Friday, October 23, 2009


A proto-Live Journal moment from The Inman diary: a public and private confession, Volume 2. By Arthur Crew Inman. Edited by Daniel Aaron.

"HYPERGRAPHIA", a film currently in production... a narrative feature recounting the true story of the notorious Boston eccentric and recluse Arthur Crew Inman (1895-1963) and of "THE INMAN DIARY" he created. Published by Harvard University Press, Inman's gargantuan diary is one of the great literary curiosities of our age, a sprawling memory piece of more than 17 million words. A black comedy of epic proportions, the screenplay is a tightly wound biographical journey with documentary elements drawn from the extensive Inman Collection at Harvard. Historical scenes evoking world events of the first half of the 20th century (stock footage, news headlines, period movie montages) will be integrated with events from the entire 68 years of Inman's life and a good deal of human history in between, - a sort of March of Time with Arthur Inman as self-appointed narrator.
Hypergraphia, the behavior is defined as an overwhelming urge to write, often associated with the manic phase of bipolar disorder and with temporal lobe epilepsy (as one in a cluster of symptoms). Influential behavioral neurologist Norman Geschwind described the personality changes that can be observed in persons with temporal lobe epilepsy in a series of lectures1 and papers from the 1970s and 80s (reviewed in Devinsky & Schachter, 2009). He viewed these changes as:
...resulting from a stimulating lesion in the limbic system. This neurobiology accounted for the overarching increased interictal [time between seizures] emotionality that underlay the increased religious interests, hypergraphia, increased aggression, increased moral and philosophical concerns, viscosity, and seriousness (lack of humor).
Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky is the classic example (see Crime and Punishment, The Brothers Karamazov, etc.). According to Geschwind,
Dostoevsky typified many personality features of the temporal lobe epileptic—tremendous concern about moral details, many of them small details, extremely pedantic, he was angrily impulsive, an impossible person to live with in every way, and extremely aggressive, even toward people who had befriended him. Yet he was also deeply emotional and despite these negative personality traits, many of those close to him felt a strong emotional bond.

From Dostoevsky, by Richard Freeborn. Also see Dostoevsky's Doodles, an exhibit held at the Harriman Institute.

In 1974 Waxman and Geschwind (reprinted in 2005) described copious writing and temporal lobe seizures in a series of patients:
The phenomenon of hypergraphia, or the tendency toward extensive and, in some cases, compulsive writing, in temporal lobe epilepsy is described in seven patients, in each of whom there was electroencephalographic demonstration of a temporal lobe focus. Unusually detailed and strikingly copious writing was evidenced in each patient. Six patients provided documentation of their extensive writing, which often was concerned with religious or moral issues. A seventh patient claimed to have written extensively, but refused to exhibit his writings. Aggressiveness, religiosity, and changes in sexual behavior in temporal lobe disorders have been described previously. The hypergraphia of temporal lobe epilepsy appears to be part of a specific behavioral syndrome of special interest because of its association with dysfunction at specific anatomic loci.
Did Arthur Inman have temporal lobe epilepsy? It seems his hypergraphia might have been more psychiatric in nature, driven by a combination of obsessive-compulsive behavior, grandiosity, self-loathing, and paranoia.

From The Inman diary.

Inman was also an extreme hypochondriac. A series of "thirty-four eminent doctors" (plus his long-time osteopath) could find nothing physically wrong with him. However, a 1988 article in The Atlantic explored the possibility that Inman did indeed have temporal lobe epilepsy (TLE):
As for Inman, clearly he had many, if not all, of the traits of the behavior syndrome. On a questionnaire designed by [neuropsychiatrist David] Bear and the psychologist Paul Fedio to determine the extent to which the syndrome is present in patients [Bear & Fedio, 1977],2 Inman scores well within the range of people with TLE and substantially above the control groups. The questionnaire was filled out for Inman separately by Bear and by Libby Smith, one of the editors of The Inman Diary. Smith, who spent seven years reviewing the unabridged diary and interviewing scores of people who knew its author, had never heard of TLE. Both she and Bear gave Inman high marks in nearly all of the eighteen traits listed on the questionnaire. ... "Compulsive attention to detail," for example, describes Inman's need to make lists and keep to rigid schedules. His childlike charm and tendency to fly into rages translate into high scores in several categories: "dependence," "deepening of all emotions," "humorlessness," and "paranoia." And his effort to chronicle his era demonstrates his "grandiosity" and "sense of personal destiny."


1 A 1974 lecture from Geschwind's course at Harvard Medical School (on The Neurology of Behavior) was reprinted in the journal Epilepsy & Behavior in 2009.

2 The view of a distinctive TLE personality is not without controversy, however. Some clinicians maintain that a substantial portion of the variance can be accounted for by psychiatric illness, e.g. Mungus (1982) who reported that:
...none of the 18 traits (Bear & Fedio, 1977) discriminated among a group of temporal lobe epileptics with behavioral-psychiatric disorders, a group of patients with concomitant neurological and behavioral-psychiatric disorders, and a group of patients with psychiatric but not neurological illness.


Devinsky, J., & Schachter, S. (2009). Norman Geschwind’s contribution to the understanding of behavioral changes in temporal lobe epilepsy: The February 1974 lecture. Epilepsy & Behavior, 15 (4), 417-424. DOI: 10.1016/j.yebeh.2009.06.006

Geschwind N. (2009). Personality changes in temporal lobe epilepsy. Epilepsy Behav. 15:425-33.

Waxman SG, Geschwind N. (2005). Hypergraphia in temporal lobe epilepsy. Epilepsy Behav. 6:282-91.

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