Brian Dillon

  • A Man Apart

    The polymath Dick Higgins once wrote that a book is “the container of a provocation.” With this in mind, he started Something Else Press in 1963, delivering a remarkable number of provocations to a mainstream audience before the imprint’s dissolution a decade later. Higgins packaged neo-avant-garde ideas in mass-market formats, producing books by contemporary artists like John Cage, Claes Oldenburg, Merce Cunningham, and Ian Hamilton Finlay. Something Else also reissued neglected works of the historical avant-garde in deluxe editions, notable among them Gertrude Stein’s vast, long-out-of-print

  • Gender Trouble

    The narrator and (barely) protagonist of Lynne Tillman’s smart and sleightful novel—her first since American Genius, A Comedy (2006)—is one Ezekiel H. Stark, a cultural anthropologist who specializes in vernacular photography. He’s a playful invention, given to citing highbrow or avant-garde culture—“We worked in silence. John Cage scored with it.”— and then undercutting himself with passé slang: “Kidding. Not.” In his earnest, academic, sometimes awkwardly demotic fashion, Zeke outlines his personal-professional interests in self and image, the inward oddness of family life, and wider cultural

  • Grammar of Discontent

    Funny ideas people have, about the way Irish writers think. When Eimear McBride's first novel, A Girl Is a Half-formed Thing, was published in 2013—she'd finished it a decade before—it was rightly celebrated for its exacting style and unwincing narrative of child sexual abuse. The book won prizes in Britain, where it first appeared; but its ambitions were easily misread by critics whom the prose flummoxed. Here is a sample: "Two me. Four you five or so. I falling. Reel table leg to stool. Grub face into her cushions. Squeal. Baby full of snot and tears." Some reviewers, gulled I suppose by

  • culture July 01, 2014

    F for Fake

    What exactly do we mean when we call an artist or writer a charlatan? What manner of truth is in question? Assuredly, an artistic or literary charlatan is not merely a fraud, a forger, or an impostor. Such quasi-criminal categories have their own clear-cut logic: The perpetrator either is or isn't what he purports to be. But an accusation of charlatanry points to something far more fundamental than a simple waywardness with the facts.

    The essays in Brian Dillon’s Objects in This Mirror restlessly consider aphorisms, art vandalism, slapstic comedy, the act of erasure, the art of the essay, the history of “ruin-lust,” and the careers of a handful of contemporary artists—pieces on such a variety of topics that it’s “easier,” Dillon notes in the book’s introduction, “to name some of the subjects I’ve written about that didn’t make it into this book than to try to imagine a rationale” for what did. The generalist risks the terms “dilettante, hack, dabbler,” as Dillon acknowledges. “But there is also a tradition—let us call it

  • syllabi September 15, 2011


    “There’s a fascination frantic / In a ruin that’s romantic” – Gilbert and Sullivan, in The Mikado.

    Ruins have for several centuries been objects of literary and artistic veneration, reminders of real and imaginary catastrophe, images of historical hubris and souvenirs from dashed futures. Central to the history of Western aesthetics, ruins are also symbols of the perils of Romantic melancholy, of picturesque sentiment and pure kitsch. From Denis Diderot’s meditations on the paintings of Hubert Robert, through Romantic poetry and “The Fall of the House of Usher” to J. G. Ballard’s post-industrial

  • syllabi May 05, 2010


    In classic Greek medicine, hypochondria was known first as a disease of the digestive tract, and only secondarily as one of the mind. The psychological aspects gradually came to dominate definitions of the condition, so that nowadays, we don’t really distinguish hypochondria from an overactive imagination. The books below were all written by or about inventive malingerers, providing firsthand testimony from the world of the worried well.

    Brian Dillon is the author of The Hypochondriacs: Nine Tormented Lives, published this year by Faber & Faber.