Last night, or rather this morning, I stayed up far too late finishing Gillian Rose’s Love’s Work. It was recommended by a friend whose literary judgement I have come to unfailingly trust.
Nick Lezard begins his review of Love’s Work thus, “I struggle to think of a finer, more rewarding short autobiography than this.” I might argue for Woolf’s Moments of Being, but it is autobiography only in a loose sense, and Rose’s work stands as equally singular.
I picked Love’s Work without knowing of Gillian Rose’s scholarship (Adorno, Hegel). Although she writes of her cancer, it is not maudlin in any sense, nor particularly sad. Instead Rose writes of her philosophy, or way of looking at life and intimacy. In doing so, the perspective is fresh, icily frank and genuinely insightful. I’ve thought of her words all day and return periodically to check a passage. It is a book that merits rereading.
Some of Rose’s tenacity is clear at the close of the chapter in which she discusses her incurable cancer with plain style and more than a little wit:
I reach for my favourite whisky bottle and instruct my valetudinarian well-wishers to imbibe the shark’s oil and aloe vera themselves. If I am to stay alive, I am bound to continue to get love wrong, all the time, but not to cease wooing, for that is my life affair, love’s work.
There are several reviews around of Katherine Angel’s Unmastered: A Book on Desire, Most Difficult to Tell ranging from bizarre to intriguing. Each offers an idiosyncratic reading that reveals as much about the reviewer as about the book. As Rumi said, “We are the mirror as well as the face in it.” The Unmastered effect is insidious. What begins as an energetically explicit sexual autobiography subverts itself to become tragic, though this may just be its curious mirror-like effect. The aphoristic style and generosity of white-space in the UK edition invites projection, so perhaps it says more about me than Angel’s beautiful and thought-provoking book that I saw more tragedy than sex.
I’ve written before of my interest in philosophy in its Greek context as a way to live life, rather than as empty discourse. Though I found much that was insightful in Alexander Nehamas’ The Art of Living: Socratic Reflections from Plato to Foucault, I took less from it than from Hadot’s Philosophy as a way of life. Nehamas writes highly perceptively about Plato, Nietzsche, less convincingly about Kierkegaard and Foucault, but gets bogged down occasionally in nuances of definition. Nevertheless it is an engaging and lucid work that complements Hadot superbly.
On to Rachel Kushner’s The Flamethrowers if I can get beyond dispiriting blurbage from bloody Franzen and Colm Tóibín (“American novel”).