Norwegian New York-Based Author, Feminist and Philosopher About Art and Gender

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Norwegian New York-Based Author, Feminist and Philosopher About Art and Gender

Siri Hustvedt was 13 when she got the writing bug. Her father, a professor of Norwegian, had taken his wife and four daughters with him to Reykjavík, where he was studying the Icelandic sagas. Hustveit is best known for her book ‘What I Loved (2002) which became an international bestseller. Here, the
Norwegian New York-based author, feminist and philosopher talks about art and gender.

Siri Hustveit was born in Northfield, Minnesota in 1955. She has written 17 books, among them “What I Loved” (2003) and “The Summer Without Men” (2011). “The Blazing World (2014) was longlisted for the Man Booker Award and won the 2015 Los Angeles Book Prize for Fiction.

Norwegian New York-Based Author, Feminist and Philosopher About Art and Gender
Her essays on art, sex and the mind “A Woman Looking at Men” were published in 2016 and bridge the gap between the disciplines

Related: 5 Best Contemporary Scandinavian Writers You Should Read

A woman looking at men
Her essays on art, gender and the mind “A Woman Looking at Men” were published in 2016 and bridge the gap between the disciplines, inviting us to look at the world anew. This is her fourth collection of essays, and the same theme is often repeated in her novels, of which she has written seven and which are read by a large audience all over the world. One of the central themes in the collection of essays is which prejudices affect how we perceive art and the world as such. And especially prejudice and discrimination based on gender.

Mothers, fathers and others
Among her best essays are the ones in which Hustvedt skillfully weaves her personal stories (about her mother, her daughter and her own childhood) with the state of the world, academia and technology. Her collection of essays, “Mothers, Fathers, and Others”, is described as “a 21st-century Virginia Woolf” in the Literary Review (UK). Hustvedt displays her expansive intellect and interdisciplinary knowledge in this collection that moves effortlessly between stories from her own family background to artistic mothers, Jane Austen, Emily Brontë, and Lousie Bourgeois, to the broader meanings of maternal in a culture shaped by misogyny and fantasies of paternal authority. Mothers, Fathers, and Others is a polymath’s journey into urgent questions about familial love and hate, human prejudice and cruelty, and the transformative power of art.

Norwegian New York-Based Author, Feminist and Philosopher About Art and Gender
“Mothers, Fathers, and Others”, is described as “a 21st-century Virginia Woolf” in the Literary Review (UK).

Related: 10 Modern Scandinavian Novels & Essays You Should Read

An elegy for Louise Bourgeois
One of the female artists Siri Hustveit values the most is Louise Bourgeois. When Hustveit arrived in New York, no one was interested in Bourgeois at all. The men on the board of the Museum of Modern Art only looked at her as a little girl from Paris, who on top of that carried the burden of three children. This despite the fact that she was in her 30s and had already created works that surpassed most of her contemporaries.  She eventually broke through as a 70-year-old. About 80 percent of the artists who have had solo exhibitions in New York in the last ten years are men, Hustveit writes in “A Woman Looking at Men Looking at Women”

The essays range from the personal to the critical, and they often encompass the clinical. Hustvedt brings a surprisingly scientific approach to her artistic and literary subjects. In “What Does a Man Want?,” on the origins of misogyny, she argues that a fixation on DNA and the genome (and the stance that life begins at conception) overlooks the essential influence of gestation. “By assigning a godlike role to genes,” she writes, “the ‘right-to-life’ forces have adopted science in their service and effectively denied the reality that a female body is crucial to fetal development.”

Norwegian New York-Based Author, Feminist and Philosopher About Art and Gender
Siri and her husband Auster have been married for 40 years

Related: Best-selling Norwegian Author Maja Lunde

The placenta is the least understood of all human organs
She illustrates the erasure of the female body through the example of the placenta. “How can a human organ go missing in plain sight?” she wonders as hers is whisked away after the birth of her daughter. “The placenta is the least understood of all human organs. It has been called forgotten, ignored, overlooked, mysterious, underappreciated, and even the ‘Rodney Dangerfield of organs.’” Not to mention that birth itself is a “subject missing from the canon of Western art.” Here is Hustvedt’s unique contribution and genius: By bringing a placenta into a fight about misogyny, she fortifies her argument with physical evidence.

“Men and women are connected from the start,” says Siri Hustveit. «We all come out of a woman’s body.»

Norwegian New York-Based Author, Feminist and Philosopher About Art and Gender
New York, 2008. Siri Hustvedt photographed outside her home in Park slope, Brooklyn i New York. Photo: Sveinung U. Ystad/ Aftensposten/Store norske leksikon

An early bird
Siri Hustveit is a passionate reader and therein lies the secret of her books – in the act of reading, rethinking and reconnecting. She has spent her life carving out a career as a writer of intellect in a world still dominated by men.

Her days start early, at 5.30am with some meditation; she is at her desk by 7am. “Morning brain is the best brain,” she says cheerfully. “I can feel my sharpness declining after six or seven hours.” Hustvedt spends the afternoons reading, mostly academic papers that form the basis of her many lectures on neurology and psychology. She and her husband Auster have been married for 40 years, and still read aloud to each other. They are great lovers of fairytales, as is their 33-year-old daughter, Sophie, a singer of slinky, soulful pop songs. There are other writer couples, of course, but few that have stayed together so long.

Norwegian New York-Based Author, Feminist and Philosopher About Art and Gender, written by Tor Kjolberg

Feature image (on top): Photo Wikipedia

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