Mentored by a Madman: William Burroughs & Neuroscience

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Host: Dublin Review of Books
Location: Books Upstairs,17 D'Olier Street, 2 Dublin, Ireland
Speaker: Andrew Lees

Renowned neuroscientist, author and memoirist Andrew Lees is speaking at Books Upstairs on Wednesday 21st September as guest of the Dublin Review of Books. The subject of his talk is his recently published memoir Mentored by a Madman. In this extraordinary book, Lees explains how William Burroughs, author of Naked Lunch and troubled drug addict, played an unlikely part in his medical career.


Lees draws on Burroughs’ search for an addiction cure to discover a ground-breaking treatment for shaking palsy, and learns how to use the deductive reasoning of Sherlock Holmes to diagnose patients. Lees follows Burroughs into the rainforest and under the influence of yagé (ayahuasca) gains insights that encourage him to pursue new lines of pharmacological research and explore new forms of science.


Mentored by a Madman is particularly interesting for its weaving of literary and medical ideas into a rich tapestry. Burroughs clearly made a deep impression. His ideas about apomorphine as a treatment for substance abuse and about the potential value of mind-altering natural products of Amazonia remain intriguing."
Ross Baldessarini, Professor of Pharmacology, McLean Hospital, Harvard University


“Burroughs, an experimentalist in life as well as fiction, assumes a heroic position in Lees’ book. To Lees he represents the intersection of art and science, of empiricism and experimentalism. ‘The fusion of his ideas with my own scientific meanderings’, Lees writes, ‘had allowed me to see things in a completely different light’. The productive tension in this book, which originated as an essay for the Dublin Review of Books, lies between the constraint of officialdom and the freedom of artistic and scientific possibility. Burroughs bridges that gap. Although Lees threads thoughts on Burroughs’ deep interest in drugs and medicine throughout the book, this is in effect an analytical memoir of Lees’ own career, and Burroughs stands as a relevant proxy for the psychological outsiderdom necessary for a medical insider such as Lees to function on a creative level.”
Dublin Review of Books

Professor Andrew Lees has achieved international recognition for his work in Parkinson’s disease and abnormal movement disorders and was elected President of the International Movement Disorder Society (2004-6). In 2006, he was awarded the prestigious Movement Disorders Research Award by the American Academy of Neurology which recognises an individual for outstanding work in the field of Parkinson’s disease or other movement disorders for either a single outstanding contribution or for lifetime achievement. The following year he was elected Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences and received a NIHR Senior Investigators Award in 2008.

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