Nabokov wrote that concerts affected him ...
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Oliver Sacks turns his attention to the effects of music on the brain
By RACHEL AVIVSPECIAL TO THE P-I
In the standout chapter of his new book, "Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain," Oliver Sacks visits a musicologist named Clive who has suffered brain damage that makes him feel as if he is perpetually waking up for the first time. His journal consists of a series of identical affirmations of his own existence: "I am awake," "I am conscious," "This time properly awake," "I awoke for the first time, despite my previous claims." It is only when Clive plays music -- and remembers every lyric and note -- that his bewilderment subsides. Watching Clive's transformation, Sacks begins to view the experience of music as an altered form of consciousness -- not "the remembrance of things past," but "the claiming, the filling, of the present."
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For others, music means nothing. William James called music totally "useless," a collection of "plinking noises," and Vladimir Nabokov wrote that concerts affected him "merely as an arbitrary succession of more or less irritating sounds." Sacks labels these two, as well as Darwin, Freud and Ulysses Grant, potential victims of "amusia." When discussing Freud's case, Sacks suggests that perhaps Freud, who wrote that he cannot be "moved by anything without knowing why I am thus affected," is "resisting" music's seduction.
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Rachel Aviv is a Brooklyn-based writer whose work has appeared in The New York Times, The Village Voice, and The Believer.
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