Friday, July 10, 2015

A leg to stand on

Podcast. Still celebrating Oliver Sacks's birthday and applauding the magnanimity with which he's met his terminal diagnosis, I'm pleased to find the brainpicker's illustrated rendition of his death-defying fall down a Norwegian mountain. A Leg to Stand On (1984) recounts this waking nightmare, which will terrify all of us who've found lifeblood in our motility and who wonder how we'd ever manage on a single shank.

More importantly, Sacks recounts his full recovery, and the triumph of will it attests. In the chapter aptly titled after Diogenes the Cynic, "Solvitur Ambulando" - it is solved by walking - he clearly expresses the vital feeling of will that impelled his recovery, and that must be the impulsion behind all forward movement. For Sacks, that active feeling is literally the music of life.
It was the triumphal return of the quintessential living "I," lost for two weeks in the abyss, and two minutes in the delirium; not the ghostly, cogitating, solipsistic "I" of Descartes, which never feels, never acts, is not, and does nothing; not this, this impotence, this mentalistic fiction. What came, what announced itself, so palpably, so gloriously, was a full- bodied vital feeling and action, originating from an aboriginal, commanding, willing "I."
There's much to be said for various forms and aspects of selflessness, but if you're ever chased down a mountain by a raging bull, you're going to want that aboriginal "I" to stand and lean on.

Wendy MacNaughton for Brain Pickings

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