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Abstract/Statement

This article considers the music of Gary Numan as a test case for questioning the traditional idea of individual artistic genius. Although Numan was diagnosed as autistic later in life, he claims that he exhibited signs of autistic behavior at the age of 14, which suggests that his music can reflect a different way of perceiving the world that is characteristic of autistic people. While arguing against the notion that autism distinctly influences art, the article considers the limitations of evaluating Numan’s work in the context of a humanist aesthetic that posits universal assumptions, based on an individual self, about human experience.

Numan’s music is interpreted through systems-theorist Cary Wolfe’s reading of the work of Temple Grandin, an iconic spokesperson for recognizing the differences in perception of autistic people. Like Grandin, Numan challenges the humanist distinction between reason and feeling; his cyborg narratives an analogue to Grandin’s writing about her shared perception with non-human animals. The evaluation of Numan’s ground-breaking records, Replicas (1979), The Pleasure Principle (1979), and Telekon (1980) is developed alongside Wolfe’s critique of Grandin—that her work has been positioned as a humanist argument for the legal recognition of autistic people. Wolfe contends that this recognition cannot undo the problematic way of fitting autistics into a humanist category of identity. The same limits apply to regarding Numan’s records as the latest corporate-branding of humanist art.

From 1979-80, Numan’s work resisted the traditional definition of being human. But the relatively minimal duration of his resistance dramatizes how disability discourse at large has likewise sought to contain autistics within the same traditional idea of humanness instead of redefining this understanding as Numan did in his earlier work.

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