An epilepsy gene was discovered in 1996, so it is only a matter of time before genetic counselors offer the option of abortion or embryo destruction to parents of preborn offspring – if they’re not already.
alfred lord tennyson 2.jpgYesterday Holy Kaw drew attention to a fascinating article on How Stuff Works. I had no idea so many of our great writers had epilepsy… and that there’s an explanation.
This is just another example of that which we consider abnormal, or a defect, not necessarily being so, or at least having a sunny side that contributes to the advancement of humanity….

Alfred Lord Tennyson [pictured right] described the experience as “the clearest of the clearest, the surest of the surest, the weirdest of the weirdest, utterly beyond words.”…

Before they happened to Gustave Flaubert, the Frenchman became terrified, writing that he felt “a whirlpool of ideas and images in my poor brain, during which it seemed that my consciousness, that my me sank like a vessel in a storm.”
Lewis Carroll also shared this sense of growing unreality, writing that his made him feel strange, like another person. These descriptions aren’t nightmares or passages from science-fiction novels. They’re attempts to describe what it feels like to a have an epileptic seizure….
Flaubert, Charles Dickens, Edgar Allan Poe, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Lord Byron, Dante Alighieri, Sir Walter Scott, Edward Lear, Jonathan Swift – all legendary writers and all epileptics.

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The hallucinations, seizures and flood of memories associated with temporal lobe epilepsy influenced some of these writers profoundly. Dickens, Dostoevsky and Flaubert cast characters in their works as epileptics. Carroll’s bizarre, dreamlike fictions, such as Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, seem to share some characteristics with the above descriptions of seizures. Some critics have argued that the entirety of Alice’s Adventures is a symbolic representation of epileptic seizures.
Besides its tendency to induce hallucinations and other disturbing stimuli, epilepsy has been linked to a condition called hypergraphia, an all-consuming desire to write.
The overwhelming urge to write – and to write constantly – and a form of epilepsy appear to come from the same part of the brain: the temporal lobe. A troubled temporal lobe may then both spur someone to write obsessively and also cause temporal lobe epilepsy….

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It’s worth noting that many of these writers, and epileptic artists like Vincent van Gogh, were quite prolific, in some cases over rather short life spans. (Van Gogh, who may have had both epilepsy and bipolar disorder, painted constantly and wrote his brother multiple letters a day.)
Epilepsy and hypergraphia can be accompanied by depression, which for some artists is a bane and for others a challenging source of inspiration. But depression, with its many possible causes, isn’t likely a source of artistic talent. Instead, it often provides a reason for people to sort out their problems through art….

[Tennyson photo via Wikipedia]

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