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The Midnight Disease: The Drive to Write, Writer's Block, and the Creative Brain Paperback – January 18, 2005

31 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 004-6442485418 ISBN-10: 0618485414

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

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.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Bookmarks Magazine

"Researchers will soon be able to see which patterns of brain activity underlie creativity," Flaherty claims. By offering some powerful physiological theories for the creative process, Flaherty debunks the idea that creativity stems from psychological inspiration. A few impenetrable parts notwithstanding, she eloquently translates scientific information into layman's terms, instilling her narrative with fascinating literary and personal anecdotes and practical advice for writers. Citing skimpy evidence, scientists might take issue with Flaherty's claims. Yet Flaherty, who tries to remain impartial, expresses a deep ambivalence about the correct approach to creativity. The book, she emphasizes, is "not meant to be the final word on these complex subjects, but to spur further debate." For us locos, it certainly will.

Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 307 pages
  • Publisher: Mariner Books (January 18, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0618485414
  • ISBN-13: 978-0618485413
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.7 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #143,790 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

45 of 49 people found the following review helpful By Gary C. Marfin on April 20, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Hypergraphia, about which I knew nothing prior to reading this book, is the medical term for an over-powering desire to write. Writing, Dr. Flaherty tell us, is the domain of the cerebral cortex, but the desire to write is the domain of the limbic system -- the hypothalamus and the structures of the temporal lobe. It is altered temporal lobe activity that is associated with creativity. On the other hand, frontal lobe processes are involved in writer's block. This area, as science, struck me as new and very much evolving. The most interesting section of the book, even more speculative than the location of writing proclivities, is her commentary on the inner voice and its role in writing. This is an area where strands fuse -- religion, creativity, psychosis. For Dr. Flaherty it was one morning "that bristled with significance. The way a crow flapped its wings as it rose heavily off the ground was a semaphore, signalling something just past my understanding." And not long after she heard, "the opposite of writer's block," her signal to write about hypergraphia. This internal/external presence of a voice became manifest to her following a depression brought on by the death of twin infants. Remarkably, if not miraculously, she later gave birth to another set of twins, thriving at the time of her writing. This is an unusual book. She interweaves her personal history and her clinical training. Coupled with a wide and diverse reading, Dr. Flaherty demonstrates in this book an intense mind; reading her is like riding with a mind in over-drive. I look forward to her next book, and she has all but assured us that one is in the making.
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33 of 37 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 27, 2003
Format: Hardcover
As a teacher of English composition, I am often given silly self-help books on writer's block, and I also generally shy away from dry scientific books about the brain and language. This book is neither. For one thing, its writing is surprisingly lyrical. And, although it doesn't offer any panaceas for writing problems, it teaches you how to look for solutions that will work for your particular problem. As a bonus, there are many fascinating anecdotes about literary figures.
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25 of 28 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 28, 2004
Format: Hardcover
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 personal story that Dr. Flaherty has assembled. We've all suffered from writer's block at one point or another but I'd never heard of hypergraphia, and the things she has to say about how the brain works and can cause creative disorders are totally fascinating. I plan to recommend this book to all my writer friends.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Charles Hirshberg on September 9, 2004
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Everyone knows why we avoid the stuff we *don't* really want to do. But why do we avoid stuff we really *do* want to do? There are no easy answers to questions like this, but what an eye-opening experience it is to start to understand some of the tricks the brain plays on itself. This is an incredibly unique, honest book and God bless Dr. Flaherty - both for her ability to explain neurobiology to the uninitiated and, still more, for her willingness to bear her soul a bit. Buyer beware: This is not a self-help book. It's an intimate conversation with a remarkable person. It won't change your life; but it might alter some of the ways you look at life.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By E. B. Carroll on August 1, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Dr. Alice Flaherty has given us a powerful and original work in THE MIDNIGHT DISEASE. Her scientific knowledge about the discreet functions of the different brain areas highly qualifies her to offer a thesis on the origins of human creativity. In addition, Dr. Flaherty's vast general knowledge, compelling narrative style, and personal experience with both postpartum depression and hypergraphia make THE MIDNIGHT DISEASE a fascinating read. This book provides brilliant insight into the questions that surround our impulse to create and communicate. And her chapter on the sensation that artists have of "being visited by the muse" is absolute genius. Keep your yellow highlighter pen at your side for this read-it's chockfull of amazing passages.
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58 of 80 people found the following review helpful By M. Franta on January 12, 2004
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
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. "Cafe Terrace at Night" is one such work of superb inspiration. Or maybe you are driving in your car, feeling anxious about a confrontation at home or at work that will occur minutes ahead, and a Led Zepplin song comes on the radio - you crank it up and suddenly --- you are no longer feeling fragile -- the music of the Zep affects your brain state in a way that makes you feel a lion!
Your mood has been transformed by the hard driving rock music and off you go...no longer the sheep, but the lion king!
I have often contemplated what drives artists to create the beautiful works that they do....
Are there really such things as Muses that wander around the Earth, selectively choosing one person to create a great Rock Ballad while picking someone else to compose a classic painting?
Do the Muses care who is the ballerina as opposed to who works in a coal mine all day long? God must have a hand in distributing the 'gift' does He not?
What drives a person to become artistic?
What are the forces behind the artists of our times?
This wonderful book attempts to explain where the drive to write arises, and it is within our own 3 pound brains.
Dr. Alice Flaherty pinpoints the location of inspiration to be somewhere in the Limbic System -- between the hypothalmus and temporal lobes. Somewhere that we deeply experience pleasure and displeasure.
Why study creative forces?
Some artists feel we should leave it alone; that looking to closely could possibly render it extinct.
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