Siri Husvedt, “Living, Thinking, Looking”

“…Self-consciousness itself is born in the “mirroring” and the acquisition of symbols through which we are able to represent ourselves as an “I,” a “he,” or a “she.” It is this distance from the self that makes narrative movement and autobiographical memory possible. Without it, we couldn’t tell ourselves the story of ourselves. Living solely in reflection, however, creates a terrible machinery of insatiable desire, the endless pursuit of the thing that will fill the emptiness and feed a starved self-image. Emma Bovary dreams of Paris: “She knew all the latest fashions, where to find the best tailors, the days for going to the Bois or the Opera. She studio descriptions of furniture in Eugene Sue, and sought in Balzac and George Sand a vicarious gratification of her own desires.”

It is no secret that, once gained, the objects of desire often lose their sweetness. The real Paris cannot live up to the dream city. The high-heeled pumps displayed in a shop window that glow with the promise of beauty, urbanity, and wealth are just shoes once they find their way into the closet. After a big wedding, which in all its pomp and circumstance announces marriage as a state of ultimate arrival, there is life with a real human being, who is inevitably myopic, weak, and idiosyncratic. The revolutionary eats and sleeps the revolution, the grand cleansing moment when a new order will triumph, and then, once it has happened, finds himself wandering among corpses and ruins. Only human beings destroy themselves by ideas.”

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