- Purchase/rental options available:
This essay interprets Robert Montgomery Bird's 1836 metempsychosis novel Sheppard Lee, Written by Himself as an early example of neurodiversity thinking, citing its capacious embrace of cognitive difference—understood not as pathology but as idiosyncrasy, temperament, and passion—and its appeal to materialist mental science. Read this way, Bird's novel becomes a prime example of what this essay names the physiopolitics of diversity, a regime of truth that assumes great natural diversity between individuals and imagines their differences to correlate with apposite roles in the social sphere. Despite its egalitarian theory of mental difference, Sheppard Lee encounters two problems: the difficulty of determining which inclinations are natural and which are artificially produced, and the illegibility of roles for which no one is suited, exemplified by the figure of the unhappy slave. While other physiopolitical thinkers, including Charles Fourier and Ralph Waldo Emerson, go further than Bird in arguing for social and economic change, they nevertheless encounter the same limitations and demonstrate the boundaries of physiopolitical discourse through the present.