A Radical Cut In The Texture Of Reality

December 1, 2021

Some lines from the first two volumes of Susan Sontag's diaries

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From Reborn: Journals and Notebooks, 1947-1963




I am not myself with people […] but am I myself when alone? That seems unlikely, too.


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The world is cluttered with dead institutions.


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Life is suicide, mediated.


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There is often a contradiction between the meaning of our actions toward a person and what we say we feel toward that person in a journal. But this does not mean that what we do is shallow, and only what we confess to ourselves is deep. Confessions, I mean sincere confessions of course, can be more shallow than actions. I am thinking now of what I read today (when I went up to 122 Boulevard Saint-Germain to check for her mail) in Harriet’s journal about me – that curt, unfair, uncharitable assessment of me which concluded by her saying that she really doesn’t like me but my passion for her is acceptable and opportune. God knows it hurts, and I feel indignant and humiliated. We rarely do know what people think of us (or, rather, think they think of us)… Do I feel guilty about reading what was not intended for my eyes? No. One of the main (social) functions of a journal or diary is precisely to be read furtively by other people, the people (like parents + lovers) about whom one has been cruelly honest only in the journal. Will Harriet ever read this?


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Harriet said something very striking yesterday, apropos of Sam W.’s enormous library, that collecting books in that way was “like marrying someone in order to sleep with him.”

True…

Use libraries!!


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Inspiration presents itself to me in the form of anxiety.


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I told her tonight she is always putting me in the position of saying “I’m sorry.”

She told me to go read a sex manual. 


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From As Consciousness is Harnessed to Flesh: Journals and Notebooks, 1964-1980




A miracle is just an accident, with fancy trappings.


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One man thinks before he acts. Another man thinks after he acts. Each is of the opinion that the other thinks too much.


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If I can’t bring judgement against the world, I must bring it against myself.

I’m learning to bring judgement against the world.


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Every act is a compromise (between what one wants + what one thinks is possible.)


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Ivan searching for a reply to something I said: “Wait… I can taste it but I can’t yet find the words.”


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I suspect now that lusting after the good isn’t what a really good person does.


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Thoreau on his death bed – on being asked what were his feelings about the next world: “One world at a time.”


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The extraordinary frequency with which the plot of a serious contemporary novel turns on, or resolves itself, by a murder – compared with the extreme unlikelihood that the educated writers of vanguard fiction have ever been anywhere near a murder in their lives.



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November 29, 2021

Draft epigraph page for the work-in-progress Damp Heaven

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We’re in an emergency wishing it would go back to being in a crisis.
– Penny Arcade



I’m thinking of a labor movement, but one very different than the kind we’ve already seen. A labor movement that manages to finally ditch all traces of the ideology that says that work is a value in itself, but rather redefines labor as caring for other people.
– David Graeber



it’s funny bc we think the lit and art being produced now is going to be historicized for its relationship w the Digital but actually it will be remembered as the last Seasonal work, abt livable temperatures, easy travel, trees and flowers, food to eat and many different animals
– Twitter post by Audrey Wollen



Because saving the biosphere doesn’t make a profit in the capitalist order, we will never do it, and we are therefore doomed. So a very fundamental reform of how we regard money itself is absolutely necessary. I’m saying that a post-capitalist political economy that regards money as created for the public good and is spent on that first — and then trickles into the general economy — is a fundamental shift, and without it, we’re in terrible trouble.
– Kim Stanley Robinson



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November 26, 2021

A few more paragraphs from the work-in-progress Damp Heaven

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They took a boat because they believed it to be the most ecologically responsible manner in which to get there. They chose that specific boat because it ran on solar energy, a relatively new thing at the time. (Not solar energy but boats that ran on it.) Perhaps a sailboat would have been even more ecologically sound, but that is not the boat they took. And a story about sailboats is a story from a previous time. (Not to romanticize the past, but boats that ran on wind certainly have their merits when compared to boats that run on oil.) The journey was scheduled to last about seven weeks. They knew where they were going, but not exactly what they planned to do when they arrived. They planned to do something useful. Something extremely illegal which they also had vague hopes would be equally helpful. It would involve breaking into buildings and accessing heavily encrypted computer servers, skills they had researched but still had relatively little direct experience with. They did not think what they were doing was the best or most useful activity currently available to them or to anyone else. It was more like an experiment. An activity that might lead to other ideas or activities, if they survived, and managed to reach the other side without spending the rest of their lives in prison. It was not a good plan. In a sense it was an act of desperation.

Harmattan and Penelope stood on deck, pressed against the railing, together staring off into the distance. Harmattan was almost consumed with doubt regarding the relative soundness of their plan. In fact, there was no need to doubt, the plan was fundamentally unsound. The water spread out in every direction with no signs of surface life. However, Harmattan knew that under the surface the waters were teeming. This divide between the surface and what lay underneath felt, for a long sharp moment, to be of almost complete significance. Then, a moment later, it seemed to be of little significance, little more than a pale cliché.

And then there was the question of Penelope, who practically insisted on joining them in this mission, ever so gently refusing to take no for an answer when told he wasn’t invited. He wasn’t invited but managed to invite himself and come along. And now they stood side by side staring out at the insignificant non-metaphor of the placid surface. Neither of them spoke. Harmattan noticed that Penelope rarely spoke without someone speaking to him first. Penelope rarely spoke, only replied. However, when he replied to a genuine and complex question he would often reply at great length. So if, right now, as they were staring across the water, Harmattan wished for Penelope to speak, all he would have to do is ask him a question. But did Harmattan wish Penelope to speak, and if so precisely what question should be asked? What, if anything, did he genuinely want to know? On this voyage there was an enormous amount of free time, and vast stretches of it had been spent in relative silence. The sound of the boat steadily plowing through the water was the constant undertow to all conversational silence. It occurred to Harmattan that silence between two people, or in this case silence between a person and an algorithm from the future, was more a part of conversation then it was an alternative to it. Mistral and Fremantle were most likely down below in their rooms. There were periods where they spent a great deal of time together, and others where they kept their distance, perhaps needing the space to more privately prepare what they were soon planning to do. But, he thought to himself, under the circumstances they were getting along rather well.

There was a time when Harmattan had actually felt he was the ostensible leader of their little unnamed group. But then Silvering appeared on the scene and took over for a while. And now, on this particular journey, perhaps Penelope had become the leader, almost by default, since Penelope always seemed to have a clear and useful idea as to how they might proceed. If Harmattan thought about it, he didn’t really mind no longer being in charge. There was something interesting, almost comforting, in being just another member of the group. At times it felt almost like being an observer within the constant external details of his own life. He tried to think back to a time when he felt more like the leader. Did he prefer that time in any way from the vagaries of the present? And had anyone else in the group really considered him the leader, or was that only his own eccentric way of seeing himself at the time. Then he found himself thinking something quite different. When they arrived at their destination, they would need to all work as a team, smoothly and effectively, could he honestly imagine this? And, whether or not he could imagine it, when the time came they would need to do so regardless. He would have to put his own concerns aside and lose himself within the immediate necessities of the group. Could he do that?

Harmattan looked over at Penelope who, at least on the surface, appeared to have none of these worries, then looked back out at the water. Should he ask Penelope a question and, if so, precisely which one? Penelope had so much external information that was simply unavailable to him, some sort of cosmic overview, though he realized the matter was not nearly so simple, since there was also something in the way Penelope was made that never allowed him to know any more or less then absolutely necessary, as if he was solving a complicated puzzle but only allotted one clue at a time. Harmattan turned again to Penelope and asked: “Do you already know whether or not what we’re about to attempt is going to succeed?”

And Penelope replied: “Of course not. But, at the same time, I do know something. Or it’s as if I know something. But that something is less like a thought and more like a feeling. In this sense it’s probably not so different from you, since you also must have many feelings about what we’re about to attempt.”

It was true, Harmattan did have many feelings about it. But he’d known Penelope long enough now to know that when Penelope described a “feeling” something quite different was in fact meant. For Penelope, a feeling was more like a premonition, and such premonitions had a tendency to be almost startlingly accurate. Therefore Harmattan decided he would enquire further: “What kind of feeling do you have about it? Can you describe it? Are there details?”

Penelope replied: “As I believe you already know, what I see, what I feel, is ever-shifting. I realize you didn’t want me to get on this boat yet everything I felt was telling me I had to join you. I’m an algorithm that’s designed, among other things, both to assist and to survive. So if this mission wasn’t something I could both help with and survive, it goes to reason, I wouldn’t be here. My being here, in and of itself, represents the feeling that things will, at least in some sense, work out. But no, I don’t have any details.”

Harmattan couldn’t decide if he was reassured by this answer. Or if Penelope’s intention was to be reassuring. Could it even be said that Penelope had intentions? The way Harmattan understood it – through some improvised combination of observation and conjecture – is that Penelope existed in a sort of feedback loop. Penelope would do something, that occurrence would be transmitted to computers in the distant future, those computers would check the historical repercussions of what had occurred, and then Penelope would receive a signal back indicating how to proceed. It was this signal that Penelope referred to as a feeling. Or at least this is how Harmattan understood the situation, since it was also clear that Penelope understood it in some completely different manner, something considerably more fluid and swirling. For Harmattan it was a phenomena to be observed, while for Penelope it was the entirety of both his being and his experience. There was no possibility of taking anything resembling a step back in order to achieve some greater perspective.



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November 23, 2021

A paragraph from the work-in-progress Damp Heaven

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As sometimes happens, I can feel my mind wandering as my body is overwhelmed with sensations both new and familiar, Ex-Banker and Journalist on either side of me, all three of us entwined in pleasure, as I find myself thinking back to our youthful campaign against the university, whether it fizzled out naturally or through some underhanded act of subterfuge. And then I'm considering, more generally, the nature of extended protest, why is it so difficult to keep a protest steadily growing over time, how (perhaps like our newly discovered sex) it often rises to some climax or accomplishment, then almost feels like you need to begin again, if not quite from scratch then close to it, how small victories don’t automatically build into larger ones, but are rather more like waves, rolling forward then back. Considering the nature of protest sparks a reminder in my brain that the following Monday is the first day of a global month of protest, a month that our entire group has decided to participate in as fully as our schedules allow. And I imagine myself in the middle of a crowd, marching and chanting, every single weekday for the next four weeks (since on weekends we will still gather here at the farmhouse) chanting until my voice grows hoarse, the thought that if we continue protesting aggressively and continuously then sooner or later something has to give, though that is certainly not the only front on which progress will be made, somehow – and I still have no idea how or if it’s even true – progress must also be made in the realm of the sexual, in the realm of the multitude of our still tentative new sexual discoveries, as news of these discoveries begin to spread, how people can use these burgeoning desires to bolster their desire for the entirety of society to shift, for some complete change as to how and why we live, an undoing of harm and of power, and just as I have this rather-too-utopian thought, which I also find myself wanting to question, my questioning is cut short by the bodily premonition of a rapidly approaching orgasm, already almost upon me, wave after wave of it, my entire self begins to shudder, and, strangely – I have no idea how I think I even know this – I believe I can feel the signal shaking, the signal from the future, echoing, starting to orgasm as well.



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November 18, 2021

Marco Roth on Sylvère Lotringer

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What I’m trying to say about Sylvère was that he attracted and maintained an aura of possibility, and that this allowed me to begin to be myself in a way that I’d never imagined I could be. He didn’t care if I was his best student that year, or if I went to graduate school, or if I became a habitué of whatever was then left of the downtown arts world. It was an education in indiscipline, or liberation, which, if taken seriously, also became a kind of discipline. In other words, Sylvère offered his students exactly what he also, as an interviewer, interlocutor, and then publisher, offered philosophers like Paul Virilio, Black Panther activists, S&M performance artists, and eventually writers such as Kathy Acker and Chris Kraus: the opportunity to further articulate and refine a liberating or liberationist practice, sometimes in the form of resistance, sometimes in creation, or in the synthesis of the two. This was a kind of dignity most of us were unused to being treated with.

What his colleagues and his critics, and possibly many of his students, never could forgive him for was that he made it too easy to take advantage of his largesse—everyone pretty much got an A, and the arbitrary focus of the massive syllabi and his penchant to digress made it easy not to do the reading. He was treated like a mad uncle or a clown. But to use Sylvère to game the system was our failing, not his. Sylvère allowed himself to be exploited, but that was also his way of offering a reproach, against us, against the university, also against himself. “It’s so easy to be a masochist,” he said once, in the Proust class, “almost everyone is. To be a sadist requires hard work.”

Total freedom is also a total ethical demand. If you took Sylvère seriously, as I did, he could make you feel incredibly guilty. And many refused to take him seriously just to avoid feeling that way. There’s a moment in Chris Kraus’s novel Torpor that captures the more intimate and more intense form that guilt could take on in a couple: “Sylvie knew her fate would be linked forever to Jerome’s unhappiness, and so she longed to simply make it disappear,” she writes, “As if she could make it go away through will, or empathy—some act of magical transference. But to think that was as grandiose and futile as believing she could travel back in time and stop the Nazi troops from marching into Austria or invading Paris.”

The unhappiness Kraus writes of is that of Sylvere’s childhood, lost to the war, the years of hiding and deprivation when he was scarcely more than a toddler. That trauma—always beneath the beach beneath the street—was incurable, for him, as for so many who “survived.” But as his student, one sensed that he wanted to give to others that ultimate possibility—not of making unhappiness “disappear,” not of exiting history, but of making it less determinative—that he could not find for himself despite all his playfulness and experimentation.

- Marco Roth, On Sylvère Lotringer (1938–2021)



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October 28, 2021

Four passages from Authenticity is a Feeling

Four passages from Authenticity is a Feeling: My Life in PME-ART by Jacob Wren:


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There are no individual solutions to collective problems. Nonetheless, it is individuals who must come together and figure out what to do. In all of this, there is the unaddressed question of leadership. The anarchist in me genuinely believes rotating leadership is a solution: people take turns taking the lead in the areas of their greatest competence, interest, or desire. Another similar collaborative idea might be: best idea wins. But art is so subjective, and for five different people five different ideas might each seem best. It has always been my thinking that if someone in the group feels strongly that we should do something, then we should do it, their strong desire shouldn’t be watered or sanded down by the democratic entropy of the group. I want the projects to be open enough to welcome the strongest impulses of each of the participants. This is my ideal, and like all ideals it is something I often fall short of achieving. Perhaps this ideal is not even best for every collaborative situation. In a sense, it is just another way of saying that I want to work in ways that are deeply collaborative while at the same time keeping our most intense individual artistic differences more alive than alive.


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I went to the theatre and what I saw hinted at my desires but mainly felt like their frustrating opposite. If in conventional theatre you had costumes, characters, acting, scripted narrative, piped-in music, and artifice, instead I wanted people dressed in their normal clothing, being themselves, walking a tightrope between structure and spontaneity, music we loved played on vinyl, CDs, or with instruments, anything and everything that might bring us just a little bit closer to authenticity or reality. There was a kind of theatre that already existed and a kind of theatre that didn’t yet exist, might never exist, and I knew which side I was on.


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I often say I don’t necessarily relate to people who make art, performance, or literature, but I do relate to people who make art, performance, and literature who think of quitting every fifteen seconds. Those are really my people. I call us the boy-who-cried-wolf set, since we always announce we’re quitting but never do, and therefore no one believes us anymore. It seems to me that anyone who works in the arts today and doesn’t have serious, ongoing doubts as to the validity or efficacy of the situation is not facing all of the current, inherent problems and questions with open eyes.


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Not as much now, but more when we first met, Sylvie would sometimes talk about the power of being the official opposition in theatre or in art. That the official opposition can sometimes do more to change things, both more to change the discourse and more to change concrete policies and actions, than those actually in power. The official opposition has the freedom to push as hard as they want, to act purely on principle, and by continually doing so they can keep things moving toward change.


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[These quotes can also be found translated into French here.]



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October 6, 2021

A detective novel that takes place in a world without prisons...

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A detective novel that takes place in a world without prisons, a detective novel with a twist and the twist is: there is no crime and no detective. A cross between a detective novel and a book-length poem.

Working title: Desire Without Expectation



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September 23, 2021

A few actual dreams from the past eight years

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In my dream last night, the last thing I remember saying just before I woke up was: ‘Alain Badiou says the most nihilistic song is All You Need Is Love.’


In my dream last night, the name of my band was: This Unstable Honorarium.


Last night in my dream I googled: how do you fight capitalism.


Last night I dreamt I was an arsonist: as I headed to set one last fire, I got a text saying it’s a trap, turned around, and decided to go see art instead.


Last night I dreamt the telescope was invented by aliens, who sent it to us telepathically, to put us on the wrong track.


Last night I dreamt I had writer’s block.


In my dream last night I came to the sudden realization that celebrity culture was the worshipping of false idols.


In my dream last night I read an essay that began: “We’re sick of reading books that are only men writing about their loneliness. We want to read books by women writing about their __________.” But I couldn’t make out the last word. (I had a sense that the last word might be rage.)



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September 21, 2021

An ongoing list of titles I'm considering for my current work-in-progress

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Amateur Kittens Dreaming Solar Energy
the world is ending / the world is unending
Joyous Doubt Beneath the Future
Now is the moment when it’s not too late.
Damp Heaven




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September 20, 2021

The institution only cares about the institution

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If anyone has any ideas, now is the time to try them.

Find them strange, find the difficult strangeness within each one.

We’ve undone what was done, yet it keeps endlessly redoing itself.

(People who are good at art often also have a great deal of difficulty
with many of the other parts of life.)

The aspects of life that make life worth living, how to explain
to myself just exactly what they are.



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