Brian Dillon


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Fitzcarraldo Editions
16 February 2023
ISBN: 9781804270165
320 pages

From the publisher

What do we mean when we claim affinity with an object or picture, or say affinities exist between such things? 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 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 are historical works by artists such as Julia Margaret Cameron, Dora Maar, Claude Cahun, Samuel Beckett and Andy Warhol. Others are 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 is an extraordinary book about the intimate and abstract pleasures of reading and looking.

‘This is a deeply personal enterprise but Dillon goes to great lengths to keep at a distance. The collection may amount to a sort-of autobiography but each essay is about the life of the artist or the work itself, not about him. He is careful of his subjects and scrupulous in neither over-interpreting them nor projecting his emotions on to them. Nevertheless, each means something profound to him and each is a pixel that builds into a creative work of his own: a picture of his own aesthetic and the constituent parts of its canon.’
— Michael Prodger, New Statesman

‘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.’
— Max Porter, author of Shy

Affinities is a book of enthrallments. Brian Dillon “performs” and “embodies” that tautology of fascination, its unspeakability. On titans like Julia Margaret Cameron, Claude Cahun, Francesca Woodman and Tacita Dean, Dillon is revelatory. Conceived during the pandemic, Affinities shares the eccentric pain of the moment, the intimate revelations of self-doubt imposed on us all. Affinities is a book after my heart.’
— Moyra Davey, author of Index Cards

‘Brian Dillon’s essays match discernment and critical thinking with a sense of pleasure in finding a work of art that speaks to him and lures him into contemplating its mystery and intricacy. His writing is exact and calm; rather than explain he explores, playing what is tentative against what is certain.’
— Colm Tóibín, author of The Magician

‘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, borne of deep generosity and love for the world.’
— Lauren Groff, author of Matrix

‘Brian Dillon’s Affinities eloquently describes the relationships we have – both physical and mental – with works of art. Dillon reflects on the nature of these relationships, the affinities for the selected works, through his research and personal history with them while intermittently allowing us insight into his mediations about the complexity of affinity itself.’
— Hans Ulrich Obrist, author of Ways of Curating

‘[Brian Dillon] spins language’s roulette wheel with a finesse and seriousness that recalls the severe yet secretly florid tones of Sontag, Sebald, Benjamin, and other principled foragers in the realm of the buried, the overlooked, the ecstatic. I feel safer in the world, knowing that a diviner as keen-eyed as Brian Dillon is operating the control panel of the sentence.’
— Wayne Koestenbaum, author of Figure it Out

‘Dillon is a mournful, witty and original writer.’
— Parul Sehgal, New York Times

‘Dillon is a literary flaneur in the tradition of Baudelaire and Walter Benjamin.’
— John Banville, Irish Times