Friday 28 May 2010

The writer as wounded healer

"...I was born too early. My lungs were underdeveloped, and the doctor told my parents I might die. For two weeks, I lay in an incubator while my mother and father waited for my fate to be decided. In those days, the nurses didn't touch or massage babies left in incubators. I was separated from my mother in the first days of my life, and I now think that experience marks the beginning of a particular personality. When I suffered from convulsions on the day of my christening party, I scared my mother yet again. If I felt warm, my mother gew alarmed, and a single sound from my crib brought her to me. I was the firstborn child of a loving mother who lived in fear that she might lose me. We can't remember our infancies, but they live in our bodies, and had I not been frail at birth, I would have been someone else, and I would have had other thoughts. When I look back, I can't remember a time when I didn't carry around inside me a sensation of being wounded. The feeling ranges from the very slight to the acute, but the ache in my chest, dim or strong, has remained a constant in my life. "
This is from the first page of an essay by Siri Hustvedt, Extracts from a Story of the Wounded Self, in her collection, A Plea for Eros.  She's one of my most beloved writers. I've read each of her most recent novels, What I Love and The Sorrows of an American, four or five times. I don't seem to tire of them, keep finding more to appreciate. Her book of essays, Mysteries of the Rectangle,  contains the most exciting and revelatory writing about art that I've ever encountered, and the novels too are wonderful writing about art (details of books are on the website linked above).

That this clever, talented, now famous woman of pale, haughty Scandinavian beauty and reserved demeanour, with her famous husband and famous daughter, chooses to break open the gilded image by writing about her personal experience of temperamental difficulties and disturbing neurological conditions is a gift, I think, to all of us who struggle and feel weak, a welcome affirmation that humanity's survival and creative flourishing require the fragile and difficult people along with the strong and equable.

This is not, of course, to proffer the illusion that all those who struggle are talented and lovely. Still, to know that among the talented and lovely are also some who struggle is important.


Beth said...

Jean, this is poignant and I agree with what you say about the fragile and vulnerable. Where would you suggest starting with Siri's work - I've never read any!

Anonymous said...

I've added her to my list.

litlove said...

Jean, I'm reading her latest book - The Shaking Woman - about a neurotic symptom that beset her in the wake of her father's death. You would like this, I feel sure! It's all about the mind-body connection.

Fire Bird said...

ooh thankyou for this exciting recommendation

Jean said...

Start with What I Love - an uimmensely engaging and satisfying novel. The Sorrows of an American is a quieter and perhaps more difficult work.

And, yes, I do want to read The Shaking Woman - hoping I can restrain myself unti it comes out in paperback