Laura Gonzalez

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22 Nov 2016

Today will be different by Maria Semple**

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Reading dates: 07 – 18 November 2016

I was so looking forward to this book. I loved Maria Semple’s previous one and I think there are not enough comic writers around. I still like her style and rhythm very much but this book does not cut it. For me, it is not what everyone says about the similarities (parallels in fact) between Today Will be Different and Where’d You Go, Bernadette?. The book starts ok, a bit predictable, but soon enough I got into its spiralling, hysterical whirlwind. It became very interesting narratively. The resolution is appalling, though, an absolute cope out, nothing given. Here’s a potentially brilliant book that feels like it has come up against a deadline so it is finished quickly and negligently. That, I cannot forgive. I don’t think a writer should tell a story that they cannot finish.

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7 Nov 2016

Sapiens, A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari ***

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Reading dates: 25 September – 03 November 2016

In my opening remarks at our book group meeting (the only meeting in which I can have a 5-way conversation with comrades, which is wonderful), I mentioned how this book annoyed me because of the breadth it covers and the lack of evidence. Yet, I also though it was a great book to discuss because of the ideas it tries to put forward. We were critical of the chapters on money: we are widely read on this particular topic and Harari’s sweeping assertions did not wash with us. There are, however, some interesting thoughts about the origins of the species (which of course are not easy to validate) and about our potential futures, where technology is taking us.

I think for me the most enervating quality of this book is that I was not sure about the author’s positioning of the argument: is this history? Anthropology? Informed thought? Research? Where is Harari speaking from? It made me consider, of course, where I read from and what I demand from such books. I do like my sources, the sense of belonging to a space with a tradition, the limitations of a discipline (because it provides a focus). Without it, the writing becomes amorphous, too wide and, although imaginative at times, its tendentiousness detracts from the sometimes interesting ideas.

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22 Oct 2016

Science of Breath by Swami Rama, Rudolph Ballentine and Alan Hymes*****

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Reading dates: 09 – 21 October 2016

Breathing is my current favourite subject to learn about. Since I began practicing breath control techniques in April 2015, I became aware of the power that we carry within us. I read this book for my yoga teacher training course, as I had to write an essay on the benefits of the complete yoga breath. This short guide is wonderfully written, accessible, simple but deep and very well argued. It has given me a lot of knowledge about how the respiratory system works. It has a whole chapter on the functioning of the nose. When I came to it, I thought: ‘here we go … who cares about the nose?’ only to be proved wrong as it was one of the most fascinating chapters. The mechanics of our body are endlessly mesmerising and I became a little obsessed by the function of the turbinates (we all have them, they are amazing). The book is balanced, with both Eastern and Western thought on the issue of breathing, written with authority as a simple, practical guide to help us make the most of the only involuntary and voluntary bodily process we have. As Neil Scott wrote in the last issue of New Escapologist, breathing is the number one key to productivity. Swami Rama, Rudolph Ballentine and Alan Hymes argue that it also plays an essential part in maintaining physical and mental health, controlling emotions and allowing change to happen. After this, who wouldn’t want to work on their breathing?

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If you are in Glasgow and want to learn more about pranayama (yogic breath control techniques), I am leading a couple of self practices in November at the Arlington Baths in the West End: Tuesday 22 November, 07.30–08.15am and Wednesday 30 November 18.30–19.15 (£2). It is better if you have had some experience of yoga, for breath control is an advanced practice. If you have no experience of yoga and are curious about pranayama, do drop me an email: anything@lauragonzalez.co.uk.

The Tuesday morning session is followed by Rosina Bonsu’s Breathing Bones class (08.15–09.30). The Wednesday afternoon session is preceded by Breathing Bones (17.15–18.30). This is a fantastic programme suitable for all. You get the benefits of the breath, coupled with simple, very effective stretches of the body. I will be there!

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18 Oct 2016

The Mahabharata: A Modern Rendering, Vol. 2 by Ramesh Menon *****

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Reading dates: 25 June – 16 October 2016

Although the narrative does not quite reach the excitement of the first volume, I came to read this second volume completely hooked to the story. This part deals with the war and its aftermaths and I really got into the descriptions of battle formations, into the drudgery of these 18 days of blood shedding and cleansing. Volume 2 also contains the Bhagavad Gita, one of the most mysterious and beautiful texts I have ever read (and which hopefully I will understand better by the time I finish my yoga teacher training). I read the Gita on a beach in Crete and I know I will always remember that reading experience, what it said to me, what I felt and where I was. It was one of those deeply spiritual moments which shift something inside, a subtle change of direction, only of a millimetre to start with, but which set me of on a different path altogether, as I now realise.

The Mahabharata is still one of the most incredible stories I have read: well crafted, dramatic, with interesting characters and a coherent message. Even the very end is fitting. Not a single line has disappointed me and Ramesh Menon’s rendition just made it accessible and fun. I am not sure what a more ancient version would have been like but Menon was certainly not hard work. I hope to read it again, all of it, for I miss the Pandavas and Krishna’s smile, already.

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3 Aug 2016

The path of yoga by Georg Feuerstein****

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Reading dates: 19 May–3 August 2016

Georg Feuerstein is an authority when it comes to a holistic view of yoga, yoga as it should be understood, with its spiritual and energetic practices as well as the outward asanas. This book discusses the more difficult and misunderstood aspects of yoga and it is a great introduction, with thorough contexts, histories and explanations. However, I must be a little more advanced than I thought in my journey because for most of the book I kept thinking it was too shallow, too much of an overview. Yet, this changed in the chapters about Kundalini shakti (Serpent power) and Tantra yoga, which I found thoughtful and fruitful in terms of making me consider things differently, opening my mind to what these mean to my practice and to enlightenment. His thoughts on teaching and studying yoga are also very useful for those of us embarking on this path. Thankfully, I have other texts to follow on these fascinating topics more in depth. Feuerstein’s book is a fantastic introduction and I would love if he had written whole books unpacking each of the chapters in The Path of Yoga. He has on some aspects (as he shows in his comprehensive bibliography), and I will be following these up.

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26 Jun 2016

The Mahabharata: A Modern Rendering, Vol. 1 by Ramesh Menon *****

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Reading dates: 24 April – 25 June 2016

At the All Tomorrow’s Parties music festival, I attended a session by Andy Miller, author of ‘The Year of Reading Dangerously: How Fifty Great Books (and Two Not-So-Great Ones) Saved My Life’. He made us pledge we would read that book we have been resisting and, in my piece of paper, I wrote ‘War and Peace’. Instantly, I went for the western cannon, for what I thought I ought to read but after a little more thought and less coercion, I realised the book I really wanted to read and had been putting off was the Mahabharata. But how to approach this massive 18-book epic poem? What translation? Where to start?

I turned to the best storyteller I know. On his website, James Boag answers the question of what a yogi should read, which he gets asked often. Ramesh Menon’s work gets mentioned a few times, so I picked his modern rendition of the Mahabharata, much abridged and in prose. This is what James says about the book, which made me read it:

Just awesome! They say about the epic Mahābhārata, that everything you can find in the world you find in here, if you don’t find it in here, you won’t find it in the world. Menon’s version doesn’t present the whole Mahābhārata, but does an amazingly rich, evocative and page-turning job of telling the main story and many of the principal side stories that are woven into the original.

I don’t know what it would be like to read the original but Menon’s book is delightful, one of the best I have ever read. the story of the war between the Pandavas and the Kauravas is impeccably told, a page turner with deep philosophical introjections. I have so many favourite chapters: The game of dice certainly stands out, Draupadi’s appearance in the Hastinapura court, the girl who smells of fish, the explanation of time in relation to Brahma, the second game of dice (which almost gave me a heart attack), the battle at Virata’s, Devaloka (the kingdom of Gods), when Siva appears … The story is modern, eternal, always contemporary (very Game of Thrones, if you ask me). It is wise and primary and I would not get tired of reading and re-reading it.

It is true that I am a yoga practitioner and that the text contains many Sanskrit terms (and a glossary) so one needs to approach it with a little patience too and try to understand the concepts not as direct translation but through their essence. I have not mastered this yet and I suspect that understanding what dharma is and who Krishna is will take me a lifetime.

I am very grateful there is a volume 2. The war has not even begun and I am yet to read the Bhagavad Gita, which is contained in book 6 of the Mahabharata. If books can change one’s life, this might be it for me.

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24 Apr 2016

Raven Black by Ann Cleeves ***

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Reading dates: 27 March – 23 April 2016

I’ll be brief this time: page turner, Shetland as an interesting setting of which not enough is made of, predictable and unsatisfactory ending, no lasting morality but enjoyable nonetheless. I seem to be the queen of 3 stars …

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20 Apr 2016

The Yoga-Sutra of Patanjali with commentary by Chip Hartranft***

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Reading dates: 05 April 2015 — 13 April 2016

It is difficult to write a review of the Sutras without a disclaimer. What I gave three stars to is this particular edition and commentary, not Patanjali’s work, which probably deserves a whole galaxy for its conciseness, ambition, erudition, beauty and precision.

Chip Hartranft’s version of the Yoga-Sutras has been my first incursion into yoga philosophy and, for that, it has been invaluable, clear and has left me wanting more. It is a short book, providing context for the four sections of the Sutras. It is well structured, simple and articulated in such a way that I could read it for a whole year, just a few lines at a time, during my 6 minute subway journey to the shala. It gave me focus, intention, and food for thought for what I was about to do on my mat. The commentary is considered, deceptive in its simplicity, at times very beautiful and loving of this ancient text. I chose it because it is a Western approach, which I thought would be more understandable as a starting point, for me at least. I found a table online, with comparative translations of all the Sutras (they are so different) and Hartranft’s jumped out at me. I got three different translations, but I started with his.

Why 3 stars? When in November last year I spent a whole weekend looking at book 1 of the Sutras with James Boag, I realised the impossible task of Hartranft. I got a lot of the oral transmission and live translation James gave us and I wondered if oral commentary and satsang wasn’t simply the best way for this work to be transmitted (which might be why James has not written a book). With him, the Sutras took another dimension as a breathing text. The permanence of the written work was not so attractive. Then, there was the issue of Sankrit. Hartranft’s edition is fully in English, with online access to the Sanskrit text and sutras are grouped together for commentary. The long, punctilious work of my weekend paid off, leaving the groupings of the book as too cursory. I guess what I am trying to say is that, in my year of reading it, I outgrew the book, went through the door it provided, studied it and now I need to approach a different type of commentary. I still needed to be shown the door, though, and maybe for that, for being there and being perfect for what I needed at the time, it does deserve 5 stars.

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10 Apr 2016

Fragment of an Analysis of a Case of Hysteria by Sigmund Freud *****

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Reading dates: 24 January – 28 March 2016

Reading Dora’s case history, reading it with real attention, is the first step of my ghosting method, the one I adopted to develop a one to one durational piece, Ida, which I showed as part of Buzzcut festival on Friday 8 April 2016. What happened when I performed it is for another post.

Reading in this way, trying to find Ida’s voice in between the lines of Dora is exhausting. It is like tracing every single letter with my hands and questioning each word’s meaning. I had read Dora before, but never like this. I feel I embroidered the whole book (maybe that’s my next piece). But the story is fascinating. I let her live in me, I lent her my mouth to speak her words, my body for her to breathe again. I was possessed by this story and when the spirit left me, I was limp, empty. But I had to let her speak. Her analysis, as we have it, is only a fragment, it is incomplete, and often Freud’s interpretations infuriated me (oh the reticule, so easy, so so easy!). I wrote him out of my piece. I listened to him, but like one listens when one is paying attention to something else that is more important.

While reading, I distilled her voice, and wrote her words by hand. This is very important. By hand, with my hand. Then I typed them and then I recorded them, with my voice. Then I listened to them and put my own voice back in my body, through my ears. I looked for Ida in Freud’s words. I found her, recorded her her voice, made it mine. We mixed, to the point that I lost the sense of where she was and where I began. She was not in me. She was like adding salt to water. The water becomes something else and I think she transformed me forever. Reading is one thing, but reading with one’s whole body is something that I know I need to take sparingly and with care, for I offer myself, I give myself up to an other which, in this case, is disturbed by betrayal (a disturbance I also share). I now need to find a way of taking the salt out of the water without evaporating. Is that even possible? An exorcism?

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27 Mar 2016

The Death Instinct by Jed Rubenfeld***

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Reading dates: 19 February–26 March 2016

There are two elemental forces in the universe. One draws matter toward matter. That is how life comes into being and how it propagates. In physics, this force is called gravity; in psychology, love. The other force tears matter apart. It is the force of disunification, disintegration, destruction. If I’m correct, every planet, every star in the universe is not only drawn toward the others by gravity, but laos pushed away from them by a force of repulsion we can’t see.

I seem to be on a path of awarding 3 stars to every crime novel I read, yet, these stars are given (or two taken away) for very different reasons. The Death Instinct is a very competent novel, set in New York in the 1920s at the time of the Treasury bomb. The narration is very well research and fact and fiction merge seamlessly, coherently and in a very dramatic way. Freud as a character is again joyous to read (as in Rubenfeld’s previous novel ‘The Interpretation of Murder’) and well researched. Even the resolution to the mystery is reasonable. It is certainly better that the Frank Tallis novels I read. Yet, it is just that, literarily just above average. Good research, interesting characters, reasonable writing and a vibrant story don’t make a book I want to re-read. There is something missing here, some flair, some risk, something. Perhaps it is the point of view. The narrator is omniscient so we don’t know anyone very well. Perhaps it is the construction, acceptable but also standard. And Freud was anything but those things: omniscient or standard. He deserved a little better I think.

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

Laura is a contemporary dancer with Dance House Community Company and Glasgow Community Dance Theatre. She has also worked with many renowned choreographers and companies (Including Michael Clark, Natasha Gilmore and Janice Parker). She is a contact improvisation facilitator, trained by Penny Chivas and Tom Pritchard, dance artists and founders of The Glasgow Jam. Laura has been practicing Ashtanga yoga since 2013 and has been taught by Rosina Bonsu, Kia Naddermier, Radha Warrell and Pierre Seghir, John Scott and Cathy Moran. Ashtanga teaches her discipline, compassion, patience, and letting go. She is a keen reader and, with Ian Macbeth, she founded the Dialectical Materialist Book Group.