Art/Aesthetics · Bio · Science · Theory

The Age of Insight: Nobel Laureate Eric Kandel Explains How Our Brain Perceives Art

Many strands of Eric Kandel’s life come together in his latest work, The Age of Insight: The Quest to Understand the Unconscious in Art, Mind, and Brain, from Vienna 1900 to the Present. The 82-year-old University Professor and co-director of the Mind Brain Behavior Initiative was born in Vienna, where, as a boy of 8, he witnessed the Nazis march into the Austrian capital. Decades later, he recalls how much his own intellectual interests were shaped not only by the Holocaust that followed, but by the cosmopolitan city that in the early 1900 served as an extraordinary incubator for creativity and thought that shaped the world we live in today.

Q. What made you decide to turn your attention to the neurobiology of how we perceive art?

There are many motivating factors. One was my longterm interest in Klimt, Kokoschka and Schiele, the three Austrian Modernists, my fascination with Vienna 1900 and with Freud. I wanted to become a psychoanalyst and I’m Viennese so I sense a shared intellectual history, particularly with turn-of-the-century Vienna. But the immediate stimulus actually came from [Columbia President] Lee Bollinger. The idea behind the Mind Brain Behavior Initiative is to try to understand the human mind in biological terms and to use these insights to bridge the biology of the brain with other areas of the humanities. Lee expressed the belief that the new science of the mind could have a major impact on the academic curriculum, that in a sense everyone at the University works on the human mind. I felt I was doing this for personal reasons, but isn’t it wonderful that it is also in line with one of the missions of the University?

Excerpts from an Interview at Columbia University in the City of New York

Book-Text-Read-Zines · Human-ities · Social/Politics · Vital-Edible-Health

People who eat People: on Cătălin Avramescu’s Intellectual History of Cannibalism

Modern condemnations of cannibalism largely set aside questions of moral law or natural law, with their suppositions about the nature of human beings, and thus what is unnatural. These are not assumptions we’re comfortable with these days; chacun à son goût is more to our taste. Formal prosecutions of modern anthropophagists — when they happen — now fasten on attendant crimes, notably, though not necessarily, murder. Cannibalism can be judged a sign of insanity, and the perpetrator locked up not for a criminal act but for mental derangement likely to endanger himself or the community. In 1980, the Poughkeepsie, New York, murderer and testicle-eater Albert Fentress was found not guilty by reason of insanity and committed to a psychiatric hospital. The more famous, but less real, Dr. Hannibal (“the Cannibal”) Lecter was confined to a state hospital for the criminally insane. The cannibal is less and less an actor in the sciences of human nature and culture, more and more handed over to the criminologist, the psychopathologist, and the journalist. The figure of the cannibal is good for selling books and movie tickets, but not particularly important to think about or to draw lessons from.

Excerpt from an article written by Steven Shapin on LA Review of Books. Read it HERE

Image above: Brazilians cook human flesh … (1671) From Nieuwe en onbekende wereld by A. Montanus, Courtesy of New York Public Library Collection.

Avoiding False Problems: Politics of the Fluid, Hybrid, and Flexible by Suely Rolnik

Human-ities · Public Space · Social/Politics · Theory

Europe invents the Gypsies. The dark side of modernity

Social segregation, cultural appropriation: the six-hundred-year history of the European Roma, as recorded in literature and art, represents the underside of the European subject’s self-invention as agent of civilizing progress in the world, writes Klaus-Michael Bogdal.

Is Europe anything more than the remnants of a grand political delusion? Is there a cultural bond that unites the nations and peoples of this fragmented continent? From Max Weber to Norbert Elias, the greats of European intellectual history have described and re-described Europe as the birthplace of modernity; not, like the other continents, as the “heart of darkness”, but as the energetic center of civilizing progress. Their attention has focused on the “grand narratives”: industrialization and economic productivity, state and nation building, science and art. Yet might not an examination from the other side – through an investigation of the marginal – provide essential insights into Europe’s development over the longue dureé? Might not the history of the Roma, a group marginalized like none other, reveal a less auspicious aspect of Europe’s grand narrative of modernity?

The tendency of existing research to treat the Roma as having first entered European political history with the Nazi genocide disregards a unique six-hundred-year history. It is indeed the case that the Roma, who over long periods of time lived nomadically and possessed no written culture of their own, have left almost no historical accounts of themselves. The heritage and documents therefore do not permit a history of the Roma comparable to that, for example, of the persecuted and expelled French Huguenots. What is available to us, however, is evidence – in the form of literature and art – of the way in which the settled, feudally organized European population experienced a way of life that it perceived as threatening. Despite consisting solely of stories and images that are defensive “distortions”, this evidence provides a far from unfavorable basis for an examination of the six-hundred-year history of the European Roma, insofar as it is a history of cultural appropriation characterized by segregation. We encounter the traces of the reality experienced by the Roma almost exclusively through depictions by outsiders, and must use these to imagine those parts considered impossible to represent. The extraneous cultural depictions of the Roma – variously referred to as gypsies, zigeuner, tatern, cigány, çingeneler, and so on – have created heterogeneous units of “erased” identity and cultural attributes. The “invention” of the Gypsy is the underside of the European cultural subject’s invention of itself as the agent of civilizing progress in the world.

Excerpt on an article written by Klaus-Michael Bogdal for Eurozine. Continue HERE