Synopses & Reviews
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 drive to write, what sparks it, and what extinguishes it. Flaherty, who herself has grappled with episodes of compulsive writing and block, offers a brave and compelling personal account of a fascinating condition. As in Lauren Slater's Prozac Diary and Kay Redfield Jamison's An Unquiet Mind, "the power of this work comes from Flaherty's being a first-class writer who has lived this story" (Abraham Verghese, author of My Own Country).
Dissecting the role of emotion and the ways in which neurological and mood disorders can lead to meager or prodigious creative output, Flaherty draws on examples from case studies and from the lives of writers, from Franz Kafka to Anne Lamott, Sylvia Plath to Stephen King.
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. Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Simplistic notions like the one that says creativity is a function of the right side of the brain go out the window, to be replaced by complex, yet entirely plausible, correlations between brain states and creative acts." David Pitt, Booklist
"[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
"The Midnight Disease remains a signal achievement, providing remarkable dividends for readers interested in the human brain and artistic creativity." Seattle Post-Intelligencer
"This is interesting, heated stuff." The San Francisco Chronicle
Neurologist Flaherty explores the drive to write, what sparks it, and what extinguishes it. She offers a brave and compelling account of the role of emotion and the ways in which neurological and mood disorders can lead to meager--or prodigious--creative output.
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.
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.