“Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.” –Wilde

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).
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2 Responses to “Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.” –Wilde

  1. Yes, I think the end quote, when Harry says, “I am Odysseus, but I have been Penelope,” really speaks to this idea of her hiding behind a mask, and her disappointment in herself for not facing at least some more of her truth during her lifetime. Parts of her Maskings projects seemed playful, and (more so) parts of them seemed desperate and self-undermining. I think it’s also interesting to ask: if we truly put ourselves out there as something, and assert what we believe to be our authenticities, the way they are received and thought of (and/or re-told) is out of our control, still. If Harry had put herself out there “as is,” her story could’ve (would’ve) been misconstrued by others, or “history,” anyway. Is it enough then to believe we’ve been authentic, acting day in, day out into the world? To what end, but self-satisfaction and one’s personal cares for the hearts, minds, and consequences of family, friends, and the immediate world? Not that these reasons are not most important, but that so many times, they can also be so easily taken for granted, go unnoticed, get misconstrued, and/or be dismissed.

  2. Dagmara Lachowicz says:

    Hi Jen
    Nicely put . However , my take on this is this . Since the Self is such a complicated and complex mechanism that which moves through the body with help of the mind and perhaps even other “forces” . For me , the issue of masks carries a slightly different meaning . Swithing hats , creating alter egoes etc .. have always served me as an escape from my true Self(which to be frank has bit me in the ass later) . Having quite colorful imagination in conjunction with all sort of “phenomenons” I have experienced in my body ever since I was little I used it all up just to hide from myself . Especially if one’s art is measured by one’s honesty ,sincerity and loyalty to it the consequances are disastrous. So in essence masks behind which we hide are a game and unless one wants spent a whole life playing games with one self it will be just that. What interests me more now is being able to step out side of my self and take a good look at what is in there.(dressed , undressed , masked or veiled and its purpose). And its quite remarkable , that this curriculum has become for my person a MIRROR!!! Through which I was able to get a close look at myself . And most of all embrace the images I
    saw through the readings and class dicussions. And oh boy I would be lying If I were to say that I didn’t have to strap my Person in the chair and commit myself to this process. This experience has not only closed a chapter for me but opened a door to a new one in which I am finally embracing “this feather in my hat “(phenomenons and pain) and wholehartedly looking forward to it .

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