Monday, November 23, 2009

Neuroscience and popular culture: Reasons not to buy "neuronovels" for people for Christmas

In the age of neuro-everything, I am hardly surprised to hear about the neuronovel. Jonah Lehrer at Frontal Cortex reports,
The last dozen years or so have seen the emergence of a new strain within the Anglo-American novel. What has been variously referred to as the novel of consciousness or the psychological or confessional novel-the novel, at any rate, about the workings of a mind-has transformed itself into the neurological novel, wherein the mind becomes the brain. ince 1997, readers have encountered, in rough chronological order, Ian McEwan's Enduring Love (de Clérambault's syndrome, complete with an appended case history by a fictional "presiding psychiatrist" and a useful bibliography), Jonathan Lethem's Motherless Brooklyn (Tourette's syndrome), Mark Haddon's Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (autism), Richard Powers's The Echomaker (facial agnosia, Capgras syndrome), McEwan again with Saturday (Huntington's disease, as diagnosed by the neurosurgeon protagonist), Atmospheric Disturbances (Capgras syndrome again) by a medical school graduate, Rivka Galchen, and John Wray's Lowboy (paranoid schizophrenia). And these are just a selection of recently published titles in "literary fiction." There are also many recent genre novels, mostly thrillers, of amnesia, bipolar disorder, and multiple personality disorder.
Lehrer is appropriately skeptical, though at the end of his piece, he almost bows down to materialism - as he must, I suppose. It is very difficult for anyone with a stake in this present darkness to avoid at least appearing to believe that darkness is light.

My own view: Once we put -ogical or -ology in our explanation of a novel ... watch out! We are already wandering off the main highway of narrative. "Once upon a time" is actually much better.

Hat tip: Stephanie West Allen at Brains on Purpose

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