Don’t worry, the period of shameless self-promotion is almost over. But Proust Was A Neuroscientist has been in the news lately. The San Francisco Chronicle had a very kind review:
Interpreters of Woolf and Proust are legion, but Lehrer is gifted with the ability to find philosophy in science and stray bits of science buried amid the rubble of literary history. He is less critic than armchair philosopher, searching for meaning anywhere great thinkers have left their footprints. Chef Auguste Escoffier’s brainstorm about the necessity of heat for fine cooking is granted no less significance than “In Search of Lost Time,” and Lehrer shows himself equally comfortable discussing “The Rite of Spring,” Cezanne’s apples and the detection of the umami taste.
Lehrer also provides a superb reading of Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” in the context of music’s relationship to the brain. “Music only excites us when it makes the auditory cortex struggle to uncover its order,” notes Lehrer, and the brain can teach itself to grow accustomed to what once had sounded like random bursts of noise. The same “Rite of Spring” that inspired rioters in 1913 was, by 1940, the background music for Disney’s “Fantasia.”
In the book’s coda, Lehrer argues for a truce between art and science, a joint understanding that neither possesses a monopoly on truth. Artists must find the time to read Nature magazine, and scientists must honor the validity of experiments conducted far from the laboratory. In truth, science and art have probably grown too far apart to be reconciled. Fluency in either field requires so much dedication that the acquisition of a second, wholly separate body of knowledge is fiendishly difficult. In addition, mutual incomprehension has bred suspicions of irrelevance, or outright harmfulness. It is good, then, that translators remain – men and women capable of transmitting the efforts of one group into the language of the other. With “Proust Was a Neuroscientist,” Lehrer proves himself capable of the task.
For those of you are interested (i.e., my mother) I also had a very fun interview with Christopher Lydon, of Open Source. (I’ve long been a fan of Mr. Lydon’s work, so it was a really fun chat for me.) And there’s an hour long interview about the book over at KUSP. Robert Pollie and I talk about everything from Stephen Colbert to Hubel and Weisel.