For years, novelist Siri Hustvedt has been deeply entrenched in the study of neuroscience, so much so that sheâ€™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 â€śOutside the Mirror,â€ť a short piece about our ability to see ourselves, she writes, â€śthe mirror is the only place where I am whole to myself.â€ť 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 â€śLiving,â€ť which encapsulates the authorâ€™s preoccupation with the self. â€śAutobiography is actually a form of philosophy,â€ť Hustvedt said at a panel at Columbia last year, and the collectionâ€™s opening cycle of essays conveys this idea via a philosophical exploration of selfhood and identity. In â€śThinking,â€ť she tackles psychoanalysis, Freud, and the nature of political rhetoric during the George W. Bush era. Concluding the collection is â€śLooking,â€ť in which she uses art as a means for exploring larger ideas. â€śAll animals have drives,â€ť she writes, â€śmost notably to survive, but making art is not about survival, despite the fact that many artists feel that if they couldnâ€™t do their work, their lives would lose meaning.â€ť Hustvedt, on the other hand, creates it.
Living, Thinking, Looking, $13.34, amazon.com
By Liza Monroy
This review appears in theÂ Aug/Sept 2012 issue ofÂ BUST Magazine with cover girl Tavi Gevinson.Â Subscribe now.
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