Toward the end of Robert Macfarlane’s Underland: A Deep Time Journey there is a discussion of life in the Anthropocene under the threat of the climate crisis that features a paragraph which surprised me for reasons unrelated to any of the Anthropocene, climate crisis, or even the actual subject of that paragraph.
The cultural theorist Sianne Ngai suggests that, when shocked or grieving, we find ourselves able to speak of the experience only in ‘thick speech’. When speaking thickly, Ngai says, we are challenged in our usual ability to ‘interpret or respond’. A drastic slowdown and recursion of language occurs, a rhetorical enactment of fatigue and confusion. Tenses work against one another. There is a ‘backflowing’, a loss of causal drive, a gathering of hesitancies and stutters. We speak an eddying speech, cloyed to the point of congealing.
Replace the language of speech with that of thought (“think” for “speak”, “thick thought” for “thick speech”, “cognition” for “language”, etc.) and you have one of the best and most powerful descriptions of how autistic experiences such as overwhelm and shutdown can feel from within the psychic interior.