January 2021: On Connection by Kae Tempest

On Connection, Kae Tempest

The beginning of 2021 has come with some surprises and other vastly unsurprising events. Meeting up at the end of the month to talk about connection had a particular feel of both irony and special importance.

In a time when we are more disconnected than ever, Tempest’s book has had to fight against a lot of indignation. “The frothing crowds of woke vs unwoke, snowflake vs gammon, deep state conspiracy theorist vs mainstream news consumer” presents itself almost as an attack on those who use each term, forcing us to question how we can claim to be any different from each other. When both extremes are on high alert, we are also quick to defend (sometimes to the death).

I found myself falling afoul of this when I started reading the book. Tempest spoke of connection and understanding of all humans, and I found myself thinking “why would you ever get me to attempt to understand someone who has vastly different views to me? I don’t want to talk to transphobes, let alone connect,” which instantly set off alarm bells in my brain. Why was my first thought attack anyone who might have a differing viewpoint to me? This is what Tempest is trying to say; we have gone too far, zooming in far too close on our differences, so much so that we are unable to see the humanity that inherently connects us all.

After reading the first section of the book, I felt disappointed, upset, and perhaps further in my own head than I was when I started it. I put it down and did not pick it back up for some time. This was an error; it is best consumed in its entirety, in one go. I mentioned to the group that, just like a course of antibiotics, I had to finish the whole book in order to get the best results. Upon finishing the book, I found myself much more hopeful. I even had a small sense of optimism. Perhaps I can accept that every human is the main character in their own story, with motivations and reasoning I cannot hope to fully comprehend. And perhaps that is okay. Perhaps, learning to listen and empathise is the most I can hope for.

In our discussion, we mused on a number of topics. The most recurring sentiment was that Tempest had not revealed anything new to us in this book. It wasn’t groundbreaking, but it did reframe ancient arguments in a new way, highlighting the importance of the messages that made them feel fresh. The arguments they put forward are always relevant, no matter what course history is taking us on, it is simply that we are too busy “project[ing’] ourselves into the collective conscious as being entirely one thing or another, righteous and correct in our polarities” to spare a thought for nuance.

We also spoke about pretentiousness, both in this book and in the creative world. Tempest writes, “culture, in the main, is a bourgeois pursuit, a reaffirmation of a mannered existence that cements prejudice and justifies ignorance” which certainly reminds us of our privilege to be able to both read and discuss the book – particularly during a global pandemic when many people are struggling to make ends meet.

The Oxford Blue’s review of ‘On Connection’ extolls Tempest’s virtues, and mentions that a specific line* “alone is worth the book’s £9.99 price tag, though viewing ‘On Connection’ as a product to be purchased and consumed is evidently a paradoxical and futile mindset.”

This is by far the most pretentious way to see what is essentially a long essay, but as a piece of work, it is undoubtedly crucial in reframing, challenging, and adjusting our strongly held convictions. We certainly won’t be doing that when stuck in our own echo chambers. For a queer book club, reading something by a member of our community that holds us to account and forces us to rethink our moral standpoint was a refreshing change.

I now compare my experience of reading this book to getting my glasses prescription updated after too long seeing the world blurred. It’s what I should have been seeing all along, but the slight adjustment feels radically different – and will keep my brain hurting with the change for some time to come – until I get complacent once more, necessitating another reality check.

*“Connection,” they write, “is the feeling of landing in the present tense.”

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Further reading as suggested by our members: