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.


Jens Peter Jacobsen: "And what intensity it will give life when everything must be contained in life and nothing is placed outside of it."


"They began to talk about Christianity. It was as if the subject was in the air.

Niels spoke fervently but rather superficially against Christianity.

Hjerrild was tired of retracing the threads of conversations that were old for him, and he said suddenly, without any real connection to the preceding: "Be careful, Mr. Lyhne; Christianity has power. It's stupid to quarrel with the ruling truth by agitating for the truth of the crown prince."

"Stupid or not, that's not a consideration."

"Don't say that so lightly. It was not my intention to tell you the obvious thing, that in material respects it is stupid; it is stupid in terms of ideas, it is stupid and even more than that. Be careful; if it isn't unavoidably necessary for your temperament, then don't bind yourself too strongly to that right now. As a poet you have so many other interests."

"I probably don't understand you, but I can't treat myself like an organ grinder who takes out a less popular tune and puts a different one in, one that everybody is going around whistling."

"You can't? There are those who can. But you could say: we don't play that tune. Usually you can do a lot more in that way than you think. People aren't that consistent. When you keep on energetically using your right arm, an excess of blood rushes to it, and it increases in size at the cost of the other limbs, while the legs that you use only when necessary grow rather thin, all by themselves. Do you get the picture? Look at the way most, and also probably the best, intellectual forces here in Denmark have turned exclusively toward political freedom. Look at that and let it be a lesson to you. Believe me, there is a redeeming joy for a person in fighting for an idea that is popular, while it is so demoralizing to belong to the losing minority which life, in the course that it takes, proves wrong, point by point and step by step. It could not be any different, for it is so bitterly discouraging to see that what you are convinced, from the innermost silence of your soul, is true and right, to see this truth ridiculed and struck in the face by even the lowliest believer in the victorious army, to hear it slandered with obscene names, and then not be able to do anything, nothing but love it even more faithfully, kneel before it in your heart with even deeper reverence. And to see its beautiful countenance just as radiantly beautiful, just as full of the sublime and the immortal light, no matter how much dust is whirled at its white forehead, or how close a poisonous fog thickens around its halo. It is bitterly discouraging, it cannot be avoided - your soul will be hurt by this, for it's so easy to hate so that your heart grows so weary, to call up the cold shadows of contempt around you, and, apathetic with pain, let the world pass by. Of course, if you have it in you, if instead of choosing the easier way, instead of taking yourself out of all connection with the whole, you can stand erect and with all your talents alert, all your sympathies awake, you can receive the many-thorned lashes as they fall, lash after lash, and still keep your bloody head from drooping, as you listen for the dull sounds prophesying change in your time, and search for the faint, distant gleam which is a day - a time - perhaps; if you have that in you! But do not try it, Lyhne. Think what such a man's life would be like, if he is to do his utmost. Unable to speak without boos and hisses foaming up in the footsteps of his speech. To have all his words distorted, besmirched, twisted out of joint, twined into cunning snares, thrown at his feet, and then before he had even gathered them up out of the dirt, and untangled them from one another, suddenly to discover that the whole world is deaf. And then to start all over again from another point, with the same results, over and over. And then perhaps the most painful of all, to see himself misunderstood and scorned by noble men and women, whom he, in spite of his different beliefs, regards with admiration and respect. And that's the way it has to be, it cannot be any different. The opposition cannot expect to be attached for what it actually is and wants, but for what those in power want to believe it is and intends. And besides, power used upon the weak and misuse of power: how can they be two different things? And certainly no one will demand that those in power ought to make themselves weak in order to fight with equal weapons against the opposition. But that is why the struggle of the opposition is so painful, so agonizing. And do you really think, Lyhne, that a man can fight that battle, with all those vulture beaks sunk into him, without the invincible, blind enthusiasm that is fanaticism? And how in the world can he be fanatical about something negative? Fanatical about idea that there is no God! - and without fanaticism, no victory. Hush, listen!"

They stopped outside a high--ceilinged apartment on the ground floor where the blinds were pulled up on one of the windows, and through the open ventilation window a song reached them, borne by the clear voices of women and children:

A child is born in Bethlehem,
For Jerusalem rejoices.
Hallelujah, hallelujah!

They walked on in silence. The melody, or rather the notes from the piano, followed them down the quiet street.

"Did you hear," said Hjerrild, "did you hear the excitement in that old Hebraic cry of victory? And those two Jewish city names! Jerusalem, it was not merely symbolic: the whole city - Copenhagen, Denmark. It was us, the Christian people among the people."

"There is no God, and the human being is His prophet!" said Niels bitterly, but also with despair.

"Yes, that's right!" ridiculed Hjerrild. A little later he added: "But atheism is so boundlessly pedestrian, and its goal, in the long run, is nothing less that a disillusioned humanity. Belief in a ruling, judgmental God, that is the last great illusion of humanity, and what then, when that is gone? Then people will be wiser; but richer, happier? I can't see it."

"But don't you see," exclaimed Niels, "that the day humanity can freely cry: there is no God, on that day a new heaven and a new earth will be created as if by magic. Only then will heaven become the free, infinite place instead of a threatening, watchful eye. Only then will the earth belong to us and we to the earth, when the dim world of salvation and condemnation out there has burst like a bubble. The earth will be our proper fatherland, the home of our heart where we do not dwell as foreign guests for a paltry time but for all our days. And what intensity it will give life when everything must be contained in life and nothing is placed outside of it. That enormous stream of love, which now rises up toward that God who is believed in, will bend back over the earth when heaven is empty, with loving steps toward all the beautiful, human traits and talents with which we have empowered and adorned God in order to make God worthy of our love. Goodness, justice, wisdom, who can name them all? Don't you realize what nobility would spread over humanity if people could live their lives freely and meet their deaths without fear of hell or hope of heaven, but fearing themselves and with hope for themselves? How our conscience would grow, and what stability it would bring if passive remorse and humility could no longer atone for anything, and no forgiveness was possible except to use goodness to redeem the evil you committed with evil."

"You must have amazing faith in humanity: atheism will make greater demands on people than Christianity does."

"Of course."

"Of course; but where will you find all those strong individuals you will need to put together your atheistic humanity?"

"Little by little, atheism itself will teach them; not this generation or the next one or the next one after that - they will not be able to bear atheism, I realize that, but in every generation there will always be a few who will honestly fight for a life in it and a death in it, and over the course of time they will acquire a number of spiritual ancestors whom their descendants can look back on with pride and gain strength by observing them. In the beginning the conditions will make things the most difficult, most will fall in the struggle, and those who are victorious will win only with tattered banners, for their innermost marrow will still be steeped in tradition, and because there is so much else in a human being than just the brain that must be convinced: blood and nerves, hopes and longings, yes, and if thee are dreams they must be convinced too. But it doesn't matter, someday it will come, and the few will be the many."

"Do you think so? I'm searching for a name; couldn't you call it 'pietistic atheism'?"

"All true atheism..." began Niels, but Hjerrild quickly interupted him.

"Of course!" he said. "Of course; by all means let us have only a single gate, one single eye of a needle for all the camels in the kingdom of the earth!""

- Jens Peter Jacobsen, Niels Lyhne


July 17, 2010

Jens Peter Jacobsen: "They were new, bitterly new, new to a fault..."


In addition to Mrs. Boyce's pale niece they met a number of young people there - promising poets, painters, actors, and architects - all artists by virtue of their youth more than their talent, all full of hope, courageous, eager to fight, and exceedingly easy to fill with enthusiasm. There were probably among them a few of those quiet dreamers who bleat sorrowfully for the bygone ideals of a bygone time, but most of them were filled with what was new at the time, intoxicated with the theories of the New, wild with the power of the New, and dazzled by its morning clarity. They were new, bitterly new, new to a fault, and perhaps not least because deep within there was a strange, powerfully instinctual yearning that had to be stifled, a yearning that the New could not suppress, even as Universal as the New was: encompassing all, having power over all, enlightening all.

- Jens Peter Jacobsen, Niels Lyhne


July 13, 2010

Badiou Poem


You may live your entire life and never experience an event.

Most people are not, and will never be, subjects.

This is a purer theology.


July 12, 2010

Ingeborg Bachmann quote


In the Psychological Institute in the Liebiggasse we always drank tea or coffee. I knew a man there who always used shorthand to record what everyone said, and sometimes other things besides. I don't know shorthand. Sometimes we'd give each other Rorschach tests, Szondi tests, TAT, and would diagnose each other's character and personality, we would observe our performance and behavior and examine our expressions. Once he asked how many men I had slept with, and I couldn't think of any except this one-legged thief who had been in jail, and a lamp covered with flies in a room in Mariahilf rented by the hour, but I said at random: seven! He laughed surprised and said, then naturally he'd like to marry me, our children would certainly be intelligent, also very pretty, and what did I think of that. We went to the Prater, and I wanted to go on the Ferris wheel, because at that time I was never afraid, just happy the way I felt while gliding and later on while skiing, I could laugh for hours out of sheer happiness. Of course then we didn't ever speak again. Shortly afterward I had to take my oral examinations, and in the morning before the three big exams all the embers spilled out of the oven at the Philosophical Institute, I stomped on some pieces of coal or wood, I ran to get a broom and dustpan, since the janitors hadn't come yet, it was burning and smoking terribly, I didn't want a fire, I trampled the embers with my feet, the stench stayed in the institute for days, my shoes were singed, but nothing burned down. I also opened all the windows. Even so I managed to take my first exam at eight in the morning, I was supposed to be there with another candidate but he didn't come; he had had a stroke during the night, as I found out just before going in to be examined about Leibnitz, Kant and Hume. The Old Privy Councillor, who was also Rector at the the time, was wearing a dirty gown, earlier he had received some honorary order from Greece, I don't know what for, and he began asking questions, very annoyed that a candidate had missed an exam due to demise, but at least I was there and not dead yet. In his anger he had forgotten what subjects had been agreed upon, and during the exam someone phoned - I believe it was his sister - one moment we were discussing the neo-Kantians, the next moment we were with the English deists, but still quite far from Kant himself, and I didn't know very much. After the phone call things improved a little, I proceeded right away to discuss what had been agreed upon, and he didn't notice. I asked him an anxious question relating to the problem of time and space, admittedly a question without meaning for me at the time, but he felt quite flattered that I had asked, and then I was dismissed. I ran back to our institute, it wasn't burning, and I went on to the next two exams. I passed all of them. But later I never did solve the problem relating to time and space. It grew and grew.

- Ingeborg Bachmann, Malina


July 6, 2010

In the second century b.c.


In the second century b.c., Terence said, “There’s nothing to say that hasn’t been said before.”


July 3, 2010

Claude Cahun quote


Until I see everything clearly I want to hunt myself down.

- Claude Cahun


July 2, 2010

Dan Graham quote


All artists are alike. They dream of doing something that's more social, more collaborative, more real than art.

- Dan Graham