A year and a half after the headline-making Sensation exhibit, the Brooklyn Museum of Art has sparked yet another controversy involving art, religion, freedom of expression, the role of the museum, and, not least of all, the nature of art criticism--which the philosopher Arthur Danto not long ago characterized as "a form of zealous howling." In the case of both Brooklyn shows, one of the most zealous howlers has been New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. When Sensation opened, he threatened to cut off public funding for the museum, an initiative soon extinguished by the courts.
Peter D. Kramer will always be known as the author of Listening to
Prozac, his 1993 work that both described a new, psychopharmacologically
based "climate of opinion" in our culture and helped bring it about. But if he
doesn't become known, too, for Spectacular Happiness, that will not be the
fault of this daring first novel. Starting with the fact that it is fiction, Spectacular Happiness defies our expectations of Kramer. It breathes life
into a certain kind of radical politics in a way that makes you wish Kramer had
tried fiction sooner. None of our more practiced leftish novelists--including
Thomas Pynchon, Don DeLillo, and E.L. Doctorow--has generated as tantalizing a
Reflecting their status in society at large, neurology and neuroscience have in recent years become major forces in American arts and media, charting new narrative pathways. If noted at all, this development has been written off as only another example of our culture's hunger for varieties of victimhood. But such a judgment trivializes the change. Going from a psychological, especially a Freudian, perspective to a neurological one involves nothing less than a shift in world view.
A User's Guide to the Brain: Personality, Behavior and the Four Theaters of the Brain, John Ratey. Pantheon Books, 416 pages, $27.50.
John Ratey, an associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, has written several books on neurological disorders. The most incisive and far-reaching of these is Shadow Syndromes, his 1997 work that argues for the newfound centrality of neurology to our view of ourselves. To see why Ratey's new book, A User's Guide to the Brain, is so disappointing a sequel to Shadow Syndromes, it's useful to compare the earlier work to that of Oliver Sacks, our best-known teller of neurological tales.