Thursday 13 July 2017

Brian Dillon, Essayism

There can be, now and then, a perfect, almost painful, fit of book to reader, something too close to the bone, intently inhabited as much as read. Brian Dillon's Essayism, published by Fitzcarraldo Editions, is one such. The essay, he says, in one of many moments when he wrestles with what draws him, is 'something so artful it can be taken for disarray', 'at once the wound and a piercing act of precision', a 'combination of exactitude and evasion', 'her rigorous feeling for what is hardly there at all'. I read with a pencil to hand, wanting to to be able find certain passages again, to abandon myself to the relief of finding kin.

I was talking to my neighbour, M, recently, about tribes and whether or not I had one. Your tribe is Jewish people, she said, and I couldn't agree. My tribe is writers I have read and felt at home with. As  Brian Dillon makes his way through and around writers like Virginia Woolf, W.G. Sebald, William Gass, Thomas Browne, Roland Barthes, Susan Sontag, as well as his own writing, I read with such a surfeit of an ancient, ardent, secret life that I have to stop often and look away, which is what you do with tribes, isn't it?

Does this make reading into an indulgence of a cerebral/emotional kind. You do not have to apologise (I tell myself). Well, for years I did. I learned to circumambulate, to sense the core of reading and writing, but not to be there, not to know what it was nor how to talk about it, as if talking destroyed it, the way certain physical phenomena disappear or irrevocably change under scrutiny. In my twenties I was addicted to a secrecy and exclusivity of reading that could hardly be borne. I never wrote, believing I did, as Marguerite Duras said. Words identified the absent middle of my life and one person, a teacher, who lived there too, who mirrored me in a way I had not experienced before. Breathless, I struggled to connect the depth of language with human love. It floored me, in fact. My teacher was not the same person as I was. He had an ├ętat civil. A what?

Brian Dillon in and among his essayism struggles with the connection between what he is drawn to in certain writers, and his beleaguered life.
What exactly do I mean, even, by 'style'? Perhaps it is nothing but an urge, an aspiration, a clumsy access of admiration, a crush. On what? The very idea. Form and texture rescued from chaos, the precision and extravagance of it, the daring, in the end the distance, such as I think I could never attain. As much in a person, in a body, as in prose: those people who can keep it together. 'I like your style' means: I admire, dear human, what you have clawed back from sickness and pain and madness. I'm a fan, too much a fan, of your rising above. What is it I want from you? Not quite comforting. Consolation. Is it consolation? A model of how to survive? The worst, most painful truth spoken as eloquently — or is it as strangely — as possible.
Yes, I reply, yes, yes.

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