Laura Gonzalez


Duty Free Art by Hito Steyerl **** — 22 Oct 2018

Reading dates 13 – 21 October 2018

There was dissent in DiaMat. At least two of the five members did not like the book, complaining that it did not reach any depth, did not have a clear point, circled around the issues, was an exercise in poetic licence. Yes, maybe those claims are true but I did like Steyerl’s attempt to capture the zeitgeist, to present an immediate future that is as believable as it is scary, a little like PD James’s ‘Children of Men’ or China Miéville’s ‘The City and the City’. There is also something Ballardian and Ginsbergian about it.The chapters are a set of lectures that offer a network of ideas, rather than a point. Her images are clever and persistent. She covers spam, scams, online romances, new artistic spaces, artist’s labour, freeport’s, Syria, drones, Fascism, kisses, 3D printing, art writing.

It is as light as it is wide-ranging and enjoyable to read. She does write like an artist (rather than a philosopher or an anthropologist, but I think that was a strength apart from the amount of rhetorical questions. If I had been an editor, I would have taken care that it read more like a book and less like a set of lectures.

Read this entry | No Comments »

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.

Read this entry | No Comments »

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.

Read this entry | No Comments »

The Russian Revolution: A Very Short Introduction by S. A. Smith**** — 6 Sep 2017

Reading dates: 02 August to 04 September 2017

It is not easy to find a short introductory book on a complex issue written with clarity, insight and in a manner that is not condescending. This is it. If you want to commemorate October 1917 by finding out more about what happened, this is an excellent and quick way into the subject. Granted sometimes one gets lost in the acronyms, the names and the places and soon enough I realised I had to read Smith with attention, but that was my issue as a reader more than the book. The account is both balanced and comprehensive, or at least as much as a 160pp book can be. It is paced well, written with flair and with beautiful quotes from letters and reports of the time.

We read it for our Dialectical Materialism book group (Neil’s choice) and we had a lively conversation about Venezuela, about the future of communism, about charismatic leaders and about the lack of events revisiting October 1917 in its centenary (which is a shame). We discussed, and endorsed, the intentions of the revolution as human emancipation but acknowledged, as is well argued in the book, the unforeseen events that came up from 1917 onwards and which made Stalin rise: the return of the repressed … Perhaps, before the next revolution, we need to be well analysed …

Read this entry | No Comments »

Sapiens, A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari *** — 7 Nov 2016


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.

Read this entry | No Comments »

Communal Luxury by Kristin Ross***** — 18 Mar 2016


Reading dates: 04 February–18 March 2016

Chris chose this book for our March meeting, which took place on the eve of the start of the Paris Commune. I was educated in the French system; I received the reading assignment with a roll of my eyes. OK, the Commune. Let’s do it. I was slow starting the book, huffing and not really engaging with its ideas until, perhaps, the start of chapter 2. Kristin Ross’s work is wonderful, well-written, well-researched and exploring an exciting territory hitherto unknown to me. I had dismissed the Communards as a bunch of idealist anarchists that almost got their way and never thought of their rich ideology around culture, education, ecology and wellbeing. Reclus, Gaillard and his shoes, William Morris and Kropotkin are fantastic characters in the narrative, people one does not hear about often in relation to the Commune (as Neil pointed out, the wikipedia page on the Commune has quite different names forefronted). Her aim is to isolate and expand on what worked, on the legacy after Bloody Week, which, as the rest of the timeline, is not something she goes into. The achievements, the methodology of looking at the past and the ideas of the Commune (especially those uncompromising anti-capitalist and well argued points) were remarkable.

Ross’s analysis is very applicable to our times, even if she explicitly says this is not her ambition. During our meeting, I made the comparison between #RhodesMustfall and the tearing down of the Place Vendôme. Can we return to what made the Commune? Today, on the 145th anniversary of its start, I am most certain than ever that we must.

Read this entry | No Comments »

24/7 by Jonathan Crary **** — 27 Jan 2016


Reading dates: 20 Nov 2015 — 22 Jan 2016

24/7 was my choice for our Dialectical Materialism book group meeting. I love sleeping, and working for an international programme, I am very aware of the 24/7 culture of ‘all the time, without rest, without delay’. There are so many interesting aspects to Crary’s precise analysis: torture, social media as a form of control and not uprising, dreaming, waiting, neigbourliness. The book is poetic and critical, lucid and generous. Some things could have been looked at deeper or returned to (the torture aspects, perhaps, light) and I even forgive him his slightly misplaced attack on Freud and psychoanalysis because this books is so good and necessary. It is short, approachable and erudite without entering into unnnecessary complications or jargon. It is referenced without being academic, it is impeccably written, with flair and care for the reader. The idea of dreams as something shared, of sleeping as a political act of turning off is inspiring. I am off for a revolutionary and unproductive (for capitalism) siesta.

Read this entry | No Comments »

On the Genealogy of Morality by Friedrich Nietzsche*** — 20 Nov 2015


Reading dates: 19 September—19 November 2015.

This is an interesting book to read but an even more interesting one to discuss. Structured like a monumental rant against everything and not very much substantiated with any evidence, it is energetic and fun, even if a little contemptible. It turns morality on its head: what if what we understood as good was actually not good, but just culturally good, dependent on context? The book comprises three essays and the third is against the ascetic’s values. Nietzsche is an advocate of life, of ancient Greek culture, of the Dyonisian and, I have to say, having a choice between Apollonian and Dionysian is something that does appeal to me. Why does good only hold one possibility? Here’s Nietzsche, looking dapper with Lou Salomé (who is holding a nice whip):


Of course, for much of the night, we drifted to discuss terrorism and the Paris attacks, to look at these recent events from Nietzsche’s moral philosophy perspective. Why terrorism? What values do they uphold? Are they wrong and we are right? Is it so simple? These were the actual examples missing from Nietzsche’s narrative.

Read this entry | No Comments »

Hegemony And Socialist Strategy: Towards A Radical Democratic Politics by Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe — 19 Sep 2015


Reading dates: 30 July–18 September 2015

Ian chose this book for our Dialectical Materialism book group. It is an excruciatingly difficult book. I did not finish it and what I read, I am not sure I understood. Yet, the discussion was fascinating. We talked about classical marxism, labour power as commodity, surplus value, the point de caption, Trostky-ism, Podemos, Siriza, Corbyn, the referendum and imagination and, of course, Hegemony. It reminded me of the time when I saw the worst film I have ever seen (Outlaw) and had a fascinating conversation with Neil about cinema. Why do we go to our book group? It is certainly not to read easy, pleasurable works. I think we do it to disentangle knots, and, despite the fact that I don’t know what chapters two and three of Laclau and Mouffe’s book are about (I only read chapter one and half of four), I feel a few of my knots were made loser.


Read this entry | No Comments »

The future by Marc Augé*** — 31 Jul 2015


Reading dates: 10 – 30 July 2015

In DiaMat, we dither between the classic writers and the new, political economy, feminism, art and even fiction. We inhabit the past to learn from it, we think about the present and we try to predict the future (through Erik Olin Wright, Benjamin Noys, Marc Augé). This last endeavour is actually very rewarding but ultimately slightly pointless. This is what I would say Augé’s book is like. The intention is laudable:

We face another sort of emergency action these days: to reintroduce the critical gaze in domains that seem natural to us, in that we are part of them without knowing how that came about; to use the weapons of analysis to question the unarguable or the unargued. (pp. 90-91)

It has a fantastic analysis on Flaubert’s Madame Bovary.

(…) it is tempting to think that the lucidity without hope of Bovarism could be the only way out, the only justifiable madness in this world of lunatics. (p. 69)

It has some interesting thoughts on Sartre and innovation, and some ponderings on what education should be and what our psychology demands of us:

‘I know, but all the same’: denial of doubt is not willingly abandoned. If it is true that ambivalence is defined by the coexistence of two affirmations (I am this and that) and ambiguity by two denials (I am neither this nor that), in facing the political future we show ourselves as more ambiguous than ambivalent; we are neither optimistic nor pessimistic, but reveal ourselves to be attuned in advance to any plotline that might offer a way past that double denial. (p. 24)

Yet, there is not much future here. It feels like a ramble, a book written in haste, although with the experience of a veteran ethnologist.

His future is more linear than my psychoanalytic one, with the weight slightly forward, as one should not be in the virabhadrasana 2 yoga pose … In the book group, I asked the question whether it was worth thinking about the future when the present is left unassimilated. Ian thought the book was about the present, which is a good point based on evidence of various quotes:

As Michel Leiris has pointed out, you have to be totally of your time to be able to survive it. (p. 62)

But I still think the argument is too forward leaning. There is no balance found, it is not strong. Perhaps the issue is one highlighted by Augé himself:

Some will say that writing is the ultimate illusion, even an illusion twice over, in that it aspires to analyse a phenomenon of which it is just a symptom. (p. 61)

Since today is Guru Pūrṇimā and much of this book’s idea of the future is about changing the purpose of what we understand by education, I will end with my favourite quote in the book, which honours the encounter that happens when one has something to teach and another is willing to learn. Being a teacher, and having recently taken a life decision that will keep me as a teacher for a while longer, I am very thankful to those who have showed me the way (Sharon, Tom, Steve, Rosina, Ruth, Angel, Kia, Radha, Jude, Pierre, Lesley, Kim, Grayson, Roger, Alexander, Alberto, Ramon, Txete, Christine, John, Jane, Penny, Tom):

What am I, if not this fragile and tenacious will to understand? Shared awareness of this private tension defines the highest level of sociability, the most intense relation to others, the encounter. (p. 143)

Read this entry | No Comments »

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.