Thursday, May 26, 2005

Biographies of a Different Sort

I like to read - a lot - and I like to read a lot of different kinds of books.  It's not just novels for me - oh, no!  Sometimes I'll even read a short story.  Ha.  Kidding. I'll read whatever, from poetry to a cereal box, quite frankly.  Biographies are in there in the mix, too.  But lately I've read two biographies different from the usual sort.

The first is by Bradley I. Collins, Leonardo, Psychoanalysis, & Art History:  A Critical Study of Psychobiographical Approaches to Leonardo da Vinci (Northwestern University Press, 1997).  

So, not purely a biography but along those lines.  This book arrived at our house as a Christmas present and I was really looking forward to reading it, simply because I took quite a few Art History classes when I was in university (my guilty pleasure) and truly loved the art as well as the stories that went with them.

When you consider that art is part creativity, part reaction to the familial/ political/ religious/ historical/ economic arena in which the artist resides, then the product can take on a whole new meaning.  

I was hoping for something like this with this book - personal stories about the artist which would lead you to (in a small way) understand some of the what and why of what he had produced - but unfortunately it was not to be.  Turns out the author is a very serious Freudian. Have you ever known or met anyone who is a serious Freudian?  Yes?  Then enough said, obviously.  I had an English prof. at university who was a serious Freudian - when discussing a passage in A Mill on the Floss, where a character was sitting on a stool, he said, "...and I don't have to tell you the other meaning of the word stool!"

Oh, puh-leeze!

Anyway, this book was not quite that bad, but almost.  I didn't like it.  Not enough art and too much Freud for my liking.

A book I hadn't expected to like was Zero:  The Biography of a Dangerous Idea by Charles Seife.  This book traces the history of the concept of 'zero' from its invention by the Babylonians, through time to now.  Originally developed as an Eastern philosophical concept, it's difficult to imagine life without our little friend zero.  But the Greeks banned it.  Zero is a number which, throughout time, has evoked some pretty strong responses.

At times math might go a little over my head, but Seife navigates us through concepts like String Theory in a gentle fashion, never losing his reader.  It's a well-written, interesting book - really interesting, when you consider it's a book about nothing.

I recommend it.

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