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October 25, 2007, 7:30 PM

Hypergraphia and Hypographia: Two 'Diseases' of the Written Word

Participants: Alice Flaherty, Alan Jacobs, Jonathan Lethem, Francis Levy, Lois Oppenheim (moderator), Pedro Reyes

Writer's block has long been associated with depression, anxiety, and related mood disorders, however transient they may be. Its opposite, hypergraphia—the unstoppable drive to put words on paper (or on the computer screen, on napkins, on one's own hands, on walls, or elsewhere!)—is far less common and, seemingly, a less tortuous affliction that has received little attention. Recently, however, as explanations for the one have been increasingly uncovered within both the chemical and structural functioning of the brain, answers to the other have been revealed as intimately connected to it, and in ways not previously suspected. Neurologists, psychoanalysts, and writers will address the question, among others, of how advances in our comprehension of the role played by the temporal lobe and the limbic system impact our psychodynamic understanding and treatment of these afflictions.

Alice Flaherty is an Assistant Professor at Harvard Medical School and a neurologist on staff at Massachusetts General Hospital and its affiliate, McLean. She treats patients who have had deep brain stimulators permanently implanted to treat illnesses that affect their mood or movement control. Her second book, The Midnight Disease: The Drive to Write, Writer's Block, and the Creative Brain, brought hypergraphia to general attention. The book has been the subject of numerous television and radio features and is required reading at many universities in the U.S. and Europe. Her other writing spans a number of genres, including an award-winning textbook, numerous scientific articles, a children's book, and the text for an organ work on Jacob and the Angel. She is currently completing a book on the biological links between psychosomatic, stoic, and empathic behavior.

Alan Jacobs was an Assistant Professor of Neurology and Neuroscience at the Weill Medical College of Cornell University, Assistant Director of the Cornell Memory Disorders Program, and Director of the Cornell Neuroendocrine Unit from 1995 to 2001. Until 2003, he was Assistant Professor of Neurology at SUNY/Downstate and a member of the Alzheimer's Disease and Memory Disorders Center at University Hospital of Brooklyn. He is currenlty in private practice in Manhattan, focusing on memory disorders, behavioral neurology, and neuroendocrinology. His clinical and research interests have centered on dementia and neurodegenerative diseases. He also has extensive experience diagnosing and treating neurobehavioral disorders and is an expert in psychoneuroendocrinology (how hormones affect behavior).

Jonathan Lethem is the author of seven novels, including Motherless Brooklyn, The Fortress of Solitude, and You Don't Love Me Yet. He has also published three collections of short stories, a novella, and a book of essays. The recipient of a National Book Critic's Circle Award and a MacArthur Fellowship, he lives in Brooklyn and Maine.

Francis Levy is Co-Director of the Philoctetes Center. His criticism, short stories, humor pieces, essays, and poems have appeared in a wide range of publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, The New Republic, The Village Voice, The Quarterly, Hampton Shorts, and The East Hampton Star. His novel Erotomania:A Romance will be published by Two Dollar Radio in 2008.

Lois Oppenheim is Distinguished Scholar, Professor of French, and Chair of the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures at Montclair State University, where she also teaches courses in psychoanalysis and the literary and visual arts. She has authored or edited ten books and published over seventy articles. Her most recent books include A Curious Intimacy: Art and Neuro-Psychoanalysis and The Painted Word: Samuel Beckett's Dialogue With Art. Dr. Oppenheim is a member of the advisory board of The Philoctetes Center.

Pedro Reyes lives and works in Mexico City. He holds a degree in architecture from the Universidad Iberoamericana. His work addresses the interplay of physical and social space, making tangible the invisible geometry of our interpersonal relationships. His expanded notion of sculpture examines the cognitive contradictions of modern life and the possibility of overcoming our planetary crises by increasing the individual and collective degree of agency. Reyes' work has been shown at institutions throughout the world, including the Carpenter Center for Visual Arts at Harvard University; the Aspen Art Museum in Colorado; the Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid; the South London Gallery in the UK; the Yvon Lambert Gallery and P.S. 1 in New York; the Jumex Collection in Mexico City; Witte de With in Rotterdam; the Shanghai Biennale; the Seattle Art Museum; and the The Venice Biennale.


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