Monday, April 12, 2010

metaphorically speaking...

*note: part of this post was written last night before I accidentally fell asleep, so plz ignore any weird time jumping

An excellent jam-packed weekend is currently coming to a close as I sit in bed awkwardly typing this, a mug of tea precariously balanced against my solar plexus and my elbow on a stack of books + catalogues. My only wish is that it were warm enough to have the window open. But still! I do believe that Spring (when it's not making me sneeze/puffing up my eyes very attractively--due to, as I found out this evening, city landscapers' overuse of highly-allergenic trees) is waking me up. AND this coming week is bringing all sorts of bestie friends to me from all over the world! Have been feeling really alive lately, overall.

Have also been on a Nabokov kick--was reading his short stories for awhile and am now halfway through Speak, Memory (his autobiography). I'd been meaning to read the latter for a really long time, having had it recommended to me by multiple teachers and friends and random acquaintances, and now I understand why: it's fucking brilliant (for a variety of reasons I won't go into now, bc really, does the internet need another amateur book review?).

So yes, I'm loving Speak, Memory because it's a universal classic. But there is also something about Nabokov's writing that has always personally clicked with me; mostly, I think it is his lyricism and use of image, through which he somehow manages to dilate the reader's mind in a very precise way--each of his best metaphors I think can be seen as very tiny, carefully-chosen apertures that, when peered through by the reader, open (paradoxically) onto a breathtakingly-wide field of view.
At least, this is how they work for me. As I've learned, I naturally tend toward writing lyrically: to filling sentences with language aimed more at creating a feeling/mood/effect rather than contained, rational statements. This is not to say that I'm uninterested in building arguments or describing the complexity of systems or people or ideas with rigor and care. But as I've realized over the past year or two that my brain--for whatever reason--automatically works toward comprehension mostly through metaphor, I've become more interested in honing this instinct in my thinking and writing.

HENCE you can see why I was so fascinated last year by a profile in The New Yorker on Vilayanur Ramachandran, one of the most famous neurologists in the world, who came to the field as a doctor/psychologist who was an expert in visual perception. (Seriously, this article is BOMB. If you're not a subscriber email me & I'll give you my password so you can read it bc it is just that good.) Among Ramachandran's many current areas of expertise is synaesthesia, one of my personal favorite bizarre mental syndromes, whose most famous writerly "sufferer" is Nabokov! (He gives an amazing, detailed account of his particular grapheme-->color perception in SM chapter 2.) Anyway, to make a long story short, among Ramachandran's many balls-out hypotheses is one about synaesthesia: he posits that it occurs when the gene responsible for "pruning" away neural fibers as a child grows older (a key step in "normal" brain development) is somehow defective, leaving behind excess neural connections between two seemingly-unrelated brain centers.

More interestingly, he posits that a more holistically-expressed form of this same genetic defect, one which causes a less concentrated lack of cerebral pruning, could explain why some people have a propensity for metaphor! A physiological explanation for creativity??? Holy moly.

PS: As a reward for getting through this extremely long entry, I shall now reward you with an incredibly intimate look at MY VERY OWN BRAIN:


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