Guernica Magazine

Sheila Heti: “All of Living is Thinking”

The author discusses Judaism, visual art, and “the annoying, circular thinking that happens alongside living.” The post Sheila Heti: “All of Living is Thinking” appeared first on Guernica.
Photo by Steph Martyniuk

In Motherhood, Sheila Heti’s third novel, the unnamed narrator wrestles with the question of whether or not to have a child. She consults her friends, her partner, her dreams, tarot cards, a psychic, and the I Ching. Frustrated that the years of thinking and writing about this question haven’t produced a definitive answer, she instructs herself to “imagine the questions of someone else, someone with a broader mind—then try to be that broader mind.”

For many readers, Heti already is that broader mind. Her second novel, the acclaimed How Should a Person Be? took as its title a question that Heti tries to answer in much of her work, whether the overt subject matter is female friendship, art-making, motherhood, or clothes.

Because the material she uses to answer that question often comes from her life and the lives of those around her, she has been discussed alongside writers like Rachel Cusk and Karl Ove Knausgaard as exemplars of “autofiction” (a category Heti has said she finds superficial), and her concern with female friendship and how women relate to one other has drawn comparisons with Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan quartet.

But I had not heard Heti speak much about her relationship to Judaism, biblical stories, or visual art, though all feel important to her work. Over email, we discussed these and more.

— Kelley Deane McKinney for Guernica

Guernica: Many of your books are organized around explicitly asking a central question, and you seem to try and answer these questions, to some extent, by talking to the people in your life.

I recently reread many of the interviews you conducted for The Believer and noticed that, as early as 2009, you were asking the women you interviewed about motherhood. Is there a question that you’re currently asking the people in your life?

No, I don’t think I am asking questions of anyone these days. There was a part of me that was very active for a number of years,

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