Sunday 27 November 2016

An Invasion of Unpalatable Memory

Brookner was a migraine sufferer, as she revealed in 1993 in a review of Oliver Sacks's treatise on the condition.

'The neural tumult,' we read, 'may produce a feeling of such dread and helplessness as to encompass certain elements of the human condition.'

Brookner continues with 'a report from the front':
I learn from this book (and I allow that this may occur from actually reading the book) that my headaches are in fact migrainous and not untypical, and that the sensation of waking from a dream with the onset of a migraine is fairly standard. In fact it is probable that the precipitating dream, which is accompanied by a feeling of panic or horror, may be implicated in the migraine itself. Waking, which is always abrupt, is not caused by anything as specific as the alarm going off or the radio coming on. A rapidly beating heart may continue for an hour, to be succeeded by a pain over the left eye. More interesting than the pain, which is unpleasant but endurable, is the feeling of extreme dejection, and of unwelcome rumination. This too, it seems, is characteristic. The attack is therefore less of an attack than a defeat, an invasion of unpalatable memory. This will last for 12 hours and be cancelled by a night of sleep without dreams. Thus I learn that I suffer from common migraine, as opposed to classic migraine, which may be accompanied by more radical distortions, including the saw-toothed aura or blot in the centre of vision which afflict major sufferers. I have also learned to look away from flashing blue lights which punctuate the opening sequence of The Bill on television. It would be interesting to know how many are felled by a night in the disco. Coffee helps.
(This difficult piece might be read alongside Chapter 10 of A Misalliance, also very troubling. I call them troubling and difficult because as a sufferer myself I sense myself falling into some semblance of migraine just by reading about it, as if in sympathy. Thus reading Brookner maintains one's Brooknerianism or makes one even more a Brooknerian.)

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