Vienna: memory

After we got back, I came across a capsule review of a new book by Eric Kandel, The Age of Insight: The Quest to Understand the Unconscious in Art, Mind and Brain from Vienna 1900 to the Present. It turns out to be a followup of sorts to Kandel’s earlier In Search of Memory: The Emergence of a New Science of Mind, here focused on the links between science and art in Vienna’s golden era: Freud, Schnitzler, Klimt, Schiele and Kokoschka. If you’re into memory studies, Kandel’s work is fundamental, but this book includes a return to educational origins for him, since he was a History and Literature major at Harvard in 1950 before deciding to take up neurology, and did his undergrad thesis on the response to National Socialism in the work of three German writers, Carl Zuckmayer, Hans Carossa, and Ernst Jünger.

An interview with Kandel reminds me of a conversation Andrew and I had on the tram out to Oberlaa about the continuing relevance of Freud. I was questioning how psychoanalysis could stick with its self-conception as an ongoing field of research in the scientific sense, limited as it was to explication of the master’s theories. It turns out Kandel saw his project early on as the establishment of Freud’s insights on a proper neurological basis. You can take the boy out of Vienna (born in 1929, Kandel left with his family after Kristallnacht) but not Vienna out of the boy. After he won the Nobel for Medicine, a film on his life and work appeared, from which this still (recreation of a Viennese childhood episode) is taken:

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2 thoughts on “Vienna: memory

  1. I saw the second half of a documentary about Eric Kandel on PBS. He seemed a charming, friendly sort of person. He was talking to people in Brooklyn and asking them what they remembered about living there back in the day. He was accepted at Brooklyn College, but his history teacher talked him into applying to Harvard, whereupon his father said that B.C. was quite good enough, why did he want to bother applying to Harvard. Then he was shown back in Vienna where he was rapturously received. He said he loved Vienna. Wish I could have seen the whole documentary.

    Meanwhile Dad and I recently heard Andrew Scull talk about psychiatry and the mess it’s in because a) Freud is “an intellectual corpse” and b) drugs usually don’t work and c) the profession doesn’t really know what it is doing because it doesn’t understand enough about how the brain works. Scull (Oxford, now USC) has written many a book about madness and madhouses. Our psychiatrist friend nodded his head throughout and said he agreed with Scull’s diagnosis.

    • There’s a telling photograph in the Freud Museum circa 1920, where SF is surrounded by a loyal circle of disciples, the so-called Secret Committee, dedicated to preserving Freudian orthodoxy after the defections of Adler, Stekel, Jung et al. Thereafter the history of psychoanalysis is one of political factionalism vs. intellectual discovery. The thing is, though, Freud remained a better writer than any of his followers, with the possible exception of my own (and Alison Bechdel’s) favorite analyst, D. W. Winnicott.

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