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.
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"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.
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