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SHAPES OF COGNITION IN TYPOGRAPHICAL FICTIONS.

"Our writing tools are also working on our thoughts," wrote Friedrich Nietzsche after turning to the typewriter due to his near-sightedness (qtd. in Kittler, Gramophone 200). Unsatisfied with the machine, Nietzsche soon enlisted human aid to replace it. However, Martin Stingelin and Friedrich Kittler argue that Nietzsche's brief encounter with the typewriter transformed his writing as well as his philosophy of writing (Stingelin 70-82; Kittler, "Mechanized" 195-207). Their reflections on Nietzsche's relationship with the typewriter in the light of late-twentieth-century media ecology drive home the idea that writing machines direct paradigms of thought. Kittler maintains that the interaction of computers--the contemporary mass medium of inscription--with our cognitive and sensory faculties cannot be explained from an anthropocentric point of view; rather it is imperative to consider how the technological media define "humans" ("Thinking Colours"). Indeed, the mid-twentieth-century information sciences and cybernetics, the bases for Kittler's "information-theoretical materialism," also spawned the first generation of cognitive science, in which technological media--computers in particular--served as analogical models for defining and understanding the human mind. The central claim of the first generation of cognitive scientists, who were strongly committed to developing artificial intelligence, was that the mind (or brain (1)) is a computational device.

According to the computational model of cognition, the human mind "converts" lower-order sensory perceptions to higher-order abstract, arbitrary, and a-modal (AAA) representations in order to "process" them. Thinking, then, entails the manipulation of symbols (the AAA representations) following sets of rules and formal properties (see Fodor, Language). The hypothesis about symbolic representations derives from the fact that though digital computers take multimodal inputs and produce multimodal outputs, the various semiotic modes (written language, numbers, sound, pictures), notwithstanding their differences and specificities, are all encoded as binary states during computation. (2) Thought is conflated with abstract information processing in this way based on the assumption that when a computer program manages to simulate some functions of the brain, it is not performing a computational interpretation of mental processes but functioning as the "mind" itself. This supposition underlay Alan Turing's Turing Test as well as much of the early Al-research. When explaining biological cognition in terms of mechanical intelligence and arguing that the brain computes sensorimotor stimuli as symbolic representations, strong computationalist positions suggest that embodiment and grounding in the physical environment are redundant for making sense of experiences or making meaning from language.

In this article, I chart how the "computationalism" of early cognitive science and media theories affects the aesthetic treatment of thought in contemporary typographical fictions, a sub-group of contemporary multimodal literature in which typographical designs significantly impact the narration. My argument is that the manner in which the proposition that the mind requires abstract, arbitrary, a-modal representations for meaning-making has been absorbed in social and cultural spheres, as exemplified by thought representation in the typographical fictions I consider, fails to account for cognitive differences or disabilities and, in fact, perpetuates stigmas about such difference. Using the British author Mark Haddon's novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (2003) as a case study, I will show that when typographical fictions engage with those popular and scientific theories that equate biological cognition with computation, they also replicate early cognitive science's tendency to undermine the role of embodiment and perceptions in mental functions. Haddon's novel, which has become the urtext among autism narratives (Murray 47), models the thought processes of a character with cognitive differences (probably high-functioning autism) after the information processing cycle of digital computers, thereby corroborating the popular notion that autists are intelligent (as computers are) but lack "human" attributes, such as empathy.

I pay close attention to typographical fictions--particularly, Haddon's novel featuring a supposedly autist narrator--because the computational model of cognition informs the nature of consciousness depicted in these fictions even as these texts also embrace the multimodal designing capacities of computers as writing interfaces. The visual features of written language--the weight and face of type, font, layout, color--assume significance in these narratives, and as such, these texts bring the readers' verbal-pictorial sensory perceptions into play, complicating the semantic field. In other words, typographical fictions manifest a contradiction: On the one hand, when they represent thought as though it were a computational process, they affirm the computational model's mind-body dualism. On the other hand, when utilizing the multimodal designing capacities of computers as writing machines, typographical fictions call attention to the multisensory nature of the reading experience, subverting the understanding of cognitive functions, such as language comprehension, as disembodied and nonphysical. Thus, my analysis of Haddon's typographical fiction, Curious Incident, will delineate both the aesthetic possibilities and the problematic implications that follow from contemporary typographical fictions' reliance on computers as medium and analogue for thought representation.

The extent to which digital technologies have influenced thought representation in literature has received significant attention from N. Katherine Hayles and David Ciccoricco, among others. Both Hayles and Ciccoricco draw on second-generation cognitive sciences, which refine or subvert the earlier computational models prevalent in the field. The second-generation approaches do not oppose the idea that technological media impact their users, but they emphasize the complex entanglements of mechanical and living beings rather than conflating the two. Instead of defining users in terms of machines or vice versa, the more recent theories suggest that cognition is embodied, grounded in agent-environment interactions, and action-based. In other words, while the first-generation approaches insist that the "mind is a computer," the second-generation approaches maintain that the embodied mind and computers interact, occasioning dynamic configurations, but any one of these cannot be reduced to the other. My critique of computationalism takes its cue from these second-generation cognitive sciences, though I should also mention at the outset that the second-generation approaches are eclectic and that there are several ongoing, unresolved debates about embodiment among various researchers (see Chemero; Wilson and Golonka; Feldman). The central concern of this study, however, is the influence of the earlier epistemological model--that is, the computational theory of mind and computer metaphors--on the literary conventions shaping fictional minds.

In Curious Incident, Mark Haddon uses experimental typography to materialize the cognitive differences of the narrator and protagonist, Christopher Boone. These differences have to do with how Christopher responds to sensory stimuli. He is not comfortable in the physical proximity of other people, especially strangers, and can even be hostile to the touch of his loved ones. His visual perceptions are also presented as disabling to some degree. He still completes the tasks he sets out to perform--he travels alone from Swindon to London, brings his estranged parents closer to each other, solves a mystery around the murder of his neighbor's dog, and completes writing a book. Yet, he accomplishes these tasks by distancing himself from his immediate perceptions. His coping strategy is to rationalize away his bodily sensations. In this context, it is worth noting that Gillian Silverman, while studying the writings and experiences of classical autists (not fictional characters), has observed that their ability to privilege "sensate experience over sense making" can push us beyond meaning-fetishism (309). However, Haddon's novel is ill at ease with sensate experiences. While the novel's experimental typography indicates to the reader that Christopher has a heightened sensory awareness of the environment around him, this augmented sensory interface is also shown to be preventing Christopher from distilling meaningful information from his surroundings. And in the storyworld, if Christopher cannot immediately make meaning from the different semiotic modes (like language, images, facial expressions, or touch), then the sensory perception of these modes of communication become sources of cognitive overload for him. It is this increase in cognitive load that Haddon's typographical variations, such as his use of bold face and Miscellaneous Symbols, signal. Finally, when Christopher's heightened sensory interface with the world has landed him in crisis, Haddon has him devise unique programs, mustering the strength of his mind--the "central processing unit"--to resolve the crisis. Thus, in the novel, meaning-making is presented as a higher-order process that requires Christopher to briefly withdraw from the multisensory stimuli-presenting environment in which his body is situated into a hypothetical mind-space. In this way, Haddon's strategies of thought representation recall contemporary debates in the cognitive sciences and philosophy of language about the extent to which "meaning" is grounded in sensorimotor experiences rather than being dependent on arbitrary, abstract, and a-modal mental representations.

A hierarchic relation between the mind, understood as the seat of higher-order processing, and the body, taken to be the means for lower-order perceptions that disable Christopher, constitutes Haddon's novel, and this mind-body dualism in the novel can be traced to computationalism. However, as I will also discuss, the book's experimental typography, while highlighting a character's inability to "read" multimodal signs and social cues, demands that the novel's readers make meaning through a combination of perceptual processes, and, by doing so, undermines the mind-body dualism characteristic of computationalism to some degree. Thus, I will reverse engineer Haddon's presentation of cognitive difference in his typographical fiction in order to confront the dominant assumptions that inform it.

I examine Haddon's novel in particular because, apart from being a significant influence on popular culture, (3) the novel has been analyzed by literary critics with a variety of theoretical commitments. Scholars in the field of cognitive literary studies such as Lisa Zunshine, Elena Semino, and Marco Caracciolo, those in disability studies such as Stuart Murray and Ralph Savarese, and those studying multimodality such as Alison Gibbons and James Bucky Carter have all referred to Haddon's novel. Critical conversations about the novel across these fields make it ideally suited for a study such as mine that not only connects cognitive literary studies, disability studies, and multimodality but also reflects on the extent to which these fields--particularly, cognitive literary studies--continue to operate with those contested notions about cognition that Haddon's fiction brings to the forefront.

Constructing Cognitive Difference through Typography

One of the more commonplace varieties of contemporary multimodal literature (a body of texts that uses several semiotic modes for communication), typographical fictions depend on the interplay of verbal-pictorial modalities. To a greater or lesser degree, printed literature has always utilized the visual affordances of typography. It is easy to spot prose fictions that occasionally switch typographic weights, typefaces, or fonts. However, the group of texts that Alison Gibbons and Brian McHale label "typographical fictions" or "concrete prose" move beyond the occasional use of bold face and italics to sketch icons or expressive designs out of typed letters (Gibbons 431). Alternately, these texts may also set up typographic systems where variations in the font, face, or weight of type significantly contribute to the narrative's progression.

The effect desired and achieved from manipulating typography frequently inflect these fictions' thematics. Typographical literature did not start with computers--earlier novelists and poets made idiosyncratic uses of typewriters as well. The distinctive feature of the typographical fictions produced in a culture dominated by computers is that the typographic design becomes frequently and conventionally associated with atypical consciousness. For instance, Johanna Drucker and Brad Freeman worked with the novel interfaces and applications of the time such as Mac/Apple, Quark, and Adobe FreeHand to produce Otherspace: Martian Ty/opography (1991) in which the typographic layout represented the emergence of an alien sentience. The sentience, identified as "Martian consciousness," reveals itself to the protagonist "Telepathic Jane" through the computer screen and printouts. In a similar vein, contemporary fictions with experimental typography often mediate experiences of characters with perceptual or cognitive disabilities. Zampano, a narrator in Mark Z. Danielewski's typographical fiction House of Leaves, is visually impaired. Danielewski's more recent series The Familiar (2015) follows Xanther, who sees alphabets "wiggle" and is epileptic, while Haddon's Curious Incident and Jonathan Safran Foer's Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (2005) highlight the cognitive differences of child narrators who are diagnosed by literary critics and commentators as autistic, (4) and Steven Hall's The Raw Shark Texts (2007) features a narrator with dissociative fugue. Bug, a character in Douglas Coupland's Microserfs (1995), thinks himself to be stereogramatically blind. This is not to say, however, that all contemporary typographical fictions are necessarily concerned with disabilities. Yet, there is a recurring pattern whereby switches in typeface, font, or color of fonts are associated with the perspectives of characters who have cognitive or perceptual impairments. (5)

In some respects, the convention of representing cognitive difference through typography seems especially counterintuitive in today's media ecology. After all, given that every computer-user (not just expert artists or designers) can manipulate layout and type with ease, using even the most ordinary word processors, one would not expect typographic deviation to indicate cognitive difference. However, experimental typography has come to be an oft-used semiotic tool to flag atypical consciousness, perhaps because, as Jay Bolter observes, "the printed page has remained a conservative writing space... its letter forms stabilized between the 16th and 18th centuries and have since changed only a little" (65). So, when readers encounter expressive display fonts, easily afforded by digital writing machines, as opposed to the standard book fonts, they might be able to "tell immediately that something was wrong" (Bolter 65). Thus, the impulse to use experimental typography to represent some kind of atypicality is tied to the history of writing interfaces and printing. That deviant typography in fictions produced within a digital media ecology frequently connotes "cognitive" difference specifically relates to computers being seen as "intelligent machines": computers are distinguished from earlier writing machines, such as typewriters, based on their ability to partake in cognitive tasks, like thinking and remembering.

It is important to recall here that early computers were developed not to replace typewriters--though they did that too--but to replace simpler calculators. Inventors such as Charles Babbage, Ada Lovelace, and Alan Turing, whose ideas led to the development of computers, turned to the mind as a prototype for outlining the functions to be accomplished by this machine. (6) And then, taking this idea a step further, the first-generation cognitivists, such as Jerry Fodor, argued that since computers had been modeled after the human mind, they could offer insights into mental processes, an argument which remains a foundational premise for computational models of cognition. As such, electronic text editors and word processors--both the early electronic machines called "word processors" and the later software applications--have been marketed as capable of participating in and inflecting the user's thoughts. For instance, a 1981 advertisement for a text editor called the Mince boasted:
Because our MINCE TEXT EDITOR gives you a full screen image.... What
you see on the screen is what you get.

...Our SCRIBBLE FORMATTER lets you think in terms of the actual
structure of the document.... No longer will you have to worry about
remembering margins, vertical spacing, etc.... ("Advertisement" 123,
italics mine)


"What you see is what you get," abbreviated to WYSIWYG, is the goal to which user-friendly computer interfaces have aspired. (7) The capacity to see on screen what one is typing is made possible by a complex, behind-the-screen process that involves the conversion of mechanical impact on the keyboard to electronic signals to illuminated pixels. To "think in terms of the actual structure of the document" includes the provision of letting the machine's working memory store some of the data--that is, "remember"--on the writer's behalf. Thus, Hayles observes, "The more one works with digital technologies, the more one comes to appreciate the capacity of networked and programmable machines to carry out sophisticated cognitive tasks, and the more the keyboard comes to seem an extension of one's thoughts rather than an external device on which one types" (3, italics mine). It is in this context that typography emerges as a commonplace visual analogy for the nature of thought in fictions and expressive display fonts come to signify atypical ways of thinking.

However, the visualization of cognitive differences through typography produces fictional texts that are "multimodal," necessitating readers to construe the narrative's meaning through a combination of verbal-pictorial perceptual channels. And while no literature is, strictly speaking, "monomodal," literary fictions that use traditional typography can come across as "a-modal"--that is, whether the narrative is read or heard may seem to be of no consequence for the reader's engagement with it, which is in keeping with the computationalist views of linguistic cognition as independent of sensorimotor contact with the external world. (8) Contrary to the seeming a-modality of traditional literature, then, typographical fictions, which explicitly require the interplay of the reader's senses, prompt readers to recognize the extent to which perceptual processes impact the experience of literature. In this way, even though typographical fictions such as Curious Incident utilize the affordances of electronic writing interfaces to align characters' minds with computing devices, they also highlight the role of embodiment in reading and meaning-making.

Blueprint of the "Mind" in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

As John Tooby and Leda Cosmides explain while introducing the claims of Simon Baron-Cohen's influential monograph Mindhlindness: An Essay on Autism and Theory of Mind (1995), "[0]ur cognitive architecture resembles a confederation of hundreds or thousands of functionally dedicated computers (often called modules) designed to solve adaptive problems.... There is a 'theory of mind' module... and a multitude of other elegant machines" (xiii-iv). Baron-Cohen distinguishes two kinds of people: the mindreaders (neurotypicals) and the mindblind (autists). Fundamental to his distinction is the idea that any sensory input leads to a-modal, symbolic representations that can be computed downstream by either "naturally" or "artificially intelligent systems" (85). The computational mind that Baron-Cohen outlines is also modular: each module (e.g.: the 'theory of mind' module) is informationally encapsulated and stands alone, to some degree, with limited access to information stored in other modules. (The modular mind is also central to the theories of other computationalists such as Jerry Fodor and Dan Sperber, among others.) The step-by-step description of cognitive processes is, of course, based on how information flows through computational systems. "Mindreading" in Baron-Cohen's terms is the ability to attribute mental states (such as intention) to the people with whom one interacts by, first, representing (encoding) the sensory cues they present, and then processing (decoding) the representations. However, according to Baron-Cohen, autists (the "mindblind") have "Theory-of-Mind" deficit, which means that when they encounter other people and visually perceive others' body language, they fail to come up with mental representations and are, in turn, unable to deduce mental states. By suggesting that autists cannot make sense of what they perceive under particular circumstances, Baron-Cohen's notion of mindblindness sets up barriers between perception and comprehension, as though the former and the latter modules exist independent of each other. Baron-Cohen writes, "It is probably impossible to imagine what it is to be mindblind, in the same way as it is impossible to imagine what it is to be a bat," which further dehumanizes autists (4). Following this logic, Curious Incident is celebrated as a feat of a mindreader's imagination; Oliver Sacks, for instance, commends Mark Haddon for showing "great insight into the autistic mind" (hardcover edition's jacket).

Haddon's novel is framed as a narrative that Christopher Boone, a fifteen-year-old boy, is writing about his own experiences and, like Sacks, scholars such as Elena Semino, James Bucky Carter, Vivienne Muller, and Lisa Zunshine take Christopher to be autistic. His narration is supposed to offer neurotypical readers an entry into the world of someone who has difficulty "reading" other people's minds. Zunshine, who argues that mindreading is one of the reasons why we read fiction, observes that Christopher is mindblind as he has difficulty imagining things that did not happen to him (read: "proper novels"), (9) and that the narrative he is writing "is mostly lacking in attribution of thoughts, feelings, and attitudes to its protagonists (we, the readers, supply those missing mental states)" (12). (10) In other words, according to Zunshine, it is not the mindblind Christopher who makes sense of what he encounters when he goes about his "detection" after he stumbles on the corpse of a dog one night, but we, the presumably neurotypical readers, the mindreaders, who do so.

By differentiating the mindreaders from the mindblind, Baron-Cohen's theory perpetuates stigma against people on the autism spectrum. Melanie Yergeau observes that the acceptance of the Theory of Mind in disciplines from cognitive studies to narratology has contributed to the "disenmindment" of people with autism (n.p.). I bring up Baron-Cohen's Theory of Mind and "mindblindess" here not to consolidate an ableist power dynamic, but rather to show that it is the basis for the novel's portrayal of cognitive difference--its representation of an autist's mind--with reference to the computational models of cognition.

Christopher Boone's Theories of Mind

Haddon maintains that he set out to write a novel about cognitive differences, not about autism (Haddon 2009, n.p.). In fact, Curious Incident never mentions the condition. However, the novel plants clues to invite reflections on autism. While the ensuing portrayal of Christopher is empathetic to an extent, it does little to dispel stereotypes about autism; at its best, the novel stipulates that readers relate to Christopher despite the stereotypes. (11)

The novel opens with Christopher describing the corpse of a dog. He speculates about the scenario that led to the dog's murder: "There was a garden fork sticking out of the dog... I decided that the dog was probably killed with the fork because I could not see any other wounds in the dog and I do not think you would stick a garden fork into a dog after it had died for some other reason" (1, italics mine). This opening paragraph demonstrates Christopher's grasp of Theory of Mind: he has an understanding of his own mind when he says "I decided" and "I do not think"; further, he is able to speculate about other people's mental states when he considers the intention one would have when sticking a fork into a dog. The second-person pronoun "you" assumes an audience and attributes intention to this mind. In other words, at the outset, Haddon constructs Christopher as a narrator who is aware of the cognitive abilities of himself and others.

However, in the subsequent sections, Christopher remarks that he has difficulty communicating with people as he cannot decode their facial expressions. He mentions that with the help of his teacher Siobhan he has drawn faces and labeled them according to the emotions they signify in order to prepare himself for reading people's faces during conversations. We are presented with some of these pictorial icons, resembling emoticons, to illustrate his adaptive strategy. It is not as if Christopher does not visually perceive the differences in people's facial expressions--in fact, Christopher says he sees more than most people. Rather, Christopher thinks that he cannot satisfactorily encode and decode what he sees without a formula (the labeled pictorial icons) in place.

While Christopher asserts that he is more adept at mathematical reasoning than understanding visual or somatic cues, he seems to be using both the linguistic and visual modalities with equal ease while communicating with his readers. His narrative--the book he is supposedly writing--is replete with different kinds of images and typographic designs. Quite ironically, some of these images and designs are included to underscore the difficulty they present for him. Analyzing Christopher's narrative as an "imagetext"--that is, a "composite, synthetic work... that combine[s] image and text" (Mitchell 89)--James Bucky Carter concludes that Haddon's novel is enabling because "if we suspend our disbelief, we see that in and of itself the existence of said book and our reading of it means that Christopher is a rather skilled communicator..." (n. pag.). Carter's reading distinguishes what Christopher as narrator says about himself from the manner in which he is characterized by Haddon, and I maintain that distinction in my analysis. However, despite the distinction, I find the assertion that the novel is thoroughly enabling because of the fictional premise that Christopher, rather than Haddon, is the novel's author to be problematic and I will point out these problems when I discuss the mindstyle Haddon develops for Christopher. For now, returning to the opening of the novel, we note that Christopher does what he claims is difficult for him at the outset: attributing intentions to others. This is fairly typical of Curious Incident; Christopher also says he has difficulty decoding metaphors but, nonetheless, the narrative uses metaphors, the most notable being the mind-is-computer metaphor.

What Haddon makes the narrator Christopher say about himself is important because it is based on theories of mindreading and mindblindness. Early on in the narrative, Christopher remarks that "I sometimes think of my mind as a machine..." (7). At this stage, he does not explain what kind of a machine his mind is. However, in a later section, he says, "When sometimes I am in a new place and there are lots of people there it is like a computer crashing and I have to close my eyes and put my hands over my ears and groan, which is like pressing CTRL + ALT + DEL and shutting down programs and turning the computer off and rebooting..." (143-44). Evidently, Christopher is making sense of his cognitive processes in terms of computation. This closely parallels the manner in which Oskar, the narrator in Jonathan Safran Foer's typographical fiction Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, explains his cognitive processes to a stranger: "He asked me why I was talking like that. I told him, 'Oskar's CPU is a neural-net processor. A learning computer...'" (4-5). Both Haddon's and Foer's narrators' observations are in keeping with the present-day tendency of likening high-functioning autism to artificial intelligence. Maija Homer Nadesan observes that individuals with extraordinary expertise in technology are often psychopathologized as autists and people who are diagnosed as autists are often celebrated for their skills in science and technology. The result is that "[a]lthough the [early] cognitive framework actually applies a computational model of cognition to all people, its application appears (on the surface) most strikingly appropriate for people with either high-functioning autism and/or who exhibit technical/scientific expertise, or both" (131). Autist savants are a popular character type in narratives across media: Rain Man's, Raymond (1988), Big Bang Theory's Sheldon Cooper (2007-2019), and Sherlock in Sherlock (2010-present) are some examples. Equating autistic minds with artificial intelligence undermines the materiality of machines, the embodiment of living beings, and the potential for complex assemblages among these entities.

In Haddon's novel, Christopher's interaction with his personal computer is mentioned only a few times, when he plays Minesweeper and The 11th Hour on it. The most sustained discussion of computing technologies actually occurs when Christopher sums up what he has learned from a television show, How the Mind Works, named after cognitive scientist Steven Pinker's 1997 book. Pinker has been a proponent of the computational theory of mind and, following Pinker, Christopher concludes that the mind is "like computers," "just a complicated machine" (116). He elucidates:
And when we look at things we think we're just looking out of our eyes
like we're looking out of little windows and there's a person inside
our heads, but we're not. We're looking at a screen inside our heads,
like a computer screen. (116)


The theory to which Christopher alludes maintains that living beings simulate sensory stimuli on a mindscreen for the cortical homunculus (or a "little man" located in the brain) in order to read and process them. Cognitive scientist Daniel Dennett has critiqued this theory for promoting mind-body dualism, a "Cartesian Theater" (101-38). Haddon's Christopher also notes that this theory contributes to a model of infinite regress. He writes, "this homunculus is just another picture on the screen.... And when the homunculus is on the screen... there is another bit of the brain watching the screen" (118). If sensory perceptions need to be represented or encoded for an area of the brain-within-the-brain to process, then this representation would further need to be meta-represented and so on. Despite posing questions about the homunculus model, however, Christopher continues to refer to the "computer screen" as an analogue for the mind-space. While attempting to explain the continuity of visual perceptions, he observes that "you don't notice that you're blind during saccades because your brain fills in the screen in your head..." (117). Subsequently he argues that people's ability to mentally represent things they are not physically looking at distinguishes them from animals--these mental representations are the sources of imagination and reasoning. This proposition reinforces the hierarchy between body and mind by privileging hypothetical a-modal or mental representations over embodied perceptions. The persistence of the mindscreen and computer metaphors in Christopher's narration recalls theories that diagnose people who supposedly cannot form mental representations as "mindblind" and position them as vastly inferior to those who can. When the notion of mindblindness constructs autists as deficient compared to neurotypicals on the basis of how their minds work, the sentience of their bodies is denied. In using the computational analogies and privileging mental representations over sense perceptions, Haddon's Christopher conforms to the body of knowledge that discriminates against those who seem to be like him in the real world.

Of course, Curious Incident is a fictional narrative and its goal is not to offer a coherent theory of cognition. So, the contradictions and problems in the narrator's musings are worth noting not because they poorly explain cognition, but because they betray the assumptions that also inform Haddon's characterization of the narrator. John Searle and Leon N. Cooper are among the many scholars who have critiqued the computational theory of mind and the computer metaphor. Pinker's How the Mind Works was criticized by Jerry Fodor, who in other instances has drawn on computational models himself (see The Mind Doesn't Work that Way). Reflecting on the computationalism of early cognitive sciences, Searle observes, "We wanted to know if there was not some sense in which brains were intrinsically digital computers in a way that green leaves intrinsically perform photosynthesis or hearts intrinsically pump blood. It is not a matter of us arbitrarily or 'conventionally' assigning the word 'pump' to hearts or 'photosynthesis' to leaves" (208-09). However, current research indicates that this is not the case--brains are not intrinsically digital computers. Haddon's construction of Christopher, though, continues to make use of the computer metaphor, suggesting a fundamental connection between computation and autistic cognition. In doing so, the novel popularizes the belief that people with autism are akin to "computing machines," intelligent and adaptive but lacking in social skills and empathy.

Multimodal Mindstyle

Despite the prevalence of computer metaphors in Christopher's theories of mind, he never indicates that he is using the machine to write his murder mystery novel. In the storyworld, his manuscript is handwritten, but Curious Incident uses typography that is quite specific to writing on a digital device. The typography engenders a tension in the novel because the resulting multimodal design of the text is meant, paradoxically, to illustrate Christopher's problems with multimodality. For instance, when Christopher explains what it feels like to be bombarded by a multitude of perceptual stimuli--that is, the imagetext constituting logos of different brands--at the London train station, we are shown a block of characters that recall Unicode ASCII art (170). Unicode allows combination and manipulation of alphanumeric and special characters in ways that can be used to obfuscate the semantic content of the visible signage, and this affordance helps simulate the dizzying effect the London station has on Christopher (Figure 1). Haddon's side-by-side presentation of how the brand logos at the station actually look and how they begin to appear to Christopher demonstrates the flow of information through Christopher's modular mind: he sees the logos and attempts to mentally represent them for his brain-computer to make meaning downstream, but the representations go awry, blocking the process altogether. Stranded at the station with no help from the higher-order meaning-making modules of the mind, Christopher has to close his eyes and count slowly to fifty to stop the in-flow of impenetrable verbal-pictorial designs. Of course, as per the novel's premise, it is Christopher who is successfully representing this entire crisis in the book for his readers--he even prefaces the illustration of the Miscellaneous Symbols with the phrase "they looked like this" to signal that he has created it. This is similar to the instances in the novel when Christopher presents maps and diagrams to demonstrate how he navigates his world, though there also are visual designs and typographic manipulations in the novel that are not attributable to Christopher. However, Christopher's supposed agency in illustrating certain crises still does not dissolve the power dynamic between him and his neurotypical readers, who can make sense of the multimodal stimuli that strain him in ways he cannot. The schematic presentation of information flow through Christopher's mind reinforces the computer metaphors and the references to mechanical intelligence in his commentaries that I have already discussed.

Marco Caracciolo observes that the "unusualness" of Christopher's narrative perspective forces Haddon "to try out innovative stylistic techniques" (187), which include the typographic schema. The stylistic techniques have repercussions for the novel's reception. Caracciolo's analysis suggests that Haddon's style defamiliarizes the reading experience and, in turn, plays a pivotal role in regulating the readers' closeness and distance from the narrator, contributing to the readers' empathy and the novel's humor (202). I agree with Caracciolo's assessment, though I am critical of the extent to which the empathy and humor also entrench problematic societal understandings of autism. Haddon's typography enforces the notions of modular encapsulation and separation of cognitive processes--thereby confirming the hypothesis that bodily perceptions need to be mentally represented for the brain-computer to process them. At the same time, as I have also suggested, Haddon's stylistic techniques compel readers to make meaning from the multimodal designs that disable Christopher, and, in that way, the novel draws attention to the multisensory ways in which readers experience literature.

Through the typographic design, Haddon materializes Christopher's mind as a tangible space: the world projected on his mindscreen is laid out on the book's pages. This aspect of Haddon's narration is realized in the Broadway production of Curious Incident (dir. Marianne Elliot, 2012) wherein letters and numbers that Christopher encounters are externally projected on the stage. Within the book, Haddon manipulates the typography, switching among typefaces (e.g.: bold, italics, underline), to highlight the cognitive challenges and sensory load multimodal communicative situations present for Christopher. For instance, apart from the section numbers (equivalent to chapter titles), which are always in bold, bold words are interspersed throughout the novel starting from its fifth page. We might want to make an imaginative leap and attribute these to Christopher but, unlike his other narrative choices, Christopher never mentions or explains these. In such cases, while the words emptied of meaning are part of Christopher's narration (like the London station episode where the pictorial signs belong in Christopher's narration but whatever meaning readers make of them are unavailable to Christopher), the typographic design is Haddon's way of marking-up Christopher's cognitive difficulties. As such, throughout the novel, Haddon develops what I call a "multimodal mindstyle" to present Christopher.

Stylisticians take mindstyle, a term coined by Roger Fowler, to imply a "distinctive linguistic presentation of an individual mental self (103). The term has been used to discuss the linguistic styles that can be associated with characters and narrators, as well as implied authors. However, in recent years Alison Gibbons, Nina Norgaard, Beatrix Busse, and Rocio Montoro have analyzed texts that employ a "multimodal" mindstyle. In their discussions, multimodality of mindstyle is understood to be working at the level of the cognitive processes involved in interpreting linguistic codes; for instance, they discuss the visual content inferred from verbal metaphor. What I call Haddon's "multimodal mindstyle," though, moves beyond language and takes into account the visual design features used to construct the narrator's cognitive characteristics.

Three groups of words are in bold throughout Christopher's narration: a) titles of books, TV shows, and games such as The Hound of the Baskervilles, Minesweeper, and How the Mind Works; b) labels and instructional signs: for instance, the word Berghaus that Christopher encounters on his mother's jacket (19) and the "keep off the grass" sign (29); and c) words, ideas, or phrases which pose problems for Christopher to solve. Metaphors are listed in bold as Christopher mentions the difficulties those present for him (15). The first two categories of words and phrases that Haddon presents in bold establish that Christopher absorbs certain kinds of written texts as visual icons--that is, devoid of the semantic content necessary for them to be processed as words. Visual icons then become vehicles of sensory bombardment. This is evident when, during the trip to London, the brand names and signs turn into Miscellaneous Symbols and Special Characters. At other times, words presented as visual icons chart Christopher's coping mechanisms. When Christopher encounters the statement "BEER/Helping ugly people/Have sex for 2000 years" (36) on the T-shirt of his neighbor, the text is in bold and indented as it would have been on the shirt. The visual design drives home the point that Christopher finds it easier to focus on and reproduce a string of text he sees as though it were an image rather than mentally represent and decode his interlocutor's facial expressions, reminding us that he is, in Baron-Cohen's term, "mindblind" (Figure 2). Besides, the indented presentation of the text indicates that Christopher did not even comprehend the language here--because he could not appropriately encode and decode what he took to be a visual icon under stressful conditions--which accounts for the humorous appeal this event has for readers who, unlike Christopher, "read" the text. The typography reinforces Haddon's characterization of Christopher as someone who tackles the world around him differently from neurotypical readers. As such, Caracciolo observes that humor in the novel works when readers respond to the text in a way "closed to the character" (195). This observation is not far removed from Zunshine's assertion that neurotypical readers supply mental states for Christopher, except Caracciolo also argues that the humor exposes the absurdities of social conventions.

When Christopher tries to make sense of jokes, they become puzzles and are in bold, as is the case with Christopher's father's joke: "His face was drawn but the curtains were real" (8). Unlike the titles and labels which Christopher recalls as visual icons, the joke in bold face is a visual representation of information Christopher encounters aurally. In this way, Haddon demonstrates what Christopher means when he remarks, "I can see what someone is saying written out like it is being printed on a computer screen" (113). By stressing that visualizations on a screen are necessary for Christopher to respond to aural stimuli, Haddon's narration, once again, recalls the representational hypothesis of the computational model of cognition. Thus this episode supplies another example of Christopher's thought process, wherein sensory inputs undergo successive conversions before his mind can interpret them.

Notably, the scenarios that most puzzle Christopher require him to juggle among multiple modes of perception. Figurative language such as puns in jokes or metaphors require rapid oscillation among the linguistic, the visual, and the aural. Taken together, then, the many uses of bold face in the novel serve as a signpost for cognitive challenge, and this cognitive challenge involves multimodal processing. While Haddon's use of multimodal mindstyle demands that neurotypical readers attend to the visual dimension of words, it stresses the difficulties Christopher has when tackling multimodal communication. Given that multimodal processing is a prominent criterion used to test cognitive load among neurotypicals and autists in contemporary empirical studies (see Chen et al.; Magnee et al.; Sperduti et al.), Haddon's stylistic choices are especially charged with ethical and social significance.

Thus, Christopher's musings about cognition and the manner in which Haddon presents his thought processes reflect a mishmash of popular and scientific discourses about autism, several of which stem from the dominance of computational analogies for the mind. The first generation of cognitive scientists--from the 1960s to the '80s--maintained that akin to digital computational devices, which turn multimodal inputs into symbolic representations for processing them, the brain also converts inputs from all sensory channels into a-modal representations. However, the impediments that certain sensory experiences pose for Christopher as he navigates the world around him ultimately underscore the inadequacy of the computer metaphor with its modular and disembodied understanding of cognition.

At the same time, it is imperative to recognize that the other end of the scientific spectrum--the second-generation research on cognition--has not yielded a uniform explanation for what "embodied" cognition means. Even the distinction between the first and the second generations is not as well-defined as the generational terminology that other scholars and I use would seem to imply. And though the turn toward embodied cognition has prompted a series of studies on autism, thus far, these have come up with a range of findings, some of which contradict one another (see Sperduti et al.). Yet recent studies have also increasingly highlighted the complex cognitive and perceptual networks that constitute consciousness, the implausibility of compartmentalizing sensory faculties and decoupling thought from perceptions, actions, and emotions. In this light we can note that though computational theories explicitly frame Haddon's novel, the extent to which the visual schema used to present language contributes to the narrative's meaning implicitly highlights how sense perceptions remain central to the readers' language comprehension and engagement with literary texts.

Critics of computationalism such as Andy Clark, Anthony Chemero, Andrew Wilson, and Sabrina Golonka, among others, focus on the agent-environment nexus rather than the need to represent perceptual data on a mindscreen. Wilson, a proponent of the second-generation theory--"radical embodied cognition"--observes that, in orthodox computational models, mental representations are supposed to
...encode knowledge about the world that we use to make inferences to
support perception, etc. But if we have such poor perceptual contact
with the world that we need representations, how did we ever get
access to the knowledge we needed to encode? This grounding problem is
a disaster. Radical embodiment solves it by never creating it in the
first place--we are in excellent perceptual contact with our
environments, so there are no gaps for representations to
fill.... (Stafford)


Christopher's mind, as depicted by Haddon, is atypical for struggling to appropriately represent perceived data on a metaphoric mindscreen. Within the storyworld this remains a source of trouble, given its fundamental assumption that perceptual experience is a lower-order process distinguished from the higher-order mental representations that lead to meaningful use of sensory data. However, for the "embodied" mind, perceptual experience would not be "data" to be computed and sense-making would not entail withdrawal from the stimuli-presenting environment. Taking an "enactive" view of cognition, Hanne De Jaegher observes, "An organism casts a web of significance on its world. It regulates its coupling with the environment because it maintains a self-sustaining identity or identities that initiate that very same regulation. This establishes a non-neutral perspective on the world" (6). In other words, the second-generation embodied understandings of cognition disavow one normative and mentalistic way of accounting for thought processes. In this context, we can see that Haddon's typographic design, by intertwining linguistic and pictorial modes of representation and necessitating that readers understand the narrative through a combination of perceptual processes, acknowledges the sensory bases of meaning-making. Though this does not compensate for the novel's problematic depiction of the autistic mind in terms of computational mechanisms, the book's multimodal design does point out that the neat separation of perception and cognition in the first-generation cognitive theories on which the novel bases its representation of autism is flawed.

Conclusions

There are, at least, two influential strands of commentary debating the efficacy of using insights from the cognitive sciences for examining fictional minds: On the one hand, Dorrit Cohn argues that fictional minds are unique because they are made accessible to us through literary strategies. Actual minds can never be revealed to us in the same way. On the other hand, David Herman refutes Cohn's "exceptionality thesis" to reason that fictional minds are constructed and understood with reference to the actual minds we encounter in everyday life and, hence, fictional minds can, in fact, illuminate actual minds. My present study, by using intersecting frameworks of the cognitive sciences, multimodality, and disability studies, primarily stresses the constructedness of literary minds. Since literary minds are constructed, they are informed by scientific models and cultural attitudes engendered in particular media ecologies to a greater degree than cognitive literary studies that refute the exceptionality thesis seem to acknowledge.

Computational principles have influenced multiple branches of knowledge production throughout the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. While early studies on computation drew on human cognitive faculties as models for intelligent machines, in a rather circular turn, the first generation of cognitive scientists also used computational concepts to explain thought. My analysis of Curious Incident has demonstrated some of the limitations of likening cognitive processes to computation.

In the novel, Haddon explicitly endorses the early cognitive theories that rely on the computer metaphor and computationalism as he likens autistic cognition with computation, but he also presents autistic cognition--Christopher's atypical consciousness--through experimental typographic design. This experimental typography portraying cognitive difference demands a degree of modal and media literacy from the readers--a multi-sensory engagement with language--that the novel denies to its narrator, Christopher. Typographic experiments in the novel typically illustrate Christopher's cognitive load in multimodal communicative situations even as the resulting material form of the text also undercuts the commonly held view of language (and literature) comprehension as a-modal, divorced from the senses, and simply reliant on computation of abstract, arbitrary symbols.

In sum, Curious Incident exhibits the far-reaching impact of computers on literary aesthetics and how we think about thinking in the twenty-first century. By exhibiting an allegiance to computationalism while also using multimodal methods of communication, Haddon's novel is a complex meditation on cognition that, on the one hand, depicts thought as needing mental representations, stripped of sensory grounding; but that, on the other hand--by orchestrating visual affordances of digital writing interfaces--invites readers to approach the text in embodied, multisensory ways.

CALIFORNIA STATE UNIVERSITY, SACRAMENTO

NOTES

(1) The terms "mind" and "brain" can have different meanings in computational theories. Some approaches maintain that the brain has the cognitive architecture of digital computers and the mind is what the brain computes. In my article I do not subscribe to the strict terminological distinction between brain and mind.

(2) It is worth noting here that with the advent of quantum computing, present-day computation is no longer confined to binary states--quantum bits allow states to be superposed. All discussions of "computation" in this article, however, refer to classical computing.

(3) The bestselling novel has won several popular literary awards like the Whitbread Book Award and Commonwealth Writers' Prize, and it was long-listed for Man Booker. It has also been adapted to West End and Broadway shows. The Broadway adaptation won five Tony awards.

(4) Sec Loftis, "The Autistic Child Narrator: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time" for a comparative study. I say "diagnosed" because the novels do not use the label of autism but scholars (Semino, Zunshine) argue that the narrators are autistic.

(5) In a sense, these fictions realize the vision that William Faulkner had when in an editorial piece he mentioned he would have liked to color-code the narration of The Sound and The Fury's (1929) Benjy Compson--a character whose cognitive differences account for the fragmented style of his narration. Amid the contemporary boom in multimodal fictions, a limited-edition reprint of the novel in 2012 used fourteen colored typefaces in keeping with Faulkner's plan (Boyagoda).

(6) See Margaret A. Boden's Mind as Machine for an extensive history of the relations of cognitive science with theories of computation.

(7) Windows word processors have typically emphasized the WYSIWYG approach, assuring users that what they see on screen while typing will correspond to the printed output. In practice this means that users do not need to mark-up their text with commands and tags to ensure the layout of the printed text.

(8) Given that words have arbitrary relations with the objects they signify, proponents of the computationalist view of language maintain that we understand word meanings by statistically considering properties of the family of other words that accompany them independent of perceptual experiences or physical contexts. In other words, meaning-making is not grounded in experience. Second-generation cognitive scientists and philosophers who take an "embodied" view of language contest this view of linguistic cognition and many of them discard the hypothesis about symbolic representations (sec Hamad). Taking into account recent empirical studies, Buccino ct al. argue that understanding language entails the activation of the same sensorimotor systems that would be involved in the experiences to which the words refer (70). However, while suggesting the need for embodiment, such studies also prompt another question: Can language be understood without any abstractions at all? And this question becomes especially crucial when it comes to more "abstract" expressions in language, expressions that we understand though they do not directly map on to any object or experience in the world. These philosophical debates about language are not new per sc but they gained currency in the mid-twentieth century with the popularity of computationalism.

(9) In the textual world, Christopher reads Arthur Conan Doyle's novels but distinguishes those novels from "proper novels" like Virginia Woolf's The Waves.

(10) Zunshine has since revised her position with respect to the Theory of Mind. In a later article she notes that the failure in empathic imagination can be the neurotypical observers', rather than the autists' ("The Critic as Ncurocosmopolite" 22).

(11) Ralph Savarcse observes that Haddon's novel has further reinforced the claim that "autists don't experience empathy" (Savarcse and Zunshine 19). Stuart Murray, however, argues that notwithstanding Haddon's use of cliehds about autism, the novel also normalizes the disability to the degree that the disability seems to vanish (48).

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Title Annotation:Mark Haddon's "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time"
Author:Ghosal, Torsa
Publication:Studies in the Novel
Article Type:Critical essay
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jun 22, 2019
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