For years, novelist Siri Hustvedt has been deeply entrenched in the study of neuroscience, so much so that she’s even been published in peer-reviewed journals. With Living, Thinking, Looking, she seems primed to become the next Oliver Sacks, who wrote a cover blurb for this collection of 32 essays written between 2006 and 2011. In each, Hustvedt turns dense scientific material into graceful, beautiful prose. In “Outside the Mirror,” a short piece about our ability to see ourselves, she writes, “the mirror is the only place where I am whole to myself.” Her knack for finding precisely the right detail makes the discussion, which draws on psychoanalysis, neuroscience, and art, nothing short of delicious.
Divided into three sections, the collection first tackles “Living,” which encapsulates the author’s preoccupation with the self. “Autobiography is actually a form of philosophy,” Hustvedt said at a panel at Columbia last year, and the collection’s opening cycle of essays conveys this idea via a philosophical exploration of selfhood and identity. In “Thinking,” she tackles psychoanalysis, Freud, and the nature of political rhetoric during the George W. Bush era. Concluding the collection is “Looking,” in which she uses art as a means for exploring larger ideas. “All animals have drives,” she writes, “most notably to survive, but making art is not about survival, despite the fact that many artists feel that if they couldn’t do their work, their lives would lose meaning.” Hustvedt, on the other hand, creates it.
By Liza Monroy