Immediations: The Humanitarian Impulse in Documentary
“Having a Voice”: Toward an Autistic Counterdiscourse of Documentary
This chapter critiques the logocentrism of the humanitarian notion of “giving voice to the voiceless” by placing autistic accounts of communication in conversation with critical theories of voice. The author argues that documentary tropes of persuasive speech are complicit in cultivating a “neurotypical” attunement to speech and language. The chapter examines how the first-person documentary voice-over distances, rather than enabling an immediate encounter with an autistic voice in three films involving autistic protagonists: “I Am Autism” (2010), an advocacy video by the humanitarian organization Autism Speaks; Autism Is a World (2004), a television documentary; and “In My Language” (2007), a YouTube video by Amanda Melissa Baggs. The chapter positions these films as a spectrum of approaches to the documentary voice that also map onto diagnostic debates around autism. Finally, it uses autistic accounts of voicing to reassess the reality effects of the speaking voice in seminal instances of documentary theory.