Interview With Eric Kandel: Psychoanalysis, Art and Biology Come Together
Eric Kandel is considered one of the world’s most important neuroscientists. He recently published a book about the creative power of Vienna, the city of his birth. In an interview, he discusses the demonic side of man and the postcoital perspectives offered in Gustav Klimt’s paintings.
SPIEGEL: In your book, “The Age of Insight,” you say your heart beats in three-quarter time. Can you say what you mean by this?
Kandel: I really like the city of Vienna. I like its art, its music and its architecture. In short, I like the culture that Vienna represents. What really captures me is the period around 1900 — the time of Freud, Schnitzler and Klimt. This is the period in which the modern view of mind that we now hold was born. It was like a second Renaissance in Western culture. Austria was simply wonderful in this period. It was perhaps its greatest hour.
SPIEGEL: But at the same time, your relationship to your city of origin is fractured.
Kandel: I have on the one hand a hatred and on the other a yearning for Vienna. I left when I was nine years old because I was Jewish. And even before 1938, the anti-Semitism in Austria was probably deeper than it was in Germany or in other European countries. Then Hitler came in and Austrians welcomed him with open arms. The marching in of the Germans was accompanied by an unprecedented outbreak of violence toward Jews. The Austrians accomplished in a few days what took the Germans six years to do. Austrians also participated disproportionately in the killings of the Holocaust. They loved to run concentration camps.
SPIEGEL: So it seems that you’re now able to reconcile with the homeland that once expelled you.
Kandel: There is an Austrian strand that has continued to percolate in my thinking. Things have also gotten somewhat better. After the war, the Austrians just denied their role in it all. They didn’t teach it in school. But since 1990 they have openly acknowledged their role in the Holocaust and I feel more comfortable in Austria now. I feel a sort of reconciliation. Perhaps I can make peace with all this.
SPIEGEL: Your love for Vienna seems to have played a big role in that reconciliation. What is it about the city that’s so captivating?
Kandel: For me, it’s Vienna at the fin de siècle. Then it was perhaps the most modern city in the world.