Laura Gonzalez

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15 Dec 2014

Collected Poems by Philip Larkin ***

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Reading dates: 27 July – 13 December 2014

Neil and I read this book together, aloud and to each other, before our daily Pride and Prejudice chapter. No, no, no. This order did not work as Larkin, for all his sins, sent us to a particular universe of bleakness, social observations, impossible loves and thoughts of death. How could I take Darcy and Elizabeth seriously after that? The result of this experiment is that, after we finish Austen’s novel, we will only read poetry to each other, and novels by ourselves.

I love Larkin’s work, but it had such a profound effect in me, I am not sure I can muster a higher rating. He gave me nightmares, made me want to cry, made me feel those ripples in the skin I get when I try to imagine what it is like to be dead. All this in precise language and interesting punctuation. I think he taught me how to read poetry aloud, how to dance the words in my mouth. Ah, dance … there are lots of poems about dance in this book … like the one below, aptly unfinished … I love dancing but Larkin is right, it is an awkward thing.

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12 Dec 2014

Trance Art

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A paper I wrote with the wonderful Christopher Danowski has been published in issue 0 of ELSE, an international art, literature, theory and creative media journal. The image on the cover is also a hybrid, like the writing: Chris’ head and my décolletage. Thank god there is a fair amount of Lacan in our paper to analyse that. Have a look at this smart publication here (free but needing registration) and consider submitting. The deadline for the issue on contemplation is 1 January 2015.

http://www.transart.org/else-art-journal/

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7 Dec 2014

The Dead Hour by Denise Mina****

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Reading dates: 14 November – 06 December 2014

Denise Mina’s crime novel characters are like no other. There is a clarity to Paddy Meehan and to Maureen O’Donnell that Jo Nesbø (with his Harry Hole), and Lee Child (with Jack Reacher) only aspire to. It is perhaps due to the fact that she works in trilogies so the character does not have time to contradict herself in ways that annoy the reader. Then, there is the heroine’s background. Both Reacher and Hole are somewhat stereotypical, aspirational, but I know Paddy Meehan, I have met parts of her. I might be biased because I also know another of the characters in Mina’s novels: Glasgow; and she, too, is accurately, vividly portrayed. Glasgow is surprising, interesting, dark, dangerous, cold, gritty, cool. Yes, that is the city I live in.

So having declared my bias, I will mention two other things that are, perhaps, more objective: she knows how to craft stories and, importantly, to write them. Most crime writers are let down by the quality of their prose, but there were sections in The Dead Hour I went back to because they were insightful, nicely put. This only happens to me with one other crime writer, David Peace. Him and Mina are proof that a more literary version of the usual trashy crime fiction is possible and innovation can happen in this highly codified genre.

If you have recently been to the cinema to watch Nightcrawler and enjoyed it, read this book. Young Paddy Meehan will accompany you in the small (and dead) hours of the night, with her tiredness, desire for sleep, cloudy judgement, insightfulness and fad diets. I liked Nighcrawler, but I would have preferred a film adaptation of The Dead Hour.

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9 Nov 2014

Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert *****

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Reading dates: 1 January — 9 November 2014

Looking at the reading dates, one would think I did not like this book. But I adored it. I decided to keep up with my French, so I read it in the original which, after so many years of not being serious with my school language and only paying attention to Lacan, made it hard going. Yet, reading La vérité sur l’affaire Harry Québert in French, oiled my brain. From then onwards, my encounter with Bovary was a little easier. The story, for me, tips with the unforgettable episode of the leg operation. Emma becomes an adulteress and the book, compulsive. It is so well written, so heart-wrenching, so relentless and ruthless. It is well conceived and constructed, nothing is surplus. Emma is wonderfully complex, endlessly fascinating to think and talk about. I have never read scenes of grief that are so effective. I was disarmed, inconsolable, not knowing what to think, questioning my own positioning, what I would do in each of the main character’s situation. Only great literature can give one a problem like this. Unlike real-life cases, novels are crafted from beginning to end, with purpose, limiting the superfluous and the serendipitous. Good novels are exemplar cases and Bovary is perfect in this. Not a single detail is left hanging and the most tragic one is the fate of Homais, the apothecary. I challenge anyone who doesn’t know a person with this perfectly described character, the traits of whom I discovered in my reading and not in my interacting with similar people.

I am not sure I will be able to, but I would love to re-read Madame Bovary — strength may fail me and there are always many other books to discover. Although, on second thoughts, it might be an interesting performative act to re-read it regularly, perhaps every year starting on the 1st January, like Yiyun Li re-reads War and Peace. First, I need a gorgeous copy (like hers below) and a fresh supply of post-it notes.

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1 Nov 2014

Revolt, She Said by Julia Kristeva***

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Reading dates: 5 September – 24 October 2014

When Gilman-Opalsky kept referring to a book by Julia Kristeva I never heard of, I made my mind up to chose this when my turn came in our Dialectical Materialism book group. This is a book of interviews and, I am going to be honest, it was not my most inspiring choice for our discussion. I cannot understand why it is Gilman-Opalsky’s main reference. The book is repetitive and depends very much on the interviewer and his questions. Kristeva is good, and she has some very interesting insights into psychoanalysis, art and May 68 but in a format like this it is difficult to make an argument consistently. I chose a question and answer form for the last chapter of my PhD and I think it worked to deepen the understanding of what I had been raising in previous chapters but, then again, I was writing both the questions and answers, creating characters that fit the argument itself. Of all the interviewers, I got the sense that the first – Philippe Petit – did not like her at all, so was out to get her (note this is MY sense), the second – Rainer Ganahl – was the best but his text was too short and the third –Rubén Gallo – was far too wordy; Kristeva lost heart with her answers. I felt for her, as our discussion also lost heart. But how do you chose a book for a book group? Do you chose something you have already read and you know is good, or do you risk and grab something you are curious about (which is what I did). This time, my risk did not pay off despite the fact that I had trusted Gilman-Opalsky (and liked his book), but that does not mean I did not enjoy the discussion.

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31 Oct 2014

Something Fresh by P. G. Wodehouse***

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Reading dates: 30 August – 23 October 2014

For a long time but a short amount of pages, I thought this book was not for me. Although I mildly enjoyed some of the Jeeves and Wooster adventures, I was disheartened by this story. All changed, however, as soon as I arrived to Blandings Castle, met the unreliable host and lived in its architectural surroundings, which would make anyone clumsy. It is comforting, well written and witty, despite its shaky beginning. It feels so effortless, I can imagine it takes a substantial amount of talent to make a story like this work and be satisfactory, not forgotten within ten minutes of closing the book (unlike some of the crime fiction I read). It is still not my preferred type of book —it is a matter of timings I think— but I am glad I have read it.

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12 Oct 2014

Tripwire by Lee Child **

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Reading dates: 25 September – 12 October 2014

I will be brief, for I am not sure this book deserves our time. I started it at the airport, on the first day of my holiday (Toronto, Montreal, Boston, New York, Philadelphia, New Jersey and Washington DC), and finished it as I touched down in Glasgow, from Reykjavik. It was a good read for the road, undemanding, gripping enough to keep me going, but, like the Bolt Bus I was traveling on, it was also utterly forgettable. The book is lucky I was in a constant state of mild tiredness because I could forgive some of the horrendous editing. A book to pass time, definitely not food for the soul. Yet, Reacher remains an interesting character. If only they had let me go through the proofs with a red pen …

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21 Sep 2014

Ghosts of My Life: Writings on Depression, Hauntology and Lost Futures by Mark Fisher ***

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Reading dates: 08 June – 21 September 2014

I read this during a very special summer in my life. A close, loved and much admired person died young and unexpectedly, taken away by a devastating cancer in 3 months. Meanwhile, my country, the one I live in, was gearing to the most important decision in many years, perhaps ever: whether to break the United Kingdom and become independent, or (as it turned out on 18 September) not.

On the 10th June and following my invitation, Mark Fisher came to speak to the Glasgow School of Art where I work. I wanted to read his last book when I met him. This is a book on possible, lost futures, those that could have been and, at the same time, are and are not; a book on ghosts; a book on ontology. How apt for my summer. The book is divided into three sections for, broadly, the 70s, sounds and places. While I devoured 1 and 3, the second section was beyond me. Mark is an accomplished writer but I found it very hard to read on dubstep and house music, on artists I never heard of (literally). I did find them on youtube, and listened to get a sense, but that did not help my impasse. My advance through section 2 was very slow. I did adore his essays on Patrick Keiller, John le Carré, W. G. Sebald, David Peace and Christopher Nolan, despite his choices being the usual boys (boys I like, but still, always the same). He reveals insights, is well read, writes with care and precision and weaves philosophical, psychoanalytic and cultural thoughts to create a very good collection of essays, if you share with him his object of study. If not, the writing is still good, but the ideas are too abstract. Perhaps this is one of those books where some of the chapters would work better in the original form, as blog posts: linking feels an essential part of the process of reading, as Masha Tupitsyn did in her book Love Dog.

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30 Aug 2014

La vérité sur l’affaire Harry Quebert by Joël Dicker ***

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Reading dates: 12–30 August 2014

This is a very good example of a book that tries to do too much. It is a detective story, an American novel, a book about writing. Yet, it is not David Peace, Don Delillo or Henry Miller (or Strunk and White, for that matter). It has references to Lolita, to Twin Peaks, echoes of Jonathan Franzen; yet, Joël Dicker is none of them. The chapters are in descending order, as if it tried to tell the story backwards, but it is not Christopher Nolan’s ‘Memento’. The novel is like one of those disappointing meals without a genius recipe, made mixing nice ingredients one has in the fridge. I like rich food: olives, sun dried tomatoes, anchovies, capers, pickled limes, goats cheese. I have mixed all of them together in a single dish and the result is always less than the sum of its parts.

It is an enjoyable book — all of my favourite ingredients are here — one that I am glad I read but which I don’t think I will re-read. It is a playful punch in the stomach, friendly sparring; not the blow that makes me spit blood, like Houellebecq did one time, like Delillo achieved with ‘White Noise’, which is funny as well, what a feat. And, above all, the writing — not the translation, I read it in French — is mediocre. Not a single shiver down the spine. Well, perhaps with the reveal, which is also close to my heart, but that was due to clever thinking. The book is clever, just not a masterpiece.

Dicker won the Goncourt prize with it, and perhaps this is what prizes have come to — like when Laure Prouvost won the Turner Prize in 2013, instead of Tino Sehgal. It was nice work, but I had seen it before, and perhaps better realised.

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13 Aug 2014

Yes: The Radical Case for Scottish Independence by James Foley and Pete Ramand ***

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Reading dates: 22 June – 11 August 2014

Note: This is just a review of the book, a few notes for my future self on what I thought about it. It is not a cogent argument on the referendum (which I keep calling Independence day and know I need to analyse that). In fact, it is not even a cogent text on the book, as my reviews are sketches, impressions, feelings, orientations on the text, more than its context or content. There are many people out there writing excellent works on the referendum and I would not want to put my writing on the same category than texts that are well researched, beautifully written and argued. If you are in Scotland, though, and can vote on the 18th September, please do get informed, find those writings, read compulsively, discuss compulsively. This is the chance of a lifetime to decide on our future. It is a big deal.

Perhaps start here:
http://bellacaledonia.org.uk/
http://nationalcollective.com/
http://www.womenforindependence.org/
http://scotreferendum.com/

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We read this book for our DiaMat gathering, hosted by Ellie, who has a work on the referendum on show at the Talbot Rice Gallery in Edinburgh.

Apart from the book, we reviewed a variety of campaign materials from both sides of the argument. Despite this being a gathering of four YES voters, I think there was a bit of pessimism around the book. I found it good, in fact, very interesting and informative, but not convincing, at least not for the people it needs to convince. I think only yes voters will read the book and have their arguments affirmed (I found it illuminating to learn about history and economics). But undecideds will most likely rely on other materials. Sadly, I found the 10 reasons leaflet from Better Together to be compelling in its format, accessible, speaking to the buzzfeed crowd of lists. Don’t get me wrong, we discussed each of the 10 points listed and found them to be devious, simply not true. But engaging in politics, although our responsibility, is also hard. I am not sure many people will find information and get involved in the debate other than through what gets through their doors. Yet, I was tired, maybe I had a pessimistic day and felt humanity to be a little stupid. In a previous gathering, I bet money, in favour of a yes outcome, with one of the other members of the group. I still stick to that and will continue dreaming and talking of a better future until the 18 September. Then, I hope to be able to work for that future.

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One good exercise we did was to think what single issue has persuaded us to vote yes. Mine was Scottish governance, the fact that it is another country. We also thought what would make us change our minds and vote NO. I thought that if Westminster came up with a programme of nationalisation of key services (health, transport, energy, mail, education), I may consider it. It has to be persuasive, robust and true (not like the LibDem promise not to implement top up fees). We also had abolishment of the royal family and establishment of a republic and, if I remember right, implementation of the last chapter of YES for the whole of the UK.

Next time we meet will be to discuss Julia Kristeva’s ‘Revolt, She Said’, my choice, after reading about it in a previous DiaMat book. Whatever happens on the 18 September, whether I win that bet or not, a little revolt and psychoanalysis will never go amiss. Exciting times.

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About Me

Laura Gonzalez is an artist and writer. Her recent practice encompasses film, dance, photography and text, and her work has been exhibited and published in the UK, Spain and Portugal. She has spoken at numerous conferences and events, including the Museum for the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, the Medical Museum in Copenhagen, College Arts Association and the Association for the Psychoanalysis of Culture and Society. When she is not following Freud, Lacan and Marx’s footsteps with her camera, she lectures postgraduate students at the Glasgow School of Art.

Her doctoral project, completed in 2010, investigated psychoanalytic approaches to making and understanding objects of seduction, including an examination of parallels between artistic and analytic practices, a study of Manolo Blahnik’s shoes as objects of desire, a disturbing encounter with Marcel Duchamp’s last work, and the creation of a psychoanalytically inspired Discourse of the Artefact, a framework enabling the circulation of questions and answers through a relational approach to artworks.

She is currently immersed in an interdisciplinary project exploring knowledge and the body of the hysteric.