aren’t emotionally impacted by “the high stakes” the same way normal people are impacted. The neurodivergent can “keep the course” where others would fold.

3. The trick is to keep neurodiversity from becoming a “mental illness,” as we must keep our bodies from falling out of shape. Both require training which stigma only impedes.

4. The myth that artists need mental illness to be creative is dangerous: artists actually seem to do better when they have “trained neurodivergence,” per se. If we thought we’d lose something valuable to us if we exercised, would any of us exercise? Probably not, suggesting how dangerous this idea could be, and yet this is the kind of thought the neurodivergent find society thrusting upon them regularly.

5. Imagine how a poet must see the world to write a poem. What does the “form” of a poem say about “the form” of the poet’s world? Is it like ours?

6. It is never irrational to be a writer, but it’s also not rational. It’s nonrational.

7. Great artists can come from families of wealth, further suggesting neurodivergence and “high risk, high reward”-strategies correlate.

8. Jung told Joyce that he peered into the river, while Joyce’s daughter fell into it. But the more we lean over, the more we see.

9. Bipolar and writing seem to correlate regarding forms of neurodivergence.

10. The novel is inherently a “collection of intelligences,” generating a “collective intelligence.” Otherwise, it would just be philosophy.

11. The structure of novels and poems better match “the lived experience” of the neurodivergent, which might suggest why art and the neurodivergent tend to overlap.

12. The moment we look at a poem, we tend to translate the “neurodivergent form” into something more “neurotypical,” precisely so that we can understand it. We’ve also been trained to view poems as “locked safes” that we need to open to get to “the real meaning,” which also makes the “neurodivergent form” seem like something we need to overcome versus embrace.

13. Creative writing can be a way to “have a sense” of what it’s like to be neurodivergent — a gift.

14. Poems can be difficult to understand because they are “formally neurodivergent,” but they can become easier to understand if we let them stay in “neurodivergent terms” versus try to translate them into “neurotypical terms.”

15. Like all of us, the neurodivergent need to be trained: the language of “treatment” could be counterproductive and alienating.

16. Novels have many voices, a flood of images, rising and falling action, strong emotions — typical novels are hardly read.

17. Neurodivergence is logical, but it’s a “divergent logic.”

18. It causes many artists pain to think they must choose between their art and curing a mental illness, but if we abandon the language of “treatment” for neurodivergence and instead adopt the language of “training,’ we can help artists realize this is not a choice they need to make. They don’t need to “treat something” and make it go away, just train and “let it flourish.”




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