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James Sacksified

In response to:

Neurology and the Soul from the November 22, 1990 issue

To the Editors:

Call me pedantic, but the phrase of William James’s that Oliver Sacks quotes in his interesting article “Neurology and the Soul” [NYR, November 22, 1990] is not “a booming, buzzing chaos” (unless of course James reworked his phrase and I don’t know it). It’s “blooming buzzing confusion” (no comma) (and even has “big” before it, which people forget), in the essay “Percept and Concept—The Import of Concepts” in Some Problems of Philosophy. The latter phrase is less violent and substantive than Sacks’s version of it—is more fluidly mental, we might say—and hence might be more apposite to Sacks’s essay.

Gregory Ludwig
Highland Lakes, New Jersey

Oliver Sacks replies:

Yes, Gregory Ludwig is perfectly correct: I had—quite unconsciously—misremembered (and, evidently, “reworked”) William James’s phrase.

This in itself is an example of what Bartlett describes in Remembering: that remembering is an active (hence “creative”) process of reconstructing and revising, and not a passive reproduction of a fixed “memory trace.” Although I may unconsciously, in recalling it, have “Sacksified” James’s great phrase, I freely admit that the original is much better, and am grateful to Gregory Ludwig for pointing this out.

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