A Radical Cut In The Texture Of Reality

August 5, 2021

Some lines that may or may not end up in my next book...


"Not everyone knows about sex yet."

Obviously these things aren’t real solutions (telepathic kittens, time-travelling computers, a chemical that turns oil into stone.) But reality is not a solution for reality.

Western Culture is so deeply messed up in so many different ways. There are of course many sources and reasons for this ongoing destructive path. But definitely one origin is the famous: “I think therefore I am.” That is simply wrongheaded. We are because we are part of an interconnected network with all other living things. All Indigenous cultures know this.

It’s a fantasy. But in so many ways what the capitalists have done is also a pure fantasy, it’s only by hoarding an abstraction called money gave them the tools to impose parts of it on large enough swathes of the reality to make it seem like reality. What they have done is a fantasy that’s in the process of destroying us all.

Then again, we’re surrounded by capitalist fantasies. Why not have a few gloriously anti-capitalist fantasies as well.

Money isn’t real. It’s a fiction, a story. But money can do things that nothing else can do. So in that sense – at the level of power – it has some sort of greater reality.

I write all of this not to beat myself up, but because I feel such reflections might apply to many others, some of whom might be reading this, and the ways you feel such reflections clearly don’t apply to you might also be of some use.

She did not want to write about real life.

In this book, books are often part of the solution, but I know, in reality, books are more often part of the problem. Knowing this I nonetheless find myself writing a book.

With my head in a book, like an ostrich with its head in the sand.

What I think is most likely to happen and what I want most to happen are often opposites.

I honestly have a lot of respect for people who kill themselves. So if that’s what you decide in the end, I’m not going to be the one to tell you you’re wrong. At the same time, we never really know what’s going to happen next. So I think there’s always a case to be made for taking the risk of sticking around to find out.

For years I couldn't stop writing about the oncoming fascism and then the fascism was here and I couldn’t seem to write about it anymore.

If you can’t trust and algorithm from five hundred years in the future who can you trust.

She was often the only woman in the room. And she liked that. She could always hold her own. She only wore the eyepatch when she was undercover, and those days were mostly behind her, but once in a while she still liked to put it on and go for some lonely stroll through the city. Her dream was to someday be a double agent.

An action adventure movie in which the “hero” – in fight scene after fight scene – battles and often kills hundreds upon hundreds of faceless, nameless “villains.” But then, in the sequel, decides to travel the world and, without revealing his identity, meet with the families of everyone he killed.

I am imagining every single copy of every single one of my books underwater, they have survived into the future but they are underwater so no one can read them.

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 satire of a novel about environmental collapse.

It can’t just be solar energy, it also has to be anti-capitalist solar energy.

The desire to feel superior to other people transcends any particular political position or affiliation.

What is human history if not the history of people believing things that aren’t necessarily true.


August 3, 2021

All of my books...


All of my books are, more or less explicitly, about the relation between art and politics. And I'm thinking about giving myself a challenge: to write a book that, to whatever extent possible, has little or no relation to these themes.


July 27, 2021

Some passages from Believers by Lisa Wells

Some passages from Believers: Making a Life at the End of the World by Lisa Wells:


Put bluntly, one of the greatest barriers to realizing energy independence is our addiction to stuff – to having what we want whenever we want it. It may be true, as Finisia and her crew sometimes said, that it’s easier to jump off a structure that is standing than a structure that is collapsing, but so long as the structure stands, most people will – in ignorance or out of fear or habit – return to its eaves when the rain arrives. This is why some frustrated rewilders I’ve spoken to doubt very much that consciousness-raising will create lasting change. Change will come when the collapse of our current way of life demands it. Communal subsistence living inevitable results in periods of discomfort and strained relationships, and so long as warm beds and Netflix and grocery stores exist, most people will return to those comforts when the going gets tough.

That’s why Peter believes social skills like cooperation and conflict management are far more crucial than the so-called hard skills of wilderness survival. And that’s why Todd Wynward believes that that if it’s just up to us, we’re fucked, that spiritual conviction is required to bridge the divide.


“Attentiveness is the natural prayer of the soul,” wrote the seventeenth-century philosopher-priest Nicolas Malebranche. If we believe him, it follows that whatever commands our attention will determine the form of our god. If we mainly train our attention of the screens of our devices – that’s one kind of prayer. If we train it on the dirt, or the birds, or the faces of those we love – that’s another. Most of us run a gauntlet of rotating concerns, with little agency over the convulsions of our minds. Or else we forgo agency entirely and remit our attention, via any number of substances, to a high. In any case, our preoccupations become objects of worship.


Human beings are social animals, and it’s a central paradox of human life that other people should confront us with our most difficult problems while possessing our only hope for a solution. “That’s life,” to quote Sinatra. A cynic might call it pharmakon – we are, at once, each other’s poison, scapegoat and remedy. However you want to cut it, we require other people to survive, to love, to be loved by, to reflect that we exist in time. Or at least, we used to.

In a technocentric society, isolation – or the illusion of isolation – is not only possible, it is increasingly unavoidable. But for most of human history, isolation meant death; so human cultures, by necessity, developed ceremonies, laws, rituals, and stories to redress common conflicts that arise between people and to teach their members how to live in accord. Metabolizing conflict while maintaining the bonds of the group was not so much a moral endeavor as a practical one.

What becomes, then, of a people who invent a way to live without relying on others directly? I think we’re finding out.

As is true of other survival skills we’ve lost, social skills atrophy with disuse, and once our survival no longer depends on our togetherness, what impetus do we have to tolerate the conflict, confusion, and vulnerability that are the price of relationship? I’m not certain that it’s possible to sustain communalism long-term based on ideas alone. So long as there exists a more comfortable world to defect to – even if that world is laced with depression, anxiety, and isolation – we will be tempted to take the out.

This goes for noncommunal endeavors as well. Time and again I hear stories about idealistic people, wholly devoted to worthy causes, who wind up tearing one another apart over relatively minor disagreements before retreating to their former lives of quiet desperation.


I’m interested in the limit of forgiveness. Where it is, and why, and how some people are able to forgive those who’ve done them the greatest harm, often when they haven’t earned it.

Just reading reports from Standing Rock, I found my mind drifting into violent fantasy. A part of me wanted the police and the corporate VPs and private security people to feel the pain they’d inflicted, to be hit with hoses in freezing temperatures, to have their snarling dogs turn against them – and it wasn’t my home that had been invaded. This was a problem. Not because violence isn’t warranted in defense of the planet but because the violent fantasies of a distant observer like me might serve a shadow purpose.

If there is such a thing as evil, I presume Big Petroleum is high on the list. But it’s a divided self who daydreams about eviscerating the hocks of an economy in which she participates. And if those violent daydreams provide catharsis, if they serve to further distance her from her own culpability, to mutilate that which implicates her, and thereby help her dodge the imperative to effect material change – then aren’t those fantasies an extension of the evil at hand? And so long as we’re at it, why not acknowledge that by she and her I mean me.


July 25, 2021

a title change considered


I’m thinking of changing the title of the book I’m currently working on from “Amateur Kittens Dreaming Solar Energy” to “the world is ending / the world is unending”.

[Edit: When I'm not managing to actually write I compensate by trying out an endless series of different possible titles for my work-in-progress. Another one I'm currently considering: Joyous Doubt Beneath the Future.]


July 24, 2021

Possible opening for a new book / detective novel in a world without prisons


Each case is its own opportunity to think and feel otherwise. To approach the precipice of a breakthrough or fail to see opportunities as they arise. One perennial lesson that cannot be overstressed.

Though we certainly sense pattens, learn from past experiences, build upon personal and historical knowledge, remember things we did before and consider their current applications – we should not let any false sense of security derived from such patterns mislead us into thinking we have answers in advance.

Things that helped in the past might help again. But what’s important is paying attention to that which is most immediately relevant or insightful. One might even say what is most unique, what most intensely reflects the possibility of the situation at hand. Not what reminds us of other situations. Reminders are misleading when taken as given. Nothing is given.

We must elucidate not only the details of what occurred, not only some ever-growing sense of why and how, but also what this tells us about redress and the openings for all of those involved to make at least some small step toward change. This is of course achieved through listening.

What kind of listening takes us away from notions of revenge and toward another view of how and why we might choose to want to continue to live all together in some version of the same world? None of this can be done in the abstract.

Perhaps not some version of the same world. Something else. A consternation in the process of being made anew.


July 6, 2021

The Mud, The Vote and The Book


[This text was originally published in the Monika Romstein catalog Im Schlamm der Trägheit.]

I don’t know how the name or game began, but we called our life together the mud. When we did things together we did them in the mud. When we fought, the words we threw at each other were slinging mud. When we fucked it was a roll in the mud. None of us could remember exactly when or how we started using this particular word but now it was our word and we had no need for any other.

We lived like this for weeks and months and years, and because it was our life together everything that happened was a situation we had no choice but to negotiate. When someone was angry at me all of us were agitated until me and the angered one found some way to work it out. The same if I was angry at someone else. Most of us had been lovers with most of the others, if only for a short time. And when we were no longer lovers we had to find ways to change the nature of our dynamic that were patient and respectful. Or at least pretend that we had. Because in the mud of a bad breakup the entire group would be agitated until some sort of more peaceful arrangement could come to pass.

As I’ve already mentioned, this was the pattern for many weeks, months and years. But it was not the pattern forever and now I will do my best to explain why, what changed, where we collectively came from even though, at this moment, I have absolutely no idea where we might be headed.

We had never voted on anything before. We had always found some other way to come to a natural and unforced agreement, therefore there had never been a need to vote. So when Angent said ‘maybe we should take a vote on that’ there was a long moment of silence practically drenched in unspoken confusion. No one said yes and no one said no. And we didn’t vote at that time, on that or anything else, but the spectre had been raised. Just before Angent suggested we might vote we had been talking about where we were going to live. We were being evicted. But were we really talking about where we were going to live or were we instead, in some covert manner, speaking about whether or not we were all going to continue to live together? No one said there was a possibility we might all split up, might each go live in a different place, or might separate into smaller groups, but there was something in the tone of our discussion that perhaps hinted at it, subtly or not so subtly. On the surface it was simply a group discussion about whether we should stay in the city or instead move to the country. Whether or not a country house was in our immediate future. Of course some of us wanted to move to the country and some did not. I found myself, as was so often the case, on the fence, indecisive, unable to decide.

I had always loved the city, loved the activities, so many, which only the city could provide. Late night movies, late night food, basically anything that could be seen or consumed very late at night. And together, as a group, we so often used to roam the streets. There was one time we were roaming, and we turned a corner, and I saw the first glimmer of dawn sliver out between the buildings in the distance, just the first sharp gleam of it, and I pointed in that direction as we all stopped in silence and stared, stood there collectively as slowly the light grew brighter and higher. And someone said: ‘I thought it was still yesterday, but obviously tomorrow’s already here.’ And for me that statement echoed a timely if banal feeling I so often had, that when we were together we were always working in some sense to move forward, even though this was only a feeling, and whether the direction we were moving was forward, or some other way, was really of little importance.

Of course there would also be dawns in the countryside, most likely stronger and clearer and more luminous, but it wasn’t a matter of dawn per se but rather the fact that it had caught me by surprise. So when Angent said that perhaps we should take a vote, I had no idea which side I might take: county or city or some other option. And though we didn’t vote, we did of course move, since we had no choice, and in this move it seems we managed a sort of compromise, in that we were still within the city but now with a very large garden surrounding our house.

This garden soon became where we spent most of our time. In the mud, so to speak, but also more literally than we had meant it before. Sometimes in the garden we would actually garden, but mostly we would do other things: talk and drink and smoke and horse around. Most of us had jobs that were not entirely full time, and a few of us really loved to garden, and those few must have been the reason the garden remained so flourishing and beautiful. Also, almost every meal we ate contained items from the garden that were fresh and delicious. Knowing all of this makes it even harder for me to fully understand why the mood in the new house with a garden was never quite as fine as our collective mood in the previous house that had no garden, but I sometimes suspect this shift of mood, for the worse, might have something to do with that very brief moment in which we thought we would have no other choice but to vote.

I was never certain if those of us who were previously adamant about moving to the countryside felt in anyway cheated by this compromise of a house in the city but with a garden. If they did I never heard anyone voice such a complaint. They apparently decided to let it go, to drop it, or at least they seemed to. I also wondered if, in the weeks and months leading up to the move, any of us had genuinely considered leaving the group and going their own way. What would it have changed if one of us, and only one of us, had chosen to depart? Would it feel like we’d had a limb removed? Or only as if we’d lost a friend, which would of course be considerably closer to the truth of the matter. But no one left, everyone stayed, no one struck out on their own and moved to the country without us. Did anyone even seriously consider it? Consider getting out of the mud with the rest of us and perhaps heading for metaphorical waters? After so much time in the mud perhaps some cleansing water would be the right approach.

There was a day around the time we first moved here when a few of us seemed to feel we’d made a mistake. That moving here had been a mistake. It was a brief time, couldn’t have lasted more than a few days, but the feeling of it was somehow undeniable. A thicker shade of mud. Those days had something to do with change, of not being used to the change we had all just undergone together. There was more silence than we were used to, less chatter. Did we learn anything during that time, about ourselves, about each other? We were each in our own way attempting to adapt to the new situation. Then, soon, the new situation wasn’t so new anymore and our moments of doubt faded into the background, as unresolved as everything else in our lives.

One day I was attempting to work in the garden. I didn’t really know what I was doing but had been given basic instructions and was trying to follow them, or at least my memory of them, to the relative best of my ability. I needed to recognize the difference between the plants we were cultivating and the weeds we were not. As I’m sure you’ve already guessed, it was the weeds I’d been instructed to yank out. Angent wandered by and watched me for a while. Then he started to speak, formulating a kind of improvised theory regarding the hesitancy with which I approached my task. He said it was almost as if I cared for the weeds more then I cared for any of the other plants and therefore I didn’t want to harm them. The hesitancy with which my hand approached each plant suggesting I would actually prefer to leave it where it was. I knew this wasn’t the real reason for my hesitancy, that it was only because I couldn’t easily identify, by sight, which plants were the weeds and which were not. They all looked the same to me. Or that’s not quite true, they all looked different but the differences, at least as I saw them, didn’t give any clear indication as to how I should perform my assigned task. For some reason I didn’t tell Angent any of this, instead patiently listening to his theory of how much I cared about the weeds and nodding as if in agreement.

A few days later we all went on a field trip together to see a late night movie. The movie theatre was basically empty except for us. It was the first time we’d gone to a movie together since the move. I’m not sure which one of us chose the film but I don’t think I was consulted on the decision. The film began with a wide shot of a city street at night, the small group of friends who were to become the films protagonists all just a speck under the streetlamps in the distance. Slowly, almost in real time, they come closer. As they come closer, even though they looked absolutely nothing like us, I felt they were us, and I’m sure each of us watching felt the same. It was something about how the entire group moved as one, the same way we moved as we walked down the street together, as we so often did. As the group on the screen came into individual focus, one of them dropped something, at first I couldn’t tell what. But then it cut to a close up and I could see they had dropped a book, a small book, at first I couldn’t read the title, but when I did I realized it was a book I’d previously read, but translated into a different language. (It was a foreign film.) She bends over to pick up the book, opens it to a seemingly random page, and begins to read aloud. She’s reading a passage I don’t recall, which isn’t so unusual. When, in the past, I’ve had occasion to reread certain books, I’ve always been surprised how many passages I have absolutely no recollection of, as if I hadn’t even bothered to read them the first time round, when of course I had. I’d simply forgotten them. They’d vanished as if of no consequence.

As the group on screen continues to walk, the woman with the book continues to read, unclear both to her and to us in the audience whether or not her fellow walkers were actually listening to the words she read aloud. I watched them possibly not listening to her, though it was also possible they were, and thought of all time times one of us had spoke and I’d perhaps not listened, or not listened as fully as I could have, or all the times I’d spoken and wondered if the person I was speaking to was really listening. What did it mean to really listen? Strangely I don’t remember that much about the rest of the film. It was mainly that one opening scene which made an impression on me. Friends walking in a group while one of them reads aloud from a book she holds in front of her. There was something comforting about how hard it was to answer the question as to whether or not the others were really listening. They knew each other so well that perhaps they didn’t even need to listen. Perhaps they had all also read that book, passed it from hand to hand. Perhaps they all knew that particular passage by heart.


July 5, 2021

Some of the short stories I've written are so much more experimental than any of my novels.


Some of the short stories I've written are so much more experimental than any of my novels. And I keep trying to figure out how to turn that more experimental energy into an entire book. How to sustain it.

For example: The Mud, The Vote and The Book

Or: Reverse Portrait

Or: Trophies Are the First to Go

Or even something like: In love with the movement of the world

Why don't I seem to be able to conceive of an entire novel along the same lines?


June 29, 2021

Lauren Berlant Quote 3


I think there’s a lot of mess in solidarity, because the point of solidarity is a concept—an emotion. You don’t have to like the people you have solidarity with; you just get to be on the same team, and have the project of making the world better. But one of the things that we debate when we’re trying to do that is: Do we want the same world? We agree that we don’t want the world that exists, but do we want the same world? And a lot of politics, a lot of the humorlessness of the political, comes when you realize that the people who share your critique don’t share your desire.

From Pleasure Won: A Conversation with Lauren Berlant


June 28, 2021

Lauren Berlant Quote 2


Emotion doesn’t produce clarity but destabilizes you, messes you up, and makes you epistemologically incoherent—you don’t know what you think, you think a lot of different kinds of things, you feel a lot of different kinds of things, and you make the sense of it all that you can. The pressure on emotion to reveal truth produces all sorts of misrecognition of what one’s own motives are, and the world’s. People feel relations of identification and revenge that they don’t admire, and attachments and aversions to things that they wouldn’t necessarily want people to know that they have.

It’s part of my queer optimism to say that people are affectively and emotionally incoherent. This suggests that we can produce new ways of imagining what it means to be attached and to build lives and worlds from what there already is—a heap of conventionally prioritized but incoherent affective concepts of the world that we carry around. We are just at the beginning of understanding emotion politically.



June 26, 2021

Two Kate Valk Quotes


I wanted to have a place to go every day and make things. It’s a precarious lifestyle. There’s not a lot of security in it. But there’s certainly great work. That’s still what I think. I’ve been lucky enough to stay in touch with that intuition. Even to this day, when I go to The Garage, I feel that. It’s a group situation, it’s not Liz—I mean, of course it’s Liz, she’s the visionary. But there’s this third thing. There’s me. There’s the people I work with. And then there’s this third thing we’re all working toward.


If you’re on stage and something goes wrong, it’s a golden opportunity to be present. No one comes to the theater to see it done right. You go for transcendence. When something goes wrong, that means the room is open and there’s room for everybody. It just happened, it’s out of everybody’s control. So if you can watch somebody be in the moment, be present, deal with that, it’s the golden opportunity.


From the interview: Power & Punk: New York's Avant Garde Lifers: Kate Valk with Sara Farrington