cover image A Woman Looking at Men Looking at Women: Essays on Art, Sex, and the Mind

A Woman Looking at Men Looking at Women: Essays on Art, Sex, and the Mind

Siri Hustvedt. Simon & Schuster, $35 (576p) ISBN 978-1-5011-4109-6

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.” (Dec.)