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Books

Book Review

‘Living, Thinking, Looking’ by Siri Hustvedt

In her new essay collection, “Living, Thinking, Looking,’’ Siri Hustvedt praises the visual artist Kiki Smith: “To look at Kiki Smith’s work is to enter a borderland where the articulated lines between inside and outside, whole and part, waking and sleeping, human and animal, ‘I’ and ‘not I’ are often in abeyance.” Like Smith, Hustvedt compulsively explores what she calls “the problem of the between.” Her essays examine those liminal spaces where mind cannot be separated from body, where art and science touch, where to live, to think, and to look are all part of one endlessly shifting, endlessly fascinating activity.

Hustvedt, author of several acclaimed novels and four works of nonfiction, describes herself as “an unaffiliated intellectual roamer,” and she is happy to raid different disciplines — neuroscience, psychoanalysis, painting, narrative theory — in order to, as she writes, interrogate “what it means to be human.” Hust­vedt’s new collection is divided into three broad sections. The essays in “Living” are autobiographical, relating Hustvedt’s upbringing in Minnesota and her later battles with chronic migraines and insomnia; those in “Thinking” focus on neurobiology and its relation to reading and writing; and those in “Looking” offer a phenomenological account of the visual arts (these essays are the best in the collection). This tripartite division, however, is actually quite loose, and that’s part of the collection’s point: to separate living from looking, or looking from thinking, is to do a disservice to the complexity of lived experience.

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