The Midnight Disease

Holiday of the day: Happy New Year, everyone, and be sure to bum a few free rides on the T after 8pm!

St. Ignatius hasn’t helped me much yet, but after mailing off my latest Writers of the Future entry, I skimmed a new writing book at Brookline Booksmith: The Midnight Disease. Local neurologist Alice Flaherty tries to explain the biological basis of creativity, using insights gained from her own bouts of hypergraphia.

The author uses the association of creativity with epilepsy and manic depression to trace the creative spirit to particular locations in the brain. I skipped the intermediate chapters on writer’s block to get to the elusive muse. While she mentioned Julian Jaynes’ theories as well as the idea that the muse is the unconscious mind, her own position seemed to be that the muse is the unrecognized interior voice, not unlike the one that tells schizophrenics to kill kill kill.

Accepting for the moment that non-muse writing also comes from the writer’s inner monologue, it’s not clear to me how that voice is supposed to become something…alien. So the inner voice explanation has the same problems as the unconscious explanation - why is our unconscious or internal monologue sometimes recognizable as our own, and sometimes alien enough to call it a muse?

The trouble with scientific explanations is that they leave these basic issues unexplained, giving us only tautologies like the survival of the fittest.

4 Responses to “The Midnight Disease”

  1. mike hollihan Says:

    I seem to remember reading some years ago, in the NYT, that schizophrenics basically had an audiological problem. They had faulty brain/ear wiring such that the “inner voice’ we all know was perceived as external, not internal. I’ve had that experience once in my life and it was very, very spooky. Maybe the “muse” and the “inner monologue” are the same voice, but from different wiring paths?

  2. Jemima Says:

    That’s the general idea of the book, I think. But as far as I know, schizophrenics also have a normal, non-kill kill kill, inner voice. I certainly have a normal, non-muse, ability to write fiction.

    So why is my muse a better writer than I am? Why does the psycho voice say kill kill kill rather than clean up your room?

  3. mike hollihan Says:

    Most schizophrenics don’t have a “kill, kill, kill” voice, though. (Unless you’re kidding and I missed the tone.) Most schizophrenics are normal people until the voices start up. It’s the stress of dealing with the unrelenting voices from the world that unhinges the mind. Most get lost inside themselves and their delusions; it’s only in frustration that they lash out. Some develop fixations that can lead to action against a person or type. That’s more a function of how the individual mind deals with the breakdown from the schizophrenia than from the disease itself.

    May I also say that, referencing the posts above as well, if you ever decide to marry a total stranger from another part of the country, I’d like to put my name up for consideration? (Wow, how’s that for a passive construction?) I really like how you think, which is why I read this blog. And I mean this in a completely benign, Internet-ty, adolescent, non-stalkery kind of way! ;-)

  4. Jemima Says:

    I’m only half kidding. By “kill kill kill” I mean any sort of negative voice, insulting the victim or telling him to do things besides clean his room. In one study more than 70% of patients experiencing auditory hallucinations described them as “always or almost always negative.” (See The voices schizophrenics hear.) So it’s not a normal, everyday inner voice coming in the wrong channel.

    Similarly, the muse never shows up to write workaday J/C schmoop - she has very high standards. If she came and wrote something I could write as easily myself, maybe I just wouldn’t notice that it was her. Maybe a “clean clean clean” voice would be taken as OCD rather than schizophrenia.

    On the other topic, much as I believe in marrying perfect strangers from the other side of the country (or better yet, from Brazil), you should be aware that I go out of my way not to record my thoughts in my blog. You’re not getting the real Jemima, with political opinions that are illegal in certain countries (and I don’t mean the countries where most opinions are illegal), and religious and philosophical ideas to match. Believe me, our marriage would never work.