A compelling, radical, “richly explored” (The New York Times Book Review), and “insightful” (Vanity Fair) collection of essays on art, feminism, neuroscience, psychology, and philosophy from prize-winning novelist Siri Hustvedt, the acclaimed author of The Blazing World and What I Loved.
In a trilogy of works brought together in a single volume, Siri Hustvedt demonstrates the striking range and depth of her knowledge in both the humanities and the sciences. Armed with passionate curiosity, a sense of humor, and insights from many disciplines she repeatedly upends received ideas and cultural truisms.
“A Woman Looking at Men Looking at Women” (which provided the title of this book) examines particular artworks but also human perception itself, including the biases that influence how we judge art, literature, and the world. Picasso, de Kooning, Louise Bourgeois, Anselm Kiefer, Susan Sontag, Robert Mapplethorpe, and Karl Ove Knausgaard all come under Hustvedt’s intense scrutiny. “The Delusions of Certainty” exposes how the age-old, unresolved mind-body problem has shaped and often distorted and confused contemporary thought in neuroscience, psychiatry, genetics, artificial intelligence, and evolutionary psychology. “What Are We? Lectures on the Human Condition” includes a powerful reading of Kierkegaard, a trenchant analysis of suicide, and penetrating reflections on the mysteries of hysteria, synesthesia, memory and space, and the philosophical dilemmas of fiction.
A Woman Looking at Men Looking at Women is an “erudite” (Booklist), “wide-ranging, irreverent, and absorbing meditation on thinking, knowing, and being” (Kirkus Reviews, starred review).
In this erudite collection, novelist Hustvedt (The Blazing World) explores philosophical questions central to the humanities using research from other disciplines, such as biology, feminist theory, and neuroscience. The questions relate to the self, epistemology, and art and literature, among other things. In the middle portion of the book, in an essay that ought to become canonical, Hustvedt examines the problematic underpinnings of current scientific fads such as evolutionary psychology and computational theory of mind. Her lengthy exercise in phenomenology provides a dense, succinct overview of the mind/body problem, which "has haunted Western philosophy since the Greeks." The questions that preoccupy Hustvedt are the questions of a novelist, but they take consciousness itself as their subject: Where do ideas come from? How do stories get created? What is reflective self-consciousness, and how is it formed? What role do imagination, emotion, memory, and the unconscious play in this thing we call mind? The book conveys the wide range of Hustvedt's reading as she focuses on the interstices between people; between disciplines; and between concepts such as art and science, truth and fiction, feeling and perception. The research is sound and the scholarship engaging, and the exacting prose turns humorous and almost warm when Hustvedt incorporates her personal reflections, exhibiting, as she says of the artist Louise Bourgeois, "a quick mind, interested above all in its own contents."