... Busch offers [a field guide for invisibility], roaming from essay to essay in a loose, associative style, following invisibility where it takes her — from childhood and the comfort of imaginary friends to middle age and the feeling of disappearing as a sexual object: a sensation, she argues, that can form the basis of a new, and positive, form of selfhood ... Inconspicuousness can be powerful — this may be Busch’s most radical point, especially at a moment when we’re conditioned to think power means yelling louder than everyone else in your Twitter feed, or showing the world on Instagram how you’re living your best life.
There are insightful pages on British zoologist Hugh B. Cott’s work on how animals fool one another by blending in with their surroundings ... Busch’s subtitle signals that she’s providing only notes on invisibility. Her slim volume lacks a general argument. Instead, the author shares her enthusiasms for the natural world and for how one can position oneself to catch a glimpse of those things that shine through the obscurity around them ... Underwater, though, Busch loses me, and when she asserts that 'submerged, I have become a refugee from the visible world,' I am visibly rolling my eyes ... Field guides need to be precise, and although there are some fine moments in How to Disappear, Busch can be a bit wooly ... A discussion of the 'vanishing self' may belong in a book on invisibility, but when Busch writes of an anesthesia before minor surgery producing the 'most blissful' moments of boundless 'gratitude' and 'an ineffable accommodation by a larger and supremely benign sphere of existence,' this guide eludes me.
Busch, a practiced art and nature writer, dislikes social media and networked culture: that much is clear. What she neglects to explore is why ... When Busch moves in details, she does so strikingly well. Her best essays, 'Invisiphilia' and 'Across the Natural World,' are richly allusive and digressive ... But in her society essays, Busch casts detail, and often beauty, aside. In the collection's first essay, on imaginary friends as a stage in childhood development, she pivots without warning from her chosen topic to a long digression on the damages of social media. Her writing about imaginary friendship is replete with research, literature, and anecdotal evidence; her writing about social media is full of sweeping we-statements, with only one source cited and no examples or anecdotes at all. Not only does the digression fall flat as a result, it drags the rest of the essay down with it ... This proves to be a pattern. Time and again, Busch condemns online visibility without exploring it ... Busch does not seem open to counterarguments. In general, she refuses to attend to perspectives that don't match her own ... fails intellectually because Busch never accesses the bodies of work that don't suit her ... Busch set out to create an antidote to visibility culture, but all she does, in the end, is expose herself.
Busch demonstrates that unchosen and therefore painful versions of social withdrawal aren’t always as obvious as a bridle or a jail cell ... But Busch would do well to carry some of these metaphors from the natural world a step further; it is, after all, often prey, and not predators, for whom invisibility is an asset—a means of survival ... These more injurious forms of silence raise questions that... Busch [touches] on but, disappointingly, [fails] to really wrestle with.
How to Disappear runs against modernity’s most basic urge—our desperate desire to be seen—and therefore risks [being overlooked]. But it is precisely Ms. Busch’s subtle contrarianism that deserves our sustained attention ... On the surface, How to Disappear is a palliative for the alienation that modern overexposure begets. Ms. Busch would like to save us from ourselves, from the lonely fate that afflicts Narcissus, his eyes forever locked on the only person he has ever truly loved—himself. But in its deeper moments, the book touches on an abiding, but easily forgotten, truth: Disappearing, the act of losing our selves, is a precondition of selflessness. Ms. Busch’s deeper concern is to save not Narcissus but rather the wider world his selfishness affects.
Busch writes about nature and culture with delving curiosity and fresh thinking ... Busch investigates the divide between our visible and inner selves in this zestfully perceptive 'field guide to invisibility.' She describes wondrous strategies for concealment in the natural world, considers the role of invisibility in myths and the arts, shares personal experiences, and notes various ways in which we are rendered invisible for better or worse. Ultimately, Busch elegantly advocates for 'elective invisibility' as a way of acquiring 'a more humanitarian view of the larger world.' Eye-opening and inspiring.
Busch offers a timely and thoughtful exploration of visibility in our current moment. To be seen or to disappear is political, technological and psychological. It impacts how we move through the world and how we occasionally try, like living things always have, to hide.
Busch’s exploration of her subject is free-associative, wide-ranging, and poetic in its own right. Her description of visiting New York City’s Grand Central Terminal is particularly striking ... Busch offers a path to quiet dignity that is rich and enlightening.