The Neuroscientist’s Memoir: Dramatic Irony and Disorders of Consciousness


This essay explores new technologies of communication, mischievously suggesting that an ordinary memoir, on some fundamental level, is no different from what occurred with a young woman in a persistent vegetative state who “willfully modulated [her] brain activity.” If, as Elaine Scarry famously suggested, readers produce mental imagery “under the instruction of a writer,” then thinking about the role of alternative and augmentative communication (AAC) in providing such instruction might help us to think through the relationship between cognition and generic innovation while, importantly, making room for neurodivergent writers. When George Perec wrote The Void without using the letter “e,” he imposed a restriction that could be said to work a bit like a “tennis-yes, navigation-no” protocol. In Eavesdropping: A Memoir of Blindness and Listening, the blind writer Stephen Kuusisto reinvents travel writing by having hearing and touch take the lead. Narrative itself ends up being transformed. This essay explores how disability puts pressure on the procedures of conventional narrative.

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