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Today’s review will hardly do justice to its subject. With a fair bit of catching up to do with respect to 2012’s books, I will have to give a complex work short shrift.

The Age of Insight, by Eric KandelTitle: The Age of Insight: The Quest to Understand the Unconscious in Art, Mind, and Brain, from Vienna 1900 to the Present, by Eric Kandel

Completed: September 4, 2012 (#61)

Dr. Kandel is an Austrian born neuroscientist and Nobel Prize laureate, which prize, I hasten to add, was awarded for his research into the synaptic connections of sea slugs, inter alia. Yet he writes with the delicacy and sensibility of a belle-lettrist. If ever there was a retort to C.P. Snow’s The Two Cultures, this is it.

From the Amazon.com synopsis:

Kandel tells the story of how these pioneers—Freud, Schnitzler, Klimt, Kokoschka, and Schiele—inspired by the Vienna School of Medicine, in turn influenced the founders of the Vienna School of Art History to ask pivotal questions such as What does the viewer bring to a work of art? How does the beholder respond to it? These questions prompted new and ongoing discoveries in psychology and brain biology, leading to revelations about how we see and perceive, how we think and feel, and how we respond to and create works of art. Kandel, one of the leading scientific thinkers of our time, places these five innovators in the context of today’s cutting-edge science and gives us a new understanding of the modernist art of Klimt, Kokoschka, and Schiele, as well as the school of thought of Freud and Schnitzler. Reinvigorating the intellectual enquiry that began in Vienna 1900, The Age of Insight is a wonderfully written, superbly researched, and beautifully illustrated book that also provides a foundation for future work in neuroscience and the humanities. It is an extraordinary book from an international leader in neuroscience and intellectual history.

“Beautifully illustrated” is the word for it. Although a strong partisan for the “traditional” Kindle technology–this Superfluous Man now does his reading on the new Kindle PaperwhiteThe Age of Insight is a Technicolor feast best enjoyed on the “Retina” screen of an iPad or even via a dead-tree book.

Some appetizers follow:

Windsbraut, Oskar Kokoschka (1913-14)

Windsbraut, Oskar Kokoschka (1913-14)

Der Kuss, Gustav Klimt (1907-08)

Der Kuss, Gustav Klimt (1907-08)

And another, with the expert narration of our curator Dr. Kandel:Child in the Hands of Its Parents, Oskar Kokoschka

Three remarkable and distinctly different examples show how Kokoschka used hands to communicate an emotional state between two people. The first is the 1909 portrait of the baby Fred Goldman, entitled Child in the Hands of Its Parents. The mother’s right hand and the father’s left hand seem to protect and shelter their child. The hands stand in for the parents, and they are engaged in a dialogue of shared affection. There is both an interesting contrast and a sense of dynamic collaboration between the two hands. The father’s is outstretched, both protective and restrictive, with vigorous red hues. The mother’s is pale, much softer, more relaxed and gentle. This use of hands turns a portrait of a child into a family portrait.