The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat (The London Review of Books, 1983, and collected in The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Other Clinical Tales, 1985)


by Oliver Sacks (1933 - 0)

A neurological case-study of ‘visual agnosia’, written in the accessible, urbane style that made the book a bestseller. The reader journeys through Dr Sacks’ bizarre examinations of the patient, a man who sees only with ‘Martian’ vision, such that nothing is familiar.

He has lost all visual sense of the personal and concrete, absorbed into the abstraction of music and non-representational painting – a suggestive correlation in terms of these art forms. The postscript further presents the patient as a parable for science forgetting about human ‘judgment’ and becoming over-mechanical. One of the few – possibly only – essays turned into an opera.

Related recommendation: Locke’s ‘Essay Concerning Human Understanding’ (1690)

Origin: Britain / United States

Themes: Through Alien Eyes, The role of Art or Artists

Genres: Scientific or Medical, Spiritual or Philosophical Meditation

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