Writing in her journal in 1952, American poet Sylvia Plath lamented the conundrum of human relationships.

“I need people and I revile them, I want them and I want to be free of them,” she wrote. “I think about my attachments – to people, to places, to objects, to thoughts, to things that happen to me – and I want to be free of them and yet I know I need them all. What am I to do with this strange mass of feelings and contradictions within me? I am the spider in the web of others and things, knowing she needs them and desperately wanting not to.”

The enmeshing, contradictory, often maddening and complex nature of attachments – to people, to places, to things – expressed by Plath sits at the heart of the current edition of Griffith Review, the aptly titled Attachment Styles. Drawing together a disparate mix of non-fiction, fiction, poetry and visual art in order to explore a range of the titular ‘attachment styles,’ the 84th edition of the respected and long-standing journal delves into what editor Carody Culver describes as “a sprawling lineage of feelings about parents, children, pets, lovers, work, bodies, concepts and communities.”

Griffith Review 84 opens with an engaging and perceptive essay from Melbourne-based forensic psychologist Dr. Ahona Guha, Psychobabble, which interrogates the rise of therapy speak in modern culture and conversation. Examining the “casualisation and degradation of meaning associated with common psychological terms,” Guha’s piece sensitively examines the relocation of therapeutic vernacular from the treatment room into the realm of real life and the rise in social media use and mental health awareness, both in a broader societal sense and an individual one, also looking at the ways in which this relocation affects both society and individuals.

In reading this volume of works, it is perhaps useful to think about attachment styles as a kind of tree, with branches reaching in manifold directions, indicating many different kinds of attachments and ways in which they can be formed. For her essay detailing her thyroid cancer diagnosis and treatment, Ceridwen Dovey takes the eight-armed cephalopod, the octopus, as an affecting and effective metaphor, wondering: “Is the point that I should try to become more like an octopus? They are solitary by choice, and do not live in families. In some ways, it would be easier to give in to this intense curiosity about what’s happening to me without having loved ones around to worry.”

Our attachments – to our bodies, to ourselves, to those we love and who love us – necessarily and understandably come to define us, but what do we do when our bodies fail us? When those we love, be they human or animal, betray our trust? At the heart of Ellena Savage’s Bringing Up Baby sits another animal, the literal dog whose violent tendencies drive the author and her husband to near dissolution. As she endures Baby’s attacks, Savage notes that … “I don’t know if it’s maturity, cynicism or simply having sustained multiple dog-attack injuries, but I have begun to believe that terrible incongruities may go eternally unresolved; that there is no political, moral or redistributive solution to every problem. Enduring misfortune and unfairness may be all we have.”

And, yet, despite life’s misfortunes and unfairnesses, often it is our attachments to others, to people, places, animals and objects, that bring our lives richness and meaning.

In Griffith Review 84, Carody Culver engages in conversations with five radically different individuals – writers and couple Richard Glover and Debra Oswald, photographer Anne Zahalka,  indigenous writer Debra Dank and writer, editor and advice columnist Daniel M. Lavery – and what emerges are profound insights into the worth of attachments in their myriad forms: personal and working relationships, creative practice, writing process, the relationships between writers and readers, as well as those who seek and dispense advice, and connection to objects, land and place.

As anybody who has seen Culver facilitate any of the Brisbane Writers Festival’s out-of-season author events can attest, and I am thinking particularly of her chats with Irish writers Paul Murray and Caroline O’Donoghue here, she is an erudite and adept interviewer, balancing the fine art of conversation with a questioner’s unassailable curiosity and interest. Each of the conversations published here, with their verve, delicacy and insight only compound that impression.

In her exquisite essay Black love matters (thick love, thin love and an ethic of love), novelist and academic Hsu-Ming Teo traverses the relationship between the self, love and loving through a discussion of American writer Toni Morrison’s masterful novel, Beloved, that centres the work of feminist theorist and critic bell hooks, whilst also exploring Teo’s own complicated relationship with her own aging mother. It is a profound and powerful examination of the vision of complex, plenitudinous love that Morrison’s novel presents, the fraught relationship the United States has with its patriarchal, slaveholding past, and the inveterate slipperiness of the interlinked realms of love, personal emotion and choice.

Teo’s essay, alongside Clare Monagle’s It’s only natural (The fantasies and fallacies of breastfeeding) Brooke Maddison’s Origin stories (Mapping the shape of a family), Russell Celyn-Jones’ Land of my fathers (On men, masculinity and change) and Emily Tsokos Purtill’s witty, irreverent Reluctant farewell to a trusted companion (Valediction for a stroller) represent Griffith Review 84: Attachment Styles at its strongest: a multifaceted, edifying and incisive examination of what, fundamentally, it is to be human, to want and to need and – in other words – to be attached.

Griffith Review 84: Attachment Styles, edited by Carody Culver, $27.99



is available now. https://www.griffithreview.com/


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