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Dearly beloved,

How are things? Did you manage to follow-up on any of last fortnight’s suggestions? I know you’re busy – a freelancer’s work is never done. It’s not every day that the stars align and your invoices are up-to-date/deadlines have been met, and you can validate wedging a cultural segment into your workday.

Perhaps we are, as David Graeber suggests in his new polemic Bullshit  Jobs, under the miserable subject of our menial jobs. Graeber berates, ‘Jobs have had to be created that are, effectively, pointless. Huge swathes of people in Europe and North America in particular, spend their entire working lives performing tasks they secretly believe do not really need to be performed. The moral and spiritual damage that comes from this situation is profound’.  

And yet, what is the solution? Full communism? I’ll happily shout at passing clouds, but I’ll be damned if I stop working to prove a point about the bullshit-ness of contemporary working life.

A weekend is rarely sacred if you’re anything like me and incapable of ceasing work altogether. Find me in a guilty sheet mask on a Sunday night, listing unachievable tasks on my Notes app and naughtily shooting emails from the comfort of a bubble bath. Bliss.

But never mind, here’s another lovingly curated cornucopia of cultural hors d’œuvres, to smack you out of your Valentine’s Day stupor. Yes, stupor. It’s a condition which the Earl of Rochester self-diagnoses in his poem ‘The Imperfect Enjoyment’, observing himself, ‘Trembling, confused, despairing, limber, dry, /A wishing, weak, unmoving lump I lie’. Definitely been there.

Let us raise a glass of Shloer in celebration of getting through yet another day of materialistic buffoonery; those doting ‘banter mugs’, pun-laden glittery Moomin cards and those deeply amorous grow-your-own-gender-binary partners. Rather, let’s champion subversive romance and tacky erotica, beyond the roses and plushies. Open wide for a post-coital dose of edifying cultural tip-offs that (mostly) go against the heteronormative grain, offsetting the saccharine aftertaste of après-Val.

Our Anti-Valentines list would not possibly begin without the dominant presence of some feisty erotic fiction. Luckily for you, there seems to be a veritable boom in the market with E.L. James, of Fifty Shades fame, having recently announced her new novel The Mister.

Thankfully, there’s plenty of sexy stories to go around until April. Did you have the pleasure of reading in full, or perhaps extracts from, the 2018 Bad Sex Awards winning Katerina by James Frey? It’s especially dreadful, its orgasmic climax linguistically manifesting as ‘White. God. Cum. Cum. Cum.’ But where’s the fun in only reading great literature? Live a little.

Bridging the gap between limp prose and charged writing is Leïla Slimani’s Adèle, treading the line between psychological and erotic fiction. Having won the Prix Goncourt in 2016 for her debut novel Lullaby, Slimani is fond of darkly nuanced women. She spins the tale of her titular protagonist, Adèle, a philandering sex addict hiding behind the veneer of domestic life as a Journalist and doting Mother, living and loving in present-day Paris.

If you’re aching for some unsung Queer histories, Angela Stiedele’s remarkable biography of Anne Lister (transl. Katy Derbyshire) Gentleman Jack: A biography of Anne Lister, Regency Landowner, Seducer and Secret Diarist has been making waves through the culture-verse, and rightly so. Stiedele uses extracts from Lister’s diary to explore her cult status as the globe-trotting, landowning heiress who climbed mountains, kept a pistol under her pillow and kept her sexuality and desire for women under lock and key, through the codification of her diary. If you’re a fan of the biography, keep an eye out for the BBC One/HBO TV series Gentleman Jack, set to grace our screens sometime in April.

On the small screen, Netflix has blessed us with an array of sexually-explorative, convention-defying series’, including Sex Education and Big Mouth, which, despite the thematic rejection of mushy materialism, it’s worth watching their Valentines Day special ‘My Furry Valentine’ for a good chortle.

Whilst we’re on the topic, Channel 4 series Flirty Dancing deserves an honourable romantic mention for its concept alone; a blind dating show where both individuals are taught a dance prior to their meeting, which they perform on their first date. It’s grossly, putridly adorable. For a fresh interrogation of eroticism and sexualities, the new season of Slutever comes to Viceland in weekly instalments from the 10th February, starring the sex columnist and VICE writer Karley Sciortino.

If you fancy leaving the house to alleviate some post-Valentines blues, steer your direction towards the Diane Arbus retrospective at the Southbank centre (13th February-6th May). Focusing on the beginning of the photographer’s career in 1950s New York, Arbus’ lens gravitates towards those who are on the fringes of society, through her strikingly composed female portraits presenting people, drag performers, naked pensioners, impeccably-matching siblings and heavily tattooed young men.

Whilst the collection is on loan from the MoMa, I was lucky enough to have seen the exhibition myself at the unsung North Devon haven of arts and culture, the Burton Art Gallery in Bideford, last Summer. Whilst the reception was mostly positive, there was a great deal of local outrage splayed across the pages of the gallery’s guestbook (‘This is utterly disgraceful. Weird.’) making my love for Arbus’ work increase tenfold.

Alternatively, you may choose to wiggle down to The Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) for a weekend screening of Abdellatif Kechiche’s newest filmic offering, Mektoub, My Love. Unfortunately, Kechiche’s directorial legacy is tainted by his history of extensive overworking and mistreatment of actors during the filming of Blue is the Warmest Colour. Not to mention the male-gaze misinterpretation of Julie Maroh’s graphic novel, which Maroh herself slated as “a brutal and surgical display, exuberant and cold, of so-called lesbian sex […] turned into porn”.

In any case, you may choose not to put money into the pocket of a questionable director, but, you should definitely keep your eyes on ICA, as an important cultural mainstay of the Capital. If all else fails, and you’ve made it this far through the article without finding anything to pique your interest, slip on Ariana Grande’s new album, Thank U, Next and be gone with you.

Editor’s note: The incorrect citation of David Graeber in the second paragraph was fixed at a later date. 

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