The Novelist and the Neurobiologist Forum


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welcome to the forum
Name: Paul Grobstein
Date: 2005-10-15 13:13:16
Link to this Comment: 16511

Who's the novelist here, and who the neurobiologist? My guess is that we're all both. Story tellers, certainly, but also inquirers into why people, ourselves included, do the things we do (which is to what neurobiologists, at least this one, try to make sense of). Amateurs or professionals at either or both, there is a space there to share what we do and how we think we do it, and to learn from each other's ways of making sense of those things. Interested in the issues being raised in "The Novelist and the Neurobiologist"? Your thoughts about them, or new issues that they raise in your mind, are more than welcome here. Join the conversation, and let's see what new stories and new thoughts about story telling get told.


and literary critic makes 3
Name: Anne Dalke
Date: 2005-10-18 20:36:14
Link to this Comment: 16538

So...I really don't know how much space has been left, here, for getting a word in edgewise, but I'm going to see if there' s just a little room, between the novelist and neurobiologist, where a literary critic might deposit her several cents' worth.

What struck me, first, in Michelle's account, was her opening description of an essay "grown out of her control," her realization of "exactly WHY it had swelled out of her control...." Reading as I can't-but-do for pattern and imagery, what I saw here was an anticipation of Grace's rogue symptoms, her hallucination of her mother's getting very large. Like her daughter, seeing her own essay looming huge, Michelle seemed to be looking about for some way to reduce, to manage, to cut it down to size -- perhaps via a little scientific dissection and explanation?

What struck me, second (laughing) was Paul's refusal to respond to this request by being neatly "reductive." He insisted instead on hauling out the whole attic of his unruly unconscious (or a large portion thereof): red-headed women of several generations, envelopes left and found, jackets lost and recovered....

in order to say (I think this is what is being said? it was pretty hard digging) that the making of stories always comes after, is always belated. The process of metaphor-making is not a process (this was your question, right, Michelle?) of retrieving what already exists in the unconscious, but rather of consciously creating something new, shaping what was hitherfore shapeless, bringing light into darkness, giving meaning to what, beforehand, had none. And this is directly counter to psychoanalytic presumptions that the project is one of excavating a story which is already there, just needing to be recovered.

What struck me, third, was the similarity between this argument and one I explored in an essay I wrote a couple of months ago, called "Why Words Arise--and Wherefore". I was thinking through, there, the idea that the indeterminate nature of the whole universe (of which, of course, the bipartite brain is one expression) motivates the making of stories. The

unpredictability of the future and irreducibility of the present--results of the emergent nature of the universe--lead...to those those remarkable constructions we call ... literature. Indeterminacy prods us to make up stories that explain how we got from what was to what is, from what is to what will be. Literature....is what we name the places where this meaning-making occurs...It is one of our ways...of acknowledging and responding to unknowability....


I'm back
Name: Michelle H
Date: 2005-10-31 17:06:02
Link to this Comment: 16741

Dear Paul (and everyone listening),

I've been quiet for weeks, thinking about all this, and circling my essay. Today I finished a draft of the whole thing--at last--though it's WAY too long (fifty pages, about twice the length I mean it to be) and covers so much ground it makes MY head ache. There are pieces of it I will post when I feel more confident about the writing (qua writing, as we say in my world) but in the meantime, suffice it to say that I never could have gotten this far without the help of the smart, open-minded neurobiologist. Because at this point the essay turns out to be "about" not only my daughter's micropsia/macropsia, but about the way metaphors are made, the way the brain works, the way literature is made, and the relationship between literature and life, I seem to have bitten off a bit more than any writer might comfortably chew. But I--to maintain my metaphor--have the ability to put quite a lot in my big (New York) mouth at once, and chew and chew and chew (for hours, or pages). The essay is so interesting to ME (lord knows if it will interest anyone else; I have been referring to it, in conversations with my students, my agent, my editor at MacAdam/Cage, and others, as my essay about "the meaning of everything") that I now think it will be the centerpiece of a new nonfiction book--a collection of essays I am thinking of calling "Dreamlife."

More soon.
mh


Forum Archived
Name: Webmaster
Date: 2006-08-08 10:38:18
Link to this Comment: 20139

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