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Richard Powers’s ‘The Echo Maker’

Reassessing the Neuronovel in American Literature

Christian Knirsch

Pages 47 - 62


According to Marco Roth, one of the most recent subgenres of the novel, the neuronovel, unquestioningly embraces the empirical neurological worldview. One of the best known novels he lists in this category is certainly Richard Powers’s ‘The Echo Maker’ (2003). Such an interpretation of the novel though is reductionist and a crude oversimplification of its epistemological framework: on a symbolical level, ‘The Echo Maker’ discusses the supposed dichotomy between Freudian psychology and the more empirically and anatomically oriented approaches that are predominant in contemporary neurology. This theoretical debate is centered on two neurologists’ competing approaches to the treatment of Capgras, the delusional syndrome the protagonist of the novel, Mark, suffers from. As it is, one approach considers Capgras a neuroanatomical phenomenon while the other treats it as a psychological disorder. In the assessment of the intellectual development of the two neurologists engaging in this debate lies the key to the assessment of the novel’s epistemological stance.


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