This topic is about those moments of insight, when we see, understand or appreciate something for the first time.
Technical and Analytical Readings
- Eric Kandel, The Age of Insight: The Quewt to Understand the Unconscious in Art, Mind, and Brain from Vienna 1900 to Present (Random House, 2012): the book received mixed reviews, some critical of the soundness of the author’s neuroscientific claims.
Franz Kafka, the patron saint of insight into the nightmarishly absurd:
- Reiner Stach, Kafka: The Decisive Years (2002).
- Reiner Stach, Kafka: Years of Insight (Princeton University Press, 2013):
- Sander Gilman, Franz Kafka, The Jewish Patient (Routledge, 1995).
Other true narratives about insight:
- Liza Mundy, Code Girls: The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World War II (Hachette Books, 2017) [children’s version]: Mundy “describes the experiences of several thousand American women who spent the war years in Washington, untangling the clandestine messages sent by the Japanese and German militaries and diplomatic corps.”
- Lyndall Gordon, Outsiders: Five Women Writers Who Changed the World (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2019): “Gordon is best known for her brilliant studies of Woolf, Charlotte Brontë and Emily Dickinson. As a biographer, she’s been a visionary herself, mind-reading her way into these figures’ creative processes. She displays the same insight here, reading ‘Frankenstein’ as Mary Shelley’s effort to confront her estrangement from her father, and suggesting that Heathcliff in ‘Wuthering Heights’ may have been Emily Brontë’s embodiment of ‘Nature itself, red in tooth and claw.’”
- Salvador Dali, The First Days of Spring (1929)
That music always round me, unceasing, unbeginning, yet long
untaught I did not hear,
But now the chorus I hear and am elated,
A tenor, strong, ascending with power and health, with glad notes
of daybreak I hear,
A soprano at intervals sailing buoyantly over the tops of immense
A transparent base shuddering lusciously under and through the
The triumphant tutti, the funeral wailings with sweet flutes and
violins, all these I fill myself with,
I hear not the volumes of sound merely, I am moved by the
I listen to the different voices winding in and out, striving, contend-
ing with fiery vehemence to excel each other in emotion;
I do not think the performers know themselves—but now I think
I begin to know them.
[Walt Whitman, “That Music Always Round Me”]
Arthur Rimbaud, an icon of insight:
- Arthur Rimbaud, Illuminations, translated by John Ashbery (W.W. Norton & Company, 2011): Rimbaud was a “meteoric” young poet with “flashes of insight” “whose very eruption and subsequent accomplishments remain dazzling and difficult to explain away”. See also:
- Arthur Rimbaud, Illuminations (New Directions Publishing, 1946).
- Arthur Rimbaud, The Illuminations, translated by Keith Miller (CreateSpace, 2009).
- Arthur Rimbaud, Rimbaud Complete (Modern Library, 2002).
- Arthur Rimbaud, A Season In Hell and The Illuminations, translated by Enid Rhodes Peschel (Oxford University Press, 1973).
- Links to works by Arthur Rimbaud
Film and Stage
Music: Composers, artists, and major works
Johannes Brahms composed several series of short pieces for piano. In each piece, he explores a single musical idea:
- Waltzes, Op. 39
- Brahms, 18 Liebeslieder Waltzes for 4 Voices and Piano 4 Hands, Op. 52, Verses from "Polydora" (1869)
- Klavierstücke (Piano pieces), 76
- Fantasies (Fantasias), 116
- Three Intermezzi for Piano, 117
- Klavierstücke (Piano pieces), 118
- Klavierstücke (Piano pieces), 119
Fiction by Franz Kafka:
- Franz Kafka, The Complete Stories
- Franz Kafka, The Metamorphosis and Other Stories (Oxford University Press) (audiobook of The Metamorphosis).
- Franz Kafka, The Trial (1915); film adaptation.
Other insightful works of fiction:
- Téa Obreht, The Tiger’s Wife: A Novel (Random House, 2011): the author couples her childhood experiences in Yugoslavia with keen imagination and insight, creating a compelling work of fiction.
- Peter Kimani, Dance of the Jakaranda: A Novel (Akastic Books, 2017): “I grew up in Kenya, and I have never read a novel about my own country that’s so funny, so perceptive, so subversive and so sly.”
- Aravind Adiga, Amnesty: A Novel (Scribner, 2020): “No one in his novels is simple to understand. Adiga may not agree with everything that gets said or thought, but there is no gauze on his mental windshield. Nice people are often skewered, as if on kabobs. Reading him you get a sense of having your finger on the planet’s pulse.”