Our Theory and Methods

Seeing Feelingly is indebted to the work of Dr. Ralph James Savarese of Grinnell College and his collaboration with autistic people in the book See it Feelingly: Classic Novels, Autistic Readers, and the Schooling of a No-Good English Teacher (dukeupress.edu). This project builds on the book's central argument that there is something missing from everyone’s understanding of literature until the perspectives of neurodivergent readers are welcomed and understood.

By sharing artwork, soundbites, poems, prose, and criticism based on these perspectives, we hope to “augment” our traditional reading practices that privilege neurotypicality with the experiences of neurodivergent readers. Please see the bibliography of scholarship below for more research on and advocacy for the perspectives of neurodivergent people.

This project is also informed by a small segment of reader-response theory that argues that our emotional response to text is important in the meanings we create. Seeing Feelingly encourages contributors to share their experiences with others about books with which they have a strong emotional attachment. That way, through this unique way of reading with our senses first, we all can develop deeper and richer meanings of the literature we love. 

Lastly, Seeing Feelingly is a public humanities project that uses an arts-based intervention to change the way people read books. The term, "cultural acupuncture," which scholar Doris Sommer coined, is appropriate for describing such an intervention. According to Sommer, this arts-based intervention, although less direct than a typical advocacy campaign, has the
unique advantage of bringing people together through the jarring experience of uncovering art in unexpected places. Staging the experience of neurodivergent reading as the discovery of a work of art requires that a neurotypical person slow down or completely stop their usual experience with text, creating a small but necessary level of surprise whereby they may discover what they have been missing for reading books with only their frontal lobes and not the
other parts of the brain available for sensory perception.

The method that we have chosen to disseminate our message about neurodiverity and reading practices is also well-researched. We chose the bookmark to spread the art inside of books because they are highly repeatable and shareable products. They also provide the opportunity to tie the piece of art to the passage in a text that inspired it. In order to have the experience live past the initial discovery, each Seeing Feelingly bookmark is carefully crafted so that it can be spread to a wider audience. Those who find bookmarks are encouraged to leave them right where they found them, in library books or in editions found in bookstores, so that others can make the same discovery. Bookmarks will also nudge finders to post a picture of the bookmark with the hashtag “#seeingfeelingly,” the title of the book it was found in, and a location tag so that others may search for a bookmark in that geographic area and so that bookmark finders create an archive of neurodiverse experiences. 

To learn more about the theory and methods behind the project, please download this literature review and prospectus.

Please check out our Acknowledgements page for a full list of references sourced for this project.