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Musical Ears

Oliver Sacks, 3 May 1984

... The late 19th-century neurologist Hughlings Jackson said that he had never been consulted for ‘reminiscence’ as the sole manifestation of epilepsy. But I have – in particular, for the forced or paroxysmal reminiscence of tunes, and, less commonly, of faces or scenes. Wilder Penfield was able to elicit such recalls – the forced replaying or reminiscence of what he called ‘fossil memories’ – by stimulation of the exposed cerebral cortex ...

The Leg

Oliver Sacks, 17 June 1982

... of being in a great hurry. He came in to see me after I had already been given the premed. ‘Sacks!’ he snapped. ‘You’ve ruptured the quadriceps tendon. We reconnect it. That’s all.’ With this he disappeared. I had neither said, nor been able to say, a single word. Operation Since I live to observe, to remember, to record, it is a grief to me ...

Witty Ticcy Ray

Oliver Sacks, 19 March 1981

... In 1884-5 Gilles de la Tourette, a pupil of Charcot, described the astonishing syndrome which now bears his name. ‘Tourette’s syndrome’, as it was immediately dubbed, is characterised by an excess of nervous energy, and a great production and extravagance of strange motions and notions: tics, jerks, mannerisms, grimaces, noises, curses, involuntary imitations and compulsions of all sorts, with an odd elfin humour and a tendency to antic and outlandish kinds of play ...
... there be anything seriously the matter? Would he permit me to examine him? ‘Yes, of course, Dr Sacks.’ I stilled my disquiet, his perhaps too, in the soothing routine of a neurological exam – muscle strength, co-ordination, reflexes, tone. It was while examining his reflexes – a trifle abnormal on the left side – that the first bizarre experience ...

It’s got bells on

Michael Neve, 21 June 1984

A Leg to Stand On 
by Oliver Sacks.
Duckworth, 168 pp., £8.95, May 1984, 0 7156 1027 9
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... Oliver Sacks is the Jules Verne of the neurological interface. Knowledgeable about science, he also wishes to summon a host of readers to a great adventure, a journey to the centre of the body and ways of knowing about bodies. As with Verne’s skilful use of half-understood scientific symbols, the project that Sacks has come to make his own has brought into public view a gallery of exotic events and phenomena that, precisely in their strangeness, remain memorable to the untrained reader ...

Life, Death and the Whole Damn Thing

Jenny Diski, 17 October 1996

An Anthropologist on Mars 
by Oliver Sacks.
Picador, 336 pp., £6.99, January 1995, 0 330 34347 5
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The Island of the Colour-Blind 
by Oliver Sacks.
Picador, 336 pp., £16.99, October 1996, 0 330 35081 1
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... Oliver Sacks seeks for meaning in the chaos of neurological deficit. He has that in common with his patient Mr Thompson, one of two Korsakov amnesiacs described in The Man who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, who, says Sacks, ‘must seek meaning, make meaning, in a desperate way, continually inventing, throwing bridges of meaning over abysses of meaninglessness, the chaos that yawns continually beneath him ...

Outpouchings

Colin McGinn, 23 January 1986

The man who mistook his wife for a hat 
by Oliver Sacks.
Duckworth, 233 pp., £9.95, October 1985, 0 7156 2067 3
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... It could be said that Oliver Sacks put neuropathology on the literary map. His first book Awakenings, about the stunning effects of the drug L-Dopa on patients afflicted with a form of Parkinsonism, attracted considerable critical acclaim from the literary world, and ‘inspired’ Harold Pinter’s rather ponderous play A Kind of Alaska ...

Gabble, Twitter and Hoot

Ian Hacking: Language, deafness and the senses, 1 July 1999

I See a Voice: A Philosophical History of Language, Deafness and the Senses 
by Jonathan Rée.
HarperCollins, 399 pp., £19.99, January 1999, 0 00 255793 2
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... part of his book is about sign languages for the deaf: voices that one sees. The same trope served Oliver Sacks in Seeing Voices: A Journey into the World of the Deaf (1989), but there is more to it than that for Rée. The quotation is from Bottom’s burlesque of love at the end of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The swain says, ‘I see a voice’ – his ...

Don’t you care?

Michael Wood: Richard Powers, 22 February 2007

The Echo Maker 
by Richard Powers.
Heinemann, 451 pp., £17.99, January 2007, 978 0 434 01633 4
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... of books about strange mental conditions by a fictional writer not entirely without resemblance to Oliver Sacks. She greatly admires the books but is even more amazed by the selfless devotion of the friend who drew her attention to them. ‘She was in Daniel’s debt again . . . And she, once again, had given him nothing . . . Of all the ...

Diary

Alan Bennett: What I did in 1986, 18 December 1986

... The accounts by the lowliest of the palace officials are the most interesting. Something of Oliver Sacks in the other ‘verbatim’ accounts. It’s not always easy to believe these articulate and over-literary witnesses or to trust that words are not being put into their mouths. The most curious feature of the account are the names: Tenene ...

Chemical Common Sense

Miroslav Holub, 4 July 1996

The Same and Not the Same 
by Roald Hoffmann.
Columbia, 294 pp., $34.95, September 1995, 0 231 10138 4
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... Jay Gould, the books of Lewis Wolpert, Peter Medawar’s essays, the psychiatric narratives of Oliver Sacks or the clinical deliberations of Sherwin Nuland; and finally the heroic attempts to describe a single discipline, including its technical details and particular kind of reasoning. For inclusion in this category I would suggest Milton A. Rothman ...

On Michael Neve

Mike Jay, 19 November 2019

... the way a piece began that yoked together Timothy Leary, anti-Freud polemic and Andrea Dworkin. ‘Oliver Sacks is the Jules Verne of the neurological interface’ was the opening of another piece. Just as often, the most startling insights appeared as throwaways. ‘It’s a moot point as to whether one should recommend books about madness’ is an aside ...

Diary

Nicholas Spice: Karl Miller is leaving, 5 November 1992

... phone upOnce when the phone rang at a particularly critical juncture, Karl yelled: ‘If it’s Oliver Sacks, don’t answer it’. But nothing quite expresses for me the intensity with which he pursued his aims at the LRB than the image of him coming through the door one Monday morning at 6A Bedford Square (where we had offices in the early ...

Elves blew his mind

Mike Jay: Hallucinations, 7 March 2013

Hallucinations 
by Oliver Sacks.
Picador, 322 pp., £18.99, November 2012, 978 1 4472 0825 9
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Spiritualism, Mesmerism and the Occult, 1800-1920 
edited by Shane McCorristine.
Pickering and Chatto, 5 vols, 1950 pp., £450, September 2012, 978 1 84893 200 5
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... in the elderly and partially sighted would much later be named. This famous case introduces Oliver Sacks’s survey of hallucinations, and sets his terms of engagement with the subject in distinctive ways. First, it predates the adoption of ‘hallucination’ as a medical term, and in that way escapes some of the ideological pressure the word ...

Nothing Becomes Something

Thomas Laqueur: Pathography, 21 September 2016

When Breath Becomes Air 
by Paul Kalanithi.
Bodley Head, 228 pp., £12.99, February 2016, 978 1 84792 367 7
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... feel, a pathos in how little he seems to learn about life in the course of his illness. In 1973 Oliver Sacks sent his friend Thom Gunn a copy of Awakenings. Gunn wrote back to say he remembered that in the 1960s Sacks had wanted to write a book that was both well written and scientifically sound. ‘You have ...

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