Notes on Three Dursleys


I THINK IN PICTURES. Words are like a second language to me.  I translate both spoken and written words into full-color movies, complete with sound, which run like a VCR tape in my head.  When somebody speaks to me, his words are instantly translated into pictures … Interviews with autistic adults who have good speech and are able to articulate their thought processes indicate that most of them also think in visual images … Today, everyone is excited about the new virtual reality computer systems in which the user wears special goggles and is fully immersed in video game action.  To me, these systems are like crude cartoons.  My imagination works like the computer graphics programs that created the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park.

— Temple Grandin, Thinking in Pictures and Other Reports from My Life With Autism

I. The Family

Vernon Dursley is the husband of Harry’s Aunt Petunia.  Like her, he was also a Muggle.  In fact, he was about as Muggle as a person can get.  He had no use for imagination at all.

Mr. Dursley stood rooted to the spot. He had been hugged by a complete stranger. He also thought he had been called a Muggle, whatever that was. He was rattled. He hurried to his car and set off for home, hoping he was imagining things, which he had never hoped before, because, he didn’t approve of imagination.

For Vernon, it’s all about appearances.  He wants nothing more than to be completely normal, thank you very much, although he also wants to be better than everyone else around him, too.

Vernon: He cleared his throat nervously. “Er … Petunia, dear … you haven’t heard from your sister lately, have you?” As he expected, Mrs. Dursley looked shocked and angry. After all, they normally pretended she didn’t have a sister.

“No,” she said sharply. “Why?”

“Funny stuff on the news,” Mr. Dursley mumbled. “Owls … shooting stars … and there were a lot of funny-looking people in town today ….”

“So?” snapped Mrs. Dursley.

“Well, I just thought … maybe … it was something to do with … you know … her lot.” Mrs. Dursley sipped her tea through pursed lips….

Aunt Petunia is … the wife of Vernon Dursley … a nosey gossip who dotes on her son Dudley, keeps an obsessively immaculate house, and defers to her smug, blustering husband.  Uncharacteristically, she also agreed to Dumbledore’s written request to take Harry in when he was orphaned.

“You knew,’” said Harry. “You knew I’m a … a wizard?”
”Knew!” shrieked Aunt Petunia suddenly. “Knew! Of course we knew! How could you not be, my dratted sister being what she was? Oh, she got a letter just like that and disappeared off to that … that school—and came home every holiday with her pockets full of frog-spawn, turning tea-cups into rats. I was the only one who saw her for what she was … a freak! But for my mother and father, oh no, it was Lily this and Lily that, they were proud of having a witch in the family!”
She stopped to draw a deep breath and then went ranting on. It seemed like she had been wanting to say all this for years.
”Then she met that Potter at school and they left and got married and had you, and of course I knew you’d be just the same, just as strange, just as … as … abnormal … and then, if you please, she went and got herself blown up and we got landed with you!”

All descriptions from The Harry Potter Lexicon.  All quotes from J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books.

II. The Monk

Nor is this simply a book about the imagination:  for all his profound and impressive scholarship, Harpur effectively thinks in images.  The texture is almost filmic in the movement from scene to imagined scene: [snip] … ;  or the fatal beginnings of the modern outlawing of the imagination in 1623 when one Marin Mersenne, described by James Hillman as “the vegan spider dressed in black from head to foot,” condemns Ficino, Pico, the magic of hermeticism and the anima mundi.

— Rosie Jackson, reviewing Patrick Harpur’s The Philosophers’ Secret Fire:  A History of the Imagination

The Christian and Cartesian views against personifying coalesce in Marin Mersenne (8 September 1588—1 September 1648).  Correspondent, friend, or enemy of Descartes, Galileo, Pascal, Fludd, Torricelli, Richelieu, Hobbes, Grotius, Huygens, and other major contemporaries, he was a central figure of his age … Robed in black to his ankles and ensconced in his monkish Parisian cell near the Place Royale, but traveling too for talks and meetings, he became the arachnoid center of the European learned world … Mersenne joined the holy war that had simmered since the age of Constantine:  the battle to maintain Christian psychology against that of polytheistic antiquity.


Mersenne is himself a personification of that figure both in our Western collective history and in each of us who upholds reason at the cost of imagination.  It is Mersenne’s voice we hear when we ask for the facts, when souls must be located in literal bodies, and when we would reduce the images and metaphors of the psyche to dogmas on one hand or to scientific measurements on the other.  His is the position that allows no third place between theology and science, no place for psyche.

— James Hillman, Re-Visioning Psychology

III. The Organization

“I am autism.  I have no interest in right or wrong.  I will plot to rob you of your children and your dreams … And if you’re happily married, I will make sure that your marriage fails.  Your money will fall into my hands, and I will bankrupt you for my own self-gain.”

“I work very quickly.  I work faster than pediatric AIDS, cancer, and diabetes combined.”

“And if you are happily married, I will make sure that your marriage fails.  Your money will fall into my hands, and I will bankrupt you for my own self-gain.”

“I don’t sleep, so I make sure you don’t either.  I will make it virtually impossible for your family to easily attend a temple, a birthday party, a public park, without a struggle, without embarrassment, without pain.”

“I derive great pleasure out of your loneliness.  I will fight to take away your hope.  I will plot to rob you of your children and your dreams.”

“I will make sure that every day you wake up, you will cry, wondering ‘who will take care of my child after I die?’  And the truth is, I am still winning, and you are scared, and you should be.”

— Autism Speaks, I Am Autism

For some background as to how it was first suggested to me that there might be parallels between these three “Dursleys,” see here.  The fact that Autism Speaks is itself promoting a sort of sock-puppet “personification” of autism has not escaped me.  I hope to return to this and other related topics;  watch this space.

on 10/9/09 in featured, Politics | No Comments | Read More

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