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Flaherty (The Massachusetts General Handbook of Neurology) mixes memoir, meditation, compendium and scholarly reportage in an odd but absorbing look at the neurological basis of writing and its pathologies. Like Oliver Sacks, Flaherty has her own story to tell a postpartum episode involving hypergraphia and depression that eventually hospitalized her. But what holds this great variety of material together is not the medical authority of a doctor, the personal authority of the patient or even the technical authority of the writer, but the author's deep ambivalence about the proper approach to her subject. Where Sacks uses his stylistic gifts to transform illness into literature, Flaherty wrestles openly with the problem of equating them, putting her own identity as a scientist and as a writer on the line as she explores the possibility of describing writing in medical terms. She details the physiological sources of the impulse to write, and of the creative drive, metaphorical construction and the various modes of stalled or evaded productivity called block. She also includes accounts of what it feels like to write (or fail to write) by Coleridge and Joan Didion as well as by aphasiacs and psychotics. But while science may help one to understand or create literature, "it may not fairly tell you that you should." To a student of literature, Flaherty's struggle between scientific rationalism and literary exuberance is familiar romantic territory. What's moving about this book is how deeply unresolved, in an age of mood pills and weblogs, that old schism remains. Writers will delight in the way information and lore are interspersed; scientists are more likely to be divided.
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Why do some of us have an urge, a compulsion, to put words on paper? And what happens when, without warning, the words stop coming? The author, a neurologist, introduces us to an unfamiliar term: hypergraphia, the brain state that produces an overwhelming desire to write (she also introduces us to the brain state's flip side, which produces writer's block). By examining the elements of creative writing and tying them to various elements in the brain (for instance, there is a direct link between the temporal lobe and metaphorical thinking), Flaherty asks us to consider writing not simply as an art form but also as a manifestation of the way our brains work. Simplistic notions like the one that says creativity is a function of the right side of the brain go out the window, to be replaced by complex, yet entirely plausible, correlations between brain states and creative acts. This won't tell you how to find a publisher, but it will explain how you came to need one. David Pitt
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
As a writer with a mood disorder, I deeply appreciate the efforts of writers/psychiatrists, such as Lauren Slater and Kay Redfield Jamison, to delve into the creator's psyche... Read morePublished on Feb. 21 2004
I picked up this book after hearing the author on NPR, and I figured I'd skim through it. Instead, I was completely drawn in by the mix of science, historical anecdote, and moving... Read morePublished on Jan. 28 2004
Admit it, you've wondered how great artists like Vincent Van Gogh came up with all his brightly colored paintings, with brush strokes as thick as tiles. Read morePublished on Jan. 12 2004 by M. Franta
This is a very cool book. All about the brain, creativity, and writing. Highly recommend it.Published on Jan. 1 2004 by Katey