Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Plumb lines

Leonard Cassuto interviews Oliver Sacks for the B&N Review (link courtesy of Dave Lull). Lots there to ponder, but I was especially taken with this bit:
[OS] I'm tantalized by the inadequacy of all description. For example, with Parkinsonism, I think that an adequate description of someone with Parkinson's getting up and walking across the room would require 600 pages of dense prose, and it wouldn't have an extra word in it. It would also be enthralling and gripping. I like Clifford Geertz's notion of thick description. Things are never thick enough. I like the way how in a novel, ten seconds of consciousness, or thirty seconds of consciousness, can take fifty pages to describe.

LC: Then if I follow your thinking, the concrete is the plumb line that leads you into any sort of useful description of consciousness.

OS: Yes. By the same token I am somewhat tormented by the linearity of writing in a book. It would be nice if I could present a globe, with plumb lines dropping from every place, which is partly why I like footnotes. Kate [Sacks's assistant and frequent collaborator, Kate Edgar] has to restrain me from writing footnotes to footnotes. I think anything you look at deeply enough will take you to a great many things.

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