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Iain McGilchrist

Iain McGilchrist is a doctor who works at the Maudsley and Royal Bethlem Hospital in Kent. He is the author of Against Criticism and a fellow of All Souls.

The pianist is stopped mid-cadenza as he suddenly remembers his fingers. The lover is recalled from ecstasy by a fractionally too great awareness that he needs to consult an erotic zone. The poem grinds into prose. The Goddess of Nature cedes to the Department of the Environment. It might be called a modern affliction: an excess of self-consciousness, a doing of things by rules, a misplaced hungering for certainty. In every sphere of life we find a new kind of attention imposed, drawn out from within the experience and directed at the idea of the experience. Nothing is spared.

At war

Iain McGilchrist, 25 January 1990

‘What, into this?’ It is the essential incongruity they capture which makes the words of Haile Selasse, Emperor of Ethiopia, Lion of Judah, as he was unceremoniously bundled by the revolutionary guards into the back of an orange Volkswagen van, so much more telling than other images of revolution – the lonely figure on the balcony of the Winter Palace, besieged by his hungry people, the voluptuary tyrant shot through his immaculate shirt-front at his own banqueting table and bleeding into the fish, the scurrying fugitive clutching the crown jewels as he escapes to Claridge’s in his private jet. All too single, the dramatic images miss their mark. ‘What, into this?’ The words are those of the king of infinite space up against his nutshell, the ‘etherial spirit of man’ as Carlyle put it, up against ‘two or three feet of sorry tripe full of–’, the voice of whatever it is in us which in love, in religion and in ill health, sees itself as emperor, betrayed by his own base subject, the body.’

New Mortality

Iain McGilchrist, 7 June 1984

Flu has just hit London, and you are not feeling very well. You have swollen glands and a cough, perhaps with a sore throat; you are running a temperature, tend to sweat in bed at night, and your bowels are a bit upset. To most of us an attack of this kind is unpleasant and inconvenient, little more than that. For others it brings doubts that are a plague worse than the disease, fears that cause rifts between themselves and their loved ones, and a growing realisation that they are going to be cast off by mankind, possibly for good. These men – for it is principally men that are concerned – are members of the metropolitan homosexual communities – in London, Paris and, above all, New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles. Over the last five years their lives have been overshadowed by the spread of a mysterious, entirely fatal disease which has, ironically, become known as AIDS.

Letter

Soul

23 January 1986

SIR: I liked Colin McGinn’s review of Oliver Sacks’s The Man who mistook his wife for a hat (LRB, 23 January), but I wonder if he was not a bit swift in saying goodbye to the soul. If the ‘soul’ turns out to be a description of some facet of the neural tissue itself, then piecemeal degeneration of that tissue does indeed see the piecemeal degeneration of the soul, and death...

Faculty at War

Tom Paulin, 17 June 1982

Many academic teachers of English are at the moment united in the dismayed recognition that their subject is in a state of acute crisis. Some nourish the suspicion that English literature...

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