Neuroscientific Vagabonding


floeschie: Lost Brain, 2010 (CC)

by Isha Badoniya

Erik Hoel
The Overlook Press, 2021, 368pp

Erik Hoel’s Revelations is as ambitious as the towering skyline of New York City, where its main protagonist, Kierk Suren, after vagabonding for months, joins a postdoctoral program in his quest to develop a theory of consciousness. The neuroscientist vows not to ruin his new beginnings as he re-enters academic life. However, as he begins to probe into the mysterious circumstances surrounding the death of a colleague, his perception of the world around him completely disintegrates and he simultaneously engages in a complex partnership with fellow student Carmen Green. He begins to question the very doctrines that define science, juxtaposing the notions of the animate and the inanimate, the scientific and the philosophic, the pure and the corrupt, the bestial and the human.

As the novel descends into a narrative that is stylishly bare, the principal characters are stripped of their humanness and must face the forgotten phantoms of their animalistic instincts, brutally resurfacing from the depths of their intellectual façade. The tumult caused by the realisation of the inescapable fact that the ruler, while pretending to exercise a non-existent superiority over their experimental subjects in the realm of scientific research, and the ruled are inseparably bound by Nature’s laws manifests itself nakedly in the form of irreparable accidents, both mechanical and human.

Hoel’s prose and poetry competently override each other throughout the novel like a canvas being painted over and over, occasionally embracing to create a chef-d’oeuvre in the reveries of Kierk, only to tear apart when he wakes up chapter after chapter, his life turning into a vicious cycle of nightmares. The reader becomes both the observer and the observed in Hoel’s first literary experiment, unconsciously participating in the intellectual exercise to find the theory of consciousness. The writer stimulates the imagination and tests the intellect, while building a house of cards of heavy scientific concepts laid out by the fatigued scientific generation which populates the the novel.

Under the Cartesian iceberg of Revelations there certainly lies a child-like wonderland of imagination, laughter and insouciance. But to experience even an iota of it the reader must engage in a gory videogame, dodging through the chambers of nauseating obscenity flowing beneath the temple of consciousness, of which the protagonists of the novel are valued devotees. To discover the complexities of Hoel’s writing is to look straight into the dreadful eyes of agony, to breathe in the claustrophobia of a captivated being, to smell the blood oozing from the corners of its drilled skull, to witness rodents scavenge on once living flesh, without promise of deliverance.

As frank and unapologetic as its anti-hero, Revelations is neither immunised from the mythological dilemma of choosing between the intellect and the affect, nor from the macabre dance of drugs, sex, death, riots and madness; they are central to the web of this cerebral mystery. Could this be reflective of the author’s own transition from the confines of the scientific to the revolting liberation of the literary? Or could this be an expression of the existential crisis of a society mutating as fast as its viruses, each scientific advancement moving it closer to realising the Orwellian prophecy of a hyper connected world engulfing its own existence? To each his own revelation.


About the Author:

Isha Badoniya is a freelance journalist based in Paris. When not writing, she is either cooking something in her kitchen or spending time with wildflowers blossoming in the most improbable places.

Cover image: la.kien: Brain Coral, 2012 (CC)

Comments are closed.