Tourette in Fiction: Lethem, Lefcourt, Hecht, Rubio, Byalick
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Disorder - both in narrative and of narrative - is omni-present today, and trauma and syndromes
proliferate: Tourette Syndrome1 has become a trope for the whole post-modern condition... Amnesia
is more widespread than in living memory... Attention Deficit Disorder adds up... These disorders
and their names are more familiar to us than ever before, and the terminology of trauma and
symptomology no longer belongs to a narrow professional (medical or therapeutic) register. We are
disorder-, syndrome- and trauma-aware like never before. This greater awareness and label
dissemination indicates that a popularisation of trauma terminology has taken place, and that these
labels have entered a wider cultural field. The reason for this could be that we now like to mirror
ourselves in the various offerings of available trauma images, trying on trauma for size. This is also
reflected in the increasing number of popular culture treatments in various media of psychological
disabilities, whether it be in books, TV or films (portraits of sufferers of mental disorders are always
potential Oscar-winner material for movie actors).
The late 1990s and early 2000s have especially brought us numerous portraits of Tourette sufferers.
A search on Amazon.com reveals no less than 1.327 books with references to the word Tourette in
them, many of them offering personal testimonies about living, and presumably coping with the
syndrome. This number alone seems to suggest, not only that the syndrome is widely known and
discussed in the general public, but also that a certain voyeuristic interest has developed, since it is
hardly possible that all these books are only read by relatives of Tourette patients or the patients
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...ley, New York (1999)
Lefcourt, Peter: The Woody, Simon & Schuster, New York (1998),
Lethem, Jonathan, Motherless Brooklyn, Faber & Faber, London (2000)
Miller, James: “The Voice in Tourette Syndrome” in New Literary History, Summer 2001, Vol. 32
Rubio, Gwyn Hyman: Icy Sparks, Penguin USA, New York (1998),
Sachs, Oliver: The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, Picador, London (1985)
Schleifer, Ronald: “The Poetics of Tourette syndrome: Language, Neurobiology, and Poetry”, in
New Literary History, Summer 2001, Vol. 32
1 The syndrome is variously referred to in the medical literature as ”Tourette’s Syndrome”, “Tourette
Syndrome”, or “TS”. For simplicity I use the abbreviation “Tourette” whenever appropriate, or, for reasons
that will become apparent, in a few cases the acronym “TS”.
2 Hyperlink http://www.hum.aau.dk/~i12bent/Recent_Lectures/TourettePop.html