There’s a really wonderful article by Oliver Sacks in the New Yorker this week, excerpted from his forthcoming Musicophilia. I’ve got a profile of Sacks in the next issue of Seed (hitting newsstands soon), which was a real thrill to write, since he’s always been one of my intellectual heroes. Here’s how I describe Clive Wearing, the amnesiac subject of the article, in my profile:
One of the final stories in Musicophilia is that of Clive Wearing, an English musician and musicologist who was struck by a severe brain infection that decimated his memory. As a result, Clive lives inside brief parentheses of time, just a few seconds long. “Desperate to hold on to something,” Sacks writes, “Clive started to keep a journal. But his journal entries consisted, essentially, of the statements ‘I am awake’ or ‘I am conscious,’ entered again and again every few minutes. He would write: ‘2:10 pm: this time properly awake…2:14 pm: this time finally awake…2:35 pm: this time completely awake.'”
The only thing that comforts Clive is music. When he is playing the piano, Clive is suddenly “himself again”. The Bach Prelude can’t recover his past – that is lost forever – but it does allow him to be fully immersed in the present tense. He can share, if only for a moment, the emotions of the melody. The music is a “bridge across the abyss,” a temporary relief from the terrifying loneliness of his amnesia.
Also be sure to check out Deborah Wearing’s memoir. And there are a bunch of Clive documentaries on You Tube: