The insights presented in the volume are many and wide-ranging, recognizably in tune with the subtlest modern discussions of desire (such as triangulation. or loving what others love), yet offering new solutions to old problems, like the proper interpretation of Plato's Phaedrus. On the frequently discussed effect of literacy on Greek civilization, the book offers a fresh view: it was no accident that the poets who invented Eros were also the first readers and writers of the Western literate tradition.
Originally published in 1989.
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The title essay of Hustvedt's collection gets at the heart of what is best about these writings: it's a plea not just for the mysteries of sexual longing but for sensual engagement with life. Themes of memory, defining the self, attachment to place and family, violence and detachment wind through the essays. Novelist Hustvedt (What I Loved) is most interesting when she starts with her body rather than her head—but since even her memories have a physicality that gives them substance, this allows her great scope. Her clear, elegant writing is particularly effective in the opening essay, which movingly evokes a variety of formative experiences, including the echoes of Norway in her family. Her reflections on how we attach images to narrative, on the first anniversary of 9/11, on the onset of migraines likewise open up personal experience with thoughtful insight. Less effective are her literary essays: while a discussion of Gatsby provides subtle analysis with a light touch, essays on James and Dickens may be rough going for readers without significant academic training and a deep familiarity with the authors. Despite these few disappointments, readers will find both emotional and intellectual resonance in Hustvedt's deeply personal essays.
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