I was rather surprised of the interest for this book: did anyone think it was an erotic novel? (And be honest) I’m not sure Siri Hustvedt would ever write anything graphic: to me she is the epitome of New York intellectual chic. All her novels (The Blindfold and The Enchantment of Lily Dahl in the 1990s, and What I loved in 2003) had sensual aspects, but they are mostly cerebral and symbolic (but less so than her husband Paul Auster’s). I love following her novels because until now I loved each new one more than the last (I didn’t read the recent Sorrow of an American), and I see her maturing into a very caring, moving writer. Also, I feel (but my memory is blurry so I may be mistaken) that she kept her distance with reality in her early novels, ant that she now tackles it more and more.
Deep down, I suspect I take a special interest because she is so elegant (isn’t that just about the most unreasonable reason to choose a book? Wait, I remember Stefanie once said she loved Jodie Picoult because of her hair…)
A Plea for Eros is a collection of previously published essays, and so a mix and match without real common thread: personal essays on Hustvedt’s childhood as a loner in Minnesota, in a Norwegian, Lutheran community, on her experience wearing a corset for a movie, her experience trying male clothes and feeling different. Other essays are very literary: on Fitzgerald’s Gatsby, on Dickens (she wrote her thesis on him) and on Henry James. I must confess some pages were clearly out of my league, but it really made me want to read some more Dickens (all I read was Oliver Twist because up to last year I was so afraid of British classics…)
I liked her essays because I basically like her, isn’t it what personal essays are all about? I can relate to her exaltation about NewYork, but I wasn’t so much interested in her childhood memories as in her opinions on writing and reading as a writer:
I spent six years writing a book in which the narrator is a seventy-year-old man named Leo Hertzberg. When I began the novel, I felt some anxiety about embodying a man and speaking in a male voice. After a short time, that nervousness fell away, but it became clear to me that I was doing something different, that this speaker lived inside himself in a different from me, and yet to be him, I was drawing on a masculine part of myself. (in Being a man)
When I write a book, I am also listening. I hear the characters talk as if they were outside me rather than inside me. In one book, I heard a young woman who played at being a man; in another, I heard a man. In my dreams, I find myself pulled between the two sexes, wondering which one I am. Not knowing bothers me, but when I write, that same ambivalence becomes my liberation, and I am free to inhabit both men and women and to tell their stories. (in Being a man)
Where does the need to write come from? What is it? It is a need, not a choice. It’s a giving way and a giving up. I remember finding a reference to hypergraphia in a book on the nervous system. The obsessive need to write for hours and hours every day, the author said, was sometimes a symptom of epilepsy […].
I am afraid of writing, too, because when I write I am always moving toward the unarticulated, the dangerous, the place where the walls don’t hold. I don’t know what’s there, but I am pulled toward it. Is the wounded self the writing self? Is the writing self an answer to the wounded self? Perhaps that is more accurate. The wound is static, a given. The writing self is multiple and elastic, and it circles the wound. Over time, I have become more aware of the fact that I must try not to cover that speechless, hurt core, that I must fight my dread of the mess and violence that are also there. I have to write the fear. The writing self is restless and searching, and it listens for voices. Where do they come from, these chatterers who talk to me before I fall asleep? My characters. I am making them and not making them, like people in my dreams. (Extracts from a story of the wounded self)