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The Mind-Body Problem (Contemporary American…
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The Mind-Body Problem (Contemporary American Fiction) (original 1983; edition 1993)

by Rebecca Goldstein (Author)

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364851,005 (3.97)11
The hilarious underground bestseller about one woman's pursuit of carnal pleasure--and the philosophy that gets in the way. When Renee Feuer goes to college, one of the first lessons she tries to learn is how to liberate herself from the restrictions of her Orthodox Jewish background. As she discovers the pleasures of the body, Renee also learns about the excitements of the mind. She enrolls as a philosophy graduate student, then marries Noam Himmel, the world-renowned mathematician. But Renee discovers that being married to a genius is a less elevating experience than expected, and that the allure of sex still beckons. Her quest for a solution to the conflicting demands of sensuality and spirit is a touching and always humorous adventure. "Terrific. . . . The first fifty or so pages are so clever and funny that I had to put the book down and go to the fridge to cool off."--The New York Times Book Review "A terrific first novel . . . Goldenstein is intelligent and perceptive, bawdy and witty--an articulate writer of great talent."--The Los Angeles Times Book Review… (more)
Member:Patsact
Title:The Mind-Body Problem (Contemporary American Fiction)
Authors:Rebecca Goldstein (Author)
Info:Penguin (Non-Classics) (1993), Paperback, 288 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:
Tags:Judaica, fiction, novel, philosophical novel, graduate student novel, women writer, Jewish woman writer

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The Mind-Body Problem by Rebecca Goldstein (1983)

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» See also 11 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 7 (next | show all)
I picked up this book, knowing nothing about it, after hearing Rebecca Goldstein speak at a conference on consciousness.
I had no expectations, knowing nothing of either the author or this novel.
I was left breathless. Originally published in 1983 as a first novel by a then little-known author.
A great book and a great read on many, many levels, and has completely stood the test of time.
Highly recommended. ( )
  bodhisattva | May 9, 2014 |
This book was my introduction to the writing of Rebecca Goldstein. A very funny novel whose clever dialogue was appealing both to my intellect and my emotions. She asks what is the mind, and how does it relate to the physical body? This question has fascinated humans for ages, both before and after 17th-century philosopher René Descartes articulated mind-body dualism. In our time, our growing scientific understanding of the brain and its functions has only compounded the question. Philosopher, novelist, and MacArthur fellow Rebecca Goldstein considers these questions through the protagonist of her novel The Mind-Body Problem. Her protagonist, Renee Feuer, is an acute young philosophy grad-student, raised an Orthodox Jew but very much fallen away. She meets famous Noam Himmel, who has come to the Institute for Advanced Studies to bestow it with his genius. A mathematician of world renown, Noam developed a new category of numbers when only age twelve; as an adult person, he's abstracted, enthusiastic, cuddly. And after they marry, Renee is thrilled to discover, at various European conferences, what she's already intuited: "I had married intellectual royalty." But it doesn't bring all that much satisfaction; after all, compared to Noam, Renee considers herself dull--and she waits for him inevitably to discover it too. Furthermore, as if in escape from the comparative puniness of her mind, she turns to her body: constantly thinking about sex (which Noam can take or leave), about children at times, finally falling into a series of indiscreet affairs with other Princeton thinkers.
It is an intellectual and comic entertainment for those interested in academia or philosophy or both. A delight from beginning to end. ( )
  jwhenderson | Aug 8, 2013 |
A smart, funny book about a young Jewish woman who is studying philosophy and who marries an older man, a math prodigy who is a bit ‘slow’ socially. The question asked at the outset of the book is “what is it like to live with a genius”? The book sets off to describe just that (and it turns out he’s a bit of a jerk), along the way giving insights into the life of the intelligentsia at Princeton, Jewish culture, and a woman’s view of sex and sexual attractiveness.

There are interesting musings on the “mind-body problem” but occasionally philoso-babble gets in the way; I found more interest in a couple of other areas of duality: (1) the woman’s desire to embrace her culture and her father’s faith, while at the same time being a skeptic and rejecting orthodoxy, and (2) her worship for her husband the genius, while at the same time not being satisfied in a marriage that quickly dries up.

The writing is honest, is in a “voice” that’s a pleasure to read, and delivers on intellectual, physical, and emotional levels.

Quotes:
On marriage:
“Eliot gives us a picture of the inside of a marriage but without divulging any sexual details. Her Victorian readers were meant to infer the hidden reality from such facts as Dorothea’s pathetic pallor and the desolate loneliness of that wedding trip. But I am no George Eliot (my misfortune) and you are probably not content to infer (your misfortune). And so I must take you back with me, from the piazza to the apartment, into Signora Trotti’s oversize antique bed.
I had had thoughts, early on, of educating Noam in the bedroom, of teaching him the detours and the backways off the main straight road. But he was an unwilling student, when not altogether truant. It was not even possible to speak with him on the subject. He showed such distaste – not for the act itself, but for all reference to it.”

On mid-life crises:
“But the affair that followed brought little joy. I was but a part of Isaac’s miserable midlife crisis, the symptom known as the infatuation with the younger woman. He was forty-six years old and coming around to the realization that his life had led to this: to the cold, resentful wife; to the son and daughter pursuing their adolescent rebellion with the same uninspired conformity to the norm as their father was demonstrating in his response to his own life change; and, most painfully, to the unbrilliant career. The conclusion was waiting to be drawn, even if he shrank from its final acknowledgment. The promise of his youth would not be fulfilled, the spark had never caught, the moment for it was over. There would be no fire, and now even the feeble glow of hope was giving out.”

On men:
“I would have liked, at least, to be able to walk these foreign streets inconspicuously; the Roman men would not allow it. Their demonstrativeness surpassed anything I’d encountered (with the possible exception perhaps of the time I almost caused a riot walking down the Upper West Side’s Broadway in a pair of yellow shorts on an airless August afternoon). Here in Rome men would walk beside me for blocks, declaiming. One jumped out of his car and fell before me on his knees. I didn’t enjoy any of it.”

“This resentment had historical associations. It had been suffered throughout my childhood, when, as the girl in the family, I was expected to help wait on The Men – a class which included that little twerp, my brother. ‘Hurry up, dish it out. You’ll keep The Men waiting.’ God forbid! The women – even guests – always got the last and the worst, the dried and the burnt. God forbid The Men shouldn’t be satisfied. Any shmuck with a shmuck was a power before us.”

On mothers:
“All mothers worry, Jewish mothers worry more. But my mother can find something to worry about in anything. No topic is innocent. In some way, indirect or Talmudically indirect, some danger to her family might be lurking. ‘It’s her way of loving. Try to understand,’ my father would tell me when I’d come complaining about something I’d been forbidden to join my friends in doing: going to the beach (the undertow); tennis (sunstroke); hiking in the woods (sex maniacs). Her worrying is, like all the best thinking, vigorous but subtle. Every possibility is followed through and analyzed. And she is knowledgeable, too, admirably informed on current events: local, state, national, international – for all could adversely affect her family. … If the phone rings at eight I know who is calling, to tell me to get rid of my house plants (a four-year-old has died from nibbling on a castor oil plant), not to answer the door (a man-and-son team has raped three women in northern New Jersey), not to make any plans to visit Seattle (a geologist has predicted that Mt. Rainier could go off sometime in the next twenty-five years).”

On religion:
“Can you imagine, then, what it was like to turn from the spirit of religion to the spirit of philosophy, or, as I liked to call it in those days, the spirit of rationality? … If truth is our end (and what else should be?) we must reason our way there. The leap of faith is not heroic but cowardly, has all the virtues, Russell said, of theft over hard labor.”

On sex:
“There’s been so much serious discussion devoted to the profound question of the vaginal vs. the clitoral orgasm. Why doesn’t anyone speak about the mental orgasm? It’s what’s going on in your head that can make the difference, not which and how many of your nerve endings are being rubbed. Judged on the quantitative scale, our lovemaking wasn’t memorable. It’s other details I remember…

And I remember too the intensity of my pleasure, which wasn’t at all physical, as he shuddered within me while inside my head sang the triumphant thought: I am making love to this man … to Noam Himmel … the genius.”

“Haven’t you failed to consider that the object of sexual desire is not a sensation … but a person? If you overlook that, then all sex is a kind of masturbation, rather an awkward kind at that, when you do it with someone else. Only that’s all wrong. Masturbation isn’t even sex, not really. It’s the form of sex without the content; even when attaining the sensations (often more successfully than in the real thing), it’s still missing the point. Because the point lies, somehow or other, in the other person, in the reciprocal desiring. No, no, Noam, you are wrong. Sex is a personal relation, and that’s what makes it so deep and complex and interesting.”

“(Who was it who said bad sex is better than no sex at all? What a blessed sexual existence he must have enjoyed.) Sex that’s gone dry and tasteless, that one call swallow only with effort, is one of the more unpalatable experiences life offers. Especially when one is remembering or imagining the cognac-soaked flambé possibilities.”

On solitude:
“How can any of us expect others to share our world, particular as each of ours is? Ours is alone, alone, alone, alone. Alone in one’s own world.”

On values:
“Never mind that the dull can’t help themselves, that they would, granted the sense to do so, have chosen to be otherwise. Their very existence is felt as a moral affront by those of us who dwell where the genius is hero. The color of our zone is only just discernably lighter than the true black of those who perceive people according to their acceptance of some moral or religious or political code.”

On virtue:
“It was a rare treat when my father spoke about himself. There were so many things I had always wanted to know about him. I wondered if he had struggled to arrive at his moral level or had been born there. I spent a lot of time puzzling over the question of which – the struggle or lack of it – would make him the better man. Many ethicists, following Kant, opt for the struggle: those who are naturally good aren’t really good. Yet the striving after moral perfection requires a concern for one’s self: one has to want one’s self to be good.”

On women; I found these insights brutally honest and provocative:
“What tied me to my body was not so much its desires as the desires it aroused in others – the more (both desire and others), the better. Through it (my matter, so to speak) I mattered to others, and thus mattered. Through it I had mattered to Noam, who himself mattered so much, at least from where I stood.”

“I am only attracted to men who I believe to be more intelligent than I am. A detected mistake in logic considerably cools my desire. They can be shorter, they can be weaker, they can be poorer, they can be meaner, but they must be smarter. For the smart are the masters in my mattering region. And if you gain control over them, then through the transitivity of power you too are powerful.
And how is it given to a woman to dominate but through sex? Through sex a woman gains control over a man’s body that he himself lacks; she can move him in ways he cannot move himself. And she invades and takes over his consciousness…”

And lastly, on Jewish women:
“He was worshipful, offering me again and again the highest praise of which the Jewish male is capable: You don’t look at all Jewish. Our brothers always expect us to thrill at the words, because of course in their scheme of things there’s nothing so desirable as a shiksa. I’ve never understood it. Jewish women seem to me so much juicier and more betampte (tasty). It’s like the difference between a Saltine cracker and a piece of Sacher cake.” ( )
2 vote gbill | Jul 4, 2011 |
excellent and funny book, full of interesting thoughts ( )
  flydodofly | Jun 13, 2011 |
I loved this book when I was a college girl, at time when I -- along with the heroine of the novel -- struggled to decide if I was pretty (for a smart girl), or smart (for a pretty girl) and if either merit was sufficient in-and-of itself. It was a big burning question for me back then. Nowadays it's clear that I am a mush-for-brains middle-aged girl, so these sorts of introspective inquiries are more quickly resolved.

see more book reviews on my blog: :: Adventures in Daily Living :: ( )
  chndlrs | Aug 1, 2008 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Rebecca Goldsteinprimary authorall editionscalculated
BalthusCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Jacoby, MelissaCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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In memory of my father
BEZALEL NEWBERGER
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I'm often asked what it's like to be married to a genius.
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The hilarious underground bestseller about one woman's pursuit of carnal pleasure--and the philosophy that gets in the way. When Renee Feuer goes to college, one of the first lessons she tries to learn is how to liberate herself from the restrictions of her Orthodox Jewish background. As she discovers the pleasures of the body, Renee also learns about the excitements of the mind. She enrolls as a philosophy graduate student, then marries Noam Himmel, the world-renowned mathematician. But Renee discovers that being married to a genius is a less elevating experience than expected, and that the allure of sex still beckons. Her quest for a solution to the conflicting demands of sensuality and spirit is a touching and always humorous adventure. "Terrific. . . . The first fifty or so pages are so clever and funny that I had to put the book down and go to the fridge to cool off."--The New York Times Book Review "A terrific first novel . . . Goldenstein is intelligent and perceptive, bawdy and witty--an articulate writer of great talent."--The Los Angeles Times Book Review

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