Why one story and not the other? This was the question at the heart of writer Siri Hustvedt’s thought-provoking Southbank Centre Lecture at the London Literature Festival, author of such acclaimed novels as What I loved and The Summer Without Men. She went on to explore the question: what does it mean to have an idea? What is an idea? She engagingly grappled with the ”problem of dualism”, deftly covering philosophies ranging from the “Cartesian divide between spirit and matter” to the present-day, and her lecture was interwoven with a wide range of writers, scientists, and philosophers, with particularly resonant quotations from Margaret Cavendish and also this one from Rumi:
“Don’t turn away, keep your gaze on the bandaged place. That’s where the light enters you” – Rumi
Powerfully describing how her own wounds inspired her to look for answers, she explored some of the issues in her compelling non-fiction book, “The Shaking Woman: A History of My Nerves”.
She also movingly described the voluntary work she has done as a writing instructor for psychiatric patients, both adolescents and adults, and how the written text’s ability to fix something on the page can be a gift for those “at risk of disintegration” and writing’s ability to provide consolidation and integration.
Her new collection of essays, “Living, Thinking, Looking” is published this Summer and Hustvedt elegantly fitted a lifetime of learning into an hour, distilling with wisdom and wit the mysterious process of storytelling peculiar to humans, describing human beings as imaginative creatures who can leap from one thing into another, becoming something else, old or young, woman or man.