The Man with the Shattered World

From: Chatwin Judy (
Date: Wed Nov 15 1995 - 14:18:42 GMT

The Man with the Shattered World - A R Luria
Published by Penguin Books Ltd (1981)

The following will attempt to summarise the above book, although I
would recommend that you read it in order to appreciate the thoughts
and feelings of someone so badly disabled that he felt that he died
once and was beginning life again as a 'new born'.

The book is about Zasetsky and includes excerpts from his 3,000 page
journal alongside commentary from Luria, who attempts to explain some
of the physiological reasoning associated with the problems described.
There appears to be no chronological order to the text but we are aware
that few improvements or real changes occurred during the 25 years
other than those specifically mentioned.

On 2nd March 1943, Zasetsky suffered a bullet wound to the head which
resulted in a lesion in the brain - this caused severe damage to the
part of the brain which is essential for making sense of the world,
i.e. the combining of separate parts of information to make a whole
which can then be understood. His vision was affected, in that he had
no visual field on the right hand side and even the left hand vision
had gaps in it. It also severly affected his mem;ory.

Initially, he had no thoughts or memory at all but gradually some
things began to come back but not in the order expected. He began to
remember his early childhood; images would flash in front of him but he
could not recall them when he wanted to, they came at random. Although
he could recall some images, he could not remember words - he would
recognise an object but could not remember what the word for it was and
so he adopted a method of searching for the word, this could take him
hours or even days before the right word was found. He had no
vocabulary and therefore could not express himself or communicate.
Objects would appear familiar but the word he wanted would be 'on the
tip of his tongue' and yet he could not find it. He had no knowledge of
learning, it appears he was a scientist studying at a level of higher
education and yet he could recall nothing he had consciously learnt. He
could not do simple arithmetic learnt in primary school. He set out to
relearn much of what he forgotten. This proved to be a far greater
task than he had envisaged. As soon as he learnt a new concept he
forgot it again. He could recite the alphabet but could not recognise
letters but gradually he was able to put letters together by going over
the entire alphabet until he came to the letter he was searching for.
Another problem with the reading was that because of his visual
problems he could only see 3 letters at any once time and as his vision
moved across the page, he forgot the word he had just read.

He learnt to write again by doing it spontaeously, not thinking about
it, he was not always able to read what he had written very easily and
there were no grammatical rules in anything he wrote but gradually
after 6 months intensive training he was able to read and write
although there was much hesitation.

Another problem he encountered was that he could not judge the distance
between 2 objects, making it difficult to do things like shake hands,
chop wood or hold a spoon. He did not understand direction, including
where sounds were coming from.

He suffered, what he called 'bodily peculiarities' - he would look down
at his body and not see the right half or he would think that parts of
his body had changed e.g. he would suddenly feel very tall, or that his
head was very large or that his legs were displaced and not where they
should be. He had also forgotten hand gestures, e.g. beckoning and
waving. He could not locate parts of his body i.e. linking the names
of something with the actual part - this was a problem that extended
beyond the body. He was able to adjust to these 'peculiarities'.

Can you imagine waking up one day with no knowledge of what has gone
before? Gradually your early life starts to re-emerge and you have in
your mind images of people and places but you can't remember facts;
where you live; what 2+2 is; how to attract someone's attention; what
is that thing called that is of a certain size (you do not know what is
big and what is small), black, soft, makes a noise (purrs), sits in
front of that hot, bright thing (fire), sleeps a lot - oh, what is it
called - I know I know it, I have seen it before, it is familiar - what
is it called, the word begins with a 'c' - I think, oh come on - I know
- a cat!

A man who went through this process everytime he wanted a word wrote
3,000 words over 25 years, some days he wrote a line and on a good day
he managed half a page. His perseverance and his determination to try
and find his memory again can only be admired.

I hope this explains the book, albeit briefly. Judy

This archive was generated by hypermail 2b30 : Tue Feb 13 2001 - 16:24:14 GMT