Brooklyn theorist, novelist publishes new book of essays
In Siri Hustvedt’s latest work, “A Woman Looking at Men Looking at Women”, published by Simon and Schuster, she has compiled a series of her essays on “art, sex, and the mind.” Armed with passionate curiosity, a sense of humor, and unparalleled insights from many disciplines, Hustvedt has collected her most penetrating writings into this eloquent trilogy. Vast in expertise, this collection bridges the gap between the arts and sciences, mind and body, madness and sanity, and our perceptions and innate beliefs about the world.
Divided into three parts, the first section, “A Woman Looking at Men Looking at Women,” examines particular artworks but also human perception itself, investigating the biases that affect how we judge art, literature, and the world in general. Among the legendary figures considered are Picasso, de Kooning, Jeff Koons, Louise Bourgeois, Anselm Kiefer, Susan Sontag, Robert Mapplethorpe, the Guerrilla Girls, and Karl Ove Knausgaard.
The second part, “The Delusions of Certainty,” is about the age-old mind/body problem that has haunted Western philosophy since the Greeks. Hustvedt approaches dualism by way of a feminist perspective, and exposes how this unresolved dynamic has shaped and often distorted contemporary thought in neuroscience, psychiatry, genetics, artificial intelligence, and evolutionary psychology. Hustvedt teases out the relationship between the mental and the physical realms, revealing what lies beyond the mind/body argument—desire, belief, and the imagination.
In the final section, “What Are We? Lectures on the Human Condition,” Hustvedt draws upon research in sociology, neurobiology, history, genetics, statistics, psychology, and psychiatry in order to demonstrate a trenchant analysis of suicide, a powerful reading of Kierkegaard, and penetrating reflections on the mysteries of hysteria, synesthesia, memory and space, and the philosophical dilemmas of fiction.
There has been much talk about building a beautiful bridge across the chasm that separates the sciences and the humanities. At the moment, we have only a wobbly walkway, but Hustvedt is encouraged by the travelers making their way across it in both directions. “A Woman Looking at Men Looking At Women” is an insightful account of the journeys back and forth, and there is no guide for the journey quite like Siri Hustvedt.
Hustvedt moved to New York City in 1978 to earn a PhD in English literature from Columbia University. She is a lecturer in psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College of Cornell University. She is the author of six novels, three collections of essays, and a work of nonfiction. Her work has been translated into more than thirty languages. She lives with her husband Paul Auster (author of “The Brooklyn Follies” and “Sunset Park”) in Brooklyn.