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Is curiosity, however, even a coherent concept? What, if anything, unites the walrus and the Rolodex? According to Dillon and Warner, curiosity is lustful and avaricious, yet as playful as Alice in Wonderland. It distracts itself by flirting with astonishment yet is driven to exacting inspection. It loves secrecy and enigma yet is insatiably questioning and bent on decipherment. It adores intricacy and ingenuity, only to find how evanescent, incommunicable, and random they can be. It's harmless fun and has "an innocent eye"—a central theme, suggested by the Hayward Gallery curator Roger Malbert—yet leads to dangerous revelations. Or maybe it makes dangerous revelations because of this innocence: It follows its own hunches because it doesn't see where they lead. Think of the character Jeffrey Beaumont in Blue Velvet: "I'm seeing something that was always hidden."[more inside]
But like many an inarticulate young lover, I thought for a time that seduction was a matter of giving the right book to the right woman. In my case it was Barthes’s A Lover’s Discourse: a meditation on Goethe’s Sorrows of Young Werther that catalogues the melancholic lover’s prized ‘image repertoire’ – the scene of waiting, the feeling of being dissolved in the presence of the loved being, the attraction of suicide – and thinly veils the author’s own life as a middle-aged gay man in Paris in the 1970s. This gift was always a prelude to disaster.– RB and Me: An Education is an essay by Brian G. Dillon about his relationship with the books of French philosopher Roland Barthes. It's also a lovely autobiography of an awkward boy finding his place in life. Dillon's website collects his essays, and is trove of interesting insight. Besides writing essays and fiction, Dillon is also the UK editor of Cabinet Magazine, and you can read a fair number of his articles online, including ones on Beau Brummel and the cravat, hypochondria and hydrotherapy.