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Location: New England, United States

Monday, July 07, 2008

Rush Delivery: Respect and Contempt

Here is a classic scene featuring "Dueling Banjos" from the 1972 movie, Deliverance, in which Drew, one of the four main characters, engages with Lonnie, an autistic youth, at a rural gas station. At the end, when Drew realizes he'd been bested by the hick kid from rural Georgia, he goes up to shake the boy's hand. Watch what happens.



"Dueling Banjos" from Deliverance (1972)

Did you see how the autistic kid turned away instead of smiling and shaking hands with his less accomplished musical rival?

Compare to Genesis 4:3-5...

And it came to pass, that Drew brought forth of the fruit of the guitar as an offering. And Lonnie, he also ably brought forth the banjo and the pickings thereof. And the assembled at the Fillling Station had respect unto Lonnie and to his banjo picking. But as to Drew and his guitar, he lost his way. And Drew was gobsmacked, and his countenance fell when Lonnie turned away and regarded him not.
In the early 1920s, Jean Piaget lectured and published on his notion of "Autistic or Symbolic Thought" — a kind of intuitionist thinking in non-verbal images and abstract symbols.

See "Sabina Spielrein, Jean Piaget — going their own ways" by Fernando Vidal, viewable online in pages 280-283 of Sabina Spielrein: Forgotten Pioneer of Psychoanalysis edited by Coline Covington and Barbara Wharton.

Who is Sabina Spielrein, you ask? She was a young patient and student of Carl Jung (with whom she had an affair described in her recently discovered diary, published as A Secret Symmetry). Spielrein later became a psychoanalyst herself, and the pioneering Swiss psychologist, Jean Piaget, was among her first clients. Although they evidently parted company around 1923, both of them had studied the notion of "autistic and symbolic thought", perhaps inspired by earlier work by Swiss psychiatrist Eugen Bleuler who coined the term "autism" for a kind of childlike preverbal cognition in dreamlike images and flights of fancy. Incidentally, the name "Spielrein" means "Fair Play" in German/Yiddish.

Thus we have a linkage from Siegmund Freud and Carl Jung to Sabina Spielrein and Jean Piaget, who launches the field of Childhood Development and Learning Theory (which then descends through other pioneers like Maria Montessori, John Dewey, Lev Vygotsky, and Erik Erikson) to Seymour Papert, Oliver Sacks, Edith Ackerman, Sherry Turkle, Alan Kay, Mitchel Resnick and lesser lights such as myself.

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