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‘An Accomplished Scholar and Intellectual’

In response to:

‘The Blazing World’: An Exchange from the September 25, 2014 issue

To the Editors:

As the editor of a volume of essays on Siri Hustvedt’s work that will be published in 2015, a collection that includes contributions from American and European scholars in literary studies, philosophy, psychoanalysis, medicine, and neuroscience, I feel an obligation to reply to Terry Castle’s most recent attack on Hustvedt’s The Blazing World in her response to a letter from Robert Boyers in The New York Review [September 25]. While it is obvious that Castle will not be convinced of the merits of the novel, her absurd insinuation that Hustvedt’s knowledge is superficial and lifted from flimsy sources—“A Little Wikipedia Is a Dangerous Thing”—can easily be refuted.

Like Castle, Hustvedt has a Ph.D. in English literature. She also writes regularly about visual art. Hustvedt gave the third annual Schelling lecture on aesthetics at the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich. She has also given talks at the Prado in Madrid and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and published an impressive volume of essays on painting: Mysteries of the Rectangle. In 2011, she delivered the annual Sigmund Freud lecture in Vienna, one of a distinguished list of speakers that includes Leo Bersani, Juliet Mitchell, Jessica Benjamin, Mark Solms, and Judith Butler.

Siri Hustvedt is not alone a superb writer of international reputation but an accomplished scholar and intellectual engaging with fundamental questions of contemporary ethics and epistemology. In her visits to European and German universities, she has not only given highly applauded readings from her works but contributed in important ways to the growing interdisciplinary dialogue between the humanities and the sciences, notably in a keynote lecture and panel discussion on the relationship between the life sciences and literature at the 2012 annual conference of the German Association for American Studies in Mainz. In 2013, she delivered the opening keynote address at an international conference on Søren Kierkegaard in Copenhagen on the occasion of the philosopher’s two hundredth birthday.

She has continuously been publishing essays and papers in academic and scientific journals, including Contemporary Psychoanalysis, Seizure: European Journal of Epilepsy, Neuropsychoanalysis, and Clinical Neurophysiology. Her collection of essays Living, Thinking, Looking is nothing if not indicative of her broad and deep learning in several disciplines. In 2012, she received the International Gabarron Prize for Thought and Humanities. The Blazing World was long-listed for the Booker Prize, and she recently received an honorary doctorate from the University of Oslo. These are hardly the accomplishments of a person who relies on Wikipedia for her information.

Hubert Zapf
Professor and Chair of American Literature
Ethics of Textual Cultures Graduate Program
Elite Network of Bavaria
University of Augsburg
Augsburg, Germany