A meditation on the power and pleasures of the image, from paintings to photographs to migraine auras, by one of Britain's finest literary minds.
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 and analyzes the attraction. What does it mean to claim affinity with a picture? What do feelings of affinity imply about the experience of art and of the world? Affinities is a critical and personal study of a sensation that is not exactly taste, desire, or solidarity, but has aspects of all three. Approaching this subject via discrete examples, Dillon examines works by artists such as Dora Maar and Andy Warhol, Rinko Kawauchi and Susan Hiller, as well as scientific or vernacular images of sea creatures and migraine auras. Written as a series of linked essays, Affinities completes a trilogy, with Essayism and Suppose a Sentence, about the intimate and abstract pleasures of reading and looking.
About the Author
Brian Dillon was born in Dublin in 1969. His books include Essayism and Suppose a Sentence, both published by New York Review Books; The Great Explosion (shortlisted for the Ondaatje Prize), Objects in This Mirror, I Am Sitting in a Room, Sanctuary, Tormented Hope: Nine Hypochondriac Lives (shortlisted for the Wellcome Book Prize), and In the Dark Room, which won the Irish Book Award for nonfiction. His writing has appeared in The Guardian, The New York Times, London Review of Books, The Times Literary Supplement, Bookforum, frieze, and Artforum. He is the UK editor of Cabinet magazine and teaches creative writing at Queen Mary University of London.
"In this engaging and exhilarating Wunderkammer of a book, he offers us the world — in this case, the visual world — as he experiences it: his way of seeing, and of being, in a web of thrilling, sometimes unexpected, connection.” —Claire Messud, The New York Times Book Review
“Dillon’s prose itself is packed with affinity—his sentences are in unresolved, constant motion. . . . [He] brings the nothings, the elses, to life, makes them the center of the portrait, graces them with verbs and adjectives of their own.” —Apoorva Tadepalli, Artforum
“A a provocative and open-ended investigation of art’s ineffable allure. . . . Dillon’s accretive method is itself a textual demonstration of affinity that helps his various subjects cohere.” —Jeremy Lybarger, Art in America
“His taste in these essays is for the hovering, liminal quality in a wide range of work and personalities.” —John Banville, TLS
“Dillon completes a hat trick of smart, idiosyncratic nonfiction books with what is perhaps his most ambitious. . . . and, to this writer, Dillon’s best.” —J. Howard Rosier, Vulture
“The author is at his most free as he oscillates between writing about photography and the nature of his own allusions.” —Jonathan McAloon, The Financial Times
“[Dillon] has an affinity, in effect, for affinities — attractions so pronounced that, far from sequestering us in our private passions, they briefly annihilate us.” —Becca Rothfield, The Washington Post
“The affinity – a connection, a resemblance, a mood; a slight, sub-critical impulse: a feint in the general direction of analysis – is the book’s ruling conceit. . . . expanding the object of our attention, without in the slightest unmaking it.” —Bailey Trela, Frieze
“A dreamy meditation on four centuries of artistic practice.” —Eliza Browning, Full Stop
"As expected, this book is a delightfully meandering collection. . . . Nearly everything cited is a film still or photograph, many of which evince some sort of visual imprecision or flux. Through a series of short essays, Dillon looks closely at the things he loves, creating a pinboard of one man’s visual enchantments." —Grace Linden, BOMB
“The images collected together in this book become, in Dillon’s hands, an affinity. And, by looking at them with him, he makes an affinity of us, too.” —Anil Gomes, The Guardian
“Brian Dillon’s involvement with the word and meaning of “affinities” is in itself worth any time spent perusing these pages. . . . [A] stupendously fascinating bunch of essays.” —Mary Ann Caws, The Brooklyn Rail
"One of the most anticipated books of 2023." —The Millions
"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 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
"The most moving essays in this superb collection are the autobiographical investigations, but every piece, even the most ostensibly impersonal, arrives imbued with Brian Dillon’s signature tactic of bliss-seeking focus on visual details, on impalpable atmospheres, on connections drawn as if in a state of clairvoyant summation. He 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
"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." —Lauren Groff
"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
"Loaded on every page with extensive and extravagant subtleties, these Affinities dazzle even those who, like myself, have been entrapped, exhausted, and endlessly admirative of Brian Dillon before and long before." —Mary Ann Caws