daya dissanayake

Writers have begun Neuronovelizing, according to the blogger 'Hanba', creating fiction around the wiring of the brain or dousing it with chemicals. The Neuronovel has taken over, leaving Freudian and Jungian novel far behind. It is the human brain and its neurochemistry that is becoming the trend. Michael Crichton, Ian McEwan, Mark Haddon, Richard Powers are among the authors who are into the neuronovel today. Amnesia and schizophrenia we came across earlier, and in crime fiction lawyers tried to bring in pleas of insanity to save their clients. Most of these new books are still following the basic theme of creating Frankensteins, and battling them afterwards.

Mind Control by hypnosis was the technique used in earlier novelists, Len Deighton in his first novel The IPCRESS File' (1962), Richard Condon in The Manchurian Candidate (1959), and Anthony Burgess in the 'Clockwork Orange' (1962). George Orwell used it in 'Nineteen Eighty-Four' (1949). It was during the Korean War that the term Brainwashing came into use, for psychological manipulation for political and criminal use. Aldous Huxley used Hypnopedia or sleep-learning in 'Brave New World' (1932), but before that Hugo Gernback introduced a Hypnobioscope as a sleep learning device, in 'Ralph 124V 41+', a 1911 science Fiction novel.

Ramez Naam published his Sci-fi novel 'Nexus', about a group of graduate students developing a drug which creates a temporary computer network in the brain, allowing the brain to be programmed. Mind boggling thoughts.

Marco Roth wrote in 'n+1', "What has been variously referred to as the novel of consciousness or the psychological or confessional novel - the novel, at any rate, about the working of the mind - has transformed itself into the neurological novel, wherein the mind becomes the brain."

It has not been classed as a new genre yet, but it will soon be labelled, because like scientists the literary scholars too want to place every creative work in a particular pigeon hole, and have a name for it, so this could be a new genre for them, even if the writers and the readers often do not bother about classifications, as long as the book is readable and interesting.

The demand for the neuronovel is increasing, with their characters suffering from bipolar disorder, multiple personality disorder, neurological interpretations of people's actions. We also have sci-fi novels, experimenting with neurochemistry and electronic interference of the brain. Then there is also crime fiction where terrorists, organized crime and government institutions are using electronics and chemicals to control people's minds.

As we read these neuronovels, a question pops into our minds, if some of these writers have been motivated by the drug industry, directly or indirectly, to create a demand for their new drugs. Forbes reported some years back "The brain is a gold mine for drug companies." The global neurological drug market is around US$ 40 billion and the neurological device market is around US$ 7 billion, and it will continue to increase.

Drugs and devices and electronics, could be used to heal the mind or the brain, but it can also be used to kill or to destroy the mind. United States is also offering incentives to develop neurodegenerative drugs, which could enjoy a ten year monopoly. This leads to the development and use of neuroweapons. US Department of Defense is planning an office of Neurotechnology to direct and centralize neuroscience R&D. All this provides more ideas and plots for more neuronovels. The novelist and the terrorist would both be using all this knowhow to plan more outrageous, more devastating plots.

Far more dangerous than all the devices and chemicals would be Optogenetics, using genetics and optics to control man and beast. By introducing light sensitive proteins into the brain cells or the central nervous system, the behaviour of an animal or a human could be controlled by delivering light targeting a specific location deep inside the body. Writers could use all this technology into developing new plots for crime, espionage, sabotage and terrorist acts. Terrorists and governments could use the same knowledge and the same imagination to create more destructive weapons to control or destroy life.

Ever since man began to use his forelimbs, he has been a destroyer. Every object he could hold in his hands, he had used as a weapon, every new discovery and invention he had turned into a weapon of destruction, from the discovery of fire to the discovery of nuclear fission, everything had become means of destruction. The digging stick made by a woman to dig up a yam, became a spear point in the hands of the man as a deadly weapon against man and animals.

Our creative writers, and before them our ancient storytellers have glorified the use of such weapons and the destruction caused by them, ignoring very often the benefits such discoveries and inventions had given mankind and Mother Earth. That unfortunately is the concept which is continued in the neuronovel, which should not come as a surprise to us.

Perhaps from the neuronovel, writers could move on to endocrinenovels and even gastronovels, vascularnovels, and tell us about people who are influenced by their endocrine system, of their guts or their heart and blood. Because chemicals could control all these systems, and drug manufacturers could develop more and more chemicals that affect these systems. A man's actions could be interpreted by a writer, based on what the man had for his lunch, or a bio-similar drug he was taking. Writing about a body organ controlling a man is not a new idea. Alberto Moravia did it with his novel 'Two Of Us' (1971). Had he lived to see the popularity of the erectile dysfunction drugs, he would have written 'The Three of Us' (including Viagra). 'Two of Us' was labelled a phallic novel. But long before Moravia, 'Lady Chatterly's Lover' (1928) was called a phallic novel.

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