Brian Dillon

One livid final flame


Ruin Lust, the Tate exhibition curated by Brian Dillion, is reviewed in the Guardian.

The pleasure the human mind takes in ruins is not easy to explain. It has something to do with time. In JMW Turner’s sketches of decayed abbeys that come like Soane’s broodings from the Romantic age, the artist lingers over the details of each crumbly, broken stone. Looking at his studies you get a powerful sense of the time he spent on them and the escape from daily care this involved. A ruin, in other words, is a time machine that releases the mind to wander in nooks and crannies of lost ages – and ages to come. That is why John Constable finds the ruins of Hadleigh Castle so grimly consoling in his painting of this medieval heap quietly decaying, the wars and oppressions it once embodied long forgotten.

Sturdy piston


Nice little essay by writer and art critic Brian Dillon on fountain pens.

The pen is not exactly an object of nostalgia, because I have no memory of my father writing with it when I was a child. I found it after he died, when I was twenty-one; I must have been rooting in the wardrobe for life-insurance papers or a nonexistent will. I carried it around with me for about a year — I was wearing his watch too, but it slipped from my wrist on the library stairs — before it occurred to me to buy a bottle of Quink and actually use it. The pen would only suck up sufficient ink for a few lines at a time, but I spent the summer of 1992 writing an MA thesis with it, stopping every ten minutes to hook a fingernail behind the thin gold lever and get blue-black stains on my fingers.

By the time I took it to The Pen Corner on Dame Street to have it repaired — a supple new ink sac, an unclogged feed — I’d developed an anxious, OCD-ish, relationship with my father’s pen. It saw me fretfully through much of my drawn-out, half botched Ph.D. I wrote scraps of my first book with it, before I knew it was a book. It’s still the pen I reach for in the early stages of all sorts of writing, always with the intention — an obsessive displacement, for sure — of making it to the end of an article, essay or book with the little Craftsman still in my hand.

[Via @HamishH1931]