Laura Gonzalez

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23 Jun 2015

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins*

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Reading dates: 08–23 June 2015

I really did not like this book. I picked it up because sometimes I feel the need to read what everyone else is reading. It has never been a good idea and it did not work this time. Despite the premise, which seems very enticing (and could have been good), this is a book for people who don’t like books very much. The characters, all of them, are both hateful and underdeveloped. They all sound the same, they all have similar flaws and behaviours, as if it was one character with multiple names. The setting is not developed enough either: a train to London could be a magical place but it isn’t, suburban towns have the potential to be haunting but this one is anonymous. The police, perhaps, could have added to the sense of drama, to the chase, but they lacked backbone. Nothing to redeem it. But the worse, the absolute worse, is the gender politics, the role of men and women in the book, especially in their relation to procreation. What ’50 Shades of Gray’ is to fetishism, this book is to feminism. Bland and potentially harmful. The only thing that makes it have one star over none is the portrayal of Rachel’s drunken blackouts.

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9 Jun 2015

The Red Road by Denise Mina***

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Reading dates: 19 May–07 June 2015

The Red Road is a very good crime novel, enjoyable because of its simplicity and its characters. The plot is straight forward, not a whodunit but a when are they going to find them out. Because of this, it is believable, which makes the reading even more satisfying. While I did not like the main detective character (Alex Morrow, I found her a little bland compared to Maureen O’Donnell from the Garnethill trilogy, whom I adored) some of the people portrayed, especially Anton Atholl, are vivid and alive. The Red Road flats don’t feature enough in terms of word count but the scene that takes place there is graphic and evocative, a very embodied experience. It is a fast read, but not a trashy one. There is something to the moral and social commentary of Denise Mina that puts her crime novels a tad above everyone else’s save, perhaps, David Peace.

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28 May 2015

Alternative Maternals in London

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18 May 2015

Libra by Don Delillo****

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Reading dates: 28 December 2014–17 May 2015

Don’t be fooled by the amount of time it took me to read this book. I loved it and I think it is a masterpiece. I savoured every intricate moment of the life of Lee Harvey Oswald told through the impeccable prose of Delillo. I wish this is how history was told. The book shows a lot of research. Invention too, for it is a work of fiction. Like when I read La Fiesta del Chivo, I was amazed at how accurate the account is, how much factual checking has gone into this work. Yet, I did not give it five stars because my criterion for that is whether I would re-read, and I am not sure I could go through the paranoiac roller coaster of Libra again. Whereas Vargas Llosa’s account of assassination is heart-wrenching but somewhat removed, Delillo is an expert at the psychological and, at times, I felt so involved I had to pinch myself to remember that it was only a book. I could not always read it before bed because it would play tricks on my dreams. This is precisely the power that makes it so accomplished and unique. It is definitely a reading experience, a good insight into conspiracies and the American mind and a beautiful historical account of a troubled time, culminating in a couple of bizarre days that changed the world. Can you imagine what it must have been like to live the events of 22–24 November 1963?

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2 May 2015

Don’t Say Anything

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Don’t Say Anything, a durational performance piece as part of the exhibition ‘This House has been Far Out at Sea’, Laurieston Arches, Glasgow. 2-4 May 2015, 12–6 with a late night on Sunday.

I will return to Frau Emmy von N. the words Sigmund Freud wrote in his famous case history about her. She will tell you her story of hysteria in the first person, just as Emmy would have told it to Freud in 1889.

As part of Glasgow Open House Festival.

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2 May 2015

Selected poems by Pablo Neruda***

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Reading dates: 14 January – 29 April 2014

We read a poem a night, both in the original Spanish and the English translation. Returning to my mother tongue, to moving specific muscles in the mouth to make familiar noises was comforting; hearing Neil try those same positions was rewarding, beautiful, memorable. I am not sure about the poems themselves. It might have been the selection but they seemed pretty limiting in terms of themes. Yet, there were some gems, of course, in particular those works referring to the sea. These are the poems of another time and another history and some times they felt very distant. A continent away, a lifetime away. Perhaps the language helped that remote quality. When did my mother tongue stop being my mother tongue; when did I become independent from my first language? It was beautiful to read, but with the qualities of returning home for Christmas, finding the quirks of the place you grew up in amusing only because you know you will leave it after boxing day. It is a necessary place, one that allows you to be who you are but is behind you. That’s what I felt with Neruda’s work. He was a favourite of mine during my teenage years and he continues to be there then, but not now. I wonder if the same would happen with Pedro Salinas, Miguel Hernández, Mario Benedetti and Gloria Fuertes if I shared them with Neil.

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20 Mar 2015

Tu rostro mañana 1. Fiebre y lanza by Javier Marías****

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Reading dates: 17 May 2014 – 20 March 2015

Javier Marías is a curious writer, not for the faint hearted. His novels are somewhere in between a particular type of British fiction (think Ian McEwan) but with Spanish prose (think some Camilo Jose Cela or Luis Martin Santos, whom I despaired with). I also despaired with this novel at times, but its achievement is palpable in the words, in the acrobatics they make with the help of the syntax apparatus. His obsession with listening and looking, which I first came across in A Heart so White, continues here. Eloquently, he manages to break down the act of observing and to consider the ethics of acting on those observations or not. In fact, when it comes down to that, it almost reads like a non-fiction book, full of erudite descriptions and inferences. But of course, the novel hardly has any headings or subheadings so navigation to find these is almost impossible. A nice discovery when they come.

The book is about nothing, really. It is about the encounter of two friends (not too close, but friends) and the feeling that one wants to reveal something to the other. That is it. In between, there are many digressions about war, especially the Spanish civil war, about the social world, about a specific kind of spy work, about Oxford. It is extremely well observed, oddly structured. Will I read the other two in the trilogy? I am not sure if I am hooked enough. His work is a feat of language and the story is palatable at times, but the experience of reading was arduous, like a hard mountain to climb. I would not climb the same one again, and I am not sure I would climb one like it either. I am glad I did it, but it also showed me I don’t quite like climbing.

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21 Feb 2015

Malign Velocities by Benjamin Noys***

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Reading dates: 23 January – 15 February 2015

In DiaMat, we are committed to critiquing capitalism, to exploring its transcendence, to think of alternatives. So, of course, the time came to read about accelerationism. Neil chose this book for the purpose as Noys provides a history and a critique of it. It is a succinct book and perhaps some of its problems lie there. There is scope for expanding and deepening every single one of its sections. I found the historical ones (futurism and Russia) the most interesting, as it helps ground current thought. It told me things I did not know about. But when the book addressed things I do know about (psychoanalysis, narcissism, the ego), I found his analysis so cursory it read wrong. I know it is brought about as a critique of Deleuze and Guattari’s Anti Oedipus but still, if one is to discuss narcissism and the birth of the ego, better do it properly or not at all. Similarly, I have issues with this concept of jouissance, which is bandied as self-explanatory. Jouissance this and jouissance that without attempting to problematise it, or even refer to Lacan. Still Noys’ call for a reconfiguration of pleasure and of work were inspiring ideas, things that require further and deeper thought, of the philosophical rather than the political kind. I do hope he gets to expand on these (peppered throughout the book and expanded on in the conclusion) on a longer book. I will be reading it to satisfy what Malign Velocities left unanswered.

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8 Feb 2015

A sickness in the family by Denise Mina ***

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Reading dates: 1 – 6 February 2015

A sickness in the family is a gripping, well put together graphic novel, with exquisite drawings. It is a quick, intense, enjoyable read but one that, for me, fell flat at the resolution. It reminded me a little too much of Hitchcock’s film Psycho. Its complexity, however, was that of a short story. I like very few short stories, not my form. I wanted something more epic. Somehow the threads for this are there in each of the characters — especially the marriage counsellor — and the work could have expanded. Although, one could argue, at the expense of some dilution of the main narrative. Still, the theme (brought about by that resolution I was just dissing) is fascinating and rather original.

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24 Jan 2015

Critique of everyday life vol. 1 by Henri Lefebvre****

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Reading dates: 25 October 2014 – 22 January 2015

Critique of everyday life was Ian’s choice for DiaMat. Having read and discussed David Harvey, one of our heroes, it was time to read one of his big influences. As Ian read during our discussion, Harvey writes:

Marx’s account of how capitalism arose out of feudalism in fact embodies such a “co-revolutionary theory.” Social change arises, he argues, through the dialectical unfolding of relations between seven moments within the social body politic:

a) technological and organizational forms of production, exchange and consumption
b) relations to nature
c) social relations between people
d) mental conceptions of the world, embracing knowledges and cultural understandings and beliefs
e) labor processes and production of specific goods, geographies, services or affects
f ) institutional, legal and governmental arrangements
g) the conduct of daily life and the activities of social reproduction.

And so Lefebvre deals with the last point. His work is a curious book, curiously written. Each of the six chapters is a world of its own in terms of focus and style. The first one, which very nearly put me off, is a rant against surrealism, literature and Baudelaire. It makes contextual sense once the other five chapters are read, but I felt there was very little critical distance in this writing. There is a lot in this book but I also found a lot of it difficult to grasp. While I understood the purpose and benefits of Dialectical Materialism as a method, I was not very clear on how one thinks dialectically; while I got very excited about the everyday and its critique, I am not sure I fully understood what it was. The centrality of alienation was clear, poetically explained, passionate: when ‘duality is exacerbated until even insanity is seen as acceptable’ (131), and we discussed how it begins with language (after John Zerzan).

The book does not remain in the theoretical, however, it is a call to action: ‘action and action alone can guide critical thinking, because it detects deception—and because it is deception which deflects from action’ (201). It is a good argument to Marxism and Marxist dialectical method where there is a ‘unity of theory and practice’ the tenet that sums up Marxism (198). But, again, the revolution is not quite clear to me. Lefebvre writes: ‘But in the last resort the revolutionary solution to economic and social contradictions will only become possible when the human masses are no longer willing to live as before’ (197). This, we argued, will be more of a process than an event, one that perhaps goes through other phases. We talked about space capitalism, green austerity, fully automated luxury communism. We considered the market and its forces, and sighed at Adam Smith’s nice conception of the market only being good for baubles and trinkets. Sadly, the market runs everything today. Including art. There is a lot in this book for the artist and the artivist, beautiful slogans, quotable passages. If this does not make you creative, nothing will:

When the eternal appears in the circumstantial — the marvellous in the familiar – the result is a beautiful work of art (122).

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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. Laura is a keen reader and, with Ian Macbeth, she founded the Dialectical Materialist Book Group.