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  1. Lost Memory in the Abyss
  2. Memory of the Abyss by Marcello Fois - book review
  3. Arts&Culture
  4. Half a World Away

Clive does have a severe case of amnesia in comparison to other patients, with the deficits being evident in both semantic and episodic memories. A review of the literature strongly suggests that particular brain structures such as the amygdala, the hippocampus, and the prefrontal cortex play important role in the retrieval of emotional memories Buchanan, Furthermore, it is well known that patients with damage to both the amygdala and the hippocampus retrieved fewer unpleasant autobiographical memories, which would suggest that the positive emotions in Clive such as love would be less likely to be lost, especially if reinforced on a regular basis.

Recently, researchers have suggested a possible mechanism for how such memories are formed, involving molecular changes. In particular, it has been found that the neurotransmitter norepinephrine helps form new memories through a receptor on the surface of nerve cells GluR1 , with memories being coded based on the strength of the signals Barry, Thus, Sacks statement needs to be more elaborate, and critically review recent findings in neuropsychology of memory. Terms repeatedly used by Sacks such as declarative and procedural reveal only the surface of memory and fail to address the subtleties of memories.

Second, Sacks reminds us of details that may be relevant in understanding amnesia but overlooked behind statistics, imaging studies, or psychological tests. A more anecdotal approach could prove to be highly complementary in a field where each case of amnesia is completely different and where new perspectives may arise based on subjective understandings of consciousness and the experience of ever-present time in amnesia.

Sacks invites us to pay attention to amnesia with a human approach, where scientific findings are based on vivid observations from deep curiosity and shared struggles faced each day by amnesiacs as they merge the abyss of consciousness. Skip to main content. Request new password. The Profound Abyss of Consciousness. Printer-friendly version. This dreadful journal, almost void of any other content but these passionate assertions and denials, intending to affirm existence and continuity but forever contradicting them, was filled anew each day, and soon mounted to hundreds of almost identical pages.

Another profoundly amnesic patient I knew some years ago dealt with his abysses of amnesia by fluent confabulations. He was wholly immersed in his quick-fire inventions and had no insight into what was happening; so far as he was concerned, there was nothing the matter. He would confidently identify or misidentify me as a friend of his, a customer in his delicatessen, a kosher butcher, another doctor—as a dozen different people in the course of a few minutes.

This sort of confabulation was not one of conscious fabrication. It was, rather, a strategy, a desperate attempt—unconscious and almost automatic—to provide a sort of continuity, a narrative continuity, when memory, and thus experience, was being snatched away every instant. Lacking memory, lacking direct experiential knowledge, amnesiacs have to make hypotheses and inferences, and they usually make plausible ones. They can infer that they have been doing something, been somewhere , even though they cannot recollect what or where. Deborah wrote of how, coming in one day, she saw him.

He was holding a chocolate.

He could feel the chocolate unmoving in his left palm, and yet every time he lifted his hand he told me it revealed a brand new chocolate. This, in turn, was succeeded by a deep depression, as it came to him—if only in sudden, intense, and immediately forgotten moments—that his former life was over, that he was incorrigibly disabled.

As the months passed without any real improvement, the hope of significant recovery became fainter and fainter, and toward the end of Clive was moved to a room in a chronic psychiatric unit—a room he was to occupy for the next six and a half years but which he was never able to recognize as his own. A young psychologist saw Clive for a period of time in and kept a verbatim record of everything he said, and this caught the grim mood that had taken hold. No dreaming, no waking, no touch, no taste, no smell, no sight, no sound, no hearing, nothing at all. I came to the conclusion that I was dead.

The only times of feeling alive were when Deborah visited him. Please fly here at the speed of light. To imagine the future was no more possible for Clive than to remember the past—both were engulfed by the onslaught of amnesia. Yet, at some level, Clive could not be unaware of the sort of place he was in, and the likelihood that he would spend the rest of his life, his endless night, in such a place.

But then, seven years after his illness, after huge efforts by Deborah, Clive was moved to a small country residence for the brain-injured, much more congenial than a hospital. Here he was one of only a handful of patients, and in constant contact with a dedicated staff who treated him as an individual and respected his intelligence and talents. He was taken off most of his heavy tranquillizers, and seemed to enjoy his walks around the village and gardens near the home, the spaciousness, the fresh food.

Though I had corresponded with Deborah since Clive first became ill, twenty years went by before I met Clive in person. He had been reminded of our visit just before we arrived, and he flung his arms around Deborah the moment she entered. Some of the scores, I noted, were transcriptions of Orlandus Lassus, the Renaissance composer whose works Clive had edited. No, he said. Deborah told me they had visited several times before his illness. When I asked Deborah whether Clive knew about her memoir, she told me that she had shown it to him twice before, but that he had instantly forgotten.

I had my own heavily annotated copy with me, and asked Deborah to show it to him again. Good heavens!

Lost Memory in the Abyss

This scene was repeated several times within a few minutes, with almost exactly the same astonishment, the same expressions of delight and joy each time. Clive and Deborah are still very much in love with each other, despite his amnesia. It must be an extraordinary situation, I thought, both maddening and flattering, to be seen always as new, as a gift, a blessing.

Are you the Prime Minister? Are you from the U. Clive had no idea who I was, little idea who anyone was, but this bonhomie allowed him to make contact, to keep a conversation going. I suspected he had some damage to his frontal lobes, too—such jokiness neurologists speak of Witzelsucht, joking disease , like his impulsiveness and chattiness, could go with a weakening of the usual social frontal-lobe inhibitions.

He was excited at the notion of going out for lunch—lunch with Deborah. It resembled Tourettic or savantlike speed, the speed of the preconscious, undelayed by reflection.

Memory of the Abyss by Marcello Fois - book review

Australian wine! New Zealand wine! The colonies are producing something original—how exciting! He spoke of how after Cambridge, in , he joined the London Sinfonietta, where they played modern music, though he was already attracted to the Renaissance and Lassus. These all sounded like genuine memories. Then he spoke of the Second World War he was born in and how his family would go to bomb shelters and play chess or cards there. He would have been only six or seven, at most. Or was he confabulating or simply, as we all do, repeating stories he had been told as a child? At one point, he talked about pollution and how dirty petrol engines were.

When I told him I had a hybrid with an electric motor as well as a combustion engine, he was astounded, as if something he had read about as a theoretical possibility had, far sooner than he had imagined, become a reality. Where does it get all that fuel? We move round the sun. How can it keep on burning for millions of years? And the Earth stays the same temperature. And puncturing the ozone layer. Do you know the average IQ is only ?

One hundred.


He stuck to subjects he felt he knew something about, where he would be on safe ground, even if here and there something apocryphal crept in. These small areas of repartee acted as stepping stones on which he could move through the present. They enabled him to engage with others.

Under Night In-Birth ost - Snow Sisters [Extended]

This, indeed, is what happened when we went to a supermarket and he and I got separated briefly from Deborah. Never saw a human being before. Deborah thinks that repetition has slightly dulled the very real pain that goes with this agonized but stereotyped complaint, but when he says such things she will distract him immediately. Once she has done this, there seems to be no lingering mood—an advantage of his amnesia.

And, indeed, once we returned to the car Clive was off on his license plates again. He inserted a tiny, charming improvisation at one point, and did a sort of Chico Marx ending, with a huge downward scale. With his great musicality and his playfulness, he can easily improvise, joke, play with any piece of music.

Half a World Away

His eye fell on the book about cathedrals, and he talked about cathedral bells—did I know how many combinations there could be with eight bells? I asked him about Prime Ministers. Tony Blair? Never heard of him. John Major? Margaret Thatcher? Vaguely familiar. Harold Macmillan, Harold Wilson: ditto.

He can go alone now to the bathroom, the dining room, the kitchen—but if he stops and thinks en route he is lost. Though he could not describe his residence, Deborah tells me that he unclasps his seat belt as they draw near and offers to get out and open the gate. Later, when he makes her coffee, he knows where the cups, the milk, and the sugar are kept. He cannot say where they are, but he can go to them; he has actions, but few facts, at his disposal.

I decided to widen the testing and asked Clive to tell me the names of all the composers he knew. Deborah told me that at first, when asked this question, he would omit Lassus, his favorite composer. This seemed appalling for someone who had been not only a musician but an encyclopedic musicologist. Perhaps it reflected the shortness of his attention span and recent immediate memory—perhaps he thought that he had in fact given us dozens of names.

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So I asked him other questions on a variety of topics that he would have been knowledgeable about in his earlier days. Again, there was a paucity of information in his replies and sometimes something close to a blank. Given his intelligence, ingenuity, and humor, it was easy to think this on meeting him for the first time. But repeated conversations rapidly exposed the limits of his knowledge.