Dostoevsky, Fjodor Michajlovitsj

Dostoevsky, Fjodor Michajlovitsj
   A Russian author who during his adult life suffered from epileptic seizures. By his own estimate, these occurred every 3 weeks on average. As reconstructed by historians, they were probably due to temporal lobe pathology. In the context ofthese epileptic seizures Dostoevsky would seem to have experienced * ecstatic aurae and various other types of *aurae. He wrote about the ecstatic aura which preceded what he considered to be his first epileptic seizure: "The air was filled with a big noise and I tried to move. I felt the heaven was going down upon the earth and that it engulfed me. I have really touched God. He came into me myself, yes God exists, I cried, and I don't remember anything else. You all, healthy people... can't imagine the happiness which we epileptics feel during the second before our fit. Mahomet, in his Koran, said he had seen Paradise and had gone into it. All these stupid clever men are quite sure he was a liar and a charlatan. But no, he did not lie, he really had been in Paradise during an attack of epilepsy; he was a victim of this disease like I was. I don't know if this felicity lasts for seconds, hours or months, but believe me, for all the joys that life may bring, I would not exchange this one." In addition, Dostoevsky experienced recurring * verbal and * nonverbal auditory hallucinations of largely unspecified content (the hallucinated sound of someone snoring is mentioned explicitly in the literature). Moreover, it has been speculated that the second Mr. Golyadkin featured in the novel The Double may have been inspired by an * autoscopic hallucination experienced by Dostoevski himself. Although historians of medicine tend to differ somewhat as regards their opinion on the exact debut, nature, and course of Dostoevsky's illness (arguably the most extreme variant being the opinion, voiced by the Austrian founder of psychoanalysis Sigmund Freud (1856-1939), that Dostoevsky suffered from neurosis rather than epilepsy), they are unanimous in their view that it had a significant impact upon his literary creativity. The import of Dostoevsky's work for hallucinations research lies in the combination of his first-hand acquaintance with hallucinatory phenomena, and his exceptional talent to verbalize and analyze these. This combination places him in a league with other hallucinating intellectuals, such as Victor Kandinsky (1849-1889), Daniel Paul Schreber (1842-1911), John Thomas Perceval (1803-1876), Christoph Friedrich Nicolai (1733-1811), Vaslav Nijinsky (1889-1950), Guy de Maupassant (1850-1893), and Ludwig Staudenmaier (1865-1933).
   Alajouanine, T. (1963). Dostoiewski's epilepsy. Brain, 86, 209-218.
   Dening, T.R., Berrios, G.E. (1994). Autoscopic phenomena. British Journal of Psychiatry, 165, 808-817.
   Rice, J.L. (1983). Dostoevsky's medical history: Diagnosis and dialectic. Russian Review, 42, 131-161.
   Selten, J.-P.C.J. (1993). Freud and Dostoevsky. Psychoanalytic Review, 80, 441-455.

Dictionary of Hallucinations. . 2010.

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  • ecstatic aura —    The term ecstatic aura comes from the Greek words ekstasis (departure, dismissal, mental derangement, poignancy, being outside oneself ), and aura (breeze, smell). It is used to denote a type of * aura (i.e. a warning symptom ) preceding a… …   Dictionary of Hallucinations

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