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 Early Years (Princeton University Press, 2016).
- Reiner Stach, (Princeton University Press, 2002).
- Reiner Stach, (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.’”
- Alec Nevala-Lee, Inventor of the Future: The Visionary Life of Buckminster Fuller (Dey Street Books, 2022): “A lot of paper — Nevala-Lee lists more than two dozen books in Fuller’s bibliography, ranging across geometry, cartography, education, poetry and metaphysics. Fuller’s theory of ephemeralization anticipated the digital age; his invented terms “synergy” and “Spaceship Earth” became part of the language; scientists who discovered a carbon molecule that looked like a geodesic sphere were aided by his insights . . .”
- Brigitta Olubas, Shirley Hazzard: A Writing Life (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2022), examines “the life of the Australian novelist celebrated for her refined poetic fiction and acute moral vision.”
- Natasha Trethewey, Memorial Drive: A Daughter’s Memoir (Ecco, 2020), is “an exploration of a Black mother and daughter trying to get free in a land that conflates survival with freedom and womanhood with girlhood. It is also the story of Trethewey’s life before and after the day in 1985 when her mother was murdered by her ex-husband, Trethewey’s former stepfather, in the parking lot of her apartment complex on Atlanta’s Memorial Drive.”
- 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
Beethoven’s 32 Piano Sonatas occupy a prominent place in music history and in music-making. “Spanning several decades of his life as a composer, the sonatas soon came to be seen as the first body of substantial serious works for piano suited to performance in large concert halls seating hundreds of people.” Yet they are equally suitable for performance in more intimate settings. Covering a wide range of musical themes, they also expanded the understood range of the piano. Beethoven composed piano sonatas throughout his life as a composer. For contemporary listeners, what may stand out is that each sonata offers its own set of ideas and insights. Many of our greatest classical pianists have recorded the entire set. These include Artur Schnabel (1930s), Wilhelm Kempff (1950s), Friedrich Gulda (1960s), Maurizio Pollini, Richard Goode (1990s), Jonathan Biss (2000s), Stephen Kovacevich (2000s), Ronald Brautigam (2000s), François-Frédéric Guy (2010s), and Igor Levit (2010s).
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
- Schnittke, Five Aphorisms for piano (1990)
- Kurt Weill, Violin Concerto, Op. 12 (1924) (approx. 28-33’): “The work is inspired by the idea – one never carried out before – of juxtaposing a single violin with a chorus of winds.” [Weill] He also wrote: “I was stupid to give this somewhat rough, abstract, completely dissonant piece to the Dessauers, who are the most ignorant and philistine of all . . . It will be unanimously rejected. One has to have already digested a portion of Schoenberg with all good will before one can understand this music. The cynical attitude of the orchestra and the impotence of this conductor make me quite nervous . . .”
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.”