In 1666, an astronomer predicts a solar eclipse. This astronomer is rumored to be using the longest telescope ever built, but he is also known to be blind. Is he mad? Or does he, despite this impairment, have an insight denied the other scholars of his day?
The Organs of Sense is deeply rooted in the Western intellectual tradition, and prior knowledge of Leibniz’s optimistic worldview is helpful for appreciating the book’s satirical streak; it’s also helpful if you’ve read Candide. Sachs’ writing, however, aligns most closely to Thomas Bernhard’s, particularly in its listener-monologue structure. But don’t panic: Sachs—a semifinalist for the Thurber Prize for American Humor—also has martini-dry wit and a fantastic sense of comic timing. Incremental repetition of key phrases heightens the overall absurdity ... Has Sachs written 'the best of all possible books,' as Leibniz himself might call it? In a literary landscape crying out for wit and intricacy, it’s hard to imagine how it could have been better.
Sachs recognizes both the seriousness and the humor of the seventeenth-century provocation that man, like cheese, contains thinking multitudes. He resurrects the conventions of the earliest comic novels—Jonathan Swift’s satires of rationalism, Henry Fielding’s chatty, self-conscious narrators—to reveal that human thought is, fundamentally, absurd ... The Organs of Sense embeds the voices of its storytellers to create a universe of thought that seems at once bounded and infinite, composed of many alien points of view. The novel can speak in the gently parodic interjections of Leibniz’s translator, the goofy exclamations of the astronomer, the officious tones of a seventeenth-century emperor. It can simultaneously peer out, through the eye of the telescope, at the splendor of the heavens, and gaze in, at the refractions of its own manic thinking ... The novel, for Sachs, offers a mechanism for giving form to the immateriality of thought and feeling—the essential quality of being human that exceeds the singing, chomping, and blinking thingness of the body ... [a] twinkling and zany philosophical account ... Sachs makes you work for the privilege of sharing his derangements of thought ... For this reason, the novel is less a novel of ideas than it is a novel about the emotional, illogical, concealed, and self-duplicitous reasons why we grasp, and are grasped by, particular ideas at particular moments; how our histories and history writ large get twined together by forces not totally within our control or imagination; how whatever space is left for human determination must be claimed by a spectacularly, hilariously exaggerated effort of will.