A Different Side of the Story: On Neurodiversity and Trees
Keywords:American literature, Richard Powers, neurodiversity, environmentalism, non-human
This essay analyzes Richard Powers’s The Overstory (2018), a novel that ostensibly demands an eco-critical reading, under the lens of neurodiversity. Focusing on the idiosyncrasies of sensory perception in autism, the essay explores the atypical engagement with the more-than-human that neurodiversity (and specifically autism) fosters—a kind of engagement that deeply destabilizes neuro-normative, human-centered subjectivity, opening up to more egalitarian ways of relation with the environment. In a novel populated by neurodivergent characters with a keen ecological sensibility, Powers comes close to imagining this kind of non-hierarchical connection with the natural world. The essay explores how neurodiversity works in the novel at a characterological, thematic, and structural level, functioning as a bridge between human and non-human scales. In this way, neurodiversity finely glosses and articulates the kind of animistic, environmental message that Powers instils in his Pulitzer prize winning novel.
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