Hustvedt’s novel centers on the theme of masks, self-awareness, and self-deception, among others. Overall, Harry is offered as an ever-changing multiple, but she is also still somehow singular and knowable. In her diaries, she always wonders about and re-presents her young self, her now self, and her future self… all while we are reading her from the future, looking back at her in the past.
In our other reading for class this week, Carter also discusses the multiplicity of the self, offering insight into how our parts coexist through majors and minors. These definitions come to life in Hustvedt, as Harry jumps around through her various parts, one of which is being a mother–her “triple body” (p. 146). When speaking to her best friend Rachel, she says: “…we know so little about ourselves it’s shocking. We tell ourselves a story and we go along believing in it,…” (p. 50). Another exact mention of these parts comes when Harry’s boyfriend Bruno describes entering Harry’s building for the first time and walking around among her powerful art: “I felt the minor character creeping up in me again. He was a shrinker, and I shrank” (p. 80).
Character’s statements about Harry usually start with context, as they explain themselves and their relation to her. Harry’s use of Anton, Phineas, and Rune offers insight into the ideas of gender roles, observer-observed, self-presentation, and honing of presented image for others to consume. Rune is described as having multiple faces: “…he meant that they could see someone, but not him…’Rune Two, Rune Three, or Rune Four, but never Rune One'” (p. 182), and Harry mentions at one point that she will peel the onion of his personas (p. 201).
Trying on/enacting the switching of gender roles is heavily presented, like when Harry tells Maisie: “When you take on a male persona, something happens…. You get to be the father” (p. 187). Overall, there are so many great descriptions in The Blazing World regarding multiplicity. They speak for themselves, below. I found Hustvedt’s novel just a really smart book about the complicated levels of representations of self and other, especially regarding gender, and the complex palettes of coexisting parts we each live in:
- Harry to Maisie: “We live inside our categories…believe in them, but they often get scrambled” (p. 196).
- Harry to Rune: “We are all a menage” (p. 230).
- Harry, thinking about the words a critic used to describe her work when everyone thinks it’s Rune’s: “He doesn’t know that the adjectives muscular, rigorous, cerebral can be claimed by me…” (p. 273).
- Maisie describing Harry’s alter egos: “I was trying to fit together my discontinuous mothers into one person…. We all have…parts…but I think they are usually more mixed together than they were in my mother” (p. 285).
- Bruno reminiscing about Harry: “This woman had worlds inside her” (p. 295).
- Harry realizing she could have played up parts of herself more than she did: “I sabotaged myself…. I am Odysseus, but I have been Penelope” (p. 327).