The Age of Insight: The Quest To Understand The Unconscious in Art, Mind and Brain: From Vienna 1900 to the Present  by Eric R. Kandel

This is back-to-school time. Good thing, I’m not about to go to back to school because my brain isn’t in learning mode.  As a matter of fact, I seem to be suffering from reading attention deficit disorder which consists of starting a book, getting bored, skimming a chunk and then putting the book down. Add The Age of Insight to my list of books started but not finished.

Kandel is a neurobiology professor at Columbia AND a Nobel Prize winner and was born in Vienna in 1929.

Kandel begins by describing turn of the twentieth century Vienna (which sounds like a candidate for a Midnight in Paris sequel) and its talented residents (Freud, Klimt etc). His discussions of Klimt, Kokoschka and Schiele, which include color reproductions, provide useful overviews of each artist. (Fun fact-The pattern on the dress of Adele Bloch-Bauer in this painting by Klimt  combines visualizations of sperm and eggs]. When he began to talk about psychology and relate psychology to art and vice versa, I began to lose interest though I did  notice that he has a higher opinion of Freud than the author of Subliminal does. When he continued to talk about neurobiology and the structure of the brain, I stopped.  Kandel has co-authored a textbook, and the book is textbook length.  Parts of this book also have a textbook structure [X’s theory of Y contains 6 stages. First..Second… Third…][See Figure 4-17 for a model of X’s theory] and a textbook style[repetition]. Textbook style is dull. On the other hand, Kandel’s topic is not dull. So, probably it’s not him, it’s me.

Keeping track of what I’ve been reading…

Three Strong Women by Marie Ndiaye

This book received a NYT Book section front page review. Ndiaye tells the story of three women; the book is divided into three sections. I got through section one, wasn’t grabbed and decided not to continue.  While I enjoy reading books cover to cover, I enjoy deciding not to finish books because I haven’t been able to do that till recently.

The Success and Failure of Picasso by John Berger.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art displayed this book in its museum store. John Berger is/was a Marxist art critic. Marxist prose is hard to read, and I don’t know if I completely understood his thesis about Picasso being a “vertical invader.”. The book has an excellent back cover analysis; according to the anonymous author, Picasso’s success and failure was linked to his belief in  genius. A side bitch: why do art books have black & white illustrations. It should be illegal.

Things I Don’t Know by Robert Hughes

Robert Hughes, who was born in Australia (this fact is very important in understanding Robert Hughes-there’s a definite love/hate thing going on on both sides) and  the art critic for Time, died recently. I’ll try to write more about him sometime.  Things I Don’t Know is  the first part of his autobiography, As the book jacket notes, the high point is probably the beginning where he describes the car accident that nearly killed him. What I appreciated the book was its attempt to be honest but that honesty isn’t pleasant to read. Just to give an idea of its flavor, “At one point, I saw Death. He was sitting at a desk, like a banker.”  And when talking about Vietnam, “our seniors had been lying to us, as politicians do, on an immense industrial scale.”

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