An excerpt from Uncle Tungsten

This excerpt from writer/neurologist Oliver Sacks’ childhood autobiography clearly demonstrates why it is perfectly suitable that Wes Anderson based a character on him (Raleigh St. Clair, in the Royal Tenenbaums):

One summer after the war, in Bournemouth, I managed to obtain a very large octopus from a fisherman and kept it in the bath of our hotel room, which I filled with seawater. I would feed it live crabs, which it tore open with its horny beak, and I think it grew quite attached to me. It certainly recognized me when I came into the bathroom, and would flush different colours, indicating its emotion. Although we had had dogs and cats at home, I had never had an animal of my own. Now I had, and I thought my octopus quite as intelligent, and as affectionate, as any dog. I wanted to bring it back to London, give it a home, a huge tank festooned with sea anemones and seaweed, have it as my very own pet.

I did a lot of reading about aquariums and artificial sea-water — but, in the event, the decision was taken from me, for one day the maid came in, and seeing the octopus in the bath, she had hysterics and poked it, wildly, with a long broom. The octopus, upset, discharged a huge cloud of ink, and when I returned a little later, I found it dead, sprawled out in its own ink. I dissected it, sorrowfully, when I got back to London, to learn what I could, and kept its scattered remains in formalin in my bedroom for many years.

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One Response to An excerpt from Uncle Tungsten

  1. Anonymous says:

    I love Oliver Sacks. He’s ruled by the curiosity humans are meant to have, and it’s all tempered by empathy and heart.
    He still has child logic, but with adult intelligence. It leads to situations so out of the ordinary, that if I consider them by typical standards they border on absurd. Yet its all treated with a matter of factness that means they aren’t at all.
    The curiosity just trumps everything, there are so many reasons why you shouldn’t keep an octopus in a bathtub, and if they occured to him at all he could just logically dismiss them. Not because they’re irrelevant but because they’re superpassed by a desire to learn, to keep and to take care of. I bet the octopus did like him. Poor damn octopus.