Brainpickings.org Newsletter


This is the Brain Pickings midweek pick-me-up: Once a week, I plunge into my 12-year archive and choose something worth resurfacing and resavoring as timeless nourishment for heart, mind, and spirit. (If you don’t yet subscribe to the standard Sunday newsletter of new pieces published each week, you can sign up here – it’s free.) If you missed last week’s edition – Colette on the splendor of autumn and the autumn of life – you can catch up right here. And if you find any value and joy in my labor of love, please consider supporting it with a donation – over these twelve years, I have spent tens of thousands of hours and tremendous resources on Brain Pickings, and every little bit of support helps keep it going. If you already donate: THANK YOU.

FROM THE ARCHIVE | Oliver Sacks on 9/11 and the Paradoxical Power of Music to Bring Solace by Making Room for Our Pain

musicophilia.jpg?zoom=2&w=680A science-storyteller like the late, great, sorely missed Oliver Sacks (July 9, 1933–August 30, 2015) comes about once a century, if we’re lucky. Throughout his long career as a working scientist who bewitched the popular imagination with beautiful writing, he frequently turned to music as his storytelling muse. It was a relationship that once saved his life and culminated in his magnificent book Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain (public library) — an immensely insightful exploration of the physiological and psychological phenomena behind the all too common human impulse that once compelled the poet Edna St. Vincent Millay to profess: “Without music I should wish to die.”

oliversacks_wendymacnaughton.jpg?zoom=2&w=680

Oliver Sacks by Wendy MacNaughton

In one particularly poignant passage, emanating his usual gift for exposing the monumental through the minute, Dr. Sacks captures the heart of music’s strange power over us by reflecting on a fleeting moment that took place on the fifth anniversary of the September 11 attacks:

2e292385-dc1c-4cfe-b95e-845f6f98c2ec.pngOn my morning bike ride to Battery Park, I heard music as I approached the tip of Manhattan, and then saw and joined a silent crowd who sat gazing out to sea and listening to a young man playing Bach’s Chaconne in D on his violin. When the music ended and the crowd quietly dispersed, it was clear that the music had brought them some profound consolation, in a way that no words could ever have done.

Music, uniquely among the arts, is both completely abstract and profoundly emotional. It has no power to represent anything particular or external, but it has a unique power to express inner states or feelings. Music can pierce the heart directly; it needs no mediation. One does not have to know anything about Dido and Aeneas to be moved by her lament for him; anyone who has ever lost someone knows what Dido is expressing. And there is, finally, a deep and mysterious paradox here, for while such music makes one experience pain and grief more intensely, it brings solace and consolation at the same time.

Complement the indispensable Musicophilia with Dr. Sacks on storytelling and the psychology of writing, then revisit his extraordinary life-story and my eulogy for this irreplaceable human.

For more on the power of music, see the science of why playing music benefits your brain more than any other activity, singer-songwriter Morley on how music heals the soul, and the psychology of how refrains enchant the brain.

FORWARD TO A FRIEND/READ ARTICLE ONLINE/Like https://www.brainpickings.org/2015/09/11/oliver-sacks-musicophilia/ on Facebook

donating=loving

I pour tremendous time, thought, heart, and resources into Brain Pickings, which remains free and ad-free, and is made possible by patronage. If you find any joy, stimulation, and consolation in my labor of love, please consider supporting it with a donation. And if you already donate, from the bottom of my heart: THANK YOU.

monthly donation

You can become a Sustaining Patron with a recurring monthly donation of your choosing, between a cup of tea and a Brooklyn lunch.

one-time donation

Or you can become a Spontaneous Supporter with a one-time donation in any amount.

Start Now Give Now

RELATED READING:

The Healing Power of Gardens: Oliver Sacks on the Psychological and Physiological Consolations of Nature

* * *

Borderless Lullabies: Musicians and Authors in Defense of Refugee Children

* * *

Walt Whitman on Beethoven and Music as the Profoundest Expression of Nature

---