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date: 19 March 2019

Abstract and Keywords

From their shared beginnings in the mid-1940s on the East Coast of the United States, people classified as autistic and musical works identified as serial or twelve-tone have been described and stigmatized in strikingly similar ways. Both are understood as excessively isolated or alone, with each entity self-contained and self-enclosed. Both are understood as uncommunicative, or communicating in atypical ways, with an excess of private meanings and self-references, and as demonstrating an unproductive preference for routines and rituals. Similar descriptive metaphors have accreted around each, including inaccessible fortresses, incomprehensible aliens, and unfeeling machines. Autism and postwar twelve-tone music may thus be thought of as related forms of cultural modernism (in its postwar American incarnation). This essay both documents the shared stigmatization and pushes back against it. Neurodiversity and cultural diversity require and reward appropriate accommodation, in the recognition that pleasure and value may take many different forms.

Keywords: autism, postwar serialism, twelve-tone music, modernism, neurodiversity

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