From ‘Mem, mem’ to memoir

This is a remarkable story, and a compelling piece of writing.

The writer Paul West suffered a massive stroke that caused global aphasia. As his wife records:

“The author of more than 50 stylishly written books, a master of English prose with the largest working vocabulary I’d ever encountered, a man whose life revolved around words, he had suffered brain damage to the key language areas of his brain and could no longer process language in any form. Global aphasia, it’s called — the curse of a perpetual tip-of-the-tongue memory hunt. He understood little of what people said, and all he could utter was the syllable “mem.” Nothing more.”

Paul West forced his way through the aphasia. Three years later, he had completed a book, perhaps “the first aphasic memoir” ever.

From The Shadow Factory:

There was a bewildering assortment of false starts and incomplete sentences for the mind only. I no sooner thought of something to say to myself than I forgot it, and I was lucky to get beyond the second or third imagined word….
I formed the habit of forcing language back on itself, beyond even its failure to communicate anything at all, to see what was there. Language, at least as we know it, had ended, and I was left there on countless occasions, with something like a white sheet of dental floss or a carnivorous absence. There was nothing beyond. So I cheered myself up by taking as my starting point the notion that all I had to do was pass the zone of no known language and automatically be speaking English once again. These are mental compensations to be sure, but they serve superbly in times of need.





10 responses to “From ‘Mem, mem’ to memoir”

  1. ADS Avatar

    hia really scary thought. and an amazing man… thanks for the post

  2. Peggy Payne Avatar

    I’m glad to know of this book, and that it’s possible, at least sometimes, to force language to return

  3. Sharanya Manivannan Avatar

    Dorianne Laux has an incredible poem on this illness. It’s titled “Aphasia”, and the word that’s on the tip of the afflicted’s tongue is “Venezuela”.

  4. Jade Avatar

    I am so glad to have happened across your post and the mention of his book! I had a stroke last year and have spent some time regaining my language and ability to write fiction again. This gives me tons of hope.

  5. Baraka Avatar

    This is amazing – thank you for sharing this.Warmly,

  6. John Avatar

    HiIs it just me, or, has the blog been shifted, transferred elsewhere. Every time I come here I find that the posts haven’t changed. At least, make an announcement that the blog is temperorily decommissioned, or whatever. Is it likely to be revived?John

  7. FreedomFriend Avatar

    Hey Guys, What’s Wrong – Almost a year now and no new posts.Is everything allright ?Really miss this website 😦

  8. Bharat Rajawat Avatar

    hiI am impressed with your post it is really mind blowing

  9. ray Avatar

    Hi ,I was reading ur blog posts and found some of them to be very good.. u write well.. Why don’t you popularize it more.. ur posts on ur blog ‘Kitabkhana’ took my particular attention as some of them are interesting topics of mine too;BTW I help out some ex-IIMA guys who with another batch mate run where you can post links to your most loved blog-posts. Rambhai was the chaiwala at IIMA and it is a site where users can themselves share links to blog posts etc and other can find and vote on them. The best make it to the homepage!This way you can reach out to rambhai readers some of whom could become your ardent fans.. who knows.. :)Cheers,

  10. Sam Avatar

    I have to agree with others, I just stumbled on this blog and it REALLY is a great blog.A little disappointed that it hasn’t been

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