Kinderkrankenhaus — On Forging a Neurodiverse Future Without Words
by Hunter Liguore
In an unknown time, in an unknown location by the sea, a child is left by its parents at the kinderkrankenhaus, a cavern-like, isolated place, where every now and then, it’s common for a child to let out a momentary shriek or a sustained single-note hum. The newest arrival, Gnome, doesn’t know why they’ve been brought there, especially after learning this is a place for the sick… or is it?
It might be a hospital-of-sorts, a dark hole, far from the rest of the world, one devoid of color, where the children can’t readily express themselves or don’t talk much at all. They have Doctor Dorothy Schmetterling running things, trying to fix them, and once a diagnosis is made, it becomes the law. Despite Gnome’s insistence there is nothing wrong with them, Dr. Schmetterling still probes, and eventually finds the problem. With the ailment named, Gnome’s new identity is forged: a deviant.
But what if there was nothing to fix in the first place?
Kinderkrankenhaus is offering readers a portal into a new future, one where our ability to communicate is not defined solely on language, but open to diverse interpretation. In this way, it acts as a viatopia, or a road to an unknown society in space, unruminated and expansive, where there are various forms and methods of communication between humans (and beyond).
We might think of the kinderkrankenhaus as an end place for suffering children to go—or maybe it is a hospital, a place for children to heal. Herein lies the conundrum artist-philosopher, Jesi Bender, encourages us to consider, while unraveling—burning, even—the preconceived way we interpret who and what is normal.
Normal can be defined as those children who can operate in society, lying just outside the walls of the sick-house—or kinderkrankenhaus—and practiced in everyday speech and writing. Those who aren’t, are diagnosed, and become imprisoned by the words ascribed to them by the doctor; they can never become anything more. In the process, when the children who present different are limited, they lose out on the beauty and exploration of their inherent and unique ability to convey their experiences, like through expression of numbers, or sound, or even silence.
Kinderkrankenhaus is an open-eyed awareness, speaking to the way our collective imposition of language on those who use other forms besides words, essentially creates a prison for them. We partake in constructing changeless “deviants” instead of offering a plateau of possibility. Bender shows us that our worldview still governs intelligence by the maxim, I think, therefore I am—but here, at the kinderkrankenhaus, we’re offered another way: I may think or not think (like you) therefore I am open to limitless interpretation.
Inside the kinderkrankenhaus, children aren’t sick, suffering, or needing to be healed, but are capable of creating new vistas, without the archaic tools of words that the doctor uses, to mark, tamper, and dismiss them—for “where there is no language, behavior becomes nonhuman.”
And for readers who can navigate Bender’s layered symbolism, and venture a look into the surreal ‘cave’ of the mind, they will delight in the freedom of what it might look like without names, judgments, titles—even illness, hate, difference… it’s absurd, really, to consider language normal, superior, even, as a form of communication, when every word has a different meaning, depending on who is witnessing it!
In this way, we are like Dr. Schmetterling’s hand groping around in the dark recesses of life, trying to find answers to things we can’t explain and want desperately to order, to make same. When we come up empty, we pretend like the “problem” never happened, the underlying theme of the story, which is played out by Gnome’s parents, who leave the child at kinderkrankenhaus and wash their hands of ever perceiving another version of normal.
Thankfully, the children triumph through their resilience of silence—an act of defiance—which becomes the key to unlock their individuality, another theme, which echoes similar triumphant moments in novels like Logan’s Run (W. Nolan) or Anthem (A. Rand), where the chains of thought conformity are broken—in this case, rather than it be to a new, free world outside the confines of society, Gnome is given freedom in a mind with no end.
In this world, no one’s trying to get better or forced to function a certain way, but are granted purity, through a multi-faceted form of communicating that is also mysterious.
It’s worth reading, simply to be reminded, “There is nothing wrong with you,” a theme that traverses to everyone, in any language.
Hunter Liguore is the award-winning author of WHOLE WORLD INSIDE NAN’S SOUP (Paterson Prize for Books for Young Readers Winner). Her work has appeared in Ruminate Magazine, Anthropology & Humanism, Great Plains Quarterly, and more. She is a Professor of Writing at Lesley University. www.hunterliguore.org