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One Comment on “Nobel Winner Eric Kandel: ‘The Age of Insight,’ Memory, the Holocaust, and the Art of Vienna”
We wish to object again to Eric Kandel’s erroneous and indeed reductionist assumptions regarding both Freud and art history. The little bow-tied man cannot resist his Oedipal impulse to decry Freud for no good reason, especially in view of Ernst Kris (not to mention Gombrich). Freud does not simply try and analyze a dead Leonardo, and knows full well he cannot put a dead artist on the couch; thus Kandel is completely wrong in his calumny and misreading. Freud’s Leonardo study is a philological investigation of the history of reception of Leonardo’s work set against the function of the institution of the museum, and includes an examination of his notebooks and letters (as well as insights into the aetiology of homosexuality), among so much else. Kandel arrives very late at this table: Dr. K.R. Eissler (Kandel’s Viennese nemesis, to be sure) wrote a masterful follow-up study, “Leonardo da Vinci: Psychoanalytic Notes on the Enigma” (1961). As for Kandel’s limited access to his childhood memories of Vienna, his three artists, Klimt, Kokoschka and Schiele are but the tip of the Expressionist iceberg. Kandel is ignorant of the major theoretical discussions in the history of art by philosophers such as Sartre on Tintoretto, and Derrida on Van Gogh and Adami, as well as the important work of his own senior colleague at Columbia University, Rosalind Krauss, and her precursor, Clement Greenberg. He makes only one mention of Arnold Schoenberg, two of Alban Berg; a mere two mentions of Meyer Schapiro; and but two mentions of homosexuality! He knows even less about literary critical discourse, let alone female sexuality. Kandel’s Kris derived ideas about the role of the viewer are long discussed if not already passe’ and effectively cloud his own vision of art criticism: Kandel omits entirely Freud’s study of “Gradiva” which presents Norbert as viewer’s delusional optic (as per my book on Italian Freud). As I wrote before, to focus on prosopagnosia [prosopopeia (Paul De Man did that)] or portraiture and not refer to Picasso except via Oliver Sacks and to gloss over Cubism and everything that followed is nothing but a time warp fixation which distorts Kandel’s theories about brain and neuronal paths. Kandel is a constructivist ignorant of the deconstruction of vision in modernity, and emotions are affects not to be analyzed. He is clueless about the semiotic differences between art, theatre (staging), and film (the following eye), or the role of painting in film, say like Hitchcock’s “Spellbound.” All Kandel utters are platitudes of the most reductionist kind, as his own colleague politely advised him: hands, face, body, empathy, anxiety–all this reads like a overreaching graduate student first draft talking about “ugliness” without any knowledge of aesthetics, let alone reception aesthetics; so focussed on dollar value, his introduction occludes the Nazi theft of the Klimt Randol Schoenberg rescued before Lauder. Post Schorske, he parades banalities about culture in Vienna with looking beneath the skin as if Freud had not formulated the concept of “body ego,” [not a single mention] (explored in my book on Lucian Freud and Kentridge) and a favorite Freud concept too for Harold Bloom.
At least Kandel did not trot out Chuck Close yet again [but your joint previous show on Schizophrenia is really patient abuse with that poor young man being patronized and being told "We need you." Charlie Rose needs to go fulfil his curiosity in a graduate program and not impose his personal claptrap on PBS viewers.] Kandel needs to be constantly reminded that he got a Nobel for the study of biological memory and snails, and is not anywhere near a Humanist Generalist. Kandel is full of nostalgia for museums he never visited as a child, and is certainly no Renaissance man; there are no new insights in this redundant book. His insatiable narcissistic immodesty is causing Ernst Kris to turn in his grave. Solms and Toegel (of all dubious compromised persons), as his (philistine) Freudian coordinates? Damasio and Ramachandran whom I demolished at the New York Psychoanalytic when he presented his gaffes about Leonardo. The effusive gratitude to all those who helped Kandel write the book (an unusually long sycophantic list) proves the point that he is walking on very thin unoriginal ice in this obviously jointly authored book with the most idiocentric and repetitive footnote padding ever witnessed (padding which a graduate student would have been made to remove and revise). An odd monocled devotion to Emily Braun but no mention of any women artists nor the salon of Rahel Levin Varnhagen, nor Hannah Arendt (and once again my work in “Freud’s Body Ego.”) More names and their entire opus completely omitted in this book include the most important Freudian humanist psychoanalyst MD, K.R. Eissler (Kris was an art curator); our most significant contemporary art historian of modernism, Rosalind Krauss; not to mention Sartre, Derrida, Bloom or Sontag (and the occlusion of my own work, as above.) It does all seem to be curiously personal . . . For those of us who analyze and specialize instead of parade, generalize, reduce, and name drop: Yes! the unconscious never lies . . . .
Jennifer Arlene Stone
J.A. Stone PhD (London)
New York NY
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