December 31, 2010

Gianni Celati quote


By this time he was a man of some maturity, and a man who, that day, had combed his hair, shaved, put on a nice red tie, and come to a realization of what life is: a web of ceremonial relationships which hold together something that has no substance.

- Gianni Celati, Voices from the Plains


December 20, 2010

Dreams and Lying


The most effective lie is always the one closest to the truth. The closer the better. A dream is not true but is never a lie. There are various approaches for understanding dreams: as evidence of some deeper psychological truth, as alternate realities, as subtle yet surreal mental reprocessings of our daily life, as experiences equally valid to those had while awake. Due to the acuity of their strangeness, dreams practically call out for interpretation. However, since we don’t accurately know what consciousness is, since we don’t know precisely what or how we experience being awake, why would we be able to know what happens when we dream? There are also various approaches one might use to understand a lie. But one aspect generally agreed upon is that to tell the complete truth, and only the complete truth, at all times, is a disaster. There are different ways of being honest.


December 8, 2010

Albert Cossery on the government


“Number one is that the world we live in is governed by the most revolting bunch of crooks to ever defile the soil of this planet.”

“I couldn’t agree more. And number two?”

“Number two is that you must never take them seriously, for that is exactly what they want.”

- Albert Cossery


December 7, 2010

César Aira on the unbuilt


The unbuilt is characteristic of those arts whose realization requires the remunerated work of many people, the purchase of materials, the use of expensive equipment, etc. Cinema is the paradigmatic case: anyone can have an idea for a film, but then you need expertise, finance, personnel, and these obstacles mean that ninety-nine times out of a hundred the film doesn’t get made. Which might make you wonder if the prodigious bother of it all – which technological advances have exacerbated if anything – isn’t actually an essential part of cinema’s charm, since, paradoxically, it gives everyone access to movie-making, in the form of pure daydreaming. It’s the same in the other arts, to a greater or lesser extent. And yet it is possible to imagine an art in which the limitations of reality would be minimized, in which the made and the unmade would be indistinct, an art that would be instantaneously real, without ghosts. And perhaps that art exists, under the name of literature.

- César Aira


December 2, 2010

Six Fernando Pessoa Quotes


There are no norms. All people are exceptions to a rule that doesn’t exist.

Trying to revive tradition is like raising a ladder to climb up a wall that fell down. It’s interesting, because absurd, but only worth the bother because it’s not worth the bother.

The only basis for truth is self-contradiction. The universe contradicts itself, for it passes on. Life contradicts itself, for it dies. Paradox is nature’s norm. That’s why all truth has a paradoxical form.

My destiny belongs to another Law, whose existence you’re not even aware of, and it is ever more the slave of Masters who do not relent and do not forgive.

There’s a thin sheet of glass between me and life. However clearly I see and understand life, I cannot touch it.

One day, perhaps, they will understand that I carried out, as did no other, my inborn duty as interpreter of one particular period of our century; and when they do, they will write that I was misunderstood in my own times… and that it was a pity it should have been so. And the person writing, in whatever future epoch he or she may live, will be as mystified by my equivalent in that future time as are those around me now.


November 24, 2010

The opening line of Sinners in the Summertime by Sigurd Hoel


You are a self-deceiver and as such belong to the last generation.


November 19, 2010

Tears, stupidity and failure.


Pain, crime and sadness.
Tears, stupidity and failure.
Violence, light and charm.
Crime, wisdom and more crime.
Bitterness, love triangles and just getting by.
The peculiar, the odd and much, much more.
The polymath, the dictator and true love.
A good joke, a bad joke and a neutral joke.
Slim chances, great wealth and poverty.
Witch trials, public television and melancholy.
Permission, psychosis and the average.
Ambition, fame and regret.
Longing, talent and a lack of talent.
Sexual greed, average lust and plenitude.
Decision making, scarcity and whatever’s left.
The similar, the opposite and the word “yes”.
Again and again and again.


November 17, 2010

How can so many people do so much and generate so little meaning.


How can so many people do so much
and generate so little meaning.
It takes talent. Assholes have talent.
Sad, sad obdurate talent.
You are born and you must do
something whether you have something
to do or not. The worst is still to come.
Another solution: a redefinition of
meaning. Anything that means now means
a lot, a lot of the time, against itself
or towards happiness. Competition goes
away. Away to heaven. I don’t think that
suicide and war are the same thing.
But what I do not yet know is whether
they are opposites.


November 14, 2010

Polyamorous Love Song (Daily Music Column)


What follows is a column I wrote during the five days of Pop Montreal 2010 as part of the project Daily Print organized by Palimpsest Magazine in association with ArtPop and DHC-ART.

[Please note: this column should not be confused with my recent novel also entitled Polyamorous Love Song.]


The title of this column is Polyamorous Love Song. I will try to write one of these every day. I am worried I might fail. Why such a title? Perhaps because this column will revolve around various gradations of music and speculation and one such speculation has something to do with love songs. That most love songs, mainstream or otherwise, are directed towards one person, the ultimate soul mate or new excitement, and maybe a polyamorous love song, a love song directed towards a few (or many) soul mates, might undermine some of the basic songwriting assumptions. Some such songs must exist in the world already but I’m not sure I know them (one exception: Two Are One by Dri. YouTube it, the video is quite good.) As well, if you are reading this (if anyone is reading this), and can think of further – better, more enticing – examples, please send them along.

Somewhere the American art critic Dave Hickey writes (I believe in the introduction to Air Guitar but my books are all in storage) that he was in Mexico, wondering why there are so many songs about love, about falling in love or being in love, and so few works of visual art or critical texts along the same lines. As he was pondering this question he saw the following scene: two dogs fucking in the middle of the street, and a mother with her young daughter plus her daughters fiancé trying to cross the street, to walk around the copulating animals. The young couple both seemed extremely interested in the dogs, while the mother was of course trying to rush the young couple along, divert their attention.

I believe Hickey draws a sort of lesson from this scene, though I can’t precisely remember what it is. Something like: the dogs don’t need love songs, they just go for it, but the people are in a state of avoidance or embarrassment which expresses itself as courtship and therefore they require a constant stream of love songs to keep the avoidance/courtship in play. I can’t remember, in Hickey’s analogy, if the dogs represented rock n’ roll and the mother plus young couple were the politeness of visual art, or vice versa, if the dogs were art, they didn’t need songs to hook up, and the mother/young couple were the necessity of love songs to deal with the reality of what they were avoiding. I will have to look it up. My memory no longer works nearly as well as I would like. I probably have it completely wrong.


Pop music is the gasoline of monogamy. Love songs are propaganda for monogamy. Writing is another form of loneliness. These are all statements that feel relatively true to me, that feel true in their gestures of empty, highly personal, provocation. Statements whose truth-value is little more than an opening for debate. Songwriting is a strange kind of writing. I remember something I once heard Darren Hayman (from the band Hefner) say in an interview, that people often complimented him on his lyrics, and he was flattered by this, but he had always been more interested in writing tunes. Because a song could have bad lyrics and a great tune and still be a good song. But if a song had great lyrics and a terrible tune, the entire endeavor was kind of doomed. How would we experience love if pop culture did not exist?

Bands exist on the internet. The first time you hear a new band, or hear about a new band, now most often occurs on line. I find it difficult to even remember the experience of going to a record store, buying a record I had never heard and knew almost nothing about, taking it home, placing the needle on the vinyl, and hearing the first notes for the first time. There was a level of anticipation and curiosity that simply no longer exists. Love songs attempt to describe how we feel when we’re in love. But as they’re describing, they are also telling us how we should feel, creating norms we can compare with our own experiences, giving us language that helps us describe a realm of emotion that in some sense is always beyond language. Many of these songs were written in about five minutes.

I love to listen to music alone. When I am at home, there is almost always music playing, and with astonishing frequency I stop whatever I am doing and simply listen. I also love to go to a bar, to drink, to watch and listen to music in a room full of other people. I rarely think about the two experiences as having anything to do with one another. For me, listening to recorded music, alone, over and over again, is somehow the ‘real’ experience of music. Going out to a show is something else, a chance to see people, get a better idea of what the band is about, add some extra information to the very personal experience of listening to my favorite songs. However, if the band really sucks live sometimes it can totally ruin them for me. It can be years before I genuinely listen to them again.


When did bands start playing along to backing tracks? Suddenly I’m seeing it all the time. I wonder if it has anything to do with hip hop, with being part of a generation that was raised on hip hop and how common it is to rap over pre-recorded beats. It is very strange for me to watch musicians struggle to remain in sync with a backing track, like they’re trying to ace an exam and rock out at the same time. What is the sexual equivalent to playing along with a backing track? Fucking with the assistance of sex toys? Hanging from a full body harness as you go at it? (I’m going for the cheap laughs here.) But music often reminds me of sex, and thinking about sex often makes me wonder if there’s any choice other than monogamy.

I often send songs to friends and lovers over the internet. I have a file of mp3’s on my desktop for that very purpose. But sometimes I get confused. I can’t remember which songs I’ve sent to which people, and worry that I’m going to send someone the same song twice. I wonder what it would feel like to receive a song you have already received from me, if you would sense my confusion, if it would make you feel less special. I believe this anecdote has something to do with being non-monogamous.

I am writing this at Club Social (where, in the past, I have regularly noticed the staff of Pop Montreal.) It is raining outside. Over the sound system I have just heard The Thompson Twins (Hold Me Now), Prince (Purple Rain) and M.J. (Beat It, really not his best song.) None of these artists have anything to do with any of the artists I will see, think about or write about during the five days of this column. (Well, maybe Prince.)

I am reading The Drug of Art: Selected Poems of Ivan Blatny. The book arrived in the mail two days ago. Blatny was a Czech poet who in 1948 defected to England and spent most of his life in various mental hospitals until his death in 1990. He also has (almost) nothing to do with anything. However, I particularly like these lines: “To carry the world around, / like the stone of Sisyphus, in my head, / this was all I knew how to do and that is very little, / just as in Chinese poetry / there is sometimes very little / nothing more than the sky and a bird flying across it, / a bird flying across it; a bird, but a real one.” When did bands start playing along to backing tracks?


Yesterday, in a poem by Ivan Blatney, I read the following lines: “The number of ringlets on the wasp means the number of its marriages / they don’t have a queen they mate freely.” Reading these lines felt like a pleasurable coincidence. (See title of this column.) Coincidences are one of my favourite things. During the last song of the first band I saw (Tu Fawning), the chorus was “sex is all it is” over an over again. (At least I think that’s what she was singing, I might have it completely wrong.) But this heard, or mis-heard, lyric is only partly a coincidence, because Polyamorous Love Song isn’t about ‘sex being all it is,’ but about love, about love not having to be with just one person, and why are there no (or few) songs that try to explain what this feels like.

And then I’m somewhere completely different, from love to war, watching a documentary about the Tuareg – nomadic people of the Sahara desert – fighting a rebel war against a government hell-bent on protecting the uranium-rich areas being profitably exploited by various multi-nationals. The Tuareg continuously speak of wanting to be free, and theirs is a kind of freedom I find it difficult to imagine, what the physical experience of it would actually be (so far from the suggestive, innuendo-drenched freedom of rock n’ roll.) The footage that struck me most intensely was of uranium processing, the most artificial shade of yellow I’ve ever seen, the exact opposite of the desert from which the Tuareg eek out their existence. And a scene with the female-led group Tilwat, where a man reads out a text extolling how much they all desire peace and on his final words of peace the women are meant to begin their song, but instead get into an argument about who gets to start playing first.

Where else but in a pop song can one repeat the same phrase over and over again and not have it be completely annoying. A bunch of twenty year olds blasting through some fairly compelling power pop. But I can’t help imaging them as middle aged men, rolling through the exact same set twenty or thirty years down the line. As you might imagine, this image is not particularly inspiring, or inspiring only in its sadness and pathos. And yet later the same night Naomi Shelton & The Gospel Queens make middle age seem like the best fucking thing that ever happened to anyone. There’s no arguing with flair. Then again, maybe all there is to do is wait for middle age to pass. Aim for that second, exponential, level of nostalgia.


November 10, 2010



Sometimes memories can feel almost like dreams.


November 7, 2010

My flight from Dusseldorf was canceled...


My flight from Dusseldorf was canceled. We all got on the plane, they announced that the second engine didn't work, and then we all got off again. By the time I got to Amsterdam I had already missed my connecting flight back to Montreal. I am now stranded at the Van Der Valk Hotel Schiphol A4 for one night. The fact that it has the letters "A4" at the end of the hotels name makes me feel like I'm staying on a sheet of paper. (A not altogether unpleasant sensation.) I am reading When Spring Comes: Awakenings In Clinical Psychoanalysis by M. Masud R. Khan. It is a book I stumbled upon in a book store back in Melbourne and bought because I suddenly remembered I had read another book by him when I was a teenager and was fascinated by the way he would directly interfere in the lives of his psychoanalytic patients. Before that I had no idea any such thing was possible. I remember finding his actions brilliantly surprising, maybe even leading to some of my own more unconventional choices in life, blurring the boundaries between living and work in ways that don't always feel socially acceptable. In his introduction, M. Masud R. Khan says the original title of his book was Transgression: Passions, Pain and Solitude but he changed it because he found "that the dominant theme was rather that of 'awakening' - the acknowledgement and acceptance of those acts of transgression which invariably arise, in all areas of relating, from any attempt to satisfy needs, desires and demands." When I read this earlier on the plane I suspected one of his considerations might have been that When Spring Comes feels considerably more upbeat and marketable than Passions, Pain and Solitude. I am also working on a new book and can't decide whether I should call it Artists Are Self-Absorbed or Polyamorous Love Song. The first title might be more accurate but I think the second one feels more energizing (at least to me.) I want my book to have an energizing title but I don't want to make decisions, or for that matter compromises, based on faulty logic or fears in and around the books eventual reception. I'm genuinely not sure how I will make up my mind.


November 6, 2010



Insincere YouTube Auteur.


November 2, 2010

Some of the themes alluded to or avoided in the album Kaputt by Destroyer


In other exciting news, Destroyer will release their ninth album, Kaputt, on CD, LP, and digital download on January 25.

Dan Bejar sent us some of the themes alluded to or avoided in the album Kaputt, in absolutely no linear order:

Kaputt by Malaparte, which Bejar has never read… Kara Walker, specifically the lyrics she contributed to the song "Suicide Demo for Kara Walker"… Chinatown, the neighborhood bordering on Bejar's… Baby blue eyes… 80s Miles Davis… 90s Gil Evans… Last Tango in Paris… Nic Bragg, who played lead guitar on every song, again… Fretless bass… The hopelessness of the future of music… The pointlessness of writing songs for today… V-Drums… The superiority of poetry and plays… And what's to become of film?… The Cocaine Addict… American Communism… Downtown, the neighborhood bordering on Bejar's… The LinnDrum… Avalon and, more specifically, Boys and Girls… The devastated mind of JC/DC, who recorded, produced and mixed this record from fall of 2008 to spring of 2010… The back-up vocals of certain Roy Ayers and Long John Baldry tours… Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence

Track listing:
1. Chinatown
2. Blue Eyes
3. Savage Night at the Opera
4. Suicide Demo for Kara Walker
5. Poor in Love
6. Kaputt
7. Downtown
8. Song for America
9. Bay of Pigs (detail)


October 31, 2010

Vattimo on truth as persuasion


I wrote an essay once on truth as rhetoric. It might look a little different if I were writing it today, but let's see if we can clear the matter up once and for all. First and foremost: I am convinced that truth is not a problem of political science, or even a matter subject to scientific demonstration. Truth for me is persuasion, I don't mean "take it from me, sonny boy," I mean something more like "let's all lend a hand here." In other words: philosophical arguments are arguments ad homines, not ad hominem. By truth I mean truth as persuasion, but persuasion in relation to, and together with, a collectivity, not the art of persuading people to part with their money or something like that. Essentially I am talking about proposals for interpreting our common situation along certain lines and starting from shared assumptions. I will try to persuade you by mentioning the kind of authors you have presumably read and experienced for yourself - not the kind whose business is proving that 2 + 2 = 4, the kind who were also seeking an interpretation of our common situation. Not just any authors, authors who have earned a permanent place on your bookshelf and who are linked to your own specific experience. So the truth to which I bring the discussion back is this: how can you still be saying that without invalidating the experience you had when you were reading Nietzsche, Marx, and Freud? Doesn't the experience that you got from reading Nietzsche (or Kant, or Hegel) now block you from saying things you might once have said and defended?

The question arises: what kind of evidence does this furnish? I answer that differently from Richard Rorty, although he more or less shares my premises. I regard truth in philosophy as the result of a form of ad homines persuasion, but persuasion grounded in a certain faith in the history of Being, faith in our capacity to trace (interpretively) lines of continuity in the history of Being. To me, this faith corresponds to what some might call a kind of philosophical evolutionism: the classics, the things that have held out, weren't perhaps necessarily classics right from the outset, things destined to hold out, but the fact that they did become classics involves me, what I am is largely the fruit of their endurance...

- Gianni Vattimo, The Responsibility of the Philosopher


Vattimo on philosophy and the edifying


Naturally, if philosophy does not bracket science and all its results and achievements and consequences for existence, but does not regard itself as science either, philosophical practice has some explaining to do: just what is it then? My own response is that philosophy is a discourse more edifying than demonstrative, it is oriented more toward the edification of humanity than toward enhanced formal comprehension and advancement in knowledge. Edifying doesn't mean antitheoretical, it doesn't mean there is not a progressive acquisition of knowledge during the edification of oneself and humanity. Rather, it means that that isn't the sole or overriding objective. The "edifying," according to Kierkegaard, is the terrible, the disquieting, and under certain conditions, the sublime (i.e., the negative, which for him means the perception of one's own finiteness); at the same time, it is that which ameliorates and constructs. So it is not without its theoretical or cognitive side, but it is also something more, and something different.

- Gianni Vattimo, The Responsibility of the Philosopher


Tao Lin quote


My target demographics are hipsters, depressed teenagers, depressed vegans, sarcastic vegans, college students.

- Tao Lin


October 30, 2010



Hip Hop and Weak Thought


October 26, 2010



Cancer is not a natural disease. Cancer is an environmental affliction created by man-made chemicals in our air, water and food. Therefore, we should not be searching for a cure for cancer. This is a red herring meant to distract us from the real culprits. Instead we should be protesting, legislating and prosecuting the corporations that produce and profit from the chemical world in which we live.


October 24, 2010

It was around that time I became obsessed...


It was around that time I became obsessed with the idea that I wanted people to read my books long after I died, that I wanted to be one of those authors – like Kafka, like Walser, like so many others – whose work only found a substantial readership after they were gone. I didn’t want to do anything in particular to achieve this goal, I just wanted to work, to live, within the vague, unverifiable hope that it might eventually come true. And it occurred to be that this hope was a bit like the Christian idea of an afterlife, that my body would die but my work would live on in the eternal heaven of a considerable posthumous readership.


October 22, 2010

Two short sentences generated ramdomly during the relay-interview excercise in Stockholm


Things that love feel strange, confused.

Sad naturally wrong game.


October 21, 2010

Leszek Kołakowski Quote


There is a certain attitude of the soul, so to speak, which manifests itself in the similar insights attained, with great effort, by all those who strive to touch the essence of being, whether they are Christians, Hindus, Buddhists or Platonists. They know that if they ever imagine that they understand God, they are wrong: it is not God.

- Leszek Kołakowski


October 10, 2010

And I met all these young people.


And I met all these young people. And they were different than the young people I knew before. Or maybe they weren’t so different. Maybe they were only younger. But they were different than me when I was their age. Or maybe not, maybe I was only different now, couldn’t remember, was confused about the nature of change. But I met them. And in meeting them something definitely changed.

I was talking to someone I had just recently met, another writer, about my own age, and we were speaking about artists we liked, and he mentioned Henry Darger. He said one of the things that fascinated him about Darger was how he lived within, worked from, such a radical loneliness. And I mentioned that I thought Kafka lived and worked with something similar, maybe not quite as extreme as Darger, but in different ways equally intense. However, as I spoke what I was thinking was: fuck, me too, that explains everything, that is the engine that drives my work, a vicious, radical loneliness that subsumes everything and cannot be dented, cracked or broken. That was the only thought in my head as I spoke about history, poetry and art: me too. Because it was true, what I experience, a loneliness that nothing touches, like a teenager in teenage hell, but also perhaps because it was flattering, flattering to my work, that like Kafka, like Darger, someone might still care about what I make hundreds of years after I die.


A play list of 83 videos (with commentary.)

I made a YouTube playlist in 2010. I called it 2010. I posted it on my blog (above.) I made it because my iTunes stopped working and I was looking for a way to listen to music. I did it very quickly and simply, scrolling through my list of favourites and adding the ones I wanted to listen to over and over again. I have made many works over the past few years but somehow this YouTube playlist feels like one of the most simple and satisfying things that I’ve done. It feels like pure autobiography, that if someone were to watch it they would know far more about me than I would ever want them to (this can’t possibly be true but it feels that way.)

Some of the songs have video attached but many have only a single image or a slideshow. These images are often album covers or photographs of the singer or band. It’s strange using video to watch still images. It’s strange the collage of still images interspersed with the occasional blast of moving imagery. It is a random assortment of imagery arrived at because of music I wanted to listen to in the privacy of home. But its very randomness is telling, a mirror of the randomness of the internet.

I have always made mixed tapes/mixed CD’s for friends. Of course, the thing my YouTube playlist most resembles is one of these mixes that I have been making for as long as I can remember. But somehow it is also different. It is a mix of old favourites and songs I just discovered moments ago. It is looser, more eccentric. I did it quickly and when I watch it it continues to surprise me. I never remember what’s coming next.

In 2010 I also wrote a text about artists and the internet for the Austrian periodical Spike Magazine. In the text I say that the internet changes what it means to be an artist in ways we cannot yet get our minds around. What I didn’t say, what I realize in a way only now, is that my blog, my YouTube Favourites, my 8Tracks mixes and my Facebook page feel more to me like my real art practice then my actual art practice. They are more a part of my daily life, I am more deeply engaged with them, they are more intimate and more public, they are not labored over and overworked in the same way my professional artistic life is, they are not marred by grant-writing and publicity. It is the old dream of art as completely interwoven with life. It is simple, lonely, semi-public and locked to a larger corporate and social network. I hope in the future that I will understand it more.


September 24, 2010

Revenge Fantasies of the Politically Dispossessed

A novel by Jacob Wren

Sept 27, 2010
Montreal Book Launch

(Launched alongside Fieldnotes, a Forensic by Kate Eichhorn, Tracelanguage by Mark Goldstein, The Little Seamstress by Phil Hall, Other Poems by Jay MillAr and O Resplandor by Erín Moure. Hosted by Angela Carr.)
Casa Del Popolo, 7:30 - 9:30

Oct 4, 2010
Toronto Book Launch, Relay-Interview & Dance Party

(Relay-Interview featuring Jonathan Adjemian, Marcus Boon, Eric Chenaux, Sheila Heti, Amy C Lam and Jacob Wren. Dance party DJ'd by Marcus Boon.)
This Is Not A Reading Series, The Gladstone, 9:30

Read an interview between Beth Follett and Jacob Wren here.

"Jacob Wren’s work has always explored the dissonance between psychodynamics – which reveals the ambiguities and possibilities of human behavior – and the deadening psychic economy of capital. In Revenge Fantasies, he demonstrates how deeply literary these concerns are. Whether depicting the intricate mood-shifts of a triangulated romance, or chronicling the inchoate optimism of marathon group meetings designed to identify ‘what went wrong’ with the left, or recasting the recent political past as dystopian sci-fi, the novel is fascinating, lurid and highly accomplished, evoking the best of Colette, Robert Musil and Julio Cortazar."

– Chris Kraus, author of I Love Dick, Aliens & Anorexia and Torpor

Set in a dystopian near-future, Revenge Fantasies of the Politically Dispossessed is a novel – a kind of post-capitalist soap opera – about a group of people who regularly attend ‘the meetings.’ At the meetings they have agreed to talk, and only talk, about how to re-ignite the left, for fear if they were to do more, if they were to actually engage in real acts of resistance or activism, they would be arrested, imprisoned or worse. Revenge Fantasies is a book about community. It is also a book about fear.

Characters leave the meetings and we follow them out into their lives. The characters we see most frequently are the Doctor, the Writer and the Third Wheel. As the book progresses we see these characters, and others, disengage and re-engage with questions the meetings have brought into their lives. The Doctor ends up running a reality television show about political activism. The Third Wheel ends up in an unnamed Latin American country, trying to make things better but possibly making them worse. The Writer ends up in jail for writing a book that suggests it is politically emancipatory for teachers to sleep with their students. And throughout all of this the meetings continue: aimless, thoughtful, disturbing, trying to keep a feeling of hope and potential alive in what are starting to look like increasingly dark times.

Revenge Fantasies asks us to think about why so many of us today, even those with a genuine interest in political questions, feel so deeply powerless to change and affect the world that surrounds us, suggesting that, even within such feelings of relative powerlessness there can still be energizing surges of emancipation and action.

Revenge Fantasies of the Politically Dispossessed will be published in English by Pedlar Press and in French by Le Quartanier.

An excerpt can be read here.


September 20, 2010



The devil is insecure.


September 18, 2010



I had the dreadful sensation that I was not really alive or wholly dead. I was a living corpse, unrelated to the world of living people and at the same time deprived of the oblivion and peace of death.

- Sadegh Hedayat


Leszek Kolakowski quote


A modern philosopher who has never once suspected himself of being a charlatan must be such a shallow mind that his work is probably not worth reading.

- Leszek Kolakowski, Metaphysical Horror


August 31, 2010

Radical Betrayal


Radical betrayal: the moment in which one refuses to read the situation in the terms it sets out for itself and, through an act of treachery, reveals those terms to be self-perpetuating.


August 29, 2010

I have a loathing for serious people.


I write because I have certain things to say about this world, its corruption, and about the simpletons; and also I have to narrate a love story – though I would not spend a lifetime doing just that. Only simpletons believe that writing is a comfort. I have a loathing for serious people.

- Albert Cossery

I am not working very much for a new book . The urge is not there. I have said what I want to say. For us to say one or two ideas about the world, we do not need to write thirty volumes. An eighth book would be excessive...

- Albert Cossery

There is some distance between a novelist and an author. The novelist writes any story that comes to hand, while an author always write the same book. To me, for example, all my books are just one book. I have a concept of the world. The novelist usually attempts not to burden the reader or alter a particular idea he holds. A novelist does not change your life when you read his work, but an author does.

- Albert Cossery

(Quotes taken from this interview.)


August 24, 2010

Number one is that the world we live in is governed by the most revolting bunch of crooks to ever defile the soil of this planet.


Khaled Omar ate his loukoum, bobing his head and gazing rapturously at Heykal.

“I recognized you right away.”

“I have to admit that pleases me,” responded Heykal.

“You were sure I would, weren’t you?”

“What makes you think so?”

“Well, I thought it strange that you wanted to meet this way,” said Khaled Omar. “I couldn’t see why you’d want to make things difficult – our friend Karim could easily have introduced us. But in any case, his description of you didn’t steer me wrong. I don’t mean that he described the way you look or your clothes; no, he spoke only of your ideas. And that was enough for me to recognize you.”

“So my ideas show on my face?” asked Heykal.

“It’s hard to explain. I saw you walking across the square, and I said to myself: That’s him. You had the look of someone who knows more than everyone else.”

“I know two very simple thing,” Heykal said. “The rest is of no importance.”

“I wonder if they’re the same two things I know myself.”

“I’m sure they are. It’s why I’m here, and it’s why we can speak frankly.”

“So tell me what the first thing is. I’m listening.”

Khaled Oman hastily re-knotted his tie and smoothed his well-groomed mustache with his fingers, as if whatever he was about to hear merited an impeccable appearance. There was a gleam of amusement in his eyes and a hint of anxiety on his face.

“Number one is that the world we live in is governed by the most revolting bunch of crooks to ever defile the soil of this planet.”

“I couldn’t agree more. And number two?”

“Number two is that you must never take them seriously, for that is exactly what they want.”

“Agreed!” said Khaled Omar, and burst into a long, resounding laugh.

The laughter was contagious. As it spread to the surrounding tables, it grew even louder, outrageously loud. Khaled Omar turned from one neighbor to the next, winking as if to thank them for participating in his hilarity while encouraging their continued pursuit of such joyful delirium. Finally he got hold of himself; the others, however, were still convulsed with the mirth he so inconsiderately unleashed. Heykal had been unmoved by the general hilarity; he remained seated, stiff and aloof, observing his new friend with satisfaction. He was utterly delighted with this jovial little potbellied man, with his gleaming pomaded mustache and strong scent of violet-scented perfume. How unusual! A man whose success hadn’t corrupted him one bit. He acted just as he had when he’d gone barefoot and slept in the street. His bizarre outfit was only a disguise; all the riches in the world would never tame the crude joy and artless affability of his every gesture. His big, mocking laugh was an outright defiance launched in the face of power.

“You see?” Khaled continued. “There’s all you need to know!”

“Yes,” said Heykal. “But still, not enough people get it.”

“Who cares? Don’t tell me you’re the kind who wants to make the world a better place?”

“God, no!” Heykal responded. “I have no interest in bettering anything. There’s nothing worse than a reformer. They’re all careerists.”

“I thought you’d say that, but I’m relieved to hear it,” said Khaled Omar. “I had this misfortune of encountering that kind in prison. They were no better than my jailers. So righteous – and as full of themselves as pregnant women. They made prison such a depressing place!”

“They’re utterly tiresome,” said Heykal, with something close to hatred. “All they want is to replace one government with another, ostensibly more-just one. They all dream of becoming ministers. Ministers! Can you imagine a filthier ambition! Please, I beg you, don’t speak to me of those people!”

- Albert Cossery, The Jokers


August 21, 2010

I think those films are propaganda


I think those films are propaganda for violence, propaganda for fear and propaganda for a very violent view of human nature.

I’ve been having overwhelming feelings of complete failure lately. Then, the other day, my fortune cookie said: “Failure is the mother of success.”

You’re the devil, and like the actual devil, you sabotage yourself at every turn as well.

I want to be one of those writers who is discovered, and greatly recognized, long after they are dead.

Failure is the other of success.


August 19, 2010

Leszek Kolakowski quote


We need a socialist tradition that is aware of its own limitations, since the dream of ultimate salvation on earth is despair disguised as hope – the will to power disguised as a craving for justice.

– Leszek Kolakowski


August 16, 2010



Sarcasm versus irony versus god.


Short text about my upcoming presentation at The Mathathon of Thinking in Riga.


To me, capitalism feels like a pure evil corroding the surface of the planet. However, I realize that from this emotional-ideological position we will get nowhere. How to open things up, ask new kinds of questions, listen to power in an open yet still critical manner, view the situation from some slightly different angle? Benjamin writes about a Kabalistic myth: that the difference between earth and heaven is only the smallest millimeter, but within that millimeter everything changes. Where is the miniscule shift that allows us to picture the world differently, the fissure from which we can begin to pry? Zizek’s quip that it is ‘easier for us to imagine the end of the world than it is to imagine an end to capitalism’ seems unbearable to me. Is our imagination really so depleted, so tepid? And then there is this quote from Kant: “Humanity is a crooked timber from which nothing straight can ever be built.” But are we looking for something straight? Where is the crooked, rickety, modicum of hope that allows us to begin thinking again, thinking honest and compelling thoughts, thinking that not everything is cruel or impossible, thinking that things might one again begin to move?

You can read more about The Marathon of Thinking here.


August 14, 2010

Giorgio Agamben Quote


Walter Benjamin once said that a child’s first experience of the world is not his realization that “adults are stronger but rather that he cannot make magic.” The statement was made under the influence of a twenty-milligram dose of mescaline, but that does not make it any less salient. It is, in fact, quite likely that the invincible sadness that sometimes overwhelms children is born precisely from their awareness that they are incapable of magic. Whatever we can achieve through merit and effort, cannot make us truly happy. Only magic can do that. This did not escape the childlike genius of Mozart, who clearly indicated the secret solidarity between magic and happiness in a letter to Joseph Bullinger: “To live respectably and to live happily are two very different things, and the latter will not be possible for me without some kind of magic; for this something truly super-natural would have to happen.”

Like creatures in fables, children know that in order to be happy it is necessary to keep the genie in the bottle at one’s side, and have the donkey that craps gold coins or the hen that lays golden eggs in one’s house. And no matter what the situation, it is much more important to know the exact place and the right words to say than to take the trouble to reach a goal by honest means. Magic means precisely that no one can be worthy of happiness and that, as the ancients knew, any happiness commensurate with man is always hubris; it is always the result of arrogance and excess. But if someone succeeds in influencing fortune through trickery, if happiness depends not on what one is but on a magic walnut or an “Open sesame!” – then and only then can one consider oneself to be truly and blessedly happy.

This childlike wisdom, which affirms that happiness is not something that can be deserved, had always met with the objections of official morality. Take the words of Kant, the philosopher who was least capable of understanding the difference between living with dignity and living happily: “That in you which strives toward happiness is inclination, that which then limits this inclination to the condition of your first being worthy of happiness is your reason.” But we (or the child within us) wouldn’t know what to do with a happiness of which we were worthy. What a disaster if a woman loved you because you deserved it! And how boring to receive happiness as the reward of work well done.

- Giorgio Agamben, Profanations


August 13, 2010

The weeping revolutionary.


Once I wrote about the weeping revolutionary and that that figure is my personal heritage I took from Fassbinder. Melodrama, which Fassbinder loved so much, ever tells you: if only you could have recognized what was always yours. At the same time it promises the sudden upswing: you can do it, but no, not really. And then the tears flow for the final credits, so as to reconcile you with the fact that every thing goes passivity. But perhaps, perhaps, the big perhaps, tears flow from the passionate feeling of the connection between your life and power, of how unbearable and fucked up it is. This is the birth of the weeping revolutionary.

- Katja Diefenbach


August 9, 2010

To take one of those burning logs and devote himself to setting fire with his reason to the entire world.


I had gone the same as every other day to the library to study some books I needed to use for my thesis. I had gone to consult a volume of the writings of the Greek sophist Hippias and, when I requested the book, due to an error in the classification of the entries, instead of the volume by the Greek philosopher they delivered an annotated edition of Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf. I must confess, Tardewski continued, that I had never read that book; it would have never occurred to me, in any case, to read it, had it not been for the error that upset and amazed the reference librarian there at the British Library and that also amazed and upset me, but for a period of many years.

Tardewski said that it had never occurred to him to read Hitler’s book and that beyond a doubt he would never have come across that edition, annotated by a German historian of firm antifascist convictions, had it not been for that chance. He said that that afternoon he had thought: since chance (perhaps for the first time in history, as the trembling reference librarian asserted) had found its way into the cards that began with HI in the British Library, since chance, he said, or some hidden Nazi, which in this case would be the same thing, had confused the cards in that way, he, Tardewski, who was superstitious besides (like a good logical positivist), believed he perceived in that event what in fact had really happened, that is, he said, a call, a sign from fate. Even if I did not see it with clarity, I obeyed all the same, using the argument that I could put aside for one afternoon the reading of the Greek Sophists and take a rest from the arduous development of my thesis. In any case, said Tardewski, I spent that afternoon and part of that evening at the British Library reading the strange and delirious autobiographical monologue that Hitler had written, or rather had dictated, in Landsberg Castle, in 1924, while he suffered (as they say) a sentence of six months of obliging prison. The first thing I thought, what I understood right away, was that Mein Kampf was a sort of perfect complement or apocryphal sequel to the Discourse on Method. It was a Discourse on Method written not so much (or not exclusively) by a madman and a megalomaniac (for Descartes was also a bit of a madman and a megalomaniac) but by an individual who uses reason, supports his ideas, erects an ironclad system of ideas, on a hypothesis that is the perfect (and logical) inversion of the starting point of René Descartes. That is, said Tardewski, the hypothesis that doubt does not exist, must not exist, had no right to exist, and that doubt is nothing but a sign of weakness in thought and not the necessary condition for rigorous thought. What relations existed, or better still, what line of continuity could be established (this was my first thought that afternoon) between the Discourse on Method and Mein Kampf? The two were monologues of an individual who was more or less mad, who is prepared to negate all prior truths and to prove in a manner that was at once commanding and inflexible in what place and from what position one could (and should) erect a system that would be at once absolutely coherent and philosophically irrefutable. The two books, I thought, Tardewski said, were a single book, the two parts of a single book written far enough apart in time so that historical developments would make it possible for their ideas to be complementary. Could that book (I thought as the library grew dark) be considered something like the final movement in the evolution of rationalist subjectivism as inaugurated by Descartes? I think it can, I thought that afternoon, and I still think so now, said Tardewski. I am therefore opposed, of course, and you will have noted immediately, to the thesis argued by Georg Luckás in his book, The Destruction of Reason, for whom Mein Kampf and nazism are nothing more than the culmination of the irrationalist tendency in German philosophy that begins with Nietzche and Schopenhauer. For me, in contrast, Tardewski says, Mein Kampf is bourgeois reason taken to its most extreme and coherent limits. I would even say, said Tardewski to me, that bourgeois reason concludes in a triumphal way in Mein Kampf. That book is the realization of bourgeois philosophy.

Tardewski said then that if philosophy had always sought a path toward becoming real, was it so surprising that Heidegger should have seen the Führer as the very concretion of German reason? I’m not making a moral judgment, said Tardewski; for me it’s a matter of logical judgment. If European reason is realized in this book (I said to myself as I read it), what is surprising about the fact that the greatest living philosopher, that is to say, the one who is considered the greatest philosophical intelligence in the West, should have understood that right away? Then the Austrian corporal and the philosopher of Freiburg are nothing but the direct and legitimate descendants of that French philosopher who went to Holland and there sat down in front of the fire to found the certainties of modern reason. A philosopher sitting before the fireplace, said Tardewski, isn’t that the basic situation? (Socrates, in contrast, as you know, he told me in parentheses, wandered around the streets and the squares.) Isn’t the tragedy of the modern world condensed in that? It’s totally logical, he said, for a philosopher to get up from his armchair, after having convinced himself that he is the sole proprietor of the truth and that there is no room for doubt, and for him to take one of those burning logs and devote himself to setting fire with his reason to the entire world. It happened four hundred years later but it was logical, it was an inevitable consequence. If at the very least I had stayed sitting down. But you know how difficult it is to remain seated for very long, said Tardewski, and he got up and began pacing back and forth across the room.

- Ricardo Piglia, Artificial Respiration


August 8, 2010

Psychoanalysis should be viewed as a sickness that confuses itself with the cure.


So he returned to Cambridge to say so and began to do philosophy again or, as he said, if not to do philosophy then at least to teach philosophy. While his book made his influence ever greater, while his ideas were decisively influencing the Viennese Circle and in general all of the later developments of logical positivism, Wittgenstein felt more and more empty and dissatisfied. He viewed his own philosophy, he once said in class, the way Husserl had said that psychoanalysis should be viewed: as a sickness that confuses itself with the cure. That was what Husserl said about psychoanalysis, Wittgenstein said that time in class, and that is what I think of my own philosophy, expounded in the Tractatus. That is what Ludwig Wittgenstein would say about himself and about his ideas to his students at Cambridge in 1936, Tardewski tells me, which should at the very least be considered an example of what some people call intellectual courage and fidelity to the truth.

- Ricardo Piglia, Artificial Respiration


August 3, 2010

To be always outside, at some distance, in some other place, and thus to be able to see reality beyond the veil of custom and habit.


He identified with what are usually called failures, he said. But what, he asked, is a failure? Perhaps a man with less than all the talents imaginable, but talented, more talented than many successful men. He has those gifts, he said, but he does not make use of them. He wastes them. So, he said, in essence he wastes his life. He was fascinated by all of those failures who wander around, especially on the fringes of the intellectual world, always with projects and books they mean to write, he said. There are many, he said, all over the place, but some of them are very interesting people, especially when they get older and know themselves well. I would search them out, he said, when I was young, as one seeks out the wise. There was a fellow, for instance, that I used to see often. In Poland. This man had made a career of being a student at the university, without ever being able to make up his mind to take the exams that he needed to finish his degree. In fact he left the university just before getting a degree in mathematics and had then left his fiancée waiting for him at the altar on their wedding day. He saw no particular merit in finishing anything. One night, Tardewski tells me, we were together and they introduce us to a woman that I like, that I like a lot. When he observes this he says to me: Ah, but how is it possible? haven’t you noticed her right ear? Her right ear? I answered him: You’re crazy, I don’t care. But then, take note, he told me, Tardewski. Take note. Look. At last I managed to look at what she had behind her ear. She had a horrible wart, or a wart anyway. Everything ended. A wart. Do you see? The guy was a devil. His function was to sabotage everyone else’s enthusiasm. He had a deep knowledge of human beings. Tardewski said that in his youth he had been very interested in people like that, in people, he said, that always saw more than they needed to. That’s what was at issue, he said, at bottom: a particular way of seeing. There was a Russian term, you must know it, he tells me, as I understand you are interested in the formalists: the term, in any case, is ostranenie. Yes, I tell him, it interests me, of course; I think that’s where Brecht got the idea of distancing. I never thought of that, Tardewski tells me. Brecht knew a lot about the theory of the Russian formalists and the whole experience of the Russian avant-garde in the twenties, I tell him, through Sergei Tretiakov, a really notable guy; he was the one who invented the theory of literatura fakta, which has since circulated so widely, that literature should work with raw documents, with the techniques of reporting. Fiction, said Tretiakov, I say to Tardewski, is the opiate of the people. He was a great friend of Brecht’s and it was through him that Brecht surely found out about the concept of ostranenie. Interesting, said Tardewski. But returning to what I was saying, that form of looking that I would call ostranenie: to be always outside, at some distance, in some other place, and thus to be able to see reality beyond the veil of custom and habit. Paradoxically, the tourist’s vision is like that, but so too, ultimately, is the philosopher’s vision. I mean, he said, that philosophy is definitely nothing other than that. It is constituted in that way, at least since Socrates. “What is this?” Right? Socrates’ questions everything, continually, with that sort of vision. That aberrant lucidity, of course, makes them sink deeper into failure. I was very interested in people like that, in my youth. They had a devilish enchantment for me. I was convinced that those individuals were the ones who exercised, he said, the true function of knowing, which is always destructive. But here we are at my house, Tardewski says now, going up to open the front gate.

- Ricardo Piglia, Artificial Respiration


August 2, 2010

Adventures can be found anywhere.


Once I was in a Warsaw hospital. Motionless, unable to use my body, accompanied by a pathetic series of invalids. Tedium, monotony, introspection. A long white hall, a row of beds – it was like being in jail. There was a single window, at the end of the room. One of the patients, a bony, feverish guy, consumed by cancer, named Guy by his French parents, had had the luck to be placed near that opening. From there, barely sitting up, he could look out, see the street. What a spectacle! A square, water, pigeons, people passing. Another world. He clung desperately to that place and told us what he saw. He was the lucky one. We detested him. We waited, to be frank, for him to die so as to take his place. We kept count. Finally he dies. After complicated maneuvers and bribes I succeeded in being transferred to the bed at the end of the hall and was able to take his place. Well, I tell Renzi. Well. From the window all that could be seen was a gray wall and a bit of dirty sky. I too, of course, began telling them stories about the square and the pigeons and the traffic in the streets. Why do you laugh? It’s funny, Renzi says. It’s like a Polish version of Plato’s cave. Why not, I tell him; it serves to prove that adventures can be found anywhere. Doesn’t that seem like a beautiful practical lesson? A fable with a moral, he says to me. Exactly I say.

- Ricardo Piglia, Artificial Respiration


August 1, 2010

Parody had been displaced.


One day, it seems, he decided to go away on a trip, to change his life, to begin again – who knows? – somewhere else. And what’s that, after all, I tell him, if not a modern illusion? It happens to all of us eventually. We all want, I say, to have adventures. Renzi told me that he was convinced that neither experiences nor adventures existed any longer. There are no more adventures, he told me, only parodies. He thought, he said, that today adventures were nothing but parodies. Because, he said, parody had stopped being what the followers of Tynianov thought, namely the signal of literary change, and had turned into the very centre of modern life. It’s not that I am inventing a theory or anything like that, Renzi told me. It’s simply that I believe that parody had been displaced and that it now invades all gestures and actions. Where there used to be events, experiences, passions, now there are nothing but parodies. This is what I tried to tell Marcelo so many times in my letters: that parody had completely replaced history. And isn’t parody the very negation of history?

- Ricardo Piglia, Artificial Respiration


July 31, 2010

Thus the third experience that serves as material for my imagination is betrayal.


Besides the emptiness that exile brings, I have had another personal experience of utopia that helps me imagine the romance I would like to write. The gold of California – that feverish march of the adventurers who eagerly advanced westward – what was that but a search for the ultimate utopia – gold? Utopian metal, treasure to be found, a fortune waiting to be picked up in river beds: alchemical utopia. The soft sand runs between the fingers. We shall be rich at once now, with California gold, Sir, sang the men on the brave Wells Fargo coaches. So I know what the fuss is all about.

On those caravans to utopia that crossed the alkali deserts of New Mexico I have seen horrors and crimes that I would never imagine in my wildest nightmares. A man cut off his friend’s hand with the edge of a shovel so as to be able to reach a river bed first, a river bed where, it should be said in passing, no gold was found. What lessons have I learned from that other experience I underwent in the hallucinatory world of utopia? That in its quest all crimes are possible. And that the only ones to reach the happy, gentle realm of pure utopia are those (like me) who are willing to drag themselves down into the most utter depravity. Only in the minds of traitors and evildoers, of men like myself, can the beautiful dreams we call utopias flourish.

Thus the third experience that serves as material for my imagination is betrayal. The traitor occupies the classic position of the utopian hero: a man from nowhere, the traitor lives in between two sets of loyalties; he lives in duplicity, in disguise. He must pretend, remain in the wasteland of perfidy, sustained by impossible dreams of a future where his evil deeds will at last be rewarded.

- Ricardo Piglia, Artificial Respiration


July 30, 2010

The exile is the utopian man par excellence


The exile is the utopian man par excellence, he lives in a constant state of homesickness for the future.

- Ricardo Piglia, Artificial Respiration


July 29, 2010

A game must be invented in which the functions of the pieces change; after they stay in the same spot they should become stronger or weaker.


Last night, for example, I stayed up until dawn discussing certain changes that could be made in the chess game with my Polish friend Tardewski. A game must be invented, he tells me, in which the functions of the pieces change after they stay in the same spot for a while; they should become stronger or weaker. Under the present rules the game does not develop, but always remains identical to itself. Only what changes is transformed, Tardewski says, has meaning. In these feigned arguments we pass the idle provincial hours, because life in the provinces is famous for its monotony.

- Ricardo Piglia, Artificial Respiration


July 28, 2010

If oil runs toward the desert, so does everything that is dissolved in it.


If for monotheism, earth is not a planet but rather a religious object, it is because, as Qutb emphasizes, the earth itself moves towards the Divine by submitting itself to the exterior Will of Allah; or in other words, the earth is a part and property of Islam, that is to say, the religion of utter submission to Allah. Islam does not perceive oil merely as a motor-grease - in the way Capitalism identifies it - but predominantly as a lubricant current or a tellurian flux upon which everything is mobilized in the direction of submission to a desert where no idol can be erected and all elevations must be burned down that is, the Kingdom of God. This act of submission to the all-erasing desert of god is called the religion of taslim or submission, that is to say, Islam. If oil runs toward the desert, so does everything that is dissolved in it.

- Reza Negarestani, Cyclonopedia: Complicity with Anonymous Materials


July 23, 2010

Spatial fix


"Spatial fix" - the idea that capitalism gets bigger and badder every time it's wriggles out of a crisis.




There are many different ways to be honest.


July 22, 2010

Excerpt from Revenge Fantasies of the Politically Dispossessed


It is remarkable – in spite of feminism and the sexual revolution, in spite of the hyper-sexualized advertising culture in which we live and the relative openness with which our intimate personal lives can be talked about in certain contexts – that non-monogamy remains such a delicate and taboo subject, and here I am thinking of normal, polite society, even (or especially) its more liberal, open-minded pockets.

A taboo is something we want but cannot have. The reasons we cannot have it can tend towards the vague, and therefore the taboo is necessary to ensure that the thing we want remains forbidden. This is not to say there are no reasons or logic within any given taboo. For example, reasons behind the taboo on non-monogamy might include: the encouragement and development of jealousy, the necessity of maintaining stable family units in order to raise stable children, the spread of certain diseases, etc. However, these reasons do not necessarily feel convincing when placed next to the overwhelming force of our desire for the forbidden thing.

She was irritated by the book’s initial reception, as if people hadn’t actually bothered to read it, or read it so superficially as to make their insights negligible. But as time passed, considering the matter further, she realized her first impression was incorrect, too condescending. People had understood what she was getting at, often in a very deep and intuitive manner. They simply didn’t want to deal with it, instead focusing on aspects of the book they could most easily handle.

And then the horrible, ridiculous thing happened. There was a knock at the door, late at night, like in some mediocre crime film not worth renting. When she opened it, five police officers informed her that she was under arrest and if she resisted they had been authorized to subdue her using ‘undue force.’ She always remembered that phrase, undue force, how it implied a threat completely disconnected from the language being used. She did not resist. She did not even ask why she was being arrested. People were being arrested all the time, she knew this better than anyone. Once in the interrogation room they informed her she was charged with spreading seditious, anti-social ideas. That she would be given a fair trial, but first a panel of government experts (experts in contemporary sociology and theology, they felt it necessary to add) would be required to examine her book at length. Until the time they had completed their analysis of her text, and prepared a case against it, she would remain incarcerated. She feared they would torture her but they did not. For their purposes, at this juncture, it seemed intimidation sufficed. She was not allowed a phone call or for that matter any contact with the outside world. Her possessions were taken from her, she was given a loose-fitting one-piece jumpsuit, and locked in a small room for the night.

In one sense, non-monogamy seems to comply too well, fit too neatly, with the requirements of late capitalism. The imagery suggested by the term evokes a free market in which sexual partners come and go like so many obsolete commodities. It can be argued that the open possibility of many partners creates a competitive economy, a marketplace within which the intimacy of direct physical contact is downgraded, replaced with a series of encounters that, because they are numerous, are at the same time implicitly less important, more superficial. However, if we take friendship as a model, it is unlikely we think any one of our friends is less a friend to us simply because we have many. Sexual intimacy certainly complicates friendship. But it also generates another quality of connection, another strata where all kinds of new energies and communications have the potential to emerge.

She found it difficult to gauge the passing of time. She would sleep and think and cry and stare at the walls, in seemingly endless rounds of exhaustion and confusion. Her thoughts kept returning to the idea she found most disturbing, that this was what she had wanted, for her book to have an effect, cause a stir, bring some attention towards her. Such circular, obsessive thinking would always return to the same tepid cliché: be careful what you wish for. Her critical resources had shut down and she was unable to arrive at anything more complex.

Most of the time they left her alone. Meals came sporadically, or perhaps it only seemed that way. There were days when she began to suspect they had forgotten about her altogether. Then she would find herself being led back to the interrogation room where they would ask more questions, often the exact questions they had asked before, where they would read endless passages of her book to her, again and again demanding she clarify what she meant. “It doesn’t require clarification,” she would repeat. “It means exactly what it says.” So they would read the passage again, to the point where it came as a relief when she was finally returned to her small dark cell.

Capitalism thrives on a high degree of disconnection. In contrast, at its best, sexual intimacy is one of the most intense fields of connection two people are capable of experiencing. In this sense it might seem there are aspects to sexual connection that are progressive or subversive. Compare the value of heartfelt sexual connection with the overwhelming barrage of slick sexual imagery we are subjected to on a daily basis. Photographed and televised sexual imagery creates a continuous stream of low-level desires, desires that the corporations who produce such imagery have absolutely no intention of satisfying. They are designed to generate within us an infinite, gnawing dissatisfaction. In contrast, certain kinds of sexual intimacy have the potential to be satisfying, to connect us to each other in the long term, to generate ongoing solidarity. But I fear I am painting too rosy a picture of what is possible. Intimacy generates many powerful, conflicting emotions. With love comes the potential for jealousy. For every desire to assist and nurture there is a contrasting desire to possess or entrap. Opening a dialogue about how we might build on the emancipatory potential inherent in sexual intimacy might also generate insights as to how we might better manage the emotionally painful aspects that arrive alongside it.

It might have been weeks before anyone noticed, with any certainty, that she had gone missing, her life having become in many ways so isolated by that point. But in fact a good friend, on his way to meet her, happened to be just a few feet away from her building as she was being escorted out the front doors and into an unmarked car. He had heard enough stories by that point to realize what he was witnessing, and, fearful if he tried to interfere he would be arrested as well, he instead hurried home, picked up the phone and sounded the alarm as loudly as possible. Within a certain liberal circle she soon became a kind of rallying cry, a trenchant symbol for everything that was completely fucked about the current situation. It didn’t hurt that she was beautiful, that there were endless photographs of her already in circulation, that her books were still in bookstores and her publisher could seize upon the opportunity to get her latest book the attention they now felt it had always deserved, and finally that, unlike the ethnic minorities who were frequently subjected to such treatment, she was white, middle class and had spent many years in the public eye. Since the authorities officially declined to comment, journalists were free to speculate as to where she might be and why. The fact that the story was about sex certainly didn’t hurt.

Most of her time continued to be spent alone in that small, dark room, attempting, against all odds, to put her idle thoughts to some constructive use. However, during the now infrequent interrogation sessions, she felt something peculiar happening, some slight change in her interrogators’ attitude. She was sure she was only imagining it, but then again, how could she be sure of anything. While before they had treated her like some bit of garbage scraped up off the sidewalk, someone they could eliminate just as easily as release, now gradually they seemed almost to know who she was. She couldn’t put her finger on it, but something in the way they phrased certain questions made her feel she represented something for them, she had no idea what, a certain status within their limited world view. As she lay on her back in that small dark room staring at the ceiling, trying to mentally examine the situation with as much objectivity as possible, admittedly not so much, she came to the conclusion that something was starting to shift.

In the post-Fordist economy each worker is required to overidentify with their job. Work is no longer something you can leave at the office but rather something that can reach you at all times: through e-mail, your cellphone, company weekends and getaways. Even when you are not working it is expected that you will be thinking of work, or at the very least thinking of yourself as someone who works for a particular company in a particular job. The skills you bring to your job are meant to be varied and complex. When asked ‘what do you do?,’ your first answer will probably concern your job or at the very least something related to some aspect of your work. This is one of the most insidious ways capitalism weaves itself into our lives and into our fundamental sense of who we are.

Twelve years ago I began teaching. Since the tenure system has been more or less dismantled, like most of my colleagues around the same age I was hired on a contract-to-contract basis. I received no benefits and was expected to happily take on whatever extra work was handed to me. The students were drawn to my classes because of my celebrity and, from year to year, I generated a considerable amount of revenue for the university. It is one of the cardinal rules of teaching that the one thing you must never do is sleep with your students. Over the years directly preceding the writing of this book, I had sexual relations with at least four of my students. I intend to write about these experiences in the chapter that follows. I am choosing to do so, however ill advised, for a number of reasons. I feel my experiences – or, if you prefer, my lack of professional ethics – are far more common than anyone suspects or publicly acknowledges. When an occurrence is both widespread and covert I believe there are many good arguments for bringing it into the light and subjecting it to further examination. The main rationale behind the taboo on sexual relations between teachers and students is that it is an abuse of power on the part of the teachers. This rationale underplays the incredibly complex and intricate power dynamic, the degree to which students are able to wield power over their instructors, and the degree to which pedagogy is a process of exchange, performance and even seduction.

Slowly she got used to her life of incarceration, at times even finding it comforting. She began to see her predicament as a kind of modest vindication. While so much writing and theory passed through the world unnoticed, her book caused a stir, alerted the attention of the authorities, had an effect upon the larger system. Her work had been threatening, and this made it important. Then again, maybe prolonged solitude had only made her smug.

It was around this time she was assigned a new interrogator and the interrogation sessions became more frequent. Many things were unusual about her new interlocutor, most significant among them was the fact that this was the first woman she had had any prolonged contact with since her original arrest. The fact that it was now another woman asking the questions, another woman trying to grind her down, was unsettling, setting off biases within her previously invisible: that women didn’t do such things, that institutional cruelty was the sole domain of men. This new interrogator was also the cleverest, most educated, sympathetic person she had met since arriving at the detention facility. Against her better judgment she found herself looking forward to the interrogation sessions, those lively bursts of tension-riddled conversation about her book and its implications. She had to remind herself, constantly, that this new woman was also trying to break her. That this new kindness and intelligence represented only a shift in strategy, not a shift in their intentions.

Over the course of many sessions her new interrogator took her through the book, chapter by chapter, page by page, paragraph by paragraph, sometimes line by line. They were halfway through chapter two, the chapter in which she discussed sleeping with her students.

The sublimated erotic energy inherent within a classroom situation shifts into another register when played out outside the classroom. That academic learning can take place in the bedroom, and by moving to the bedroom be acutely intensified, is a fact that should be readily apparent to anyone who has tried it, or considered the matter at any length. Sexual intimacy generates an openness to learning that is, at times, unparalleled.

That said, I would be seriously misrepresenting the situation if I were to imply that the original reason I began sleeping with my students was to further their education. At the beginning, the situation was more pedestrian. During the early years of my teaching career the workload was all consuming. Between classes, lecture requests, requests for articles and the additional administrative workload there was little time for socializing outside of the academy. Since I was single and had been aggressively non-monogamous for many years, I was constantly at a loss for strategies to deal with the overwhelming loneliness my new academic life imposed. I was by far the youngest adjunct professor on staff, and the people I came into contact with closest to my own age were, generally speaking, students.

The interrogator stopped reading and looked up. She was standing with her back to the door. On the other side of the door were two armed guards, one on each side, the same guards who brought our author to this brightly-lit room and who would eventually take her back to her cell when the session was done. The interrogator continued to read.

When I first noticed a certain mutual attraction between myself and one of my students, I quickly dismissed it. But over the course of any given year such attractions continued to smoulder, and my earlier dismissal slowly transformed into the gnawing question: why not? Of course there were many reasons not to. Professionally it was highly stigmatized and, if I were to be caught, would put my job in considerable jeopardy. It also had the potential to reverse the power imbalance with any given student, creating a situation in which, if things did not go to their liking, they could threaten me with sexual harassment. In retrospect, I can see that the motivation for the first couple of affairs had more to do with the incredible discomfort I felt surrounding my new pedagogical position, my reluctance to embrace any sense of authority. In a sense, it was a prolonged attempt at self-sabotage. But the sabotage failed. Instead I discovered a continuous stream of new possibilities.

The interrogator looked up once again. “I read this aloud and I can almost understand why you’re here,” she said. “You encourage something quite explicitly, something you might be able to engage in within a certain ethical framework but others most certainly could not.”

“You can almost understand why I’m here…”

“If I really try: almost.”

“So if you were in charge, if it were your decision, I wouldn’t be here.”

“I don’t see any point in locking up writers.”

“But…I don’t understand…you do see the point of locking up those who encourage, quite explicitly, unethical behaviour.”

“As I said: almost.”

They often had such exchanges: repetitive, harsh, playful. A style of aggressive banter which, at times, verged on tenderness.

“I’ve never thought of asking this before…”

“What’s that?”

“What do you want from me?”

“It’s simple. You could probably guess.”

“If I could guess I wouldn’t be asking.”

“The only reason you can’t guess is because it’s too obvious.”

“If you tell me then I won’t have to guess.”

“What fun would that be?”

“I haven’t had any fun in a very long time.”

A tense pause. The writer wondered for a moment if she had crossed a line, since often in their banter it seemed to be an unspoken rule that they would both pretend everything was fine. For things to be fine no reference could be made to the more negative aspects of her incarceration.

“That makes me sad. I thought we had fun every time you came up here: reading, thinking, talking.”

“You’re having fun?”

“Of course. I thought we both were.”

“All right.”

“You want to know what we want? I can tell you quite simply: we want you to admit that you were wrong and that we’re essentially right.”

“That’s it?”



“Oh, I don’t know. Probably because in actual fact you’re right and we’re wrong.”

“I don’t understand…what do you want me to do…sign a statement?”

As she said this, our writer looked up, so exhausted and drained by the prospect of some new process that might or might not lead to her release (was she only being toyed with?), that her interrogator almost started to pity her. But the interrogator had a job to do. And she knew that now was the moment to do it properly.

“Let me put it this way: if by some miracle we were to eventually release you, there are going to be a lot of people – friends, colleagues, reporters – wanting to know what happened. And together we can come up with a story. That you wrote some things you hadn’t put enough thought into. Some things that if you were to write your book again you would choose to leave out, or write differently. We noticed these things and investigated. However, after a thorough investigation, together we all decided that, while it would have been better if you hadn’t written such things, or had written about them in a more circumspect manner, since some concepts weren’t as deeply considered as you had first assumed, and others were downright misguided, in the end there was no harm done and in future both sides have agreed to be more careful. We will craft this story delicately, since it is the exact story you will repeat, with slight variations, every time you are asked, for as long as you continue to be asked. From the way you tell it, and from the way it is repeated by others, in the long run everyone will come to understand that in some sense you were wrong and the government was right. And that, while certainly everything isn’t perfect, some things are basically as they should be in the world.”

“To get out of here I tell a story? Concoct and repeat a story?”

“Of course it has to be good.”

The interrogator smiled. Calmly she continued to read.

The intimacy I felt with these students led to some of the most thorough theoretical investigations I have ever had the privilege of experiencing. The fact that such discussions were interspersed with kissing, with touching, stroking and licking, with wetness and stickiness, only leant intensity and resonance to the complexity of the matters under discussion. I was teaching and giving and taking pleasure both in the ideas being expressed and in the intensity of physical contact I was able to generate with these young men.

The almost complete, but temporary, loss of self that was involved – a loss of self present in all intense sexual encounters – doubled as an open door through which one could enter new areas of thought, as if one had left one’s old self behind, as if within this new, amorphous territory, in which one was no longer one’s previous self but had not yet become anything else, infinite modes of discovery became possible. The intimacy of our nakedness made us feel, or at least gave the illusion, that we were so much more directly engaged, both in dialogue with the larger world of ideas and with each other. This directness: of being intertwined, exhausted and sated, of drifting in and out of sleep and having the strains of our discussions, of our nightly lessons, freely intermixed with half-remembered dreams…

The interrogator stopped reading and looked up. “You must be getting pretty lonely,” she said.
The author nodded, almost in spite of herself.

“It’s strange, for someone who’s experimented as much as you have…you only ever write about fucking men. You never talk about sleeping with women.”

The author looked up, her hair loosely falling into her eyes. For a split second she thought that maybe this other woman, this woman who had been tormenting her all these draining, exhausting months, was about to make a pass at her. If this was the case one thing was certain, her interrogator didn’t lack gall.

“It’s true,” the author replied, “for some reason I prefer men.”

“You’ve probably guessed this about me already,” her interrogator said slyly, “but I definitely prefer women.”

“No, I hadn’t guessed that at all.”

“Really?” Her interrogator smiled. ”I thought you were more observant than that.”

“Must have had my mind on other things.”

The interrogator, without missing a beat, looked down at the book and continued to read.

…forms the basis for a different kind of learning, learning that enters not only through the mind but also through the skin and sweat and pores. In this way ideas are divested of their previously cold abstraction and instead gain heat, momentum and complicity. This is the deep learning, and there is no conduit for it other than one’s intimate and ongoing personal experience.

It might be said that the fact that such behaviour is forbidden adds to the intensity and complicity of such learning. Anything illicit brings with it a certain charge, a certain urgency and electricity. But, in and of itself, breaking the rules is never satisfying. Breaking a rule is only ever a test, to see what possibilities are created if one chooses to take the world not as it is but instead as it could be. What matters is not the charge of breaking any given taboo but the charge of generating new openings. Because to sleep with one’s students is nothing if not a commonplace practice, hidden, unspoken, the dirty little secret of professional academia. It is only in publicizing my activities without shame or embarrassment, in highlighting the positive aspects of such commonplace practices, that a real opening might occur…

The interrogator once again paused. “Perhaps there’s yet another taboo we could break,” she said.

“Perhaps,” the author replied. She had no idea. Could this turn of events offer some improvement? Or would it only suck her down into further constrictions of power, emotional mind games, desperation? Was fucking her just another way for her interrogator to fuck her over, manipulate, bend her to their will? Or might it represent some genuine opening, a subtle change in the power dynamic?

[The above is an excerpt from my book Revenge Fantasies of the Politically Dispossessed published by Pedlar Press in 2010. As well, some other Jacob Wren Links.]


July 21, 2010

The kind of monarchy that I am dreaming of does not exist.


Look, people think that when I say that I am monarchic I mean that what I want is a kingdom of Nicaragua, a kingdom of Honduras, a kingdom of Paraguay. Monarchy is a thing of the past, and a government with divine right and absolute power like that of Louis XIV or Charlemagne is the last thing I would want. In this day and age, something like that is impossible. The kind of monarchy that I am dreaming of does not exist. I agree with Borges when he said that democracy is “a deception of statistics,” I think that it is something that does not work, and we see it failing all the time. Something that we must keep in mind is that one of the most sinister characters, the most sick and diabolical murderers, Adolf Hitler, was voted chancellor of the German Reich by a majority. So, I say, like Ortega y Gassett, that when a lot of people agree about something, it’s either a stupid idea or a beautiful woman. Dictatorships, which I detest, especially these military dictatorships in Latin America, have had enormous popular support. I saw the Plaza de Mayo full of people yelling “Perón! Perón!” and it filled me with disgust, but that’s how it was. So, one must be careful with the application of the formula. But I don’t mean to frighten anyone. As I don’t follow politics, I have never voted, and the most recent political event that really preoccupies me and which I am still struggling to accept is the fall of Byzantium at the hand of the Turks in 1453.

- Alvaro Mutis

[The rest of this interview can be found here.]


July 20, 2010

The Energy of the Marketplace



The energy of the market-place, at times, possesses an astonishing versatility, diversity, creativity and inventiveness, in the realm of ideas as well as actions.

The neo-liberal, turbo-capitalism – in which we currently live – is the emptied out, apocalyptic perversion of this potential.

We are integrated into this system at the level of our desires. When I want something, or have a fantasy, this want or fantasy are shot through with capitalism.

I don’t know about you, but speaking for myself, I am totally fucking in it. I behave, not like a capitalist, but like capitalism itself. And I am against capitalism. So I am against myself.

The greater the margin of economic profit, the more people’s lives are destroyed. This is why I prefer only a slight profit. (While secretly hungering for larger conquests.) How can one honestly look at the world, have a good heart, and still not be didactic? Because the fear of empty words, or worse, of hypocritical gestures, is far greater than the fear of doing nothing? But there is no pleasure, no risk, in being only consequent.

I started writing this in Geneva. Now I am writing in Madrid.


There is an incredible electric charge, an overwhelming surge of perverse empowerment, in consciously or unconsciously doing something that one knows is wrong. Good deeds cannot match this pleasure, they have only a tepid narcissism with which to rally.

Acts of kindness are plentiful in the world, but most often take place on a modest scale. Acts of malice can be monumental. I don’t know if this is true. And if true, I don’t know why. But I wrote it and, as I was writing, could feel it resonate.

Monumental acts of malice often require a great deal of technology. What are the technologies of kindness? A genocide is a monumental, terrifying act of malice. What is the equivalent in the realm of kindness?

But perhaps kindness is beside the point. To witness a monumental act of malice (the French revolutions descent into terror, the Holocaust, Hiroshima, Cambodia, Rwanda, etc.) is to experience a violent, equally out of proportion, sense of disillusionment.

People are an astonishing mix of complexity and non-complexity. What I think of as myself doesn’t come from me. It comes from advertising, television, pop songs, magazines, the odd book, half understood social conventions and taboos, the failures of my education and my parents. A hodge-podge, a bricolage.

This is the self, with its endless patterns repeating endlessly, though it remains elusive just exactly where they came from or why. Of course there are answers, theories, therapy. But like all useful reductions, they fail to grapple with the fullness of the struggle. A struggle not only with myself but with the world.

Subjectivity is produced. Deep in our consciousness we are given a challenge: either you attempt to become rich or you will end up poor. This has nothing to do Darwin. Nature is equally symbiotic, a careful balance within and between eco-systems. Animals help each other survive.

As now I am writing in Montreal, the most charming city in Canada. (I dare you to tell me that its not.) I struggle to call it home.


The entire model of opposition needs to be re-thought. Yes, fascism must be opposed and fought against in all instances. (The fascism of capital, the fascism within ourselves, the crypto-fascism of everyday life.) But perhaps it must be fought against using a model somehow other than opposition.

Opposition always leads to one of two things: to being absorbed or being destroyed. It is true that when ones ideas are absorbed one does – in some sense – alter the status quo. However, if the original model was less about attacking and more about something else, I am once again thinking along the lines of symbiotic relationships found in nature, than perhaps a greater degree of change might be possible, one that does not create the insidious distortions beneficial to power that absorption so often entails.

Fierce opposition always leads to something akin to a cycle of revenge: positions on both sides harden, become further ingrained, more rigid, the longer the antagonism continues to escalate. Both sides become less likely to soften, shift or change.

And yet the more I think about such questions, the more unclear I become as to what this other model might look or feel like. Might it be a model based on listening?

Listening to the enemy? Not dialogue, not some naïve belief in the power of communication. Simple listening, as a first step.

But what if, as you are listening, all you hear are lies? What if, as you are listening, you receive three bullets in the back of the head (when one would have sufficed.) How to transition from a state in which listening is dangerous and foolish, towards a state in which it, once again, becomes constructive? Listening for the insecurity behind power. Thinking if there are other, less violent ways, to make it feel secure. As I write this I feel naïve.

Writing in Toronto, the city that instilled in me a deep, but cautious, antipathy towards business, sports and post-modernism.


Where is power in capital? In the things it makes us do? In the things it allows us to do (to ourselves, to others)? In the things it makes possible: the organization, hierarchy and destruction? The overwhelming imbalances that simply could not exist without it.

Evolution doesn’t explain everything, no key can unlock every door. Capital is not omnipotent, cannot absorb every single resistance.

Where is the power in capital? In the fact that nothing seems possible without it, without a bit of dosh, that even the homeless panhandle and must feel they have no choice, that it seems impossible to imagine our world organized in some other way? Capital is not omnipotent, but neither does it have to be in order to maintain a fairly consistent and spectacular control.

Competition isn’t natural. Competition is produced like everything else. In the natural world they don’t compete because of an implicit ideology that competition lends value. Animals hunt for food out of necessity. Where is the necessity in everything that surrounds us?

How to imagine deep, structural change, happening slowly over decades, overcoming the continuous onslaught of insurmountable obstacles and continuing to push through. Beginning with subtle but ongoing shifts in our most basic understanding of ourselves and the world. Is that a place to begin? What would it mean to listen to the insecurity behind the savagery of power abused?

At the door of Kafka’s castle you cannot haggle. At the Wall Mart and gas station you cannot haggle. But in the marketplace, the dirty marketplace of ‘early capitalism’, my romantic misconception of a marketplace before the hard shock of industrial production, there was still an always present one-to-one potential for give-and-take. What would that marketplace look like without a king, without a church, growing out of some improvised combination of barter and local currencies?

If they can have the psychotic fantasy of a pure, unregulated free market; why can’t I have the idyllic fantasy of some future, down-to-earth, flexible, generous marketplace of necessities and ideas?

Writing in Zurich, in a near empty café, filled with early spring sunlight.


They’re ideologues, and ideology is like an addiction to one’s own position. Ideologues don’t stop until someone stops them. But how to stop them without becoming equally, negatively tenacious and single-minded.

We all have fixations, obsessions, things about which we are absolutely stubborn. But ideologues want everyone under the boot of their own infinite stubbornness, which they view as noble discipline, and they keep coming back.

Are these the ones I’m suggesting we listen to?

But it’s easy to call your enemies names, easy to demonize them, infinitely more difficult to find the miniscule point from which some degree of communication might begin.

Resistance is always unfinished, always a work-in-progress, because if you win then you’re in power, and somebody else has to resist against you. Might such an idea ease the inherent frustration involved in any act of sustained resistance?


This text has also been published in The Coming Envelope. Order one here.