I really appreciated reading The Awakening. It is soft spoken, considerate, well-turned out and mannered but very determined. It is sad and I am not sure I get on with the ending but I am conscious that I also cannot provide an alternative to Mrs Pontellier’s predicament, at least at the time the book is set in. I have a similar relationship to children which is why I have not yet chosen to have them.
More than anything in the book, I liked the names, their ring, their musicality (they would be musical with their French provenance): Reisz, Pontellier, Ratignolle, Lebrun, Alcée Arobin, Doctor Mandelet … It is not easy to find as literary names as these. The whole book does feel literary, in its rhythm (like waves), pace (slow, slow, fast) and prose (cared for, definitely not gratuitous). This is what makes it beautiful. The anger is bubbling below a thin skin of measure.
I had not planned to read Spark’s last novel, especially since I found ‘Loitering with Intent’ a little awkward. Sometimes, though, one has to throw one’s plans to the wind and embrace the moment so, as Neil got me tickets for ‘Muriel Spark’s Finishing School for Writers‘ I thought I would swot. I am glad I did. It is a lovely book about jealousy and envy amongst writers. It is witty and inconsequential (I like Muriel’s inconsequential), a little neurotic. It depicts one academic year in the life of College Sunrise and how this affects teachers, support staff and students. Then, why the 3*? Well, the book is rather short (98 pages) and could have taken a few more breaths to develop towards the finale. The denouement is almost as if someone told Dame Muriel she had a week to complete it, when it needed four. Still elegant, but rushed. She could have done so much more with Darnley and Rizzio and Mary Queen of Scots. The parallels between court and college are inspired. She still had it in her last novel but it feels as if she lost interest in it.
I chose this book for our Dialectical Materialism book group. I wanted to see whether object oriented ontology would help us to think about how change might come about. Also, I wanted to know about OOO, fashionable as it is. Harman’s book is fascinating and surprisingly easy to read. Every time I picked it up, I got ‘in-the-zone’ with it with the added perceptive bonus that the world around me became more colourful, more interesting and I became more curious and observant. The discussion we had on friday night was probably one of our best, mainly because we listened to bits of podcasts where Harman rejects a political application to his system. That’s precisely what we were trying to do. Not that we got that far. I resolved to read Levi Bryant, an object oriented marxist.
As book-choser, I cooked for the group of 5. This meant that I missed many wonderful points (I could hear the natter) in the interest of not burning the tofu. It is a shame as this book made us speak. I wanted more and perhaps I should have provided a less sensuous experience and more take away pizza. Harman also made me draw:
The analogy between Harman’s system and playing cards is vivid and I did not understand why colour had not been an option in the book’s diagrammes. Most of the discussions I had and the ones I withdrew from (ho ho) were about understanding, about finding phenomenological experiences and examples of what the system is and how it works. As consort host, Neil provided us with precisely the right object to analyse: the quadruple nut biscuit. Its surface was clear; its depth, bottomless.
But just in case you think us comrades have no humour or only read books and know nothing of life, I will tell you that one of the best moment was Ellie’s re-acting of the scene, quadruple biscuit in hand (the other was reminiscing about electroclash).
Being part of reading groups is hard work. You have deadlines, have to read in a way that will enable you to discuss (with a lot of attention) and risk choices of titles that have nothing to do with your life. If you find yourself in this situation, you have joined the wrong reading group. Being part of Sick Sick Sick has made deadlines and reading attentively a pleasure precisely because of the choices of books. These are titles I would never have chosen and yet I have loved every single one of them.
The 22 of us who met on Thursday to discuss Katherine Angel’s book started our contributions with ‘I thought I was not going to like this book but …’ We appreciated the courage it took to write from the personal but to take it beyond. We praised her work on grief; we (I, most certainly) recognised the Mr Pornography talk episode and the lassitude at asking certain questions, especially as a woman. We (I most certainly) was grateful for the breath in the page. We wondered about the editing process, about what was taken out, about the choices of what she gave us; we praised her discipline. Yes, there are problems (problems? maybe questions raised?) with the book, of course: sometimes, it reverts to the binary, there are many stifled discussions, not least about sexuality. I wondered what it was like to read it in relation to Anaïn Nin. But this is a book about when words fail. In it, Katherine dances free and yet, at times, she writes choked (see pages 281 and 330). I really, really understand that.
I don’t want to make demands of this book, I don’t want answers from it about female subjectivity and desire. Through the act of reading, through the encounter, I established a special relationship with it. The book itself, the writing, let me be and think. It had space and a serenity that made me love it for what it is (moving, courageous, pleasurable yet withheld) and what it has given me.
I want to thank everyone at Wimbledon (Clare Mitten, Peter Farley, Anna, Richard and Mette) for making the day go smoothly, bearing with us and our pernickety approach to lighting and being so attentive to our outpour of words. Your generous feedback will make us revisit this text again, fold it for the fourth time and show it to you.
[...] This was followed by a performance lecture ‘Reading Hysteria, Between Laughter and Crying’ by Eleanor Bowen & Laura Gonzalez, incorporating performed text and projections. The work explored the condition of “hysteria” both historically and in relation to the image and performativity, reading and writing. The performance culminated in Bowen and Gonzalez re-enacting Ulay and Abramovich’s AAA AAA (1978) to a screening of Sam Taylor Wood’s film Hysteria (1997). [...]
Glasgow is an eerie place, the perfect setting for crime fiction, and if the stories are told by as talented a writer as Denise Mina, even better. The central character of this novel, Paddy Meehan, shares her name with the infamous robber who suffered a miscarriage of justice. Their two narratives are intertwined and, in a sense, this gives the novel a body others don’t have. Makes it graspable, not just a tale of some crime that happens to someone and is committed by someone who takes shape as the reading progresses. This novel offers a situated reading, in a particular time and place in history, just like her Garnethill trilogy. This is not to say that it is historical crime fiction, just that the work is rooted, nicely weighted.
Eleanor and I will be presenting our performance lecture ‘Reading Hysteria Between Laughter and Crying’ at Acts Re-Acts on Wednesday 19 March at 3pm. We will be sharing our time with the fascinating Mette Sterre, showing STRUCTUREALIST (2pm) and the wonderful and elegant Richard Layzell (of Glory fame) who will be presenting SWITCH (4pm).
READING HYSTERIA, BETWEEN LAUGHTER AND CRYING (30 Minutes)
Bowen & Gonzalez present a collaborative performed text, accompanied by projected images and film. The piece explores the relationship between writing and reading, and the role of the image and performativity in relation to the condition known as hysteria.
Last night was the last performance of Glory. Last night was the beginning of something. It has been a tremendous journey of enjoyment and of learning. I am grateful for many things: for meeting 50 (50!!!) amazing people with whom I could keep spending my evenings until further notice. I enjoyed everyone’s company so much. The pants chat, the stories, the backgrounds, the skills, the voices, the moves, the touch. Jeanne hugs like no other person. When I am in a low mood, I have her hugs to remember. I am grateful to all my partners, for I danced with you all in these last two months. I will also remember Robert, always there watching, witnessing, and smiling. My favourite audience member (although I think he was one of the dancers, just being outside of the stage), the one I saw every night. Barry, the calmest person I know; Pete’s cheering and whooping; Fi, who is boss and made everything work so elegantly; stylish Viviane, who looked amazing every night and let her grace seep even into her emails. I am grateful to you. Nadia gave me a foundation, made me regain my core (no one saw me wobble because I did not) and arrive in one piece. Nadia took care of us very well. Martin, Neil and I made wonderful trios while filming. It is possible to dance and film, and smile and be mischievous. Wendy, Jo and Margaret Anne were so encouraging with their words, their presence and their gestures. The review clipping in the dressing room door was better than a gold star. It was 4 gold stars! MJ supported us on stage, when we were there, in the thick of it. His music danced with us, enveloped us, was like the floor I rolled on, inviting, softer and warmer than you think, moving. I am grateful to you. Richard’s set was our home and him being so moved when we moved showed me the connection between the two meanings of the word. I am grateful to you. And Janice … for Janice words cannot express my gratitude. I will one day, when we are hopefully working together again. I will retroactively return to Glory and show her what it meant to me in movement.
Today, walking to work in the Glasgow sun, I looked at people in the eye as I passed them. I was aware of my walk, proud, confident, holding on to my core, feeling the ground under my feet. Two people smiled a me. We connected. It was glorious.
Image credits: Kelly Chung and Janice Parker Projects.
Lovely as that is, the words of the other performers themselves are the ones that have stayed with me. I have been very fortunate to share my spare time since the 11th January with lovely and inspiring people. Amongst these are Bel Pye,Kim Simpson and Emmie McKay. Perhaps I cannot write because I have been observing them, their beautiful moves, their words, their thoughts.
We are about to enter production week and we have created, marked, spaced, felt, found, rehearsed, tried and tried again. What we have not had time for is process. Yesterday was one of the most trying rehearsals I have ever had. Eight hours of movement, attention and focus with another 49 people. Would drive anyone mad, but we all got there. I know the work is going to be amazing because we have worked very hard at it, every single one of us. By 6.30pm, I could not move, I could not speak, I had to cancel a celebration I really wanted to be part of. And remember, I am kind of used to this: I do parkour, yoga, dance regularly … Yesterday, however, was a wake up call to what is to come next week. I have been learning compassion in my yoga practice and it is going to have to be exercised next week, so I can give the best in me to Janice, Nadia, the team, my fellow dancers, the audience and myself. We have a dress rehearsal and 7 performances ahead. I also have work, teaching, and an audition for the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony. Compassion indeed. How do you give yourself care, what you want, what will be good for you, in situations of extreme exhaustion?
Glory has taught me many things. One of them is what is behind performing, the things that are the fabric of what the audience sees, but somehow are hidden (or, if not hidden, not so obvious): the repetition, the effort, the tiredness, the training, the focus, the camaraderie, the conviviality, the support, the trust, the truth of the moment. And when that moment arrives (every day next week, at 7.30pm), I want to be there. I want to enjoy it.
So today, my only day of rest until next Sunday, I will not plan lessons, I will not tidy the house, I will not stress over what food there is and there isn’t, what emails I need to reply to. I have had a hot bath, I have thought about and relished the memories Glory has already given me. I will make myself a special lunch I don’t get to have often (eggs!) and will spend the afternoon reading a marvellous book, horizontal, resting the feet and the knees that will carry me through next week.
Reading dates: 22 December 2013 – 04 February 2014
After reading my Loitering with Intent review, N— took his comfort book, Martin Amis’ The War Against Cliche and read me a paragraph from the introduction. The text acknowledged a change in literary criticism with the advent of the internet. We have all become critics and our criticism is solely related to our orientation to the book, to whether it works for us or not. But Amis thinks that this is not criticism, for something is lost: the book itself, and its relation to the canon. Fair point Amis, but what if the canon is wrong, or, perhaps, tendentious?
This idea of rules and reference points, and a right way of doing things, is what is broken in Chris Kraus’ I Love Dick. I have never read a book like this one. Yet, it is not totally groundbreaking. If Amis wants me to refer to a canon I will tell you that the genre and style borrows from epistolary literature, especially Les Liaisons Dangereuses, which I studied for my PhD. Kraus, however (and like Sophie Calle but better), plays with fact and fiction, with memoir and novel. Since when has a woman written a libertine novel, which is also a theoretical fiction? Hats off to Kraus, especially as she does so beautifully. The prose is light when it needs to (the letters) and intricate too. There are three pieces within the book that return to my memory: one of Hannah Wilke and her struggle to be an artist when Claes Oldenburg decides and succeeds in erasing part of her life (Dick tried to do the same); one on two paintings by Kitaj and a sublime section on schizophrenia, just before one of the most heart-wrenching endings I have ever read. I wish Dick had killed Chris. That would have been more bearable than what really happens in the book.
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.