New York Live Arts recently resolved to devote at least one week each spring to Live Ideas, a wide-ranging investigation and elaboration—by way of lectures, readings, panels, films, exhibits and performances of all sorts—of the entire spectrum of marvels afforded by the interpenetration of bodies and ideas.
Our inaugural Live Ideas festival happens to be falling during the eightieth year of a veritable giant of precisely this sort of thinking, the eminent and eminently well beloved neurologist, chronicler, and polymathically curious Dr. Oliver Sacks. Born in London in 1933 and trained at Oxford before pursuing internships and residencies in San Francisco and Los Angeles, Sacks arrived in New York in 1967, which has remained his base since then. He practices primarily in poor houses and homes for the longterm differently-abled—places like Beth Abraham in the Bronx, where he encountered the patients whose extraordinary fate he immortalized in his 1973 masterpiece Awakenings. He is prized both for the distinctive individual-patient (as opposed to conventional illness) focus of his practice and for the writerly elegance and brimming humanity with which he has chronicled such fates and struggles in such other classics as The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat (1985) and most recently, Hallucinations.
With a practice steeped in an insistence on the abiding sovereignty of the individual human spirit, Sacks has been a hero to a whole range of variously afflicted (or as he himself might sometimes characterize them, paradoxically gifted) communities: people with Tourettes, or Parkinsonism, or memory loss, or incipient dementias, or the loss of hearing (or sight, or proprioception) and on and on. But it’s not just that, for in considering “The Worlds of Oliver Sacks,” one also needs to take into account such other quintessentially Sacksian passions as weightlifting, long-distance swimming, ferns, cycads, cephalopods, chemistry, stereoscopy and the like.
Five days hardly seems enough time to begin to encompass the worlds that make up Oliver Sacks, but we are going to do our best, and we thoroughly welcome your joining us!
Lawrence Weschler, guest curator of Live Ideas: The Worlds of Oliver Sacks, currently serves as the director of the Institute for the Humanities at New York University. He is a graduate of Cowell College of the University of California at Santa Cruz (1974), and was for over twenty years (1981-2002) a staff writer at The New Yorker, where his work shuttled between political tragedies and cultural comedies. His books of political reportage include The Passion of Poland(1984); A Miracle, A Universe: Settling Accounts with Torturers(1990); and Calamities of Exile: Three Nonfiction Novellas(1998). His “Passions and Wonders” series includes the acclaimed Mr. Wilson’s Cabinet of Wonder(1995), which was shortlisted for both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award. He has taught, variously, at Princeton, Columbia, UCSC, Bard, Vassar, Sarah Lawrence, and NYU. He held the position of Artistic Director of the Chicago Humanities Festival from 2006 through 2011. He is also a contributing editor toMcSweeney’s and theThreepeeny Review.