THE MIDNIGHT DISEASE: The Drive to Write, Writer's Block, and the Creative Brain

Alice W. Flaherty, Author . Houghton Mifflin $24 (307p) ISBN 978-0-618-23065-5

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. (Jan. 6)

Reviewed on: 11/10/2003
Release date: 01/01/2004
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 307 pages - 978-0-618-48541-3
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