Hustvedt for Sorting Out Heads and Hearts

What to do when the head is a cloudy mess of Icelandic ash-cloud proportions and you feel like you’ve exhausted any conceivable avenue to sort it out? When running around the apartment shouting “I’m a badass, I’m a badass” (affirmations, people, affirmations) just feels strange (it should) and reaching out to Russian poetry and/or professional therapist seems a tad dramatic? I suggest you try reading some Siri Hustvedt.

Hustvedt is half-Norwegian, half-American, born and bred in Minnesota and nowadays lives in Brooklyn with her husband Paul Auster, also an author (yes, these impossibly cool writer couples who reside in New York actually do exist in real life, another exhibit being Zadie Smith and her husband Nick Laird. It is maddening but we have to live with it). 

Everybody and their second cousin have read Hustvedt’s blockbuster “What I Loved” so it needs no further introduction. Some of her other fiction is highly entertaining as well, such as “​The Summer Without Men”, “The Blazing World” and “The Blindfold”. I also liked her “A Plea For Eros“, a collection of essays that are like mini-etudes about sexuality, psychology and human nature in general (especially Yonder). 

What I find most interesting in her oeuvre are her non-fiction books that are a mixture of art and literature criticism, neuroscience, psychology, and feminist theory. I got hooked on her non-fiction after reading “The Shaking Woman or A History of My Nerves”. While I have no particular interest in neuroscience as such, there was something quite captivating in how she went about researching her head following a sudden shaking incident while she was delivering a speech (I particularly liked the  total absence of the all-American heroism/happy end “then I found a cure and am totally healthy and have an explanation to everything- ta-dah!” -crap).

Her another non-fiction essay collection “Living, Thinking, Looking”,  is another fine example of an author’s quest for figuring out who she really is. And yes, some of her writings do possibly require a certain state of mind that is ready to really dwell in the “finding self” -stuff. I was muchissimas in that state when I read her latest essay collection, “A Woman Looking at Men Looking at Women” the other year.

Following a particularly consuming year both at work and in private life I retreated to Mexico (as you do) with a friend and the aforementioned brick of an essay collection (other books were read, too, during this holiday, I must add (I’m a diligent reader even when totally off-kilter)) so it is possible that I would have found reading about Donald Duck’s adventures a mentally comforting exercise. 

I don’t know whether her essays did any good as far as my head is concerned, but I suppose the fact that any time I spent reading her book was me not pouring the insides of my head at my friend, so maybe her essays indirectly helped keep a friendship. While reading Hustvedt’s wonderings you get the utter luxury to turn inwards and marvel at the insides of your own head, yet you are still reading essays that also look outwards and hook you to something that relates to the outside world (I hope this makes any sense). 

I warmly recommend Hustvedt also if you’re not neurotic, lost and/or depressed, but especially if you are. She can be an acquired taste, but she’s an excellent writer, her texts are witty and you are guaranteed to get a new point of view, whether about your brain, literature, art or society. Which, come to think of it, is the very reason to read anything, but here we are. Go expand your mind with her essays. Or novels. She’s brilliant.

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