March 24, 2014

Meta Meta Meta Meta Meta | Metaphor For Identity


The Blazing World by Siri Hustvedt

This book review should really be titled: When the world doesn’t know how to categorize something, they pull out the “meta” and the “feminist” and slide the remote into their back pockets to watch it all unfold.

This might be the weirdest book I’ve ever read.  On reading reviews, it’s been toted as the newest in “feminist literature,” and has been compared to Woolf’s A Room Of One’s Own.  On the other hand, it’s a philosophical diatribe on the underground philosophies of intellectuals hidden because of their own strokes of identity.  That’s what I think this book is about at its core.  Identity.  How we use it to function in everyday society and how we remove it to function with ourselves.  Many bloggers have claimed that this is a work of “meta-fiction” with the novel acting as a work of art that is spoken about within the text.

While I love deep thinking and all that bullshit, is this where fiction is going? I love a layered novel where it takes some critical analysis to really tap in, but I don’t want to dig to China to be able to read something that is supposed to be for pleasure.  I think there is an elite class of fiction readers that will find this book utterly breath-taking.  I was quite taken with it in the beginning, I read almost one-hundred pages in one sitting because I couldn’t sleep one night.  I was fascinated by the cutoff meandering of the novel, there were connections between characters, but then each had their own brief story in Burden’s life.  It sometimes made me wonder how those people on the public transport change your life in the blip of their turning conversation towards you and opening their jacket to pull out a harmonica. (Our free buses are a bit odd in Raleigh and my nephew likes to have deep bus conversation with the army fatigues to his right).

Amazing illustrations by Jari Di Benedetto @ Tumblr

The Blazing World by Siri Hustvedt is not a book that you can just read for pleasure.  It’s a book that wants to constantly educate you as you read. Not only is it told from the perspective of too many voices including the journals of the main female character, Harriet Burden, but it’s almost a collection of the odd sorts in society thrown together to solve a mystery.  Harriet Burden is a NY Artist who was married to an art collector (that had a gaggle of men and women on the side even though “it has nothing to do with his love for her) and she’s never really achieved any sort of recognition for her art.  She decides to take in the fringe society to a studio hotel that she’s created and make certain men into little puppets in her game.  There are three different men, with three different art shows that are supposedly Harry’s art, but their face.  It’s this idea that women cannot get coverage in the sophisticated and prejudice art world of NYC, so Harry Burden must pull the wolves over the eyes of the high society and show her art under the veil of strange men.

The first man is Anton Tish.  He’s a waif. Completely useless as a character other than being completely unknown to himself.  Harry uses him like a dish rag to dust off the good china.  Then, there’s my personal favorite, Phineus Q. Eldridge.  She finds him in an obscure newspaper when his show is critiqued by the staff.  He performs a one man autobiographical comedy act where he plays both the white man and the black man, one side of him is woman, one man, one side black, one white, and basically blurs the lines of any sort of boundary line that this American society has created.  He’s got the most interesting voice, but unfortunately the reader doesn’t get to spend much time on his interview because we’re always being wisked away by other diaries, other questions, other answers that don’t truly need answering, when the most interesting story is a young boy who cowers under the thrown spiral of a football released from his father’s hands.

Amazing illustrations by Jari Di Benedetto @ Tumblr

Sometimes, I just wish a book could be a book.  We wouldn’t have to go through all this education mumbo jumbo, chutzpah, or shenanigans that make books “great works of literature.”

It’s clear through the many stories, and fictional (yet factual) footnotes, the author wanted to prove how educated she can be.  With a PhD on Dickens (because how uncommon is that) she goes on to write a book that takes an FBI super agent filled to the brim with literary and humanity decor to uncover the true heart of it.  I like to think I’m a pretty smart girl, but there were moments in this book when I just didn’t care enough to go on.  There was no connection to these characters and everything is kept at a safe arm’s length.  I’m sure this is going to be one of those books that is reviewed by the New York Times as avant-garde and brilliant, a sly form of new age literature for the literary feminists, but I just don’t get it.

Great literature causes great empathy.  With this book, all I had was a great headache.

The other problem with this book is that the publishers didn’t care enough to fix their ebook formatting errors before releasing the book for advanced reader’s copies.  There were numbers EVERYWHERE on the page.  They would be placed in the middle of words, in the middle of important sentences, even occasionally where another number should be and the reader is thinking she meant at the age of six, but then the next word is nineteen and we suddenly realize that was a mistaken six.  They always started over at forty and maintained pace throughout the entire novel.  Do you know how hard it is to actively try to skip over numbers that aren’t meant to be there.  I’m FUCKING disappointed in that. If your ebook isn’t legible, don’t put it on the market until it is because you have readers like me that actually want to invest some sort of body part into these novels in order to understand their value.

Image @ Tumblr

I would love to tout this book as something that inspired that fisted feminist that hangs out between my rib cage and just below my throat but other than the plot, nothing in this novel screamed feminist.  The author was obviously well-read, she wears the signature black turtleneck of someone trying to look profound, but also look like they could step into a dark bar and crouch into the fetal position on stage only to bloom into some sort of slam poet.  In these ways, this is feminist literature.  In the way that Harry is shut down until the faces of her art are young men of strangeness. Also, in the way that the final man, Rune, finds ways to squash any chance that she created the art and he was only the basket in which it came in.  He claims she has mental disturbances which we all know is the sure way to put your wife away so she can die in a mysterious fire. (Oops, too Fitzgerald for a second).  This is the claim that men have been making for centuries though, seriously? Here we have Joan of Arc burned at the stake, the Salem Witch Trials – that amusement park of hangings, Sylvia Plath sticking her head in the oven, and women who have served their lives in “rest homes” because their husbands were overburdened with the idea that women can do more than vacuum with heels on.  I understand all of this and where Hustvedt is going with her novel.  I’m just not sure the hyper intellect she put into it really works.

Other Reviews (because I’m always one of the few haterzzzz):


This book is getting a lot of hype.  Have you heard anything? Are you planning on reading it?  Read any good feminist literature lately – I want your recommendations so bad, I’m willing to walk into the ocean with my pockets full of rocks. (Too early, still)?


17 comments so far.

17 responses to “Meta Meta Meta Meta Meta | Metaphor For Identity”

  1. I read one of Siri Hustvedt’s earlier books and haaaated it. Her descriptions of art were fantastic, and that was about the only thing I liked about the book. So I haven’t been dashing out to read this one even though it sounds kind of cool and I like footnotes. :p

    Feminist literature — hm. Will you accept comics? Kelly Sue DeConnick’s run on Captain Marvel if so. Or if not them maybe Americanah?

    • Cassie says:

      Footnotes are awesome and some of these were actually really funny. I’m just not sure this book had a purpose and that’s what bothers me.

  2. Bea says:

    Although you did not give this book the best review, no 5 stars here, I do think you got something out of it. There were a few places you seemed to like, maybe the first 100 pages. Anyway, it sounds like a “thinking” book, and I know what you mean. I just finished watching the movie, “Inception”, and believe me, you have to pay close attention to know what the heck is going on. I’d rather watch Disney and all those princesses.
    I did have a laugh at your line, “While I love deep thinking and all that bullshit, is this where fiction is going? I love a layered novel where it takes some critical analysis to really tap in, but I don’t want to dig to China to be able to read something that is supposed to be for pleasure. ” It is always nice when a blog makes me laugh. I enjoyed it. Thank you.

  3. grainsifter says:

    Oh Cassie, you see how wonderful life is? I am midway and am LOVING it…find it to be brilliant and dizzying for the characters and perspectives. 😉

    • Cassie says:

      Yay! And that’s why we’re readers. We can have different perspectives and wonderful discussions. I will link to your review if you write one. I bet you have a lovely perspective!

  4. Anne says:

    “The author was obviously well-read, she wears the signature black turtleneck of someone trying to look profound, but also look like they could step into a dark bar and crouch into the fetal position on stage only to bloom into some sort of slam poet.”

    Ahaha, well played. That had me laughing.

    • Cassie says:

      Haha, thank you dear. I just always think people in black turtle necks are trying to recreate Dead Poets Society, practicing their best beatnik, or trying to be hyper intellectual or a strange confusion of all three. Hm.

  5. João Luz says:

    Hello, Cassie. I am now reading this book and I’m enjoying it a lot. I disagree (and, if you don’t know Siri, you are probably being unfair) when you say that “…the author wanted to prove how educated she can be”. I don´t think she is that kind of writer, neither I think that this“… is not a book that you can just read for pleasure”; all the pleasure I get from reading comes from how it makes me imagine and think (I find that literature, cinema, music and other arts reveal much more about the essence of mankind than anything else, especially in times when things are getting more and more superficial and stereotyped). I usually don’t read book reviews and I just came to yours while searching for information about some of the names of artists in the book. Unfortunately I don’t read as much as I would like to because I don’t have the time, but from all the books I read and liked I never cared much about what were the authors’ intentions or whether they had PhDs on Dickens or not (forgive my criticism over yours). My criteria is whether it makes me think or not (But not in the way Dan Brown’s “Da Vinci code” can make one think – not think to solve plots but think about life and all its thrills). I am sure you are a pretty smart girl and from the picture I can see that you are also very pretty, I just think that you shouldn’t judge people just because you didn’t like the book they wrote. On the other hand I found your blog very interesting and I liked the way you write (I also read some of the texts you wrote on “About me”), so If you ever come to Portugal and want to know this beautiful small old country, you can count on me to be your guide (mostly around the countryside since I’m not very fond of big cities).

    • Cassie says:

      Ah Joao, I think we’re on the same page here. I, too, love a book that makes me think. Precisely everything you said is how I feel. I never want to come off pretentious, which is what it sounds like, but I do think you’re wrong in that you shouldn’t judge an author by their book. This person wrote these words, if they aren’t somehow connected to them, or wanted them to be read, then they shouldn’t have published. They all have a voice and each of us are entitled to our opinion about that voice. I don’t read books only by people with degrees and I, in fact, HATE classics (like Dickens), haha. I think you have me all wrong on this one. I love a book that makes me think and will read anything with beautiful writing by anyone. My criteria is whether I want to keep reading and how it makes me feel about the human condition. Plus, the whole point of a book blog is to review the book and how I felt about it, so if I hated that book, then my words are true to my reading of it. That’s the true pleasure of books, we will all have different feelings towards them, I just happen to share mine in my own personal space on the Internet and while you’re welcome to read them, they are still my thoughts and I own them.

      • João Luz says:

        Wow! Incredible how fast you answered me; I wish I could write that fast. Yes, I understand what you say about the authors’ responsibility for their words, but I don’t see where can you find in its content that the person who wrote this book is pretentious. You don´t come of pretentious and of course you are entitled to your opinion but don’t you think works and the person who creates them are something a bit different? Let’s think of Picasso, for instance, one can’t deny is work is fabulous though it seems he was an unbearable man, very egocentric and even brutal. I find strange what you say about classics (like Dickens). Do you really hate all classics? How can you put all of them in the same bag, since there are so many and so different ones? … Now I remembered an author which I don’t like at all: the Brazilian Paulo Coelho; I really don’t have nothing against the man, but I find his books completely empty and (here I think we can use well the word) pretentious. … And, by the way, what do you think about Paul Auster? And his books? 

        • Cassie says:

          I haven’t read Paul Auster, should I? I usually Google the person and read a lot of interviews before I kind of connect them with their work, but I do believe that they are inherently connected, work and human, and that somewhere in the work is that specific humans truths about the world. Dorothy Allison comes to mind, she wrote her own story in her fictional book with half truths, and I think all writers do that on some level so you’re right, I’m guilty of judging the author on their book.

          I don’t hate all classics, but I tend to not enjoy reading classic literature, at least at this point in my life. I have read A LOT of it for school and my major in college and I just always feel like I’m slogging through. I haven’t read Paul Coelho, why do you dislike his works? I don’t intend to try them based on just our discussion now. There are too many good books to read books that aren’t something we need or something that does thrill us (your word). 🙂

          • João Luz says:

            Well, Paul Auster is, in fact an author I enjoy a lot and who seems to be a very nice person (at least from the interviews I saw and read) He is very well known in Europe and I thought it would be the same in the States. To tell you the truth, I too tend to dislike the classics (… hum, but I love E. A. Poe, Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” and a few more). About Paulo Coelho, he too, very well known in Europe, is a man who writes but I don’t know if you can call that literature; in both cases, Paul and Paulo, you’ll have to read their books to find out and tell us (from Paulo Coelho you will probably only need to read a few pages, I think ). Thanks for this very nice conversation that I hope we can continue, but here in Portugal is 2 a.m. and I (a teacher too) have lessons early in the morning). Bye.
            p.s. “The thrill of it all”, do you know that song by Roxy Music?

          • Cassie says:

            Ou, I do love Frankenstein. I also can sometimes tolerate Dracula by Bram Stroker, and I do love Jane Eyre, every single time I read it. So, I guess it’s untrue to say I hate most of the classics, it’s just the “canon” classics maybe that I hate. My boyfriend is also obsessed with Poe, so he definitely gets read at my house. I will have to get a sample of Paulo Coelho and see, he is very famous in America, it seems he’s won a lot of awards. Paul Aster, I will have to add something of his to my to-be-read list. Do you have

            Goodnight! I have heard that song. Excited that you’re a teacher, we should talk about that as well.

          • João Luz says:

            Hi again, Cassie. I just signed in, and first I couldn’t find a single book I’ve read; when I began searching for authors and books, I realized that it’s got almost everything in there. I’ve rated some of the things I’ve read since I was a teenager (comics, science fiction and other fictions). I usually don’t look for books online and I never read one on a screen, I really prefer having the object in my hand, under the shade of an oak tree and being able to smell the paper, the ink; I know they are very expensive (and in Portugal, probably even more than in America) but, fortunately I have a lot of friends that are good readers too (and my mother was a librarian) so we trade and sometimes I also buy them when they are the ones I am sure I am going to like a lot. My eyes (and brain) also appreciate not to spend so much time in front of screens and I have to save them for the movies, another passion of mine (together with music, art, in general, and wild nature – walking in the mountains and swimming in clear water rivers or in the sea “enche-me as medidas” – a Portuguese expression meaning: gives me a lot of satisfaction). About Paul Auster, I have to say I was a bit surprised when you said you didn’t known him since he is Siri’ husband (or something similar) and far better known than she is (at least here in Portugal), he has lots of books; the first one I read was “Mr. Vertigo” but I also enjoyed a lot “the Brooklyn Follies”, “The New York Trilogy” or “Sunset Park”, one of his latest, I think. Regarding literature, authors like Dan Brown (which has kind of “Portuguese copy”: José Rodrigues dos Santos), Nicholas Sparks or Paulo Coelho aren´t interesting at all. Please don’t take me for pretentious (my turn), but I’m only interested in reading about what is behind (or beyond) the surface of our sometimes silly lives, which, of course, also lies under small daily gestures and feelings, but reaches the deep human nature. I’m not always looking for that, and I enjoy a lot humour (Roald Dahl or David Lodge, for instance), or reading newspapers and magazines (some). Talking about teaching in Portugal nowadays, I’m afraid it’s a growing disgrace: Technocracy invaded everything and we are told to care only about numbers and prepare people for the needs of the market and not to help them understand the world and themselves or even being curious about everything around them; observe and think are things that less and less young people do (not even their hormones can disturb their minds that much ). Of course not all kids are like that, but along the way and in my country there are fewer every year). Nevertheless I enjoy a lot being with them and not only trying to teach them English, but also trying to make them or think (it’s hard, believe me, images are in the center of today’s way of reasoning and words are getting far behind – it’s a big problem we have to face and School has to change a lot to solve it; and not at all the way it’s changing around here). Long is this text already and it goes beyond a simple comment to your review, see if you want to keep it like that. Feel free to correct my English; it’s a bit rusty since I don’t use it much. I think you don’t use Facebook but if you do I have there a page where I show photos I make (another like), music I love and some texts I write from times to times:
            I leave you with three of lots of songs I love, see if you know and like them:
            Have a nice week!

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Hi, I’m Cass

I am a writer, educator and genuine creative living on the coast of NC. Our house is built on sunshine with my husband BJ, dog named Tucker, and our two very sassy cats: Fromage and Jasper.

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