Gillian Rose

Reading Gillian Rose

There is something healing about happening across a volume so intimate, so heteroclite, so linguistically unwasteful and conceptually unselfish, and so intelligently mature – both philosophically and emotionally – that you feel not only that you are reading the world’s only available copy but also safe enough to weep in the author’s presence, to dwell in the broken middle, and then to emerge hopeful of being a better lover. It is, ironically, probably not the kind of book you would ever loan to anyone else, but you simply know that you will spend your remaining days both promoting and betraying its gift. Gillian Rose’s memoir, Love’s Work, is everything like that. Here’s a few lines on the book’s main theme – love:

‘However satisfying writing is – that mix of discipline and miracle, which leaves you in control, even when what appears on the page has emerged from regions beyond your control – it is a very poor substitute indeed for the joy and the agony of loving. Of there being someone who loves and desires you, and he glories in his love and desire, and you glory in his every-strange being, which comes up against you, and disappears, again and again, surprising you with difficulties and with bounty. To those this is the greatest loss, a loss for which there is no consolation. There can only be that twin passion – the passion of faith.

The more innocent I sound, the more enraged and invested I am.

In personal life, people have absolute power over each other, whereas in professional life, beyond the terms of the contract, people have authority, the power to make one another comply in ways which may be perceived as legitimate or illegitimate. In personal life, regardless of any covenant, one party may initiate a unilateral and fundamental change in terms of relating without renegotiating them, and further, refusing even to acknowledge the change. Imagine how a beloved child or dog would respond, if the Lover turned away. There is no democracy in any love relation: only mercy. To be at someone’s mercy is dialectical damage: they may be merciful and they may be merciless. Yet each party, woman, man, the child in each, and their child, is absolute power as well as absolute vulnerability. You may be less powerful than the whole world, but you are always more powerful than yourself.

Love is the submission of power …

To grow in love-ability is to accept the boundaries of oneself and others, while remaining vulnerable, woundable, around the bounds. Acknowledgement of conditionality is the only unconditionality of human love.

Exceptional, edgeless love effaces the risk of relation: that mix of exposure and reserve, of revelation and reticence. It commands the complete unveiling of the eyes, the transparency of the body. It denies that there is no love without power; that we are at the mercy of others and that we have others in our mercy. Existence is robbed of its weight, its gravity, when it is deprived of its agon’.

– Gillian Rose, Love’s Work (London: Chatto & Windus, 1995), 54–55, 98–99.