Laura Gonzalez

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Psychopolitics: Neoliberalism and New Technologies of Power by Byung-Chul Han**** — 14 May 2018

Reading dates: 12–13 May 2018

Sometimes, in our Dialectical Materialist Book Group, we limit ourselves. The topic is always related to politics, we want to read full books (not just texts, although we let go sometimes), under 150 pages and contingent, relevant. How many good books are there that fit our criteria? Psychopolitics: Neoliberalism and New Technologies of Power is perfect for us. It explores how we have left the disciplinarian society of biopolitics for a time of psychopolitics, where entrepreneurs of the self practise self-exploitation and self-surveillance. We are in the time of internal struggle, of mental health epidemics and this is evident to see. His argument — even though he draws on the same old Foucault and Deleuze in the same old way — is compelling, provocative and made us have an animated discussion. The issue, though, is that his solution, although interesting (to become an idiot, to be idiosyncratic), has not been feel tested and remains in the realm of the theoretical.

When communication is to be accelerated, idiosyncrasy poses an obstacle inasmuch as it amounts to an immunological defence against the Other. Idiosyncrasy stands in the way of unbounded communicative exchange. Accordingly, immunosuppression is necessary for acceleration to proceed.

I can think of many idiots out there who are not, most definitely not the solution to the new technologies of power (social media, the smart phone, Big Data) and the psychic turn of neoliberalism. He writes: ‘The idiot does not exist as a subject – he is “more like a flower: an existence simply open to light”‘. If only … Some idiots are not flowers, unless one thinks of a Venus Flytrap.

My favourite parts are his language digressions: in particular timeline versus event, immanence versus transcendence (what Capitalism aims to do), and emotion versus affect versus feeling. These last categories are all around us in speech, design, art, objecthood, but rather muddled:

Emotions are dynamic, situative and performative. Emotional capitalism exploits precisely these qualities. Feelings, in contrast, cannot be readily exploited inasmuch as they have no performativity. Finally, affects are not performative so much as eruptive; they lack performative directionality.

It made me think of the qualities of my own work, of what I put in it, on what sustains it.

The weirdest moment in the book, however, was this eerily accurate quote (replace jogging with yoga and see who it reminds you of):

From ages thirty-six to forty-five they are dynamic, get up early to go jogging, have no children but are married, like to travel, and watch Seinfeld.

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The Wings of the Sphinx by Andrea Camilleri** — 6 May 2018

Reading dates: 16 April – 05 May 2018

Before picking up this book, I begun ‘Macbeth’ by Jo Nosbø, one of the most ill-conceived projects I have ever encountered. All you need to know about my relation to the book is that I abandoned it half way through, it was so pointless. I picked up Camilleri as the crime fiction antidote to that nonsense: it is generally light (as in sunny), focused on the senses, very Southern European. As the opposite of Nesbø, it worked, but I think this book is not finished. It just stops. Now, there is guts in a writer doing that, of course, and it shows Montalbano’s character and time of life: his relationship with Livia is about to break, he is in conflict between love and work, thinking about the direction of his life, at 56. We are left in a crossroads and although that, per se, is not bad, it leaves a real taste of dissatisfaction in the reader. I will go for the next one, for sure, just for the description of Italian dishes. This one even has a recipe which, for me, was the best bit.

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The Switch by Joseph Finder * — 2 Apr 2018


Reading Dates: 26 February – 2 April 2018

Implausible, drawn out and un-engaging. In an airport security queue, someone picks up the wrong laptop, belonging to a US senator and containing top secret information.The senator’s chief of staff and the NSA are after the guy. Written like this, it does not seem too bad but, boy, there is nothing interesting about the plot driving or the writing. I realise that, in crime fiction, character is 75%. If this is coherent, if this follows through, then the novel will do its job. The guy who picks up the laptop, a coffee roaster called Michael Tanner, could have been that. Instead, only his surface is touched on. Is he a social justice warrior? Why does he make the decisions we read about (for example, do business when he is about to be killed)? There is something interesting in following the pursued and not the pursuer (see the Ripley novels) but The Switch completely misses this opportunity. Tanner is in limbo land as to his place in the book and so the novel is left without an anchor.

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Aiding and Abetting by Muriel Spark ***** — 26 Feb 2018


Reading dates: 11–22 February 2018

As Hildegard knew from her own experience as a stigmatic fraud, blood, once let loose, gets all over the place. It sticks, it flows, it garishly advertises itself or accumulates in dark thick puddles. Once it gets going, there is o stopping blood.

Dr Hildegard Wolf, a psychotherapist in Paris finds herself with two patients confessing to being Lord Lucan, the English Earl who murdered his nanny, mistaking her for his wife. They blackmail her, as they both discover that, in her past Hildegard was Beate Pappenheim, a fake stigmatic. Anyone who knows me would know that this plot line is 100% written for me and the book did not disappoint. Granted, it does not, perhaps, have the vigour of ‘The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie’ or some of her earlier novels, but ‘Aiding and Abetting’ is still written with all the Sparkian charms I adore. It is very short and to the point, with no plot padding and some resolution (although this is extremely banal, which kind of goes with the premise of the book), the characters are as interesting as human nature is when observed closely and with flair and curiosity. She is my favourite writer, what can I say, and 2018 is her centenary. I have read about 10 of her 22 novels (below, noted with *) and this year seems to be the perfect time to complete the set.

*1. The Comforters
2. Robinson
*3. Memento Mori
*4. The Ballad of Peckham Rye
5. The Bachelors
*6. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie
*7. The Girls of Slender Means
8. The Mandelbaum Gate
9. The Public Image
*10. The Driver’s Seat
11. Not to Disturb
12. The Hothouse by the East River
13. The Abbess of Crewe
14. The Takeover
15. Territorial Rights
*16. Loitering with Intent
17. The Only Problem
*18. A Far Cry from Kensington
19. Symposium
20. Reality and Dreams
*21. Aiding and Abetting
*22. The Finishing School

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The Thirst by Jo Nesbø**** — 11 Feb 2018

Reading Dates: 03 January – 10 February 2018

This is a crime novel close to how I like them. Plausible, but silly, with breathing space and red herrings. It is not a whodunnit because it is clear from the last book who the bad guy is. The question is how and why he dunnit. I also like my thrillers to have a defining scene, like the concert at the Albert Hall in The Man who Knew Too Much. In The Thirst, that scene is at a disputation, which is the Scandinavian version of a public PhD thesis defence, so imagine how exciting this was for me. There is also a nice lecture on the Othello syndrome where a character, a psychologist, outlines the proposition that what drove him was ambition and not jealousy. I like my crime fiction à la Sade, with philosophical pamphlets. I think this particular Hole book would make a very good film: there is plenty of music chat; ironically, Harry gets to own bar (the Jealousy, a nice call back); the settings vary from the Boiler Room to hospitals, to Police College, to auditoria and Turkish Baths. I am glad this is the last one for now. I seem to have fallen onto a reading rabbit Hole (boom tish) and I need to get on with my plans for the Muriel Spark centenary.

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Joy in the Morning by P.G. Wodehouse**** — 22 Jan 2018

Reading dates: 25 October 2017–21 January 2018

As ever with the Jeeves and Wooster books, this story is nice, chirpy and very, very funny. The characters are well defined, have a lot of personality and act accordingly. You have, as is customary with Wodehouse, the nicest array of names ever: Stilton Cheeseright, Boko Fittleworth, Lord Worplesdon and Chichester Clam. There is absolutely no padding too, which, as someone who writes, I find very admirable. What sets this story apart is its knots, and how they are gotten out of. The storyline is one in love engagements, marriage proposals, and industrial mergers, set in the appropriate town of Steeple Bumpleigh. And if that was not enough, there is a fancy dress party … Reading it aloud was wonderful, as it allowed for voices to animate Wodehouse’s sharp dialogue. I laughed out loud a few times and when does this happen with a book, eh?

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Police by Jo Nesbø*** — 3 Jan 2018

Reading Dates: 18 December 2017 – 03 January 2018

I am not going to lie: if there ever was a book that could fall into the category of guilty pleasures (bearing in mind guilt is something I rarely feel), it is this one. Full of cliff hangers, whodunnit surprises, ruthless plot lines and relatively flowing prose. BUT, I found it far too manipulative, as if the book knew how to extract maximum eagerness from me and then drop it. It is a rollercoaster but like the rides, pretty inconsequential. It is a good reading experience but at the back of my mind, I get a sense of déjà lu. What happens seems to happen to poor Harry (whom I am very fond of, by the way) rather a lot. He just collects more physical scars but he somehow has a mental resilience that basically just reveals the artifice. I know, I know that writing literary crime fiction is hard, but this is why I very much admire David Peace, Denise Mina and Louise Welsh. They know when to stop. Unlike me perhaps … I will read the next Hole book, of course. Nothing wrong with an occasional guilty pleasure …

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Phantom by Jo Nesbø**** — 17 Dec 2017

Reading dates: 18 November – 17 December 2017

Phantom is crime fiction as I like it: a well paced story, in an atmospheric place, with good, solid characters and a plot I can follow to the minutiae while it still surprises me. The storyline is clever, involving Harry Hole’s personal and professional lives as well as big picture issues (drug cartels, immigration, families falling apart). Two things let it down: Harry’s ability to recover from injuries which would kill anyone else (the gaffa tape around the neck was too much) and the word-smithery. Nesbø has tried to experiment by intermingling Gusto’s account (a letter, a recording, a ghost?) with the third person narrator telling most of the story, but they do not work together. Why is Gusto telling this to his foster (or perhaps real) dad? Just to mirror Oleg’s narrative with Harry? I just found that odd, even though his view point is necessary in the novel. It is not David Peace, though, and perhaps some of it might be due to the translation.

In any case, I cannot stop now. I found this to be my perfect Christmas read and it is not yet Christmas, so I will be going to the next Harry Hole straight away. I needed a bit of good old silly escapism, and Phantom is 4 stars because it fulfils that role very well.

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Kill all normies by Angela Nagle*** — 26 Nov 2017

Reading dates: 5 September – 25 November 2017

I chose this for my Dialectical Materialism book group and the discussion was vivacious, when not debauched. This is a book I am glad I have read but, at the same time, I wish I had not. It explains a lot about how the current world operates and why it does the way it does. It shows how the right has managed to congregate and form relatively coherently online through 4chan + but it shows the despair and the hatred of the alt-right, as well as the vacuity of the left and its ‘sour-faced identitarians’ of Tumblr. Few on the left seem to be thinking about society as whole, about the ever growing economic inequality, about the systemic issues we face. Reading the chapters on misogyny and gamergate was very hard, and those about Men Going Their Own Way and the involuntary celibates, frankly quite sad.

Nagle’s analysis is not deep but it is deep enough to explain the now without any hindsight. She links the right to Nietzsche and the left to Judith Butler and explains the problems of both sides. No solutions are given and the most despairing read was the conclusion, which opens with the death of Mark Fisher, whom I much admired and invited to speak in Glasgow. I agree with Nagle that Fisher was one of the most lucid voices of the left, maybe the person who might have been able to offer ways out of this current scary pickle, but he is not in this world anymore. No one has come to occupy his place.

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The Long Drop by Denise Mina*** — 20 Nov 2017

Reading dates: 13 October–17 November 2017

I love Denise Mina and I love the fact that she is an artist, and experiments, even though she also has a winning formula that is very successful in the crime fiction. The Long Drop is true crime and her voice more literary than her previous novels. I like the first half of the book very, very much. Her choice of examining the character of Peter Manuel thought the lens of his night with Watt, the husband of one of the killed women, is fabulous, but the shift towards following Manuel, and the final court case, with Manuel’s family, is a bit too abrupt, as if a few chapters were missing. The atmosphere is wonderfully set and some sentences are chilling, as is appropriate to the topic. Yet, I felt there was a lot more to this book, to the story and to how it was decided to be told.

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About Me

I am an artist and writer. My recent practice performance, film, dance, photography and text, and my work has been performed, exhibited and published in many venues in Europe and the US. I have 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 I am not following Freud, Lacan and Marx’s footsteps with my camera or creating performance works as part of my Athenaeum Research Fellowship at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, I teach postgraduate students at Transart Institute.

I am currently immersed in an interdisciplinary project exploring knowledge and the body of the hysteric. In 2013, together with Child and Adolescent Mental Health practitioner Frances Davies, I co-edited the book ‘Madness, Women and the Power of Art’, to which I contributed a work authored with Eleanor Bowen. My book ‘Make Me Yours: How Art Seduces’ was published by Cambridge Scholars in 2016. In this text, investigates 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.