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Living, Thinking, Looking Essays

Siri Hustvedt




Trade Paperback

400 Pages


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 Living, Thinking, Looking brings together thirty-two essays, in which the author culls insights from philosophy, neuroscience, psychology, psychoanalysis, and literature.

The book is divided into three sections: the essays in Living draw directly from Hustvedt’s life; those in Thinking explore memory, emotion, and the imagination; and the pieces in Looking are about visual art. And yet, the same questions recur throughout the collection. How do we see, remember, and feel? How do we interact with other people? What does it mean to sleep, dream, and speak? What is "the self"? Hustvedt’s unique synthesis of knowledge from many fields reinvigorates the much-needed dialogue between the humanities and the sciences as it deepens our understanding of an age-old riddle: What does it mean to be human?


Praise for Living, Thinking, Looking

 "No one writing about art today comes closer than Siri Hustvedt to the elusive strangeness of a great painting."—Calvin Tomkins

"She brings both knowledge and an artist's insight to the discussion of memory, language, and personal identity . . . It is Hustvedt's gift to write with exemplary clarity of what is by necessity unclear."—Hilary Mantel, The Guardian (UK)

"Hustvedt thinks her way through complex subject matter with the effortless clarity of a poised and skeptical outsider who has little time for nonsense or the blithe reductionist certainties of supposed experts . . . Hustvedt is a calm traveler on the storm-tossed seas of the self. Her odyssey . . . deepens understanding."—Lisa Appignanesi, The Independent

"As an essayist she is perhaps without peer."—The Scotland Herald

"[Hustvedt] gives you the illusion of seeing as if for the first time works of art that you thought you knew well. After reading her . . . most prose about art seems merely perfunctory."—Modern Painters

"Siri Hustvedt, one of our finest novelists, has long been a brilliant explorer of brain and mind."—Oliver Sacks

"Siri Hustvedt trains a formidable intellect on difficult subjects (the structure of the brain, the nature of perception), with an engaging personal touch that invites a general readership . . . at once stimulating and warmhearted, with sentences of drop-dead beauty and acuity on nearly every page."—Kirkus Reviews

"Hustvedt . . . gathers 32 pieces, written over the past six years, that she says are linked by an abiding curiosity about 'what it means to be human.' A lifelong migraine sufferer, Hustvedt recounts a rare pre-migraine hallucination in which she watched, with fascination and an amiable tenderness, a miniature, pink version of Paul Bunyan and his ox, Babe, two legendary, oversized characters from her Minnesota childhood. In another piece, Hustvedt describes how, to research her novel The Sorrows of an American, narrated by a New York City psychoanalyst, she interviewed analysts, read countless memoirs of mental illness, taught writing classes to psychiatric patients, and thought of her narrator as her imaginary brother who worked 'at a job I could imagine having had in another life.' Fascinated by the emotional power of the work of painter and sculptor Louise Bourgeois, Hustvedt describes how that artist’s gift is taking viewers to 'strange and hidden places' in themselves, her oeuvre stirring up old pains and fears and echoing Hustvedt’s own obsessions with rooms, dolls, missing limbs, mirrors, violence, order, and ambiguity. Hustvedt’s essays are always perceptive, erudite, and also quite rarefied."—Publishers Weekly

Reviews from Goodreads



Read an Excerpt

A Mouse, a Dog, Buber, and Bovary
DESIRE APPEARS AS A FEELING, a flicker or a bomb in the body, but it’s always a hunger for something, and it always propels us somewhere else, toward the thing that is missing. Even when this motion takes place on the inner terrain of fantasy, it has a quickening effect on the daydreamer. The object of desire—whether it’s a good meal, a beautiful dress or car, another person, or something abstract, such as fame, learning, or happiness—exists outside of us and at a distance. Whatever it is, we
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  • Siri Hustvedt

  • Siri Hustvedt was born in 1955 in Northfield, Minnesota. She has a Ph.D. from Columbia University in English literature and is the internationally acclaimed author of five novels, The Sorrows of an American, What I Loved, The Enchantment of Lily Dahl, The Blindfold, and The Summer Without Men, as well as a growing body of nonfiction including, A Plea for Eros and Mysteries of the Rectangle, and an interdisciplinary investigation of the body and mind in The Shaking Woman or A History of My Nerves. She has given lectures on artists and theories of art at the Prado, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich. In 2011, she delivered the thirty-ninth annual Freud Lecture in Vienna.She lives in Brooklyn.


  • Siri Hustvedt Marion Ettlinger
    Siri Hustvedt