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The accidents in Norway


Appetitive and consummatory states
Oliver Sacks Scientist
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[Q] Do you remember any of the stories that you wrote about [in an unpublished manuscript]?

Some of them. I remember one... one of my essays was called Desire and Delight, and was how agitated... people agitated with desire, could become calm and delighted sometimes when they heard music, and so it really had to do with what Sherrington called ‘appetitive and consummatory states’. I was later to see this very strikingly... are we still running... I was later to see exactly this with... with Lowell, this was a young man with Tourette’s syndrome whom I was to see many years later, and we travelled quite a lot together, and on one occasion we were in London, and he was very excited because he was due to meet a young Lebanese woman with Tourette’s, and he got more and more excited as we approached the apartment where she was living. And outside the door, a stream of – I don’t know whether the word exists – a stream of pornoloquy, a sort of stream of... of excited filth, sort of, poured from his mouth along with, sort of, epileptic ticc-ing, and then the door opened and the young woman appeared, and she was indeed very beautiful, and over the next hour Lowell drank in her beauty and ceased to tic. It was the most amazing thing, and I think an intensely appetitive state when he was really going overboard with desire was replaced by this peaceful, joyous consummatory state. I'm... I’d seen these states often in my post-encephalitic patients and, you know, life partly consists of these, so my first essay was on desire and delight.

Oliver Sacks (1933-2015) was born in England. Having obtained his medical degree at Oxford University, he moved to the USA. There he worked as a consultant neurologist at Beth Abraham Hospital where in 1966, he encountered a group of survivors of the global sleepy sickness of 1916-1927. Sacks treated these patients with the then-experimental drug L-Dopa producing astounding results which he described in his book Awakenings. Further cases of neurological disorders were described by Sacks with exceptional sympathy in another major book entitled The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat which became an instant best seller on its publication in 1985. His other books drew on his rich experiences as a neurologist gleaned over almost five decades of professional practice. Sacks's work was recognized by prestigious institutions which awarded him numerous honours and prizes. These included the Lewis Thomas Prize given by Rockefeller University, which recognizes the scientist as poet. He was an honorary fellow of both the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and held honorary degrees from many universities, including Oxford, the Karolinska Institute, Georgetown, Bard, Gallaudet, Tufts, and the Catholic University of Peru.

Listeners: Kate Edgar

Kate Edgar, previously Managing Editor at the Summit Books division of Simon and Schuster, began working with Oliver Sacks in 1983. She has served as editor and researcher on all of his books, and has been closely involved with various films and adaptations based on his work. As friend, assistant, and collaborator, she has accompanied Dr Sacks on many adventures around the world, clinical and otherwise.

Tags: Lowell Handler

Duration: 2 minutes, 10 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2011

Date story went live: 02 October 2012