In these two essays, Huxley talks about the “other world” of our mind, which is full of big, bright colors and incredible architecture. He says a buncIn these two essays, Huxley talks about the “other world” of our mind, which is full of big, bright colors and incredible architecture. He says a bunch of completely unsupported (though interesting) stuff that sounds completely unsupported, like how humans’ attraction to shiny objects is evidence of the significance of this other world. But as little as I could find myself believing in many of his ideas, I still look around and can’t stop thinking about them. Like, last night I was waitressing at this restaurant next to a lake. At night they lit the candles along the shore and it was beautiful. Huxley talks a lot about the contrast between a flame and darkness, and how its connection to the “other world” captivates us. It had just rained so there were no customers, and I spent a lot of time looking out at the rows of candles. With this book on my mind, they took on a new significance. And I think that is the most valuable thing I got from the book: I find myself paying closer attention to what is around me.
What was particularly interesting was when Huxley talked about art in relation to this other world. He describes painters as visionaries who are able to occasionally sidestep the mental filter which prevents most of us from naturally glimpsing the world at large. Their art is an imperfect attempt to transmit what they see. Huxley says that, although the pieces are imperfect, the best ones will still have sufficient power to transport the viewer. Like candles at night, a brilliant painting can mesmerize the onlooker with its metaphysical parallels. Since I am the dumbest person ever when it comes to, like, art-art-- like painting-art and sculpture and stuff-- I’m now curious to visit a museum to see if this book has altered my perspective, if only a little bit. ...more
What surprised me the most is that Paterniti’s a really good writer. He knows how to do that thing where he makes small details significant. Like maybWhat surprised me the most is that Paterniti’s a really good writer. He knows how to do that thing where he makes small details significant. Like maybe a town he drove through or a house he passed, a stranger he met, a gift he was given. And in a book about a road trip, where most experiences happen at 60 mph and last all of two seconds, that thing is necessary. As he catches sight of a train he writes, “In the vast nothingness of Arizona, running parallel to the highway, a train slivers West in the late-day sun— silver passenger cars and sleeping cars and dining cars glinting coast-to-coast behind two black engines.” I mean: I picked this book up to learn a little about Einstein, but instead found a really good piece of journalism. Einstein aside.
In fact, I think the bits about Einstein seem misplaced. Paterniti spends most of his time writing about people he met and how they perceive Einstein. He talks extensively about Dr. Harvey, his partner in road trippin’ and the man who’s been in posession of Einstein’s brain since he stole it post-autopsy. In some ways Paterniti uses the book to try to understand Dr. Harvey — why did he steal the brain if it meant the end of his career? Why did he keep it for so long? Paterniti explores other people as well, like the Japanese professor with his obsessive collection of Einstein-related objects. Or Einstein’s granddaughter, with whom he holds Einstein’s brain for the first time. Paterniti writes about these people well, and these are my favorite parts.
It’s because of this focus on various others, though, that make the passages strictly about Einstein awkard. I think that all Einstein-related information should have come from the mouths of people Paterniti spoke to. This would have shifted the focus onto perceptions of Einstein, rather than the man himself, which is really what the book is about. ...more