The best book I read this year was Love’s Work by the late philosopher Gillian Rose. Completed after Rose was diagnosed with late-stage ovarian cancer, it functions as both philosophy and autobiography. Rose’s primary passion as a philosopher is the ground (the “broken middle”) between ideas and their realization in life. For her, philosophy presents the possibility for consciously working within that gap. In her life, we see how that project reaches into friendship, politics, family, and romantic affairs, and toward her own failing body. “To live, to love, is to be failed,” she writes, and yet she commits to the attempt: this is the work of love to which the title refers. Originally published in 1995, Love’s Work was reissued by the New York Review Books Classics in 2011; this edition includes an introduction by Michael Wood and concludes with a poem about Rose by Geoffrey Hill attesting to the gift of her work and her person. Hill writes of both thusly: “There is a kind of sanity that hates weddings/but bears an intelligence of grief/in its own kind.” Rose was formidable. It’s clear from her self-description and the tributes included in this volume that while she lived, she comported herself with an intensity that burned away the chaff, her incisive and expert studies on Hegel and T. W. Adorno further demonstration of it. Small yet dense, Love’s Work is Rose’s most accessible book and an illustration of how her philosophical commitments translated to a difficult life fully lived.
Maria Bowler is the former assistant digital editor of Commonweal.