Brian Dillon

French paperback with flaps, 320 pages
Published 16 February 2023

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Listen to Brian Dillon in conversation with Chris Power here.

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.

‘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

 ‘Dillon’s discussion of these photographs forestalls this reading – close attention is one thing. Loving attention, another. And Dillon does love. That shines out from each essay. An affinity can be a relation of significance: of blood, of temporary likeness, of marriage. Dillon notes that the word also once meant a gathering of like-minded people. 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. This is key … Dillon’s book is an invitation to look together. It is one of life’s intimate pleasures to attend closely in the company of someone else. Done properly, it opens us to the other’s world.’
 Anil Gomes, Guardian

Affinities completes a triptych of recent books by Dillon that have been daring and multifarious: textual analysis of everyone from John Donne to Joan Didion giving way to flowing autobiography.’
Jonathan McAloon, Financial Times

‘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, New York Times

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

‘Brian Dillon set himself firmly in the postmodernist tradition established by European, especially French, critics in the last third of the twentieth century, with its emphasis on close reading and aesthetic autonomy…. His taste in these essays is for the hovering, liminal quality in a wide range of work and personalities…. [F]ascinating and moving.’
John Banville, Times Literary Supplement

‘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

‘It is a self-portrait of the critic as, evanescently but beautifully, an artist in his own right.’
Kevin Power, Irish Times 

‘[Dillon] succeeds in capturing the resistance of certain images or characters to elucidation. The blurry, the obscure, the fugitive qualities of things are deftly described – from the ‘abstract blurs’ of Julia Margaret Cameron’s photographs to Claude Cahun’s portraits of herself, a strange duality of play-acting and authenticity.’
James Cahill, Literary Review

Brian Dillon was born in Dublin in 1969. His books include Suppose a Sentence, Essayism, The Great Explosion (shortlisted for the Ondaatje Prize), Objects in This Mirror: Essays, 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 non-fiction. His writing has appeared in the Guardian, New York Times, London Review of Books, the New Yorker, New York Review of Books, frieze and Artforum. He has curated exhibitions for Tate and Hayward galleries. He lives in London.