The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat
Sacks (Oliver)
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BOOK ABSTRACT:

Inside Cover Blurb

  1. In Awakenings Oliver Sacks recounted the life stories of patients afflicted by an extraordinary neurological illness, encephalitis lethargica, a form of Parkinsonism. Hailed as a medical and literary classic, it became the inspiration of Harold Pinter's West End play A Kind of Alaska.
  2. Dr Sacks has now extended his explorations to a wide range of other neurological cases which are no less extraordinary. There are patients with odd perceptual and intellectual aberrations — like the man of the title who 'mistook his wife for a hat' — while others display abnormal mental powers. Some have lost their memory, and with it the greater part of their personal history; others are overwhelmed by memories that they can't control. Some, like Witty Ticcy Ray, are convulsed by tics and rapid explosions of passion and imagery; others are partly or wholly disembodied1, or conscious of sensations in phantom limbs. Every sort of excess and defect, every sort of reversion and transformation, is presented in this fascinating book.
  3. Dr Sacks touches on some of the deepest and strangest extremes of the human condition. He directs a powerful light upon the organic foundations of imagination, judgment and identity, pointing to the need for a new and deeper 'neurology of the self'. As in Awakenings, the curious details of the cases are leavened by a profound human sympathy, by which the author enables us to enter the world of the patients and to imagine what it must be like to live and feel as they do. It is a book of extraordinary evocation.
  4. Oliver Sacks was born in London in 1933 and educated at St Paul's School, The Queen's College, Oxford, and the Middlesex Hospital. Following a period of research in neurochemistry and neurophysiology, he returned to clinical work, interesting himself particularly in migraine (the subject of his first book), mental illness, behavioural development and disorder in children, and the care of the post-encephalitic patients described in Awakenings. Dr Sacks (was) Professor of Clinical Neurology at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, New York.

BOOK COMMENT:

Duckworth, Second Impression, 1985



"Sacks (Oliver) - The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat: Preface"

Source: Sacks - The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat, 1985



"Sacks (Oliver) - Losses"

Source: Sacks - The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat, Introduction to Part 1



"Sacks (Oliver) - The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat"

Source: Sacks - The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat, Part 1 (Losses), Chapter 1


This is interesting because it's a case of prosopagnosia (see Wikipedia: Prosopagnosia), which Sacks himself had.



"Sacks (Oliver) - The Lost Mariner"

Source: Sacks - The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat, Part 1 (Losses), Chapter 2


Brief Notes
  1. The Chapter is concerned (for the most part) with Jimmie G, a highly intelligent former submariner who is resident in the (Catholic) Old Folks’ Home that Sacks works at, despite being only age 49.
  2. Jimmie has Korsakoff’s syndrome (brought on, as is usual, by a period of alcoholism – see Wikipedia: Korsakoff's Syndrome) and can remember nothing since 19451 (he was admitted in 1975, though the Chapter seems to have been written based on interviews with Jimmie 9 years later) and cannot store new memories2 or perform tasks requiring attention for more than (say) a minute.
  3. Sacks discusses the case with A.R. Luria. His particular interest is whether someone with Jimmie’s condition can be a Self3. Luria thinks there’s more to a Self than Narrative Identity4 – a sort of spiritual or moral dimension that Jimmie seems to retain – at least when he’s in Chapel.
  4. Sacks (as is usual) makes various forays into discussions of Personal Identity – which I need to unpick sometime – but they don’t betray much philosophical insight (or at least much acquaintanceship with the literature).
  5. Jimmie seems to be calm and accepting (insofar as he’s aware of his condition – he can be made aware of it – when forced to look in a mirror he’s horrified to see he looks old, as he thinks of himself as living in 1945 as a young man; but he soon forgets). Strangely, Sacks’s account mirrors this.
  6. In a postscript, Sacks compares him with William (see "Sacks (Oliver) - A Matter of Identity") who manically confabulates and Stephen R. whose onset of Korsakoff’s syndrome is more recent and whose connection with the past is only a few years offset, and is therefore more distressing.




In-Page Footnotes ("Sacks (Oliver) - The Lost Mariner")

Footnote 1: He thus has Retrograde Amnesia (see Wikipedia: Retrograde amnesia).

Footnote 2: He thus also has Anterograde Amnesia (see Wikipedia: Anterograde amnesia)



"Sacks (Oliver) - The Disembodied Lady"

Source: Sacks - The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat, Part 1 (Losses), Chapter 3



"Sacks (Oliver) - The Man who Fell out of Bed"

Source: Sacks - The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat, Part 1 (Losses), Chapter 4



"Sacks (Oliver) - Hands"

Source: Sacks - The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat, Part 1 (Losses), Chapter 5



"Sacks (Oliver) - Phantoms"

Source: Sacks - The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat, Part 1 (Losses), Chapter 6



"Sacks (Oliver) - On the Level"

Source: Sacks - The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat, Part 1 (Losses), Chapter 7



"Sacks (Oliver) - Eyes Right!"

Source: Sacks - The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat, Part 1 (Losses), Chapter 8



"Sacks (Oliver) - The President's Speech"

Source: Sacks - The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat, Part 1 (Losses), Chapter 9



"Sacks (Oliver) - Excesses"

Source: Sacks - The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat, Introduction to Part 2



"Sacks (Oliver) - Witty Ticcy Ray"

Source: Sacks - The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat, Part 2 (Excesses), Chapter 10



"Sacks (Oliver) - Cupid's Disease"

Source: Sacks - The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat, Part 2 (Excesses), Chapter 11



"Sacks (Oliver) - A Matter of Identity"

Source: Sacks - The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat, Part 2 (Excesses), Chapter 12


Brief Notes
  1. The Chapter is concerned with William Thompson, a former grocer now resident in the (Catholic) Old Folks’ Home that Sacks works at.
  2. Like Jimmie G (see "Sacks (Oliver) - The Lost Mariner"), whom Sacks has discussed earlier, William has Korsakoff’s syndrome (see Wikipedia: Korsakoff's Syndrome). He assumes that he is still a grocer, but doesn’t recognize anyone he now sees, because he cannot remember having met them before. However, he is much more manic than Jimmie, and to make sense of his situation, he confabulates (See Wikipedia: Confabulation) – he claims to recognize the people he meets, but either equates them with someone else he knew, or invents a personality for them.
  3. He is interesting company (for a while), and taxi drivers – for instance – find him fascinating, but little of what he tells them is true. Sacks cites a similar case (related to taxi drivers) in A.R. Luria.
  4. The manic character of the subject seems to affect Sacks’s account, which is equally manic.
  5. Sacks makes forays into the topic of what personal identity is – in particular ensoulment1. The nuns are less sure that William is ensouled as he can’t attend Chapel because he carries on confabulating.
  6. Sacks notes that the surface froth of William’s life is more destructive of the person than the more settled confusion of Jimmie.
  7. I intend to look into Sacks’s forays into personal identity in due course.



"Sacks (Oliver) - Yes, Father - Sister"

Source: Sacks - The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat, Part 2 (Excesses), Chapter 13



"Sacks (Oliver) - The Possessed"

Source: Sacks - The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat, Part 2 (Excesses), Chapter 14



"Sacks (Oliver) - Transports"

Source: Sacks - The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat, Introduction to Part 3



"Sacks (Oliver) - Reminiscence"

Source: Sacks - The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat, Part 3 (Transports), Chapter 15



"Sacks (Oliver) - Incontinent Nostalgia"

Source: Sacks - The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat, Part 3 (Transports), Chapter 16



"Sacks (Oliver) - A Passage to India"

Source: Sacks - The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat, Part 3 (Transports), Chapter 17



"Sacks (Oliver) - The Dog Beneath the Skin"

Source: Sacks - The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat, Part 3 (Transports), Chapter 18



"Sacks (Oliver) - Murder"

Source: Sacks - The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat, Part 3 (Transports), Chapter 19



"Sacks (Oliver) - The Visions of Hildegard"

Source: Sacks - The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat, Part 3 (Transports), Chapter 20



"Sacks (Oliver) - The World of the Simple"

Source: Sacks - The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat, Introduction to Part 4



"Sacks (Oliver) - Rebecca"

Source: Sacks - The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat, Part 4 (The World of the Simple), Chapter 21



"Sacks (Oliver) - A Walking Grove"

Source: Sacks - The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat, Part 4 (The World of the Simple), Chapter 22



"Sacks (Oliver) - The Twins"

Source: Sacks - The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat, Part 4 (The World of the Simple), Chapter 23



"Sacks (Oliver) - The Autist Artist"

Source: Sacks - The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat, Part 4 (The World of the Simple), Chapter 24



Text Colour Conventions (see disclaimer)
  1. Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2020
  2. Mauve: Text by correspondent(s) or other author(s); © the author(s)



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