Footnote of the Month: February 2010

An Anthropologist on Mars takes its title from a comment Temple Grandin once made to Dr. Sacks: that, for someone with autism or Asperger’s syndrome, trying to figure out subtle human emotions is like being . . . an anthropologist on Mars.

Temple’s life is the subject of a stunning new film starring Claire Danes, Julia Ormond, and David Strathairn.  It debuts this Saturday, February 6th, at 8 pm, on HBO.

February’s Footnote of the Month talks about high-functioning autistic people, and originally appeared in An Anthropologist on Mars.

Many high-functioning autistic people describe a great fondness for, almost an addiction to, alternative worlds, imaginary worlds such as those of C.S. Lewis and Tolkien, or worlds they imagine themselves. Both the B.’s and their older son have spent years constructing an imaginary world with its own landscapes and geography (endlessly mapped and drawn), its own languages, currencies, laws and customs—a world in which fantasy and rigidity play equal parts. Thus days might be spent computing the total grain production or silver reserves in Leutheria, or designing a new flag, or calculating the complex factors determining the value of a thog—this occupies hours of the B.’s leisure time at home together, Mrs. B. providing the science and technology; Mr. B. the politics, languages, social customs; and their son the natural features of the often-warring countries.

From An Anthropologist on Mars, Vintage paperback edition, p. 276.