Friday, January 8, 2010

Michael King on the real Janet Frame

In 2002 Janet Frame's biographer Michael King followed up his substantial biography released 2 years earlier, by releasing a companion volume of photographs he referred to as a "shorter Janet Frame". This pictorial essay of her life is called An Inward Sun: the world of Janet Frame (Penguin 2002, ISBN 14 301838 8). Janet and her friends called the book the "family photo album" or "the coffee table biography".

Iain Sharp of the Sunday Star-Times reviewed the book and interviewed Michael King for a feature article which was published in the newspaper on Sunday September 15 2002 under the heading "In the Frame":

"In his new book, Michael King discusses the mystique surrounding New Zealand's most famous living writer and the way she differs from how most people imagine her."

Sharp starts:
"Some of the photos in Michael King's new pictorial biography are startling. There are shots of Frame tap-dancing, grinning on a family picnic, larking around with friends on a beach, whizzing around the North Island on her motor scooter and pausing thoughtfully with a pool cue while working out how best to demolish the opposition. This isn't how much of us think of Frame. The dominant image is of the painfully shy recluse haunted by memories of her harsh early years... There ought to be no photos at all, or at best, just a shot of Frame's famous red hair as she ducks for cover from hated paparazzi."

Sharp then quotes Michael King:

"Janet has a smile that comes from deep within. She's capable, at any time, of this sudden transforming radiance, which I also regard as a kind of inward sun."

Of the cover image showing Janet and her sister Myrtle, who drowned when Janet was 12 years old, Michael says:
"It's a heartbreaking image because it makes clear at a glance what a traumatic loss Myrtle's early demise must have been for Janet. But it's beautiful too. Poor as they were, the Frame sisters possessed an inner joy that nothing could take away."
"I think Kerry Fox did a marvellous job in the film of capturing the delicate vulnerability that Janet undoubtedly had as a young woman. Of course, it also contributed to the mystique of the mad genius who emerges from years of ill treatment."

"Janet has a strongly developed sense of what's public and what's private and she certainly likes to protect her privacy. But the notion that she's some kind of perpetually frightened, autistic creature who shrinks from all human contact just isn't true."

POSTSCRIPT: See also the post Frame was not autistic says Michael King


Anonymous said...

Hi Pamela:
Again, this does not prove she was not autistic: autistic people can be happy, have friends, and interact with people! And last I checked he was a historian, not an autism expert.

Pamela Gordon said...

And yet, in order to "diagnose" Janet Frame as "autistic", Sarah Abrahamson claimed that all these three things were true of Janet Frame: that Frame had an unhappy childhood, that Frame was impaired in her interactions, and that she had no friends. All three are lies, and this is why I continue to challenge them. I do not place a negative value judgment on autism, and I'm not offended by the label of itself - I'm only offended by the untruths about someone I know was nothing like the portrait Abrahamson paints of her.

If Janet had actually been autistic I would be the first to celebrate and promote it! She certainly understood autism, from the depth of her soul the size of a planet, and with her novelist's gift she was able to enter the world of autism, as she entered the world of many other types of people (debt collectors, gay men, murderers, housewives). She had this amazing ability to understand what it was to be human in all its variety. Not just in the kind of being human that the fringe autism theorists are obsessed with and cannot see beyond.

It's Sarah Abrahamson that says Frame was sad, friendless and impaired, not me, and it's also Sarah Abrahamson that says these are things characteristic of people with autism, not me! This outraged anonymous commentator should go tell sarah Abrahamson off. She is the one with the negative image of autism. She cannot have her cake and eat it too. She has "diagnosed" Frame based on a simplistic stereotype.

Abrahamson seems to think that everyone who other people regard as odd or a loner must therefore have aspergers! And when it is pointed out to her that in the real world, not just in her fantasy world, Frame wasn't actually a loner, or very odd, then she insists that people with autism don't have to be odd or loners! But her belief that Janet Frame was an odd loner, was how she latched on to Frame in the first place.

Excuse me while I scream at the faulty logic.

And by the way I know perfectly well that people with autism can be loving and smart and have sunshiny personalities. My own daughter has severe autism and has all three of those positive characteristics as well as the disabilites that characterise her extreme position on the autism spectrum. She is a loved and cherished member of our family.

And by the way I do know the difference between higher functioning autism and the kind my daughter has, and I'm sick of the pseudo-theorists claiming that I don't! Their accusations are slanderous.

Has it never ocurred to these extremists that Janet Frame and her inner circle - including her doctor friends - might have actually discussed this autism theory (considering there is a similarity between the stereotypical autist and the myth of the reclusive artist that she did so carefully cultivate) and looked into it carefully and discounted it?

The fact is, nobody can diagnose someone they never met based on the myths about them. It doesn't do anybody any good.

Oh and by the way, Hilary Stace claimed in the NZ Medical Journal and in NZ's Sunday papers, that Michael King had agreed with her suggestion that Janet Frame was autistic. Yet here he is saying publicly that Janet was not autistic, as some people claimed.

Janet Frame's biographer and close friend was good enough an authority to cite when Hilary Stace and Sarah Abrahamson believed he agreed with them! Now that there is firm evidence he didn't agree with the spurious 'diagnosis', all of of a sudden this 'anonymous' commentator wants to suggest that King was ignorant after all.

David George said...

There are some of us out here, for whom Janet was a personal role model. No-one's pace to dissect her life- because after all she was and still is a member of a family. What happened around Janet, and her writing created space for others to explore their own lives, and especially around issues of grief. Her writing will continue to inform and instruct- possibly indefinitely...