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THE AGE OF INSIGHT by Eric Kandel Kirkus Star


The Quest to Understand the Unconscious in Art, Mind, and Brain, from Vienna 1900 to the Present

by Eric Kandel

Pub Date: March 27th, 2012
ISBN: 978-1-4000-6871-5
Publisher: Random House

In a polymathic performance, a Nobel laureate weaves together the theories and practices of neuroscience, art and psychology to show how our creative brains perceive and engage art—and are consequently moved by it.

Kandel (Biochemistry and Biophysics/Columbia Univ. College of Physicians; In Search of Memory, 2006, etc.) is uniquely equipped for this vast task. Born in Vienna, a collector of Klimt and Kokoschka, a scientist of the first rank, the author possesses in abundance the myriad requirements for such an integrative enterprise. Moving seamlessly and effortlessly between the worlds of art and science, Kandel begins with a look at the art world of Vienna, 1900. Then it’s off to Freud, whose theories and discoveries the author treats with great respect, awarding credit where it’s due, noting but not condemning errors. Kandel also glances at innovations in literature, especially the technique of interior monologue pioneered by Arthur Schnitzler in his Lieutenant Gustl (1900). Some sexy chapters ensue as Kandel discusses sexuality in art, and sex remains a leitmotif. He looks at how painters reveal the interior states of their subjects, and he examines the theories and discoveries of neuroscientists—though he continually returns to the art world for illustration, elaboration and example. Kandel reminds us that the brain creates the world for us: Our poor eyes bring in only a fraction of what’s there; the brain assembles and interprets, using memory as a principal guide. Readers will also learn how artists can make a subject’s eyes seem to follow the viewer, how scientists have used animals and imaging to explore the brain, and how artists employ models’ faces, hands and attitude to affect us, to prompt our empathy. In addition, Kandel investigates the nature of creativity.

A transformative work that joins the hands of Art and Science and makes them acknowledge their close kinship.