I once read the last 200 pages of Hardy's Jude the Obscure in a single hour. This extraordinary feat occurred in, I think, 1959 or 1960.
As a general rule, I'm not a speedy reader -- just about average, in fact. But for one splendid hour, I was able to read at four or five times my usual pace. I can't explain why except to say that I was so focused on Jude and Sue and Arabella that the whole world outside of that book just disappeared. Moreover, it wasn't only that I read rapidly --I read with insight and with imagination. I felt that I was in touch not only with the novel but with the author himself and that I could grasp and appreciate all of Hardy's contrivances and triumphs.
Thirty or so years later, I re-read Jude and I was astonished to find that my recollection of the novel was superb -- much more detailed and more accurate than of novels that I had recently read or re-read. What a difference from my usual plodding self! What a joy it must be to be truly intelligent about books!
It's obvious that my mind, and everyone's mind, must have much greater capabilities than it ordinarily exhibits. If only we knew how to access that ability.
Three or four times in my life, at a concert or listening to music at home I've felt myself jump to a higher level of understanding. All of a sudden, the form of the music -- even of complex music-- becomes crystal clear and the inevitability of the next note becomes plain. I seem to know what the composer thought he was doing. And then, after a few moments, I become self-conscious and self-aware, the flood of insights wanes, and I decline to my usual, rather pedestrian level of appreciation.
I also had one unique experience when I was between sleep and awake and a tune was repeating itself in my head, and just like! that I started to create interesting variations on the theme. Composers sometimes say that they transcribe music that they hear in their brains, and for a brief moment, it was as though I myself was a composer. But alack, after a few short moments, I came to conscious realization of what was happening and I was roused from my reverie; creativity screeched to a halt. I've never been able to revive within me that particular symphony and song.
It's also happened that while I'm writing something, I enter what could be called a trance state and the world seems to drop away. It's then that I can write four or five good pages in the same amount of time in which I would usually grind out a hundred or so words. It almost seems as though I engage a part of my brain that's not ordinarily available. Rimbaud once remarked that "literature is my unconscious talking to your unconscious." Maybe geniuses are those who can achieve a level of concentration that allows them to delve into inaccessible areas of the brain. There's a story about Charles Dickens: it's said that he wrote the death scene of Little Nell in the midst of a crowded party and that while he was plying his quill, tears were running down his face and that he was totally oblivious to the noise around him. He was there, in the room, but in another sense, he wasn't there.
It happened to me two or three times that I was speaking to a group when all of a sudden I became aware that I was constructing elegant and artistic paragraph-length sentences -- that my vocabulary had enlarged and that my metaphors were apt and expressive. I can even remember admiring my sudden burst of eloquence-- as though I was simultaneously both performer and observer. But then, after a few moments, the synaptic connections that transformed me into an accomplished orator short-circuited and my supernova sentences reverted to mere competence. Wouldn't in be wonderful to be effortlessly eloquent! One can only lament. But to look on the bright side -- I'm fortunate to have had a few grand moments. Even Kekule only dreamed his benzene rings into existence one single time.