“Creative Disability and the Shaking Palsy: Approaching a History of Parkinson’s Disease”
Dorothy Porter, Ph.D.
Professor of the History of Health Sciences
University of California San Francisco
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Abstract: In a book on Musicophilia in 2007, Oliver Sacks proposed that musical rhythm may have a primal function in the brain which modern science is yet to fully explain. Sacks illustrates his arguments with accounts of patients with various types of frontal lobe lesions, such as Frontal Lobe Dementia, Alzheimers and some Parkinsons Disease who developed new aptitudes for musical creativity after the onset of their disease. This led Sacks and others to speculate that creative inhibition that was genetically coded into frontal lobe function was disengaged through some pathological lesions that let the music out!
In Sacks’s captivating narratives neurological changes and creativity are tales of transformation brought about by illness. This paper investigates how and why two cultural interpretations of the relationship between creativity and Parkinsons Disease have developed and changed over time. It interrogates the historical determinants of a neuro-psycho-biological discourse with the power to affect human consciousness and somatic experience through pharmacological manipulation according to its own edicts. The paper contrasts this discourse with Parkinsons Disease patients’ narratives of the transformative affect of creativity allowing them to experience different ways of becoming human.
Originally published at reilly.nd.edu.