I was publicized, identified with the organization both by word and image in the press. On the way to work one late spring morning I counted fifty greetings from people I didn’t know, becoming aware that there were two of me: the old self that slept a few hours a night and dreamed sometimes of my grandfather and Bledsoe and Brockway and Mary; the self that flew without wings and plunged from great heights; and the new public self that spoke for the Brotherhood and was becoming so much more important than the other that I seemed to run a foot race against myself. (380)
There were quite a few instances throughout Ralph Ellison’s, Invisible Man, that detailed interesting representations of consciousness. The most compelling portrayal, however, was the excerpt above. This passage complicates the idea of consciousness. The narrator comes to an awareness of there being “two” of himself. Does this assume that there can be multiple selves? And does it make a difference which self is becoming aware of this? This portrayal of consciousness shows the narrator becoming aware through the sudden changes in his life. Thus, consciousness is connected to and may in some ways be triggered by the external world. Based on this, can it be inferred that there is a third self for the narrator, who lives underground and is reflecting on his life—the invisible self? Or does this invisible self encompass all the other selves and allow for their existence? These are just a few questions that were evoked by the passage.
This excerpt also indicates the self as other. This “other”, is the self that is least important for the narrator. This idea of a better self is continued when the narrator says that he “seemed to run a foot race against [himself]”. This race is the interminable desire of the self to get ahead. It may just be that in each successful attempt to change one’s life, a new self is created because a new identity is adapted to fit the different situations.
One of the literary techniques that Ellison uses to give readers a sense of his protagonist’s mental life is the omniscient narrator. The fact that the protagonist plays a dual role as the main character and omniscient narrator allows the story to be entirely built upon his perspective. Therefore, readers are able to know what his thoughts are as well as the things that affect him the most, based on his choice to narrate them. This also allows for questions about memory and how much of it is distorted.
One of the more frequent ways in which readers can access the protagonist’s mentality is through non-verbal dialogue. Much like the above passage, the protagonist often narrates his own thoughts and syntheses of ideas about himself and his own identity. These thoughts can help readers to understand the way the narrator’s mind works especially in noting the specific events or times in which he pauses to reflect.
A common thread throughout both Damasio’s and Dehaene’s work relate to the concept of dualism which indicate the mind as separate from the material self. One thing that both excites and at the same time perplexes me in Dehaene’s “Consciousness and the Brain”, is the comparison made between the autonomous mind” and the wandering soul that is essentially the “soul bird which delivers psyche to new born babies and takes it away from the dying” (2). Dehaene’s description of, “freedom of the conscious mind” (3), confuses me because consciousness and the mind are inked to the immaterial concept of the soul, which is assumed to be free-flowing. Does this make our consciousness transferable? In other words, can the same way that we experience the world be moved to a new host? I do not believe that this is the case based on Dehaene’s inclusion of the “phenomenal awareness” theory, which promotes the idea of how “unique” and “personal” traits contribute to the way people experience consciousness (9-10). Therefore, I was confused as to the way in which Dehaene depicted the mind as “free-flying”. The graphic novel, Neurocomic by Hana Ros and Matteo Farinella closely relates to the concept of dualism through the way in which it primarily focuses on biological functions and mention little about the mind, but rather allude to the mind as being separate from neurological processes. Neurocomic also briefly explores the idea of consciousness by creating disparities between the reader and the characters on page in allowing the characters to realize and vocalize that they are actually fictional characters in a book. This meta element furthers my curiosity because, according to Dehaene’s awareness theory, the fabricated characters are exercising a form of consciousness by knowing that they are not real (just to play with some ideas).
Continuing with the concept of consciousness is Damasio, who explores the “biological knowing of self” (4). Unlike Dehaene, Damasio seeks to understand how neurological patterns influence consciousness. One curious element in Damasio’s “Stepping into the Light”, is the situation described in the subheading, “Absent Without Leave”. This situation made me think of Dehaene’s idea about “genuine consciousness”, which is that, “whatever we decide to focus on, may become conscious” (9). The subject that Damasio was observing focused on various things such as the “flower vase” and “cup of coffee” but was not conscious of it. The problem in this situation was caused by epilepsy which is abnormal brain activity, therefore, is consciousness a product of the brain or is the brain an inhibitor of consciousness?
I was further perplexed by Damasio’s neurological perspective when reading “Self Comes to Mind”, because in this work the author addresses many ideas linked to dualism. One of the points that the author makes about consciousness, is that, “love would never have been love, just sex” (4). Basically, consciousness has to do with the way we individually experience emotions. This also relates to the ideas of dualism in Plato’s, The Symposium. According to Plato, love is an experience of the mind or intellect which is to be held in higher regard, rather than just a physical attraction and gratification which will eventually fade. Does this then mean, that Damasio also supports the dualistic perspective as well as neurological thought? If not, I am not sure how both love and sex can be defined in the physical realm.
The Shaking Woman or a History of My Nerves by Siri Hustvedt, chronicles hysteria as being, “the root [which] comes from the Greek for ‘womb.’ Its origin as a purely female problem connected to reproductive organs serves to warn readers that the word itself is an ancient bias against woman” (12). This assumption paves the way of differentiating “hysteria” from female hysteria; assuming that there is a difference.
Through the lens of Hustvedt, “The Yellow Wallpaper”, by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, can be interpreted as an historical account of how women were essentially misdiagnosed based on their gender, in the form of a narrative. This novel addresses the role of the “Physician” in such misdiagnoses and how they refuse to attribute “hysteria” to being a psychological impairment. Hustvedt documents the belief of the Greek physician Galen, that, “hysteria was an illness that beset unmarried and widowed women who were deprived of sexual intercourse” (12). However, Gilman illustrates through her text that it is isolation and a caged consciousness that imbues hysteria, rather than “sexual deprivation”. Gilman explores this idea of deprivation of affection by accounting for the main protagonist who is a woman, with a husband and a baby. Ultimately, it is the lack of stimulus from human interaction, which allows for the gradual loss of a sense of self and of reality for the main character. The “barring” of the windows in this narrative can symbolize a caging or inhibiting of the expansion of the mind, which may also translate to the confinement that comes with being too alone with one’s own thoughts.The narrator of The Shaking Woman is a mirror image of the main protagonist of “The Yellow Wallpaper” through the way in which thy both embody their mental state at the conclusion of each of the works. The women either texts, exemplify heir abnormal mental state which manifests itself into the physical realm as an extension of themselves. Hustvedt becomes “the shaking woman”, through introspection and verbal affirmation, whereas, the narrator of the “The Yellow Wallpaper” becomes “the creeping woman” through merging with her subconscious. The “creeping woman” on the yellow wallpaper is projection of the narrator’s imagined subconscious and it appears as though the projection materializes as her reality with each increased interaction.
Each of the texts seem to work towards resisting the idea of “hysteria” being opposed as a psychological problem, but rather in direct relation with femaleness.
Two representations of the brain that I found in the readings, was in the work, Neurocomic, by Dr. Matteo Farinella and Dr. Hana Ros, as well as in the poem, “The Brain is wider than the sky”, by Emily Dickinson. The representation of the brain in Neurocomic takes a neurological approach that employs the aid of imagery to allow for an easier understanding of the text, which explores some very complex ideas. The graphic novel takes readers on a journey into what they should conclude as being their own brains. The novel illustrates the different functions of the brain in an anthropomorphic way and the settings of the various panels assimilate to what readers are familiar with in the tangible world. Some examples of this is when the main character falls into a pool of balls that are really vesicles (36), or when he meets the neurotransmitters that are actually miniature people with literal keys which open the receptors (47). The most surprising aspect of the novel’s representation of the brain, is the way in which it made the reader into the “true” main protagonist at the end when the female character says, “our existence relies on the brain of the reader” (132). This work is quite meta in that it can be categorized as a graphic novel about the inner workings of the brain that depends on those same functions to make connections. Therefore, the reader is able to visualize what is happening in their brains as they read about the brain.
Emily Dickinson’s poem is similar to Neurocomic in its use of imagery. Dickinson writes, “THE BRAIN is wider than the sky, / For, put them side by side.” These lines are metaphor and hyperbole. They are clear exaggerations and differ from Neurocomic because they do not explicitly address neuroscience. Also, the term “brain” can be viewed as a representation of the mind in this poem. The line, “The one the other will include”, shows that the scope of the brain (or mind) is immeasurable and able to process the experience of seeing the vast sky. Another way in which the “brain” is not meant to be taken as literal, is in the line that says, “The brain is just the weight of God”. Logically, God cannot be weighed because he is an unseen deity that cannot be contained. Yet, we may see and touch the physical brain by opening the skull. This representation surprised me because it is typical to think of the brain and mind as separate entities, but Dickenson does not make that distinction. Instead “the brain” is used as a synonym for the mind, which weighs nothing but holds a world of knowledge.
One thing that is indeed true for both texts is that they examine the internal wonders of the brain.
David Lodge’s novel Thinks, does not merely submit to Marco Roth’s ideas about neurological reductivism nor biological determinism in his academic article, “Rise of the Neuronovel”. In fact, Lodges novel actively engages both of these ideas, but in different ways. Reductivism seeks to reduce human actions to being caused by the internal operations of the brain. Lodge introduces reductive reasoning through the main protagonist Ralph Messenger. Much of Messenger’s dialogue contains reductionist views which present themselves as an avenue for Lodge to arrest the two conflicting views within his single novel. In the hot tub scene debate with another character, Helen, Messenger demonstrated reductivism by saying, “it’s still just information processing by his brain.” (100) This statement was meant to reduce “determination” to a mere mechanical action that was caused by the communication of nerves within the brain. Throughout various points in the novel, the main protagonist engages similar discussions with Helen, who appears to provide the platform for the conversation with her minimal input. This allows for the insertion of the reader and their own thoughts.
Most of the chapters that are narrated by Messenger, Helen or arguably, even Helen’s students, can be viewed as what Roth calls biological determinism. This idea explores how the human behavior is determined by culture and other social forces. One of the ways in which Lodge illustrates a deterministic idea about the brain is when he includes the transcript of Helen’s thoughts about having been kissed by Messenger. In her diary, she says, “At least, I didn’t resist it. I didn’t slap his face or push him away, or ask him what he thought he was doing. I didn’t say a word.” (103) Altogether, Lodge is addressing how action induces reaction and how societal norms influence a chain of possible responses, as listed by Helen, as well as the way in which emotions cultivate their own reaction.
Although the deterministic idea is the most dominant of the two concepts within the text, both ideas are clearly and carefully included. As I have stated, Lodge engages a conversation with the reader that investigates both reductive and deterministic aspects of the way that thought is assumed to work. Therefore, the novel is psychological because the general plot surveys ways in which the mind can be affected through awareness and external forces. Yet, the novel is also neurological because it addresses changes that occur to the main character post brain operation. Thus, the novel falls into both genres and can be called a psychoneurological (I combined the terms) novel.