Friday, October 5, 2007


I saw some connections between the Livesey novel and the other readings, but I found that Skloot and LeDoux seemed to relate more to each other. In terms of Livesey, the most obvious connection is LeDoux's explanation of retrograde amnesia (which Hazel suffers from) and antegrade amnesia (which Skloot suffers from). I noticed that when Jonathan is trying to "adjust Hazel's memories," this relates to the suggestibility of memory as described in the end of the LeDoux chapter. There were also a lot of references to implicit memory, like when Hazel doesn't consciously remember the Indian food she likes, but when she tastes it, she remembers that she likes it. Is this a transition from implicit to conscious memory? Also, the fact that Hazel didn't remember her parents but certainly warm feelings for them seemed to be a feature of her implicit memory. Another connection between Livesey and some older readings is Charlotte's confabulation. I couldn't tell if she was consciously lying to better herself or if she actually began to believe some of her lies. Anyway, I just wanted to mention this briefly, but what I really want to discuss is the Skloot and LeDoux readings in relation to each other.

I think that the Skloot reading helps humanize people with "insults to the brain," as he might put it. The LeDoux chapter fits in nicely, serving as a resource to help better understand the biological explanations behind the seemingly bizarre behavior of people with brain damage, which might help outsiders to become more tolerant.

Skloot speaks of feeling vulnerable, embarrassed, and out of control. He gives striking examples of how people fear, villify, and mock that which they don't understand.I'm not sure that most people would realize that someone with severe brain damage could retain this kind of self awareness. I feel like the common perception of someone with brain damage is usually the opposite: that when they are lost in thought, like Skloot "staring into space... with [his] jaw drooping," they are unaware of their own actions. But both Skloot and LeDoux demonstrate that this is not the case. I feel so pained reading about the guilt and shame that Skloot experiences, because this happened at no fault of his own. I think that by writing his story and making people aware of his struggle, he will help develop an understanding and empathy in people. There are so many more variations of brain damage than I ever realized, and LeDoux does a good job of explaining how interconnected and yet separate implicit and explicit memories are.

Something that comes up in both Skloot and LeDoux is the idea that memories are not controlled by one specific part of your brain but actually depend on whole systems and circuits to function. Therefore, damage to a certain area might affect many different brain functions in subtle ways. LeDoux mentions how these systems are not even necessarily designed to remember things, but instead for other specific functions, and memory is just a side effect, in a way. Skloot describes how each of his senses work well on their own but fail "in putting things together." I wonder if his convergence zones in the rhinal areas are damaged, making it impossible to integrate his experiences into a unified representation, or if this is something different.

I saw some connections between H.M. in the LeDoux reading and Skloot, especially when LeDoux describes how H.M. was able to learn a task, "and he retained the learning. But if asked about the drawing, he had no conscious memory of having made it." LeDoux refers to this as priming, which uses implicit memory and does not depend on the hippocampus, which may be damaged in Skloot's brain. Skloot says that he has "gotten more adept at tying [his] shoes, taking a shower, driving for short periods." Is this because it is stored in his implicit memory? His explicit memory seems to fail him a lot, even within 20 seconds of repeating information he wants to remember, so it seems like his hippocampus is probably damaged. However, he mentions that his "memory for doing is compromised," that he repeats things but never learns them. So maybe his implicit memory is damaged as well, but only slightly, because he can still improve some tasks by practicing them.

On a final note, I have been thinking a lot about the collusion of art and pathology that we spoke about in class, but I did not consider that this may work against itself, too. Skloot spoke about his newly heightened emotions, and the joy and sorrow they brought to him. This connects with the original idea. However, he had trouble retaining a "flash of inspiration" and would often lose the meaningful idea that had come to him, rendering it nearly impossible to actually create the art (in the form of poetry or writing) that he was inspired to make. He quoted Yeats as saying, "The artist assembles memories," which became nearly impossible for Skloot, despite the depth of emotions he felt. He did manage to write this memoir, though, which is a testament to the positive results of perseverence and determination. It's interesting how this fits in with the idea of the brain, adapting for its survival but then aiding in its own destruction.

1 comment:

maggie said...

I felt the same about the contradiction in Skloot's work and his disability. Skloot was very persisent in commenting on the attack the viruse made on to his intelligence. He notes that his IQ droped a substaintial percentage and that he has a hard time making connections that were previously simple. However much he speaks on how inadaquate his mind has become the simple fact that he was able to author an thoughful autobiography shows that the virus might not have been all that dibilitating. Compared to the writing of Zatesky, who suffered from a simular kind of unconnected perception, Skloot comes across like a cognitivly "normal" person.

What I gain from this along with LeDoux, H.M., Livesky, and Hazel is that the memory is an ever complicated network. There is a wide variaty of ways memory systems, implicit and expilicit, declaritive and non-declaritive, can be harmed. After a brain is injured it can then re-wire its self in even more countless ways. There is an ever detailed carving of the brain's percception and memory, creating the minds and identities like you and I as well as Skloot or Hazel.