Sunday 31 December 2023

Leo Tolstoy, The Kreutzer Sonata

Really fascinating novella that exposes Tolstoy’s conflicted feelings about the dangers of love and marriage. For every “progressive” insight into the emotions stirred up by love (lust, jealousy, possession, oppressive monogamy), comes a set of propositions that sex and love are dangerous and only a life of celibacy can ensure murderous rage and immoral acts are dodged. Tolstoy’s fear of marriage and sex (and his insistence that women do not enjoy sex and are thus degraded by having to succumb to the carnal needs of men) is further illustrated in his manifesto-like sequel that follows the main narrative. 

An example: 

Doris Lessing’s preface is also highly entertaining wherein she chronicles a speculative comedic, clumsy, and messy (breast milk) sex scene in the Tolstoy household between the author and his wife, hypothesises that perhaps Tolstoy was bad in bed. 

Saturday 23 December 2023

Daisy Lafage, Lovebug

Daisy Lafarge’s Lovebug is an extremely impressive and complex exploration of pathogens and takes a semiotic, psychoanalytic lens to look at how we could come to view and experience microbial life (pathogens, bacteria, viruses, bugs) as not the “bad” to a “good” counterpart (human, love) but to see both - that is, love and bugs - as made of the same stuff. 

Lovebug draws heavily upon epidemiology and microbiology and using language and poetics as a tool to disassemble assumptions and instincts. Lafarge proposes a more harmonious coexistence, one informed by a Kleinian depressive position (as opposed to a paranoid one) whereby we learn to live and cope with/endure ambivalence and think differently about how we fear or respond to the abject other not as a threat but as something likened to us. Sutured throughout this book are themes of merging/splitting, mirroring, attachment, love, hate, terror, rejection, consumption, violence, sex, illness, death, cannibalism, inside/outside, self/other, metaphor and materiality. Definitely a book to read, enjoy and think about again, and then again. 

Wednesday 20 December 2023

Amy Key, Arrangements in Blue

A few weeks ago I read Amy Key's deeply personal book Arrangements in Blue where she shares her experience of living without romantic love, which is she deeply wants but also feels conflicted about insofar as she does not want to be defined by its absence. It is clear that Key's life is rich with friendship and all kinds of love, not least the love she has for and receives from her two cats. 

Key's book is extremely honest and vulnerable, deeply moving and relatable – it is also absolutely fearless and articulates those dark corners of our minds where ugly thoughts appear, those thoughts that trigger the protective instinct to hide them from others, especially those we love the most. Her reflections on motherhood (and the becoming mothers of those around her) and her experience of deciding she wants to be a mother and then finding herself no longer pursuing the steps that she would need to take to get her there reflected a lot of conversations I've been having with close friends lately about life stages, presences/absences of a partner and a desire to have children.

I loved the duality and multiplicity of this book and its unwillingness to shy away from complicated, simultaneous urges and emotions. Key proposes an alternative approach to these feelings (love, hate, friendship, jealousy, envy, appreciation, care, resentment, obsession, disgust, generosity, possessiveness, etc), which more often than not, fight against one another. Instead, in her radical candour, Key not only admits the concurrence of these conflicting feelings, but through her writing and emotional work, finds a way to allow and accept their coexistence, a process that I think brings one closer to a more authentic experience of oneself and others, opening a space to love more immensely and truly. 

Woven into the book's chapters is Key's love for and mis/interpretation of Joni Mitchell's album Blue (a personal favourite of mine) and how she has for decades relied on this album not only for companionship, but also as a place onto which she could project her emotions and experiences. 

Saturday 2 December 2023

Recent doodles in sketchbook

Slightly translucent paper creating a palimpsest effect in sketchbook. Oil pastel, pencil, coloured pencil, pen. 

Vanessa Bell (1879-1961)

Member of the Bloomsbury Group and sister of Virginia Woolf. 

Marian Bohusz-Szyszko (1901-1995)

References to Marian Bohusz-Szyszko as a teacher of painting in Marion Milner's On Not Being Able to Paint.