I do love the title of this book, with its subtle double meaning that is accentuated more and more in every single essay. This book is a collection of ten essays by Winterson on art, writing, reading, creating and collecting.
To be honest, I expected it to be more focused on art in the classic understanding of visual arts, I’m not sure why, given that Winterson is a writer, so would naturally lean more towards the art form she’s familiar with. However, the opening essay is on art and it resonated with me. Winterson writes about her first meaningful encounter with art when she was really moved and challenged by the work of art. She argues that art requires time and effort to be experienced. That running around a museum from a highlight to a highlight is nowhere near experiencing art. She asks us to sit for an hour looking at a painting and also describes how difficult it was for her. Because often we do not see what we’re looking at, we’re busy with our thought, perceptions, assumptions, blind to what’s in front of us. It takes time to really focus.
In the essays on reading and writing, she argues a similar point: it takes time to read, just as it takes time and effort to write. She realizes how today’s world is stealing our time away, but then it is a decision that every reader has to make if they want to continue reading: to turn off the tv, internet and social media and just read. Only then we have any chance at all to be moved. I do agree with her that we have to be in the right frame of mind to read, we have to be focused and open to understanding and experience, open to being moved.
When she moves on to writing I’m not sure I agree anymore, but I am not a writer. Her point is that the readers will usually go with the easiest option, with things they know, but it is a duty of the writer to break the norms, to create things that did not exist before. To break the rules to create new forms. She also strongly objects to literature based solely on emotion and experience, for her this always has to be underpinned by consciously selected/created form. Only then literature stands a chance of being truly universal. As a writer, she has really strong views on what’s the duty of an artist, but I think every artist has to form their views on the matter.
Winterson also writes about the relation between art and reality. An interesting point to consider, given that we often want to see art reflecting reality, but then what would be the point of art, we can just look at the reality with more focus. For Winterson art has to move us, make us transcend, push us out of our comfort zone.
She is adamant in her opinions and judgements and has no problem making her mind clear. Whether we agree with her is another thing, but one thing this book certainly does: it makes you think. To disagree with her, or to be wound up by her statements (as I was in a few places) you have to think and make up your mind. It’s a book that will not leave you neutral, it will force you to pick a side. And I hope that was the idea, not that everyone will happily agree with the author. What would be the point of that?