Posted on April 17, 2010 by
Perception and Distortion
Published: April 15, 2010
To the Editor:
‘The Shaking Woman,’ by Siri Hustvedt: Seized (April 4, 2010)
As is the case in most presentations of ?unexplainable? neurological-psychiatric symptoms, there are unspeakables in Siri Hustvedt?s book ?The Shaking Woman? (April 4): the horror of a vague, transgenerationally transmitted memory of a witnessed wartime atrocity; the pain and fear of cumulative loss. Any attempt to put the unspeakable on paper will necessarily fall short, but Hustvedt?s sustained argument in the book is precisely that all categories ? medical and philosophical ? are in themselves subject to ambiguity.
Criticizing it for its failure to address the pain of caregivers is a non sequitur. The reviewer, I am afraid, fell into the same fallacy she accuses Hustvedt of: seeing and hearing only what she wanted to see and hear. In my work as a clinical and forensic neurologist-psychiatrist, I am used to seeing unspeakable emotional pain causing perceptual distortions. Neither literary creation nor its criticism are exempt from this fundamental observation.
The writer is an assistant professor of clinical psychiatry at Columbia University and an adjunct associate professor of neurology at SUNY Downstate Medical Center.