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The Organs of Sense

Adam Ehrlich Sacks

A philosophically charged, absurd novel. The writing is excellent, the humor is disarming - it’s a cerebral joy to read.

Where I found something like Sartre’s Nausea still tedious to read, this work, though perhaps less directly engaged in expounding a philosophical position, more than compensates with the pleasure of inhabiting its mentality.

It’s always a kind of amputation to provide a snippet from a novel, where everything is so enriched by context, but this is one of my favorite moments. An old astronomer is recounting to a young (not yet famous) Leibniz a story from his youth, when his life was divided into two activities: helping his father build a mechanical head during waking hours, and while his father slept, peering out into the stars and studying astronomy:

“For weeks the astronomer did not sleep. If he wasn’t peering into his father’s mechanical human head, he was peering out of his own head. Once head was to be looked into: the mechanical head. The other was to be looked out from: his own organismic head. The forme rhead had to speak, blink, and chomp, the latter head to think and see. But in his mounting exhaustion it did not take long of course to descend into complete head confusion, ‘utter head chaos.’ Everything got mixed up! Which head was for looking at, and which head was for looking? One night he spent all night observing his head, instead of using his head to observe. ‘Obviously I had to use my own head to observe my own head, so in a sense I was still using my head to observe, but what I was observing with my head was my head, rather than the new twinkling object in the heavens.’ He actually observed his head observing his head being observed by his head: a complete waste of time…”

And so on. These little pockets of absurdist humor are littered throughout the novel.