Literature Annotations

Luria, A. R. (Aleksandr Romanovich)
The Man with a Shattered World

Genre Case Study
KeywordsCatastrophe, Disability, Doctor-Patient Relationship, Hospitalization, Human Worth, Individuality, Memory, Narrative as Method, Patient Experience, Suffering, Trauma

During the Battle of Smolensk in the Second Word War, a soldier named Zazetsky sustained a severe head wound, causing "massive damage to the left occipito-parietal region of his brain." This injury shattered his whole perceptual world. His memory, his visual fields, his bodily perception, even his knowledge of bodily functioning--all break into fragments, causing him to experience the world (and himself) as constantly shifting and unstable.

Zazetsky coped with this fragmentation by writing a journal of his thoughts and memories as they occurred, day after day, for 20 years. He then arranged and ordered these entries, in an attempt to reconstruct his lost "self." From over 3000 pages of this journal material, the neurologist A. R. Luria has constructed this extended case history from which emerges a remarkable portrait of Zazetsky as a determined and courageous human being. Zazetsky's first-person account is interspersed with comments and descriptions by Luria himself, explaining the relevant structure and function of the brain.

CommentaryAleksandr Romanovich Luria was an eminent Russian neurologist who studied the effect of brain injuries on various mental functions. This book illustrates Luria's concept of "romantic science," a method that produces deep insight about human life through empathic reflection on extended case histories. Luria also practiced "classical science," as evidenced by his well-known neurological studies of traumatic aphasia, linguistics, and memory. This book, subtitled The History of a Brain Wound, is synthetic, as opposed to analytic or reductionistic. It is not the history of a wound, but rather the narrative of a wounded person.
PublisherHarvard Univ. Press
Place PublishedCambridge, Mass.
MiscellaneousFirst published: 1972. Translated by Lynn Solotaroff.
Annotated by Coulehan, Jack
Date of Entry 06/24/94
Last Revised 08/04/98