The epileptic experience in the works of Dostoyevsky and Machado de Assis

Peter Wolf, Elza Márcia Yacubian

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Towards the end of the 19th century, two writers who are considered the uppermost representatives of their respective national literatures, Dostoyevsky of Russia and Machado de Assis of Brazil had epilepsy, probably both temporal lobe epilepsy, but their attitudes were opposite. Dostoyevsky was as open about his diagnosis as Machado was secretive, but both included seizure experiences in their works. Two of Dostoyevsky's many epileptic characters, Prince Myshkin in The Idiot and Kirillov in Devils, report the same ecstatic aura as Dostoyevsky did privately. That Kirillov only has isolated auras probably reflects the early phase of Dostoyevsky's epilepsy. A hitherto overlooked feature, these reports with numerous reformulations and metaphors are linguistically characteristic for self-reports of epileptic auras, related to the indescribability of the experiences. In Idiot, two seizure prodromes with great artistic skill are integrated into the fictional context. Machado in his writings never talked overtly about seizures and epilepsy, but experiences of complex partial seizures can be identified in two of his novels, Brás Cubas and Quincas Borba. One depicts a complex visual illusion, the other seems precipitated by a coincidence of several ambivalent decisions with a specific memory. Quincas Borba (1891) has several features that can be understood as an homage to Dostoyevsky's Idiot (1869). Both writers share the notion that seizures can be triggered by strong emotions, and both stand out by their mastership of seamlessly integrating seizure experiences into the fictional and psychological cosmos of their novels. This article is part of the Special Issue "NEWroscience 2018".

Sider (fra-til)106205
TidsskriftEpilepsy and Behavior
Udgave nummerPt B
Tidlig onlinedato9 apr. 2019
StatusUdgivet - aug. 2021

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