He remembered nothing for more than a few seconds. He was continually disoriented. Abysses of amnesia continually opened beneath him, but he would bridge them, nimbly, by fluent confabulations and fictions of all kinds. For him they were not fictions, but how he suddenly saw, or interpreted, the world.
Its radical flux and incoherence could not be tolerated, acknowledged, for an instant—there was, instead, this strange, delirious, quasi-coherence, as Mr Thompson, with his ceaseless, unconscious, quick-fire inventions, continually improvised a world around him—an Arabian Nights world, a phantasmagoria, a dream, of ever-changing people, figures, situations—continual, kaleidoscopic mutations and transformations. For Mr Thompson, however, it was not a tissue of ever-changing, evanescent fancies and illusion, but a wholly normal, stable and factual world. So far as he was concerned, there was nothing the matter.
On one occasion, Mr Thompson went for a trip, identifying himself at the front desk as ‘the Revd. William Thompson’, ordering a taxi, and taking off for the day. The taxi-driver, whom we later spoke to, said he had never had so fascinating a passenger, for Mr Thompson told him one story after another, amazing personal stories full of fantastic adventures. ‘He seemed to have been everywhere, done everything, met everyone. I could hardly believe so much was possible in a single life,’ he said. ‘It is not exactly a single life,’ we answered. ‘It is all very curious—a matter of identity.’
But Mr Thompson, only just out of hospital—his Korsakov’s had exploded just three weeks before, when he developed a high fever, raved, and ceased to recognise all his family—was still on the boil, was still in an almost frenzied confabulatory delirium (of the sort sometimes called ‘Korsakov’s psychosis’, though it is not really a psychosis at all), continually creating a world and self, to replace what was continually being forgotten and lost. Such a frenzy may call forth quite brilliant powers of invention and fancy—a veritable confabulatory genius—for such a patient must literally make himself (and his world) up every moment. We have, each of us, a life-story, an inner narrative—whose continuity, whose sense, is our lives. It might be said that each of us constructs and lives, a ‘narrative’, and that this narrative is us, our identities.
To be ourselves we must have ourselves—possess, if need be re-possess, our life-stories.
We must ‘recollect’ ourselves, recollect the inner drama, the narrative, of ourselves. A man needs such a narrative, a continuous inner narrative, to maintain his identity, his self.
Sacks, Oliver (2010-07-21). The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat: and other Clinical Tales (p. 111). Odyssey Editions LLC. Kindle Edition.