Autism

Autism as Time-Travel: Gulliver’s Return

A sequel to two classic depictions of autism adds a modern satirical conclusion.

Posted Oct 05, 2018

Spiffing Covers
Source: Spiffing Covers

In previous posts, I discussed Sándor Szathmári’s novel, Voyage to Kazohinia, and Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels in terms of the diametric model of the mind and of mental illness. The former was a twentieth-century sequel to Swift’s famous book, and now a conclusion (left) has been published to what you might call the Gulliver’s Travels Trilogy. According to this story, after returning to Great Britain following his visit to Kazohinia in 1935, Lemuel Gulliver returns in 1940 on a secret military mission to get help in winning the war against the Huns from the scientifically and technologically advanced Hins. However, the destroyer carrying him is sunk on its arrival, and he is the only survivor. 

Swimming ashore, Gulliver is astonished to find the place transformed into what he learns is now called Grand Boetonia because it has realized the “grand boeto” (supreme joy and happiness) of making the place into a Feminist-PC-LGBT+ utopia where speech has been purged of all “discriminatory, genderist, sexual-orientationist, generationist, tribalist, occupationist, disabilist, statusist, elitist, or IQist terminology” and an official language, Desperanto, introduced. It also includes a whole new vocabulary which gives people “the verbal tools to think more sensitively and to correct the many failings of traditional Hinnish, with its complete lack of words for the really important things in life such as Self, Celebrity, Sex, Personality, Politics, Propaganda, Lies, Law, Litigation, Belief, Business, Bonuses, Bonanzas, Greed, Grudges, Grievances, Madness, Miracles, Massacres, Millions, and most important of all, Money.”  

Gulliver visits the Opera where he finds his role in the Behin massacre described in the closing pages of Voyage to Kazohinia scandalously misrepresented in a production of gross gratuitous sex and violence which could never be seen at the Royal Opera House. When he is heard protesting that no Behins were raped, dismembered, or decapitated, and that the victims were gassed and only numbered twelve hundred—not the million claimed—he is put in a straight-jacket and taken to a secure psychiatric hospital. 

There he is induced to participate in a clinical trial which involves wearing what seems to be a cyclist’s helmet, but is in fact a mobile brain monitor, which can listen in to his thoughts and also give him electric shocks and communicate via a voice he hears in his head. He discovers that being diagnosed psychotic oneself is a prerequisite for practising psychiatry in GB and that all diseases are now known as diversities. Gulliver becomes qualified as a psychiatrist (being a surgeon already, of course). He opens a practice at a celebrity psychiatric clinic and is promoted to Professor. 

In my previous post on Gulliver’s Travels, I argued that Swift’s famous satire portrayed its author’s autism in terms of the hero literally not fitting in: being too large in Lilliput, too small in Brobdingnag, and the wrong species when among the equine Houyhnhnms. But as Gulliver himself asks, “Was I, who had once travelled to differently scaled spaces, now a traveller through differently paced time?”

Following his successful “psycho-synthesis”, the narrator comes to accept that his recollections of his earlier voyage to Kazohinia must have been mere “phantasy (psic)”. But later he is astonished to learn that his supposedly imagined former visit to Kazohinia may have been a real event according to the physics of parallel universes. Yet, if so, he is dismayed to hear that he is now 70-odd years in the future and that therefore the mission on which he was sent is now completely irrelevant: the 2nd World War is now history (or Herstory as it is now in GB)! The author resolves to return to Great Britain as soon as possible, which he eventually does, only to realize that he has made a catastrophic mistake…

Elderly people today were born into a world of 70-odd years ago which was in most important respects the opposite of what it is today: in the case of the British, one in which conventional, accepted moral, political, and social values emphasized English Christianity and my-country-first patriotism, idolized the Empire and the armed forces, disparaged foreigners, credited eugenics, saw IQ-testing as progressive, fought Zionist terrorism, stigmatized sex outside marriage, punished homosexuality, featured a division of male and female labour, practised a paternal breadwinner/maternal home-maker form of family life, rated nature over nurture, and expected children to be seen but not heard. Yet today every one of these once unquestionable convictions is anathematized as xenophobic, imperialist, militaristic, fascist, racist, anti-Semitic, prudish, homophobic, sexist, reactionary, or abusive. Indeed, today conventionally-minded time-travellers from the 1940s would find themselves in a world where just about every value, belief, and expectation they had—and every one of those listed above—was either turned into its opposite, made irrelevant, or condemned. 

And this is exactly what happens in the novel: Gulliver, having left Great Britain in 1940, finds himself in another GB which the reader will immediately recognize as the Great Britain of today, only a little exaggerated for comic and satirical effect, and with a great deal of the material simply copied and pasted in from today's news media—and always with the same joke: this couldn’t possibly happen anywhere in the real world!

As the narrator puts it:

A foreigner such as myself arrives with a different mentality derived entirely from his own home, and so it is not in the least surprising that in some cases—and most definitely in mine—the alien mentality which he encounters is so different from his own that he is in effect rendered autistic, and like a native Autistic, has serious deficits where reading the minds and understanding the behaviour of the natives is concerned—deficits which make him seem naïve, childish, gauche, or stupid. Indeed, in the whole area of sex and gender issues in particular, my encounters … left me looking and feeling at best like a complete fool—or, rather as I would prefer to put it, like an honorary Grand Boetonian Autistic. At worst, it made me into a political criminal, guilty of a long litany of mind-crimes, "hurt speech", proscribed phobias, and who knows what else? 

Indeed, this suggests to Gulliver a novel cure for autism which

would involve persuading diagnosed Autistics (as long as they were sufficiently high-functioning and capable of it) to emigrate to another country where their deficits in mentality would not be so obvious. Such a policy would both save the GBH [Grand Boetonian Health] millions, release resources for the more severely affected cases, and export the problem, while offering a one-stop solution to their difficulties for Autistics! 

In a concluding chapter, the disillusioned Gulliver manages his own one-stop cure when he both returns to Grand Boetonia and travels another 70-odd years into the future. There he encounters his twin daughters, Stella and Vanessa, as 77-year old grand-mothers, but who look decades younger thanks to genetic therapy which he also elects to undergo. They become his guides to the new Kazohinia, where Behins no longer rule but are allocated an island of their own, and where society is grounded in reason, sound science, and scientific psychology, itself based on the Bible of the individual’s own genome. He announces that his travels are over and that he is to publish this book as the culmination of The Gulliveriad: a trilogy begun with Gulliver’s Travels, continued with Voyage to Kazohinia, and now concluded with Gulliver’s Return.