Catherine Lacey: Revenge Fantasies of the Politically Dispossessed has this backdrop of a disenfranchised political movement, which was so dead-on. Was this based working as an activist of some sort? If not, what spurred the decision to have a book set in this way?
Jacob Wren: I’ve had a little bit of experience with activism and in the anarchist community, mainly when I was much younger, but that wasn’t exactly what made me write about these things (though it most likely affected my take on it.) In some ways Revenge Fantasies, and my previous book Families Are Formed Through Copulation, are both responses to the shock of the Bush years, to my feeling that the world was sliding into some new kind of fascism (perhaps I was over-reacting but I’m still not sure, time will tell) and there seemed to be so little one could do. I kept reading the papers, wondering what was possible, how to fight against everything that was happening. I continue to feel so pathetically overwhelmed by the injustices that rule the world: the ever-growing chasm between rich and poor, the ways in which our daily consumer choices contribute to the evisceration of the natural world (of which we are in fact only a small part), more prisons and more profitable prisons, the pure evil that is Monsanto, wars being fought for corporate gain… all right, when I write such lists I basically feel like a fucking dreadful Marxist bore. Everyone knows and then what can you do? Well, the obvious solution is to get together with large numbers of other people and fight. But how to find the common purpose and solidarity, and how exactly to fight, is by no means easy or clear.
And then I started thinking about fidelity. The fight will be long, difficult and often painfully discouraging. It requires something like an infinite patience and overwhelming fidelity or conviction. Well, fidelity has never been my strong suit. In that respect I’m of my generation: a bit ADD. And I started comparing different kinds of fidelity: fidelity to a political cause versus fidelity within a romantic relationship. (I’ve never been called upon to test my fidelity to a political cause but I have experienced questions of fidelity in and around romance.) Somehow, along this path, I ended up with a love triangle, some strange kind of juxtaposition between a more political question (fidelity to a cause) and a classic soap-opera device (broken fidelity to a lover). What happens to the fidelity of the original relationship in a love triangle, how does it evolve, disintegrate, become more paradoxical? And how is this analogous, or completely different, from fidelity to a political cause? I wanted to write about these questions in ways I had never seen them written about before – full of doubt, confusion, curiosity, precision, cynicism and joy.
Catherine Lacey: While writing it, did the direction the book ended up going surprise you at all?
Jacob Wren: Yes, as I wrote, most of the time I never really knew where it was going (and even now that it’s done I’m still not quite sure I know what it is.) There were so many times when I was completely stuck. Most often the way it came unstuck was I would spontaneously write something so terrible and unexpected I couldn’t help but follow it a bit and see where it led. (I now think a lot of this ‘being stuck’ was simply being hampered by various unexamined notions of good writing and good taste.) Sometimes I felt the trick – like some sort of fucked up alchemist – was to magically transmute the bad taste into good taste, and that this alchemy had something to do with what it means to write about politics today, though I’m still not sure exactly what. I love it when I’m writing and something completely unexpected comes out. There are also a lot of things in the book I ripped off, but hopefully ripped off in such a perverse way they have also become something new.
Catherine Lacey: What’s next for you? I know you’re in Lisbon (and I’m jealous); what’s that all about? Are you working on something set there?
Jacob Wren: Over the past year I have had writing residencies in Denmark at Hald Hovedgaard, in Belgium at Passa Porta and currently here in Portugal hosted by the festival Alkantara. I have been trying to finish a new novel called Polyamorous Love Song. I am very excited about it, I think it is some of the best writing I’ve ever done, and yet, as I’ve been working on it steadily for the past four years, I was starting to worry I might never manage to finish it. I’m just starting to realize that my life is considerably busier than it’s ever been before and I needed to find a way to carve out some additional time to write. These writing residencies were my first attempt at a solution and I honestly can’t believe how helpful it’s been. The new book doesn’t have anything directly to do with Denmark, Belgium or Portugal, and yet, undeniably, all of these places, and the people I’ve met while there, have now influenced it. If you’re curious, here is my first attempt at a description:
Polyamorous Love Song is a novel concerning the relationship between artists and the world. Shot through with unexpected moments of sex and violence, it is written within the strict logic of an absolute dream, a dream that is both the same and opposite to the world in which we live. It is a novel of many through-lines. For example: 1) A group of people who wear furry mascot costumes at all times fighting a revolutionary war for their right to wear furry mascot costumes at all times. 2) A movement known as the ‘New Filmmaking’ in which, instead of shooting and editing a film, one simply does all of the things that would have been in the film, but in real life. This movement has many adherents. 3) A group of ‘New Filmmakers’ who devise increasingly strange sexual scenarios with complete strangers. They invent a drug that allows them to intuit the cell phone number of anyone they see, allowing phone calls to be the first stage of their spontaneous, yet somehow scripted, seductions. 4) A secret society that concocts a virus that only infects those on the political right. They stage large-scale orgies, creating unexpected intimacies and connections between individuals who are otherwise savagely opposed to each other. 5) A radical leftist who catches this virus, forcing her to question the depth of her considerable leftist credentials. 6) A German barber in New York who, out of scorn for the stupidity of his American clients, gives them avant-garde haircuts, unintentionally achieving acclaim among the bohemian set. And yet such stories are only the beginning.
[The accompanying ten sentences I wrote can be found here.]