A Radical Cut In The Texture Of Reality

August 11, 2019

Two paragraphs from the work-in-progress Solar Kittens

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If humanity survives, which is unlikely, people will want to know what it was like. This feeling that the end was no longer happening in some distant future but was basically happening now. The conversations quoting scientists who had warned us before it was too late but had not known how to summon enough political will for enough people to act, for a large enough number of people to heed their far too prescient warnings. The conversations in which we tried to reassure each other in the knowledge that despair or hopelessness would solve nothing and were in fact the emotions – understandable as they might be – that were the exact opposite of what was required. They will want to know what it was like, in search for insights as to why we didn’t do more to save them, to save ourselves. We will want to know what it was like.

I am sitting here staring out the window on a calm Sunday evening. At the moment it is like nothing. It is like every other unmemorable Sunday evening I am able to recall. This week has been unseasonably cool, a relief, a break from the heat of the previous weeks. I am living without internet at home because I am too addicted to the internet and, if I had it, I would be staring at it now, completely mesmerized by the screen, instead of writing these words. I of course wonder if there’s any point in writing these words. Historically, literature was built by writers who each had at least some feeling there was a chance their writing might live on, that someone might continue to read them far into the future. Statistically the odds for this were not good, and therefore literature has also been built, layer by layer, upon misguided fantasies of posterity. But sitting here with no internet, staring mindlessly out the window, it is extremely difficult for me to imagine any distant future in which someone might be reading these words. Yet imagine it I do. Because I’m a writer and therefore can’t help myself. And when I imagine it, I also can’t help but feel their hunger, their longing to know just what it is like – right here, right now – and I search desperately, both within myself and directly out the window at the quiet street in front of me, searching for something to tell them.



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August 9, 2019

Music I like perhaps mainly because it makes me feel a little bit better about getting older

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Between some Robert Forster solo records (Songs to Play, Inferno) and some Edwyn Collins solo records (Understated, Badbea) I no longer think getting old in rock 'n' roll is such a bad thing.



(When I posted this on social media someone also mentioned Peter Perrett's How The West Was Won.)


(And of course, now and always, Robert Wyatt's Comicopera.)


(Also, perhaps somewhat related, I've always loved Boy George's 2013 single King of Everything.)





And since I now realize this post is mostly about aging, out of curiosity, I thought I would take a moment to look it up:

Robert Wyatt was born in 1945
Peter Perrett was born in 1952
Robert Forster was born in 1957
Edwyn Collins was born in 1959
Boy George was born in 1961


(I was born in 1971)



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August 7, 2019

Four passages from Stage Fright, Animals, and Other Theatrical Problems

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Four passages from Stage Fright, Animals, and Other Theatrical Problems by Nicholas Ridout:



The experience of this theatre-goer, then, is one in which anticipation gives way to disappointment, in which pleasure is bound up with anxiety and even perhaps pain and illness, in which acting is confused with vulgar interruption, in which the transcendent possibilities of the world’s greatest dramatic poetry appear to pass by almost unnoticed in a ‘deliberate monotone’, and success appears as dependent upon the audience as it is upon the artistic capability of the actor. Yet for all this, for all the confusion, anxiety and disappointment, it is an experience which he cannot bear to bring to an end, and to which he will repeatedly seek to return.



This ambivalence certainly characterizes my own relationship with the theatre. Theatre, being queasy, makes me queasy. That such queasiness is widespread, that we find theatre uncomfortable, compromised, boring, conventional, bourgeois, overpriced and unsatisfactory most of the time, is I think not only generally accepted as true, but also generally accepted as part and parcel of the whole business. Theatre’s failure, when theatre fails, is not anomalous, but somehow, perhaps constitutive. What I want to argue here is that it is precisely in theatre’s failure, our discomfort with it, its embeddedness in capitalist leisure, its status as a bourgeois pastime that its political value is to be found. Theatre is a privileged place for the actual experience of a failure to evade or transcend capital.



Of course, never in the history of theatre has the social position of the actor been so similar to the social situation of the character: they are, at last, contemporaries, and more than that, members of the same social class. This means that the ‘actual life’ the actor is required to simulate is close enough to her own for her life to become a private resource for public display. While Diderot feared that the actor’s over-identification with the emotions of the character would be detrimental to theatrical representation because it would lead the actor to lose control of her technique, the new danger for the actor is that their new technique, along with the new forms and subject matter of bourgeois naturalist drama, might permit so intense an over-identification, that the actor might no longer be required to act at all, but instead just effectively ‘be’ a version of herself.



McKinnie points out that the theatre is an economic subsector in which work is clearly alienated. Picking up on this perception one notes how the employee’s time is regulated with rigorous force by bells and curtains, how both the rehearsal process and the nightly routine of performances are dominated by repetitive activity, how wage levels are set in structures of extreme differentiation, how these are maintained by a huge pool of surplus labour which renders effective industrial organization impossible, and how the core activity itself is both a metaphor of alienation and alienation itself: the actor is paid to appear in public speaking words written by someone else and executing physical movement which has at the very least usually been subjected to intense and critical scrutiny by a representative of the management who effectively enjoys the power of hiring and firing. The actor is both sign and referent of the wholly alienated wage slave.



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August 5, 2019

Jorge Herralde on running the publishing house Anagrama

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This job is wonderful, though it’s not easy, can be difficult, but by its nature it offers great joy and huge disappointments. It’s a roller coaster. It’s, as I said in an article once, about dolling out and receiving pain. Dolling out pain to so many manuscripts that one has to reject. If it’s an author you have no ties to, they experience the pain, but when it’s an author who has published several books with you but you decide not to go with, it’s painful for the publisher and even more so for the author. And then one receives pain, when there are misunderstandings with authors who are very much to the publisher’s liking but who decide to listen to siren songs, which can be deafening.

– Jorge Herralde, on running the publishing house Anagrama



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August 2, 2019

Jessa Crispin Quote

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“Don’t end up like Bertolt Brecht.”

That seems like horrible advice. Shouldn’t the goal of life be to end up as close to Bertolt Brecht as possible. I need a little context.

“When Brecht moved to Los Angeles, he had such a difficult time learning English that he gave up. It soured him, being unable to communicate, and he started to hate America. Read his journals, you’ll see.”

For Stefan, every topic of conversation circles back to Bertolt Brecht, the way for me every topic of conversation circles back to William James. I take his point, which is made in impeccable English, shaming me further. I have been stubborn about learning to speak German. It feeds into my unsettled state. Why learn German if I’m only going to be here for a few years? But then how can I know if I want to stay unless I assimilate a little and give the place a chance? It is mortifying when someone addresses me in German I can’t follow, and yet part of me likes the little bubble I live in, the way I can tune out conversations on the subway because I can’t follow them anyway.

“Read Brecht’s journals,” Stefan repeats. “And learn German.”


– Jessa Crispin, The Dead Ladies Project



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July 31, 2019

Susanne Moser: "But it’s basically the idea of keeping the Anthropocene to a really thin layer in the geologic record and being one among many species that live on this planet ..."

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Laurie Mazur: With the story of climate change, there's so much loss: loss of the familiar, of places we love, of the stable climate that gave us a huge boost as a species. Are there things to be gained as well from moving out of that certainty?

Susanne Moser: I certainly think so. The loss is tremendous and heartbreaking on so many levels, both the human suffering and the wiping out of other species, the loss of places, seasons. And it strikes me that it seems so much easier to imagine these losses than to imagine that we could change ourselves and create a different form of living on the planet.

It is really crucial that we learn to imagine what we could gain. If we can't imagine it, it’s more difficult to create. It'll make us dependent on accidents, serendipities.

When [atmospheric concentration of carbon passed] 415 parts per million, people were saying that we had never had these kinds of atmospheric conditions during the time that homo sapiens have been on this planet. And we’re now moving to double that, and beyond.

So we’re having to deal with completely new environmental conditions, and we will be changed by that. Can we imagine that? No. Can we try to imagine that we’re not just clobbering each other over the head or blowing each other up? I can imagine something different.

Laurie Mazur: When you imagine it, what is the best thing about that new world?

Susanne Moser: That we will be a nondominant species again. I'm not the first one to say that. But it’s basically the idea of keeping the Anthropocene to a really thin layer in the geologic record and being one among many species that live on this planet within the confines of its resources, without damaging it, and in fact making it part of our species’ purpose to recreate and nourish the conditions for the continuity of life.

In my highest aspirations for the human species, that’s what we will be: servants of life.



[From Despairing about the Climate Crisis? Read This.]


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July 28, 2019

Lidija Haas Quote

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At a party, a woman in her twenties, someone you find slightly intimidating, tells you that you and others your age (mid-thirties) are being used as “beards” by men who employ your friendship as a convenient badge of feminism while behaving poorly, when your back is turned, toward younger, less professionally established women. The claim doesn’t seem to be an attack; she’s trying to help you make more informed decisions. Your first reaction is, You think I’m established? Your second: How could I possibly know if what she describes is happening? And third: It’s probably true. (This last strikes you as an alternate instance of what the psychoanalyst Christopher Bollas calls “the unthought known.”) Can people abuse power they don’t see themselves as possessing? All the better, probably. Not seeing power must be a function of having it.

- Lidija Haas, #ETTU?



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July 24, 2019

Ursula K. Le Guin Quote

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The validity of the promise, even promise of indefinite term, was deep in the grain of Odo’s thinking; though it might seem that her insistence on freedom to change would invalidate the idea of promise or vow, in fact the freedom made the promise meaningful. A promise is a direction taken, a self-limitation of choice. As Odo pointed out, if no direction is taken, if one goes nowhere, no change will occur. One’s freedom to choose and to change will be unused, exactly as if one were in jail, a jail of one’s own building, a maze in which no one way is better than any other. So Odo came to see the promise, the pledge, the idea of fidelity, as essential to the complexity of freedom.

– Ursula K. Le Guin, The Dispossessed



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July 21, 2019

Erin Hill Quote

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I have been thinking about sharing, it is a pillar, is a gesture, and I have been trying to notice its smallest interactions. Upstairs wakes us.

The birds were awake when I was awake, 7:18, that’s new for Berlin sunrises.

I don’t think the Share button on Facebook is actually for sharing, doesn’t sharing involve an intended receiver?

The share button is for spreading, and spreading is territorial, is taking up space.

Sharing is fundamentally about survival.

I don’t believe myself in what I’ve written here… but it’s early.


– Erin Hill, Real Life Magic



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June 27, 2019

early rules for an eventual novel

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To let the book ferment in my head for years and years before I actually start writing it.


Write a little bit, think a lot, write a little bit more.


“I hated the idea that there can be such a thing as a masterpiece and I hated the fact that I wanted to try to write one.”


A novel with many storylines, many loose ends dangling – and some of the loose ends are tied up, some are partly resolved to varying degrees, and some are left dangling – so as you continue to read you are always unsure which storylines will be completed and which will be left incomplete.


A novel about kindness and tenderness.


A satire of a novel about environmental collapse.


Trying to write a really long book.


The world needs people. (Or at least it used to. Perhaps what it needs now is in fact considerably less people.)


This isn’t science fiction therefore we don’t need to explain how the kittens first develop telepathy.


I didn’t invent sex.


When she was young she of course wanted to be famous.


A novel without a single protagonist, with so many protagonists it’s impossible to keep count.


A story about how millennia ago evil magicians planted oil deep in the earth so that it would someday be discovered and destroy humanity.


Never again: ripped from the headlines. No more: ripped from the headlines.


Letting ideas percolate in my head for many years before eventually writing them down.


“I think I will eventually write another book, someday, but I’m not working on anything at the moment and have no immediate plans to do so.”


I thought I would try to write about the emotional complexity of sex, which isn’t necessarily something I know very much about.


A person who sets up a museum in their home.


A horse that climbs into a boat.


Reading a non-fiction book and encountering a minor character, a character mentioned only in passing, but who is clearly portrayed as despicable, and then gradually realizing the character is based on you.


Being a public figure whose private life does not match up with their public image. The fear of being exposed or being blackmailed.


Spending years trying to find your idol, finding him, at which point he attempts to scam you out of money.


Not actually writing a novel, but fantasizing about writing a novel.


“I never found out if that book actually existed.”


“Climate change is so interesting because it, more so than other crises, reveals the neoliberal demand for "individual responsibility" as being an ideology whose sole function is to protect the ruling class from collective action.”





[Bonus: you can find my possible first attempt at the possible first chapter here.]



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Aravinda Ananda Quote

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One of the processes for dismantling white supremacy is, oddly, building up white people’s sense of fundamental worth and belonging. Not entitlement or superiority, but a deeper feeling that they do belong among other humans and will not be discarded as they learn. The last thing I want to do right now in my stage of racial identity development is hold space for white people; I actually want to get really far away from them. But you can’t shame someone out of a shame aversion, and so working with white people has become very important for me. Caucusing in order to do that kind of hard work of drilling down into white assumptions and fragility in a way that can hold people and bring them through the work has been so valuable. It responds to that call to “hold your people.”

- Aravinda Ananda, from Turn This World Inside Out: The Emergence of Nurturance Culture



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