Additional Book Information
Series: New York Review Books
Publication Date: April 25, 2023
AffinitiesOn Art and Fascination
by Brian Dillon
In Affinities, Brian Dillon, who Joyce Carol Oates has said writes “fascinating prose … on virtually any subject,” explores images and artists he is drawn to or loves, and tries to analyze the attraction.
What do we mean when we claim affinity with an object or picture, or say that affinities exist (not only formal) between such things? What do feelings of affinity imply about individual or collective experience of art, and of the world?
The word “affinity” used to mean an attraction of opposites, between chemical elements. In his Elective Affinities, Goethe used the idea to think about the orbits and collisions of love. In the poetry and essays of Baudelaire, the writings of Walter Benjamin and Aby Warburg, the art of Tacita Dean and Moyra Davey, a partly buried history of affinity can be found.
Affinities is a critical and personal study of a sensation that is not exactly taste, desire, or allyship, but has aspects of all. Approaching this subject via discrete examples, this book is first of all about images (mostly photographs) that have stayed with the author over many years, or grown in significance during months of pandemic isolation, when the visual field had shrunk.
Some of these are historical works by artists such as Julia Margaret Cameron, Dora Maar, Claude Cahun, Samuel Beckett and Andy Warhol. Others are more or less obscure scientific or vernacular images: sea creatures, migraine auras, astronomical illustrations derived from dreams. Also family photographs, film stills, records of atomic ruin. And contemporary art by Rinko Kawauchi, Susan Hiller, and John Stezaker.
Written as a series of linked essays, interwoven with a reflection on affinity itself, Affinities completes a trilogy, with Essayism and Suppose a Sentence, about the intimate and abstract pleasures of reading and looking.
In Affinities, Brian Dillon has woven a sparking electric web of aesthetic attention, an astonishingly deft and slantwise autobiography through the images of others. With this third panel in his brilliant triptych—with Essayism and Suppose a Sentence—Dillon has made himself a quiet apostle of close looking, drawing such intimate connections between such disparate things that he reveals marvel after marvel, and miraculously passes his affinities along to the reader. His project, it seems to me, is a nearly holy one, born of deep generosity and love for the world.
Brian Dillon is always invigoratingly brilliant. His sentences, his stylistic innovations, the range and potency of his intellectual adventures; he is a true master of the literary arts and a writer I would never hesitate to read, whatever his subject.