Wednesday, February 6, 2019

We keep going






"There are so many things that art can't do. It can't bring the dead back to life, it can't mend arguments between friends, or cure AIDS, or halt the pace of climate change. All the same, it does have some extraordinary functions, some odd negotiating ability between people, including people who never meet and yet who infiltrate and enrich each other's lives."
Laing,Olivia: The Lonely City, Canongate Book, Edinburgh 2016, p. 280

"Illness is the night-side of life, a more onerous citizenship. Everyone who is born holds dual citizenship, in the kingdom of the well and in the kingdom of the sick. Although we all prefer to use only the good passport, sooner or later each of us is obliged, at least for a spell, to identify ourselves as citizens of that other place."
Sontag, Susan: Illness as Metaphor and AIDS and its Metaphors
Penguin Classics, London 2002, p.3


In the midst of everything that is going on (our Christmas was a 2-week wait for results of a biopsy my mum had undergone, and she was diagnosed in early January*), I keep returning to art, to art-making (not as much as I want) and viewing (the joy of going to see exhibitions and looking through my art books, which I have shaken up and moved around, putting together new stacks and creating different orders here and there in the house).

And reading. I read almost at the rate of a book a day. One book I lingered over was The Lonely City by Olivia Laing, and, since she references Susan Sontag's Illness as Metaphor, I was compelled to dig out my copy and reread it. AIDS, cancer, TB... not exactly light reading (I do read for entertainment and escape as well), but important, and I find some solace and connection in these types of books.

I don't agree with everything Sontag says; I believe there is a psychological element to disease, and it makes a lot of sense to me that in TCM the lungs are the seat of grief, but I can see the problem with the overuse of metaphor around disease and the assigning of a 'cancer personality'. The book is interesting in its exploration of how illness has been depicted, understood and utilised in literature and society over the centuries.

A cancer diagnosis propels you into a particular kind of loneliness (though simultaneously, I am closer to my friends and family than ever before), and Laing's genre-defying work about isolation and creativity would have struck a chord with me even if I hadn't been ill, but some of the passages about AIDS held a more immediate significance than they would have previously. Her book also made me discover artists that had never been on my radar (Klaus Nomi and David Wojnarowicz, who both died of AIDS) and revisit artists I have always been fascinated by (Edward Hopper and Henry Darger, with a moving and sympathetic essay on the latter's 'outsider art').

Updated to add: Here is an interesting episode of Dr Rangan Chatterjee's podcast, an interview with Stephen Deuchar of the (British) Art Fund about the contribution the arts (specifically visiting museums and galleries) can make to our wellbeing.


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*I am not sure how much I want to post about my recovery or what my family is going through. Since it was World Cancer Day on Monday, I posted on social media, here and here. Sometimes I want to delete all my social media as part of simplifying every area of my life, but then I come back, and I am grateful for everyone who visits and takes the time to comment. If you are one of the handful of people who know about this blog and still read it and you haven't heard from me, I have been slow responding to letters and messages, but I will. Thank you.