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‘The Shaking Woman or a History of My Nerves’ by Siri Hustvedt

It feels to her as if keeping her cool may have a therapeutic effect, somehow shifting the neuronal and hormonal patterns that drive her body to convulse, her arms to flail, and her legs to turn a deep red. But it is one of the keys to the philosophical questions her book explores, questions about how the conscious and the unconscious impinge on each other and how a sense of self is produced in the process. Perhaps the trick will now be to integrate the shaking woman as well, to acknowledge that she, too, is part of myself.

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Perhaps it would be useful to describe degrees of consciousness. I feel beneath my words a preconscious world from which I draw them, thoughts not yet articulated but potentially there, and when I find them, I believe in their rightness or wrongness.

Against what do I measure this? It is not outside me. What actually happens when I write the symbols that together make up the words I remember? Hustvedt Hustvedt with Damasio. Click here for video of a dialogue between them on bigthink. Consciousness, as we commonly think of it, from its basic levels to its most complex, is the unified mental pattern that brings together the object and the self. But the seeking of words involves a suspension of will and intention, requiring a lot of unconscious, undirected thinking.

The Shaking Woman or A History of My Nerves | Siri Hustvedt | Macmillan

The writer is continuously changed through the succession of intentional looking, searching for words, and unconscious cognition involved. If Hustvedt writes herself into a new comfort with the idea that she is the shaking woman, she does so in large part through a series of acts that elude her conscious will.

She is changed by her actions, much the way her shaking is quelled by her cool. But those actions were often motivated unconsciously, and their succession is impossible to reconstruct. Of course, this is true for anybody, regardless of neurological or psychological health. One of the things the screen hides most effectively is the body, our own body, by which I mean the ins of it, its interiors.

Like a veil thrown over the skin to secure its modesty, but not too well, the screen partially removes from the mind the inner states of the body, those that constitute the flow of life as it wanders in the journey of each day. Two and a half years later, while giving a talk at St.


I had felt entirely calm and reasonable. Something seemed to have gone terribly wrong with me, but what exactly? I decided to go in search of the shaking woman.

Brainwave 2010: Who Is the Shaking Woman?

How can it be so difficult to reason—and Hustvedt is nothing if not reasonable—that if you can be a headache, you can also be a shaking woman? Foreshadowings of the fake discovery crowd the last few pages of the book, when she hires a psychiatrist and a neurologist she resists psychoanalysis and frets that neither can tell her who the shaking woman is.

But Hustvedt seems uninterested in truly delving into the self; the architecture of her personal narrative is hastily constructed.