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The Midnight Disease: The Drive to Write, Writer's Block, and the Creative Brainby Alice W Flaherty
Synopses & Reviews
What underlies the human ability, desire, and even compulsion to write? Alice Flaherty explores the manic state resulting in an overwhelming desire to write — called hypergraphia — and the science behind its antithesis, writer's block.
As a leading neurologist at a major research hospital, Flaherty writes from the frontlines of brain research. Her voice, driven and surprisingly original, has its roots in her own harrowing experience with hypergraphia, an aspect of postpartum bipolar mood disorder. Both qualifications lend power to Flaherty's riveting connection, among many others, between the biology of pain and the human drive to communicate. Her lifelong passion for literature underpins her argument for the importance of emotion in writing, the relationship between depression and writing, and the effects on the body of being visited by the Muse. Her understanding of the role of the brain's temporal lobes and limbic system in the drive to write will challenge the popular idea that creativity emerges from the right side of the brain. Finally, The Midnight Disease casts light on the methods and madness of writers past and present, from Dostoyevsky to Conrad to Sylvia Plath to Stephen King. It is a landmark contribution to our understanding of why we are wired — and some of us are truly compelled — to write.
"[Flaherty] is the real thing...and her writing magically transforms her own tragedies into something strange and whimsical almost, almost funny." The Washington Post Book World
"This is interesting, heated stuff." The San Francisco Chronicle
"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." Publishers Weekly
"The Midnight Disease remains a signal achievement, providing remarkable dividends for readers interested in the human brain and artistic creativity." Seattle Post-Intelligencer
Book News Annotation:
Neurologist Flaherty (Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School) explains the psychological and neuroscientific knowledge about the process of writing for a lay audience. She discusses the temporal lobe's role in "abnormal hypergraphia," an increased desire to write. She then explores psychological and neurological explanations for writer's block. The roles of the cerebral cortex in writing ability, the limbic system in the drive to communication, and the temporal lob in metaphorical thinking are examined in subsequent chapters.
Annotation ©2004 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
Why is it that some writers struggle for months to come up with the perfect sentence or phrase while others, hunched over a keyboard deep into the night, seem unable to stop writing? In The Midnight Disease, neurologist Alice W. Flaherty explores the mysteries of literary creativity: the drive to write, what sparks it, and what extinguishes it. She draws on intriguing examples from medical case studies and from the lives of writers, from Franz Kafka to Anne Lamott, from Sylvia Plath to Stephen King. Flaherty, who herself has grappled with episodes of compulsive writing and block, also offers a compelling personal account of her own experiences with these conditions.
What underlies the human ability, desire, and even compulsion to write? Alice Flaherty first explores the brain state called hypergraphia - the overwhelming desire to write - and the science behind its antithesis, writer's block. As a leading neurologist at a major research hospital, Flaherty writes from the front lines of brain research. Her voice, driven and surprisingly original, has its roots in her own experiences of hypergraphia, triggered by a postpartum mood disorder. Both qualifications lend power to Flaherty's riveting connection between the biology of human longing and the drive to communicate.
The Midnight Disease charts exciting new territory concerning the roles of mind and body in the creative process. Flaherty - whose engagement with her patients and lifelong passion for literature enrich each page - argues for the importance of emotion in writing, illuminates the role that mood disorders play in the lives of many writers, and explores with profound insight the experience of being "visited by the muse." Her understanding of the role of the brain's temporal lobes and limbic system in the drive to write challenges the popular idea that creativity emerges solely from the right side of the brain. Finally, The Midnight Disease casts lights on the methods and madness of writers past and present, from Dostoevsky to Conrad, from Sylvia Plath to Stephen King.
The Midnight Disease brings the very latest brain science to bear on the most compelling questions surrounding human creativity.
Includes bibliographical references (p. -283) and index.
About the Author
Alice Weaver Flaherty is a young doctor, a neurologist, who has gone from a summa cum laude degree at Harvard, to a PhD from MIT, to an MD from Harvard Medical School, to a position as chief resident in neurology (in her early thirties) at Massachusetts General Hospital, where she is now staff neurologist and "where I surreptitiously do a lot of writing." She sees patients regularly, specializes in the innovative technique of deep brain stimulators, and is the author of a number of scientific papers on the brain's representation of the body. She lives with her husband and twin daughters in Cambridge, Mass.
Table of Contents
Contents Acknowledgments ix Introduction 1 1 : Hypergraphia: The Incurable Disease of Writing 17 2 : Literary Creativity and Drive 49 3 : Writers Block as State of Mind 79 4 : Writers Block as Brain State 108 5 : How We Write: The Cortex 149 6 : Why We Write: The Limbic System 183 7 : Metaphor, the Inner Voice, and the Muse 224 References 267 Illustration Credits 284 Index 285
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