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The River of Consciousness by Oliver Sacks

by Venky

Reading Dr.Oliver Sacks is one of the surest means by which one can assimilate the essence of ‘perception’. Intelligent, humble, humane and honest, the books of Dr.Sacks have served to nurture and enhance the way of life. ‘The River of Consciousness’ (“the book”) is no exception. This is the last book written by Sacks before he shed his mortal coils in the year 2015. But for a highly technical and challenging piece titled “The Other Road: Freud as a Neurologist”, the collection of thoughts in the book represent a string of invaluable pearls. Dr.Sacks confesses his adulation for his heroes, Charles Darwin, Sigmund Freud and William James and lays out a glorious tribute to their achievements and endeavours. A formidable multifaceted personality in his own right, Dr.Sacks focuses on the lesser known passions underlying the professional attainments of the troika.

Charles Darwin’s muted recognition as a botanist is vigorously dissected in the Chapter, “Darwin and the meaning of flowers”. The fact that the pioneer of the theory of evolution was enamoured, enraptured and enthralled by the nuances and intricacies of flora, comes as a stunning albeit pleasant revelation. Similarly Freud’s career as a neuro anatomist which preceded his towering fame in the field of psychoanalysis is laid out in painstaking detail.

However the most beautiful and also heart wrenching aspects of the book lies in the Chapters where Sacks explains his experiences after undergoing treatment for his liver cancer. One may be forgiven in assuming that an alter ego of the patient was sketching out the various stages of the treatment being administered. The purely dispassionate, neutral, balanced and candid perspective with which Sacks writes about his physical and mental states of mind during the course of his prescribed treatment bears monumental testimony to the character of the man.

Sacks inimitable wit also finds its place in the small Chapter “Mishearings”. Quoting instances from a notebook maintained by him to record the ‘mishearings’ attributed to deafness triggered by advancing age, Sacks analyses the auditory implications of hearing and mishearing words.

“The River of Consciousness” is the parting gift to the literary world from one of the greatest humanists of our times.

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