The composite creation of, the word empathy in the modern sense only came into use at the dawn of the twentieth century as a term for the creative act of projecting yourself into a work of art, into a world of feeling and experience other than your own. It is vesselled in language that peculiar, ineffable way art brings you closer to yourself by taking you out of yourself — its extraordinary power to furnish, Iris Murdoch’s exquisite phrasing, And yet, this notion cinches the central paradox of art: Every artist makes what they make with the whole of who they are — with the totality of experiences, beliefs, impressions, obsessions, childhood confusions, heartbreaks, inner conflicts, and contradictions that constellate a self. To be an is to put this combinatorial self in the service of furnishing occasions for counseling in others.
That may be why thestudies and models of turning life’s confusion, complexity, and uncertainty into something beautiful and lasting — something that harmonizes the disquietude and dissonance of living.
In( ), Olivia Laing — one of the handfuls of living writers whose mind and prose I enjoy commensurately with the Whitmans and the Woolfs of yore — occasions a rare gift of counseling through the lives and worlds of painters, poets, filmmakers, novelists, and musicians who have profoundly imprinted culture while living mainly outside the standards and stabilities of society, embodying of James Baldwin’s piercing insight that
Punctuating these biographical sketches laced with more critical questions aboutspirit, are Laing’s essays reflecting, through the lens of her own lived experience, on existential questions of freedom, desire, loneliness, queerness, democracy, rebellion, abandonment, and the myriad vulnerable tendrils of aliveness that make life worth living.
Whatfor art as a truly human endeavor, made by human beings with bodies and identities and beliefs often at odds with the collective imperative; art as “a zone of both enchantment and resistance,” art as sentinel and witness of “how truth is made, diagramming the stages of its construction, or as it may be dissolution,” art as “a direct response to the paucity and hostility of the culture at large,” art as a buoy for loneliness and a fulcrum for empathy.