So I managed to finish one of the books I included in my earlier “what I’m reading” post. Richard Powers’s The Echo Maker is one impressive novel. As usual, the intelligence and learning of the author are astonishing, only to be surpassed by his way with words even more so. (It is a rare book indeed that is as lyrical in places as this one, and that has you fighting yourself over turning the pages to discover how on earth the plot will resolve, versus spending a long time on each page savoring the words.) OK, I’m gushing. Here are a couple of quotes from the book. The first is from a several-page long masterly summary of cognitive neuroscience, from the perspective of an Oliver Sacks-like character.
This thought formed in him as he lay awake at dawn, listening to a mockingbird roll through its round of pilfered calls: of selves as the self describes itself, no one had one. Lying, denying, repressing, confabulating; these weren’t pathologies. They were the signature of awareness, trying to stay intact. What was truth, compared to survival? Floating or broken or split or a third of a second behind, something still insisted: Me. Always the water changed, but the river stood still. (Page 382)
The second quote is again about this character (who is having a spectacular mid-life crisis).
Once, he’d studied an otherwise healthy man who thought that stories turned real. People spoke the world into being. Even a single sentence launched events as solid as experience. Journey, complication, crisis, and redemption: just say the words and they took shape.
For decades, that case haunted everything Weber wrote about. That one delusion—stories came true—seemed like the germ of healing. We told ourselves backward into diagnosis and forward into treatment. Story was the storm at the cortex’s core. And there was no better way to get at that fictional truth than through the haunted neurological parables of Broca or Luria—stories of how even shattered brains might narrate disaster back into livable sense. (Pages 413–414)