From The Observer, Tom Lubbock: a memoir of living with a brain tumour: “For art critic Tom Lubbock, language has been his life and his livelihood. But in 2008, he developed a lethal brain tumour and was told he would slowly lose control over speech and writing. This is his account of what happens when words slip away.” This diary of loss is terrifying and exhilarating—exhilarating because Lubbock is so determined to make us feel and understand what he’s going through, and succeeds so well.
Suffolk, August 2008
The first verbal glitches occur after my first fit. At this point, I have no idea what is going on. They last a few minutes, in episodes I would describe as word-blindness or deafness. It is hard, in the nature of it, to follow and record what specifically happens in these quite short periods. It’s as if I’ve become very remote and detached from words. I’m no longer fluent. I’ve forgotten how to do it. I can’t do it automatically. I can’t hear whether a word that I say has come out right or not. It’s as if it’s not me that’s speaking, but some kind of inefficient proxy forming the words. It’s like there is a time-delay between speaking and hearing your own words, or if you were speaking a language whose phonetics and semantics you don’t properly know. And when I speak or write, the words do sometimes come out wrong, slightly nonsensically. [...]
[...] The mystery of summoning up words. Where are they in the mind, in the brain? They appear to be an agency from nowhere. They exist somewhere in our ground or in our air. They come from unknown darkness. From a place we normally don’t think about.
For me, no word comes without prior thought. No sentence is generated without effort. No formulation is made automatically. I am faced continually with a mystery that other people have no conception of, the mystery of the generation of speech. There is no command situation, it goes back and back and back. Where the self lies at the heart of the utterance, the speaker generating the word, is always clouded. This is true for everyone, but for most people this is not something to think about. The generation of words is automatic. For me, that automatic link is broken. Word generation involves strain, guesswork, difficulty, imprecision.
And there are some striking quotes:
“A word is not the same with one writer as with another. One tears it from his guts. The other pulls it out of his overcoat pocket.” –Charles Péguy