December 27, 2012

I want to start again (possible opening for a new book.)


I want to start again. I want to write a book that has nothing to do with any of the books I’ve written before. This is the kind of book you write when you think you might soon be dead.

A book to make enemies, to take revenge on people who most likely don’t deserve it. Should I keep the names the same or change them? I will change the names. The world is small enough. Those who care about such things will figure it out. Gossip is a false mystery that must be solved.

A few seconds ago I felt confident I would openly slander people and now, still on the first page, I am no longer sure it is a good idea, this oscillation being so familiar it hurts.

I’m still on the first page and, already, I know I basically won’t slander anyone. And yet, still, I want to start again. I always want to start again.

For me, over the course of a lifetime, five books feels like the right number for a single author to write. I have now written five: Unrehearsed Beauty, Families Are Formed Through Copulation, Revenge Fantasies of the Politically Dispossessed, Polyamorous Love Song and Rich and Poor. (I have also written three others, a very long time ago, under another name, which I don’t count or think about.) I have written five books and therefore am done.

Yet writing these books has been a kind of therapy. Having something to work on each day, to struggle with, give focus, take my mind from my more terrifying, regular, existential mental habits.

I don’t think of my books as being for the benefit of my mental health. I think of them, mainly, as being for readers. To read, be provoked by, possibly enjoy. Five books feels like enough. It feels unnecessary to continue, and yet, obviously, I can’t quite stop.

There are people I want to slander, who I did not mention in any of my previous, more polite, more fictional, less neurotic, books. This is not a good reason to write book number six.

I have decided all those I intend to slander I will refer to as X. There are at least five or six different individuals, possibly as many as twenty, here all referred to as X. In this way it is a bit like I am slandering the entire world.

Of course, the real person I hope to slander is myself.


December 25, 2012



At the coffee place
on Christmas day
on one of three televisions
a movie I had seen most of
once before on a plane
Jim Carey as a rich jerk
who's humanized by a gaggle
of CGI penguins
a movie for children
with a simple lesson
the rich are not destroying the artic
not destroying the penguins
but rather saving them
and being humanized in the process
brought closer to their families
a shitty, stupid movie
pure propaganda
and both times I saw it
I cried


December 20, 2012

From an article in Der Spiegel about US drone pilot Brandon Bryant


Bryant and his coworkers sat in front of 14 computer monitors and four keyboards. When Bryant pressed a button in New Mexico, someone died on the other side of the world…


[H]e remembers one incident very clearly when a Predator drone was circling in a figure-eight pattern in the sky above Afghanistan, more than 10,000 kilometers (6,250 miles) away. There was a flat-roofed house made of mud, with a shed used to hold goats in the crosshairs, as Bryant recalls. When he received the order to fire, he pressed a button with his left hand and marked the roof with a laser. The pilot sitting next to him pressed the trigger on a joystick, causing the drone to launch a Hellfire missile. There were 16 seconds left until impact…

With seven seconds left to go, there was no one to be seen on the ground. Bryant could still have diverted the missile at that point. Then it was down to three seconds. Bryant felt as if he had to count each individual pixel on the monitor. Suddenly a child walked around the corner, he says.

Second zero was the moment in which Bryant’s digital world collided with the real one in a village between Baghlan and Mazar-e-Sharif.

Bryant saw a flash on the screen: the explosion. Parts of the building collapsed. The child had disappeared. Bryant had a sick feeling in his stomach.

“Did we just kill a kid?” he asked the man sitting next to him.

“Yeah, I guess that was a kid,” the pilot replied.

“Was that a kid?” they wrote into a chat window on the monitor.

Then, someone they didn’t know answered, someone sitting in a military command center somewhere in the world who had observed their attack. “No. That was a dog,” the person wrote.

They reviewed the scene on video. A dog on two legs?

- From an article in Der Spiegel about US drone pilot Brandon Bryant as cited by Glen Greenwald in The Guardian


December 18, 2012

Some favourite things from 2012


[The last, and perhaps only, time I made one of these lists was back in 2010. Not sure why I'm doing it again now, but it seems to have happened. The list is in no particular order and most of these things didn't actually appear in 2012. But they were all new to me.]

The Transformation*** – Juliana Spahr
Debt: The First 5000 Years – David Graeber
Laconia: 1,200 Tweets on Film – Masha Tupitsyn
The King of a Rainy Country – Brigid Brophy
Human Wishes / Enemy Combatant – Edmond Caldwell
In the Time of the Blue Ball – Manuela Draeger
Event Factory – Renee Gladman
The Event – Juan José Saer
The Ship – Hans Henny Jahn
Mercury - Ariana Reines 
Summer of Hate – Chris Kraus
Selected Works – José Antonio Ramos Sucre
Blast Counterblast – Edited by Anthony Elms and Steve Reinke
Progress of Stories – Laura Riding

Las Malas Amistades – Maleza
THEESatisfaction – awE naturalE
Fatima Al Qadiri – Genre-Specific Xperience
Brand New Wayo: Funk, Fast Times & Nigerian Boogie Badness 1979-1983
Personal Space: Electronic Soul 1974-1984
Frank Ocean – Code Orange
Solid Space – Space Museum
Gigi – Maitnent
Angel Haze - Reservation
Roberto Cacciapaglia – The Ann Steel Album
Hospitality – s/t
BLU – No York

A YouTube playlist for 2013
Not to be confused with the YouTube playlist for 2012
A YouTube playlist of Japanese music I made in Japan
Some (all time) favourite books
A list of visual artists
I listened to a great deal of music that I discovered at Bodega Pop
And I recorded all my songs for Every Song I’ve Ever Written

*** The Transformation was most likely the best book I read this year.


December 17, 2012

Big Brother where art thou? vanishes and then returns


Big Brother where art thou? - a project entirely on Facebook that I made last year in collaboration with Lene Berg - had mysteriously disappeared for awhile but has now returned in it's entirety. To view the project you now have click on "Highlights" and scroll down to "Posts by Others." You can find it here.


December 7, 2012

Stories I started but couldn't finish.


I want to start again. I want to write a book that has nothing to do with any of the books I’ve written before. This is the kind of book you write when you think you might be dead soon. A book to make enemies, to take revenge on people who most likely don’t deserve it…

I don’t remember exactly when I started calling it The Pinocchio Syndrome, this: I want to be a real boy / I want to be a real novel thing. I don’t want to write strange, experimental, impossible to categorize, novel-like-things anymore. I don’t want to be marginalized like that. I want to write a real novel with real characters and a real story that will be taken seriously by the literary world. I think every writer of difficult-to-categorize fiction struggles to some extent with The Pinocchio Syndrome (along with the exceptions to every rule.)

I am fascinated by the novel Mount Analogue by René Daumal and, more specifically, but its ending. As is well known, Daumal died in 1948, in the middle of writing Mount Analogue, and the books ends mid-sentence. The last line is:


I have often wondered if it would be possible to end something I wrote mid-sentence, not because I had died, but for some other reason.

I have been thinking so much about solar energy, about how much of what I read, especially from a mainstream perspective, seems misplaced. When I read that we will not be able to generate enough energy using solar and wind, I feel they are completely missing the point. The points are:

1) That these new, sustainable technologies will force us to use less, will demonstrate – on a real, lived, experiential basis – that resources are renewable but not infinite.

2) That there is more autonomy, and less greedy profit, in a decentralized power grid.

3) That the many exorbitant expenses of polluting the air and water are simply not being factored into the standard calculations. Environmental devastation is expensive on every level.

But it is mainly the first point I obsess over. Let’s say you have solar panels on the roof of your house. Each day, you will use only as much energy as these panels generate. When it runs out you go to sleep and wait for the sun to come up tomorrow. The energy is not infinite, not available twenty-four hours a day. There are limits and you learn, out of necessity, how to live within them.

This, for me, is the main lesson of sustainable technologies. They would force us to live differently, to be aware of daily limits, to find solutions that acknowledge real limitations. They do not make life easier in every way. They make life harder in some ways, ways that force a fundamental shift in how we see the world and our place within it. I also suspect that working within a series of concrete, reasonable limitations would bring along with it a kind of reality and even joy.


December 3, 2012



During the winter, I always wish I lived in Lisbon.


December 1, 2012

KopfkinoTrailer#1 by Lene Berg

The title of the Norwegian film artist Lene Berg’s new film Kopfkino (2012) literally means head film, or film in the brain. Kopfkino was filmed over the course of two days in Berlin with a set of exceptional characters. The basic concept is simple: eight women exchange stories about their line of work, which is to fulfill their clients’ sexual fantasies. Seated behind a long table, as in Leonardo Da Vinci’s The Last Supper (c.1498), they are dressed as the various female clichés that they impersonate: a schoolgirl, a circus director, a general or a princess. The scripted conversation evolves in front of the camera without any direct intervention by the director. The women use their own words and experiences but the situation in which we observe them is staged. We are on a film set. Real experiences and actual stories come together in a universe of illusions, fictions and fantasies.


November 30, 2012



Sad angry bookshop
world against world and
again world
who are the scumbags who
think they can hide all the
good books
a poem is a world without poetry
sexual fantasy about someone
I met for less than ten minutes
and who is quickly receding into the past
a poem is a world again
against the books that are read too much
towards secret worlds
and future hits
and future time
we are here


November 24, 2012

Paul Celan quote


Reality is not simply there, it does not simply exist: it must be sought out and won.

- Paul Celan


November 23, 2012

Isabelle Stengers on diplomacy


And this is something that I link to the question of diplomacy – which is about the risks of war and peace. Diplomacy means that in such and such a situation war is the normal thing to do, but that it may be possible that peace has a chance. In other words, peace is possible not probable. When you have a police operation, peace is what you enforce. Today many wars are in fact police operations, pedagogical operations. ‘They’ will learn how to behave. It is easy to put yourself in the place of people having to face a zero-death war: stop fighting or you will be crushed. No place for diplomacy here, because diplomacy presupposes a peace to be invented, not the weak part bowing down in front of the strongest part. I think of the diplomat as a figure of inventing peace as an event. And a diplomat will never say to another diplomat, of the adverse camp, ‘In your place I would do this or that’. They know they cannot share their risks because those risks are related with what the population they belong to will be able to accept, the risks this population will accept to take. If there is a practice where hope is important it is diplomacy – hope and not faith, because it is a matter of becoming able, not of ‘seeing the truth’.

An important point here that makes diplomacy possible is the difference between sense and meaning. When you have a war situation, when ‘This means war’, there cannot logically be a place for peace – it is a matter of winning or being defeated. But the diplomats are the ones who can play between meaning and sense. You try and risk keeping the sense while a small modification of meaning may produce a possible articulation in the place of the contradiction from which war did follow, logically. But the population to which the diplomat belongs must accept this modification, must accept that sense has been preserved while meanings have been modified, and this is a risk for this population. If they refuse, the diplomat has failed; she can even be called a traitor. So the risks the diplomat is able to take depends on the trust she has in the population to which she belongs. Trust is always the condition of experimentation, of taking chance. Trust must be created for things to change.

- Isabelle Stengers, from an interview in Hope: New Philosophies For Change 


November 20, 2012

Olivier Assayas on the two paths (for art today) that coexist, and are not mutually exclusive.


My point of view today, and this had determined a good deal of my relation to cinema and to fiction in general, is that when it comes to art, and particularly the relation of art to the world, two paths coexist, and are not mutually exclusive.

The first path would be the one that shaped the 20th century: that of avant-gardes and their constant interrogation of the relation between the arts – their role, their borders – and the world: also their interrogation of their own nature. One might say that the situationist moment is its final stage: there was formulated the answer that remains, of its kind, unsurpassable.

But the very nature of humanity is to survive the unsurpassable. There are novels after Proust and Joyce, there is poetry after Mallarmé – even if the aforementioned, each in his own way, through a transcendent oeuvre, defines a resolution of those questions that constituted the inaccessible horizon of their predecessors. I am describing this in a doubtlessly summary fashion; however, it seems to me that beyond supersession there lies not necessarily another supersession but, rather, access to a virgin terrain, a lunar landscape where everything remains to be built anew, sometimes even using the same tools as before.

Situationism identified precisely the path to supersession of art and proceeded to carry it out. From the vantage point of the plastic arts, let’s say that we are today in an after which is not only unable to find itself but has often given up even seeking itself, sparing an individual, fragmentary salvation only at the expense of a pretty remarkable reduction of its ambitions: a space nonetheless sufficient for the expression of specific genius in some great, entirely isolated artists.

The second path, which grows in the shadow of the first and often in ignorance of it, is that consisting in the simple representation of the world where humanity simply concerns itself with the human, with the timeless means that, in every era, have allowed it to reach these ends, always renewed, always the same.

What I mean to say is that beyond all theory, beyond any historical perspective on art, there resides within a contemporary artist the same question that posed itself to a gentleman of the Tang Dynasty: how to capture this moment, the face of a beloved, a country road in an autumn mist, the corner of the street where you live. Or, to pose in a more specifically contemporary context the same timeless question: how to seize the thoughts that traverse us while we are seated in a metro, rushing through the underground tunnels of the big city?

This is where to find the simple, limpid need for figuration as one of the immutable functions of being human. But does this idea actually distance me all that much from situationism?

Didn’t Debord write La Societé du spectacle while simultaneously making autobiographical films devoted to preserving from the ravages of time, to capture in a flash for all eternity, life as it offered itself to him at certain moments of grace? And did he not also make these films so that, in them, might radiate the glow of the faces of those he had loved? Isn’t that exactly where their poetry vibrates most dearly? All this I see clearly today, even if very few know how to articulate it, even among those who regard themselves as being closest to Debord’s ideas.

- Olivier Assayas, A Post-May Adolescence


November 18, 2012



I didn’t succeed
I failed
and will fail again
my work will be forgotten
no one will read it
it will all disappear


November 17, 2012

of the


Tomb of the unknown drone pilot.


November 13, 2012

Idea for a stage project: Three Old Movies


At a large German Schauspielhaus, three separate dramaturge’s are instructed to pick one old film each. The film must be feature length. They do not tell each other what old film they have chosen, and also do not tell anyone else. They each assemble a cast to perform the film, one actor for every roll. Each dramaturge works in isolation from the other two, yet employing the following, identical method: the film is projected onto the wall of the rehearsal hall and the actors are instructed to imitate it to the absolute best of their ability, imitating the timing as well as the performances. For the entire rehearsal period they simply imitate the film over and over again, until they have created a more or less precise stage facsimile of it. On the night of the premiere, on a large empty stage, all three casts simultaneously perform their films, on the same stage, at the same time. Each separate cast is instructed to perform their film as precisely as possible, while at the same time remaining aware of everything else happening on stage, avoiding collisions, etc. Many unexpected and fascinating things will occur as the three separate films overlap, as well and many moments of pure incomprehensibility. It will be a spectacle.


November 2, 2012

Harry Mathews quote


It’s true, as I’ve told others, that knowing one knows nothing is the best way to be, since life, minute after minute, is never more than being inspired to rediscover what one thought one already knew. I did know it, but… No, not “but”: and I’m about to know it again, right now.

 – Harry Mathews, 20 Lines a Day


October 24, 2012

A note on Every Song I've Ever Written


From 1985 to 2004, PME-ART co-artistic director Jacob Wren wrote songs. Lots and lots of songs. Then he completely stopped. At the time not very many people heard them. In a way, because hardly anyone heard them, we might say that these songs don’t yet exist. Every Song I’ve Ever Written is a project about memory, history, things that may or may not exist, songwriting, the internet and pop culture.

Every Song I’ve Ever Written is a project with four parts:

1) A website ( on which you can listen to, and download, all the songs Jacob wrote between 1985 to 2004. You can also record your own versions, send them to us, and we will post them on the site.

2) Karaoké Nights where anyone can sing one of the songs Karaoké-style, with Jacob playing guitar behind them.

3) Solo Performances in which Jacob will perform all of the songs in chronological order (it takes about five hours.) When put all together these songs form a picture not just of Jacob’s life but also of the decades during which they were written.

4) Band Nights where five local bands (in different cities: Düsseldorf, Montreal, Mannheim, Helsinki, Malmö, etc.) will perform one song each. After they perform the song there will be an interview in which Jacob asks the band what it was like to cover the song and the band can ask Jacob what it was like to write it.

We are not doing this because we think these are the best songs ever (we hope at least a few of them are good.) We are doing this because hardly anyone heard them at the time, and we are wondering if there is some new, strange way to bring them out into the world. In doing so we hope to raise a few questions about what songs mean on the internet, about what songwriting is actually like today, and also take a sidelong glance back at the recent past.

(P.S. On the site, the songs are listed in chronological order starting when Jacob was 14, so some of the best songs are probably closer to the middle or end of the list.)


October 19, 2012

Some brief thoughts on energy


I have been thinking so much about solar energy, about how much of what I read, especially from a mainstream perspective, seems misplaced. When I read that we will not be able to generate enough energy using solar and wind, I feel they are completely missing the point. The points are:

1) That these new, sustainable technologies will force us to use less, will demonstrate – on a real, lived, experiential basis – that resources are renewable but not infinite.

2) That there is more autonomy, and less greedy profit, in a decentralized power grid.

3) That the many exorbitant expenses of polluting the air and water are simply not being factored into the standard calculations. Environmental devastation is expensive on every level.

But it is mainly the first point I obsess over. Let’s say you have solar panels on the roof of your house. Each day, you will use only as much energy as these panels generate. When it runs out you go to sleep and wait for the sun to come up tomorrow. The energy is not infinite, not available twenty-four hours a day. There are limits and you learn, out of necessity, how to live within them.

This, for me, is the main lesson of sustainable technologies. They would force us to live differently, to be aware of daily limits, to find solutions that acknowledge real limitations. They do not make life easier in every way. They make life harder in some ways, ways that force a fundamental shift in how we see the world and our place within it. I also suspect that working within a series of concrete, reasonable limitations would bring along with it a kind of reality and even joy.

It is easy for me to write these things, since I am certainly not living them, and I am clearly not the first to suggest this. However, I definitely wish they were being said far more often.


Six Manifestos and/or Semi-manifestos


Over the past few years, I have written six manifestos (and/or semi-manifestos):

Notes on Literature (Unfinished Manifesto)

Manifesto for Confusion, Struggle and Conflicted Feelings

Songs Are Meant For Singing, a manifesto

Resistance as Paradox

Artist’s Pledge

A short history of anti-theatre, non-music, counter-philosophy, semi-specific art and unpolitics

I wonder if I will write more.


October 15, 2012

Jeremy M. Davies quote


It all comes back to our old friend the arbitrary constraint. (The following is a fairly familiar argument, I think, but come along anyhow, we’ll make a day of it.) One of the basic tenets of the Oulipo—founded in reaction, if not opposition, to Breton’s Surrealists—is that freedom, in writing (that is, “letting it flow,” and other such nauseating commonplaces), leads one to produce derivative offal. That is, when you free associate, it isn’t you talking, it’s the culture: we’re all plugged into the same calcified memes, cadences, and clichés; we’ve all got hearts, brothers and sisters, of bullshit. And yet—and yet!—we all still have to use the same words to communicate, all have to dip into the same language(s) to write “creatively,” all have to do our best to keep English (in this case) a worthwhile medium. The only way to circumvent the unclean spirit is to put pressure on our means of expression—and the best way isn’t to stop at naming your character “John McLane” rather than “Mr. M’Choakumchild” (though this is no less a constraint, and no less arbitrary, really, than not using the letter E), but to frustrate one’s compositional impulses at their root. Now everyone can type “Oulipo” into a search engine and choose their own example.

What this has to do with smut is that here, again, is a medium where one is restricted to a fairly finite number of effective tools. Sex as sex is not all that interesting, outside the context of our complex reactions to it in life, in art, in passing. Prudishness, then, is an arbitrary constraint on human interaction and expression. It makes smut more interesting and peculiar if it comes out of someone battling their own inability to be forthright about . . . whatever. Even if they succeed in writing something quite filthy, this filth is a different filth from the filth mongered by an author who feels they have nothing to hide. (Which reminds me: my favorite Oulipian constraint? The “Canada Dry”: Write something that reads as though it was written under a constraint, but was not.)

- Jeremy M. Davies, find the rest of the interview here


October 13, 2012

Internet Feelings


[This text was originally published in Spike Art Quarterly #25.]

As an artist I feel more or less irrelevant. It seems to me that I am one of approximately a billion artists on the planet, all making our little projects, hoping that someone will see them and, for a few moments, be interested. All of us trying to scrape by and whip up a modicum of success. In the grand scheme of things the work I make, and the work I see, barely feels like ephemera, as if it were vanishing as soon as it appeared. YouTube seems important. Facebook feels significant. I don’t play videogames, but I suspect there is something happening there as well. I cannot think of a single artist or group of artists today that can begin to match the society-changing force of these technological innovations. Maybe in the sixties, maybe even in the eighties, but not today.

All of this is, most likely, an unfair comparison: artists are artists and the Internet (and video games) are global technologies with military origins. Perhaps art simply isn’t, or is no longer, about changing the world. It is about enriching our lives within the moment, in our direct encounter and experience of it. Nonetheless, when I am working, attempting to make something, more and more such comparisons are never far from my mind. There was one paradigm shift with the invention of the printing press, another intense shift with the introduction of a television set into every Western home, and possibly, as we speak, another overhaul with the predominance of the internet. I can certainly not prove it, but I have a feeling, this suspicion: in terms of art, the internet changes everything. What makes this fact potentially negative is that we haven’t even begun to understand what these changes might be or mean. At least I haven’t.

(There are of course many artists today working on and about the internet. That is not quite what I mean. I am wondering about something larger, some more fundamental shift.)

When I was growing up there was a great deal of talk about post-modernism. You don’t hear nearly as much about it now. For me, what post-modernism most resembled was television. The juxtaposition of different positions and historical styles felt like different television channels, sitting side by side yet not particularly affecting one another. The idea that everything could be shoved together in every possible way, what did this resemble more than flipping channels: programs, commercials and music videos all blurring together into one never-ending flow.

When both radio and television were first invented, it was proposed that they could be revolutionarily democratic mediums, that everyone could broadcast from their homes, that new pathways of global communication were opening, but quickly monopolies developed and they became something quite different, much as we know them today. For the time being, the internet fulfills certain of the early democratic aspirations of radio and television. Anyone can post a YouTube video. Anyone can start a blog. It is quite likely that no one will watch my video or read my blog, but this reality is also somehow democratic. As Emily Vey Duke has concisely stated, YouTube replaces the one-to-many ratio of traditional media with a one-to-one ratio. I post a video and my friend watches it. Complete strangers might also watch it but it is unlikely there will be very many. And then every once in a while, like a hurricane, there is a rush, a meme, a million hits and it’s done. As an artist I can put my work on the internet, potentially have it seen everywhere in the world at once. But of course everyone else, artist or not, can do exactly the same thing.

The way radically different materials are juxtaposed on the Internet seems, to me, significantly different from the way in which different television channels, or television shows and their commercials, press against one another. On YouTube, when I am watching a video, there is a long list of related videos down the right hand side of the screen. This selection of related videos is generated by an algorithm. Often selections appear within this list that seem strange, make no sense, where I am unable to see the logic of the choice. This list is provided in order to be helpful, but within its helpfulness there are moments of pure dada (or data.) In a way, it is only an acceleration, an increase in the degree and quantity of simultaneity. But like any acceleration, it brings along with it qualitative changes as well.

The internet as collage-machine: where massive amounts of related and unrelated materials exist side by side, all at the same time, separated only by the same monotonous click. (Other loose examples: Having four or five browser windows open at the same time. Or a Wikipedia page in which a compendium of different authors and sources are formatted to appear as a single text.) And yet, considering the breadth and variety of material available, it is shocking to me how narrow and limited my use of it is. Most days I look at the same handful of sites, occasionally following a few loose threads but rarely following them very far. I have the strange feeling that, within me, the internet promotes an ever-increasing lack of curiosity. I can click forever and nothing will genuinely catch my interest. (Or at least I would be required to look at far too many things before stumbling upon something that eventually did.) Taken as a whole, it is more information than I could ever digest. An endless bricolage of the entire world: in all its crassness, banality, confusion, redundancy, interspersed with tiny yet electric sparks of interest, compassion, violence and difference.

I have suggested that the internet embodies a certain democratic potential. While this is my personal experience, it is also highly suspect, since when I am attempting to use the internet in a democratic manner, at the same time I am also generating data trails that subject me to new forms of social monitoring and control from corporations, advertisers and the state. A strong mix of (illusory) freedom and (potential) surveillance blankets the web. I don’t necessarily experience the informational trails I generate, or the surveillance I am subject to, and therefore will leave such Big Brother aspects, obviously troubling, aside (in the same manner I put them out of mind when I am surfing the web.) Yet the discomfort persists: that the collage I generate through my random curiosity (along with my email writing, profile constructing, etc.) may be used to monitor, manipulate, somehow control me.

The fact that Facebook, to this day, fails to make a profit: I hope this is a timid sign of what the future might still hold in store. And yet the possibility that Facebook is little more than Big Brother run by Deep Blue, this is the other, more pernicious, face of what might be to come.

Perhaps, in a more ordered, coherent world (for example the 1920’s), avant-garde strategies of visual juxtaposition and bricolage might have felt jarring or provocative. Instead, we now live in a flow of anti-contextualizing visual and informational chaos. For the most part, we don’t experience this chaos as such. We select. We make our little stories that navigate us through the ambush (I am interested in this, this and this, considerably less interested in the rest.) We are not worried about missing out, since we know that everything outside of our little stories, everything else, is only, now and forever, just a click away.

I remember reading about how in the eleventh century (as least I think it was the eleventh century) people would go on a pilgrimage, walk for several weeks to see a painting, and how it might be the only reproduced image they would see in their natural lives. I try to imagine what it would be like to walk for three or four weeks simply in order to see an image, what the experience of viewing an image might mean after such a journey. I am unclear whether or not this anecdote is historically accurate, but nonetheless it is a way of thinking about an experience of the image, in this case a painting, that is radically different from our own, that we have no way of accessing, no reference points for or towards.

Feeling irrelevant, marginal, powerless, these are also lacks that fit very neatly within the guiding principles of capitalism and neo-liberalism. If I feel marginal I must work harder, network more efficiently, promote myself with greater panache. As I do so I might fail to notice many things: not only how, year by year, power is being further consolidated by corporations with an ever-expanding global reach (the corporations I in fact feel powerless in relation too), but also how in some small, tepid manner my own actions and motivations mirror the insatiable expansionism of the corporate world. There is a certain kind of artist that, suspecting it is impossible, still wants his or her work to have the impact of a Hollywood blockbuster (but of course with a much greater sense of integrity.)

This sense of lack is also (always) an excellent trait for a consumer to possess. I will try to fill this undefined sense of emptiness with purchases, career goals, with an endless variety of goals of every kind that I will select for myself as if from a market shelf. I will not necessarily realize that this sense of lack has been created within me in order to make me a more voracious consumer. Because, of course, of the massive amounts of images and information that are available to me, so many of them, in one way or another, have been put in place in order to sell me something. And I don’t want to sell anything. In fact, I don’t want to sell myself. But, also, I don’t want to sell myself short.

I believe art should fight the status quo. At the same time, it often seems to me that much, or most, art I see is actually doing the exact opposite, that it is barely a millimeter away from the ruling logics of our time, just a hairbreadth from power. Resistance is rare, often ineffective, but nonetheless must be cherished. As I write these things, I worry they are little more than empty platitudes. I want to write them anyways. I don’t hear such statements often and therefore crave to see them in print. And yet how do you resist within an ever-expanding field of informational chaos? What do you resist? Where is the solid ground from which to launch an attack, the runway along which one can effectively achieve liftoff?

The power of bricolage and collage lie in their ability to show us radically different materials side by side, to allow us to compare and contrast, see how things might be put together in ways we would have never previously expected, generate new possibilities. The internet also does this. In a work of visual or literary collage, it is the author or artist who decides what information is juxtaposed with what. On the internet, we ourselves (partially) decide with every click. However, this limited sense of autonomy is rarely invigorating. Through a lens of deep information-fatigue, it is difficult to view such juxtapositions crisply, for them to keep their critical edge in relation to one another. Everything blurs slightly (or not so slightly) around the edges. Radically disparate materials begin to feel increasingly the same.

Every difficulty, every strangeness, is also an opportunity. And I return to my earlier suspicion: that in terms of art, the Internet changes everything. I stare at this statement and realize that the problem, at least in part, might be that I was born too soon or too late. I have fallen in between, somewhere in the gap between television and internet. Perhaps the artists who will fully grasp this shift, which may be little more than a mirage, have not yet been born. But as Borges wrote: “Like all men, he was simply given bad times in which to live.”


October 12, 2012

Things in the world


I know I should be thinking about, or doing something, with feeling. I look at the things in the world, things I have thought about a great deal and others which leave me utterly blank, and they are like boats on the river in front of me, drifting past, carried by the wind. In fact, I am barely watching them, almost fully immersed in the book I am reading, and yet as soon as I turn each page I have almost no recollection of anything that happened, or that was said, on any of the pages already read, nor do I have any recollection of what I felt about any of it. And yet I know I read those pages, and that the boats did drift past. I know, am certain, yet don’t know anything else, for instance how any of it might concern me, or if there was any way I could have intervened, or if intervention on my part would have been useful or counterproductive. Feeling powerless is the most effective siphon. Last week I went to the launch for an art catalog I have a text in. The catalog is hardcover, about four hundred pages. It features many images and many texts. My text is about Quebec, about the fact I don’t speak or understand French, and about Japan. I don’t know how I feel about what I wrote, and also know that I will receive basically no feedback on it ever, will have no idea if anyone read it and, if they did, what they may or may not have thought. It is dropping a pebble into the void. A world with much noise but no echo. I started a Tumblr account a few days ago and quickly found myself following over two hundred other Tumblr accounts. The images scroll past and just keep scrolling. It is difficult to believe there are so many compelling images in the world and yet, for as long as I am able to sit here, they keep rolling past my eyes. Life is certainly not infinite but this scroll of images is, made by everyone and no one, for pleasure and out of boredom, an infinite confusion that cannot be grasped. Distraction is at war with politics. Infinity is at war with the finite. And all roads lead to either moderation or collapse.


October 11, 2012

Songs Are Meant For Singing, a manifesto


1. Not everyone can play violin or accordion (to give just two examples off the top of my head) but everyone can sing.

2. Singing is one of life’s great pleasures.

3. Listening to songs is great, but it will never be as much fun as singing them.

4. Singing alone is okay, but to get the real feeling one needs a group.

5. Nothing comes closer to a feeling of pure community than singing together with a group of friends. Or a group of friendly strangers.

6. Take the songs you love, get together with the people you love, and sing them.

7. When you sing a song, you more fully make it your own. It is no longer their song, it is now yours as well.

8. If some are better and some worse singers, when we all sing together it very quickly no longer matters. Especially if there are many of us and alcohol is involved.

9. Dancing is also great. But lots of people go out dancing. The invention of recorded music perhaps suppressed singing as a public activity. Lets bring it back.

10. When you sing you can also change the lyrics. It is a chance to say what you want to say. It is a chance to twist the world and make it your own.


October 9, 2012

Found poem on the topic of singing in falsetto


desire is undiluted by an object
romance is undisturbed by love
tragedy is distilled from humanity

[Part of a line from the essay This Prince is No Pretender by Ariel Swartley.]


September 27, 2012

The presentation


I don't think my proposal
was amazing, amazing, amazing
I saw what was strong about it
but also what was weak
how to fill five years and
make them feel like five years
I didn't quite know and still don't
the people we see who are
successful, we don't see all
their rejections
all the things they didn't get
that didn't work out
much like on Facebook everyone
seems happy and successful
all the time
I saw weaknesses in our proposal
but I like weakness
I could sense the winner wanted it
so much more than me
I felt that 'wanting it' at the first meeting
often the one who wants it the most wins
that hunger wins
often but not always
I had doubts
black holes of skepticism about
the overall endeavor
I had so many doubts
and in my ideas you can feel them
since the whole time I was wondering
what would be my better idea
where was it
why didn't it come
I wanted to provoke
express my disgust for all situations
including the one we were
competing for and in
but provocation is a delicate game
and often you lose


September 19, 2012

Excerpt from Families Are Formed Through Copulation


People, stop having children. You are not doing yourselves or the world any good. Take the energies you would have spent on child-rearing and use them instead to fight American imperialism. The world is not as it used to be. Before you know it your children will be taken from you and indoctrinated in the ways of bad cartoons, over-priced toys, short attention spans, violent video games, stupid television and the endless misinformation of the internet. Stop for a moment and think. There are too many people in the world already. There is too much of everything. Your children will learn nothing from you. Is what you know really so valuable or important? People, stop having children. You think you are being generous but really you are only being selfish. You are doing it only to add surplus, disingenuous meaning to your already basically meaningless lives or as an unwitting slave of primitive biology. Your children will not look after you when you are old. They will be too busy trying to fend for themselves within the unyieldingly harsh economic realities you have created for them. Don’t worry, the species will continue. Even if every single person who reads these words were to convince one hundred of their closest friends to stop having children still the species will continue. So people, stop having children. We must all stop and think. What are we actually doing? We are following a script. But is the script well written, does it serve the best interests of humanity? We have been following this script for thousands of years and look where we are today. Things are not going well. Well, I say lets change the script and stop having children. I am not simply trying to justify my own pathetic little life. This is a real question and each and every one of us must ask ourselves: Will the children I rear add anything to the world or will they only take up space? I’m not saying babies aren’t cute, aren’t adorable, aren’t desirable commodities, perhaps the most desirable commodity any young couple could possibly hope for. But we must look at the bigger picture. The planet is not infinite. In fact nothing is infinite. Infinity is a term we use to denote an impossible space. Infinity cannot be filled and yet we procreate as if it could be.

People, stop having children. Let me tell you a story. There is a first world and a third world. In the third world they have lots of children and in the first world we have few. So that’s all right you might think quietly to yourself. The few babies we do have do not contribute significantly to the problem. And yet every baby we create contributes directly to the already considerable misery of children and adults alike half way around the world. Everything we buy, every choice we make. Let me tell you another story. There was a young couple and they got married and had children. The couple were extremely liberal in both their thoughts and actions and thought that by raising their two children within the enlightenment tradition of their liberal ideas they could, in their own small and humane fashion, make the world a better place. But their children were rebellious and, perhaps only out of misguided spite, grew up to espouse the most pernicious of conservative, pseudo-right-wing doctrines. The parents were heartbroken but their heartbreak was merely the result of naiveté. Your children might also rebel, might also grow up to represent the antithesis of everything you stand for and believe in and what are you going to do about it. People, stop having children. The world we have created will not tolerate their still unformed humanity. The world we have created will destroy them and you will be at least partly responsible, or you will feel responsible, or you won’t feel responsible but you should. Fascists believe in having children. Nazis believe in having children. Peasants believe in having children and it is time for us to get beyond all of that. And I want to be perfectly clear on this next point: the problem is not children. The problem is adults. But without children there would be no adults. And without adults there would be no children. And the cycle must be broken. As often as possible. Let me now outline what I hope we can all agree is a common enough scenario. A woman of childbearing age attends her younger sister’s wedding during the course of which she is cornered by a distant relative she neither knows very well nor particularly likes. “So when’s your turn,” asks the relative, who is also perhaps more than a little bit drunk by this point in the late afternoon, meaning of course when will it be your turn to get married. The woman of childbearing age attempts to be polite, dodging the question, claiming she doesn’t really know, when the right man comes along, etc. But the drunk relative is insistent: “Of course you’re planning to have children,” she continues, “you must be planning to have children.” The woman of childbearing age has no immediate plans for children but doesn’t want to cause a scene. “Yeah, maybe some day,” she shrugs. Trying to be polite, trying to be evasive, wanting to leave this wedding and go back to a life in which human interaction is more familiar and ironic and benign. “No, not some day. You have to have them now, when you’re still young, while you still have the energy. If you wait, if you wait…” the drunken relative trails off. Perhaps she has no children of her own. Or perhaps her children are all grown up and not treating her with the love and respect she knows in her heart she deserves. “You have to have children,” the relative says, “you just have to.” But she’s wrong.

This text was written by a child who was never born. And you might think that because I was never born I’d be bitter or unhappy but you too would be wrong. Not having been born was the most perfect, wonderful, humane, enlightened thing to have ever happened to me. I am little more than a thought, a bit of whimsy, a pre-copulatory, never conceived twinkle in the eye of no one in particular and here is what I have learned. Nothing exists in isolation. Everything exists in relation to something else. If something is good it is only good in relation to something else that is less good. If we can all agree with this premise we can see that there exists a sort of sliding scale of human endeavours in which the best thing is never to have been born, the next best thing is to be born but live your life without doing any harm, and the next best thing is to be born, do some harm but never to reproduce. To be honest it gets a little fuzzy after that. Life can be so difficult. But never having been born is a piece of cake.

[The above is one section from my book Families Are Formed Through Copulation published by Pedlar Press in 2007. As well, some other Jacob Wren Links.]


September 17, 2012

The neurotic has the feeling that he wants something, can’t say what it is, and nevertheless is frustrated not to get it.


Clinical psychiatry no longer uses the term neurosis, but it remains a vivid word. As Freud summarized the condition: “The ego has come into conflict with the id in the service of the super-ego and of reality.” The neurotic has the feeling that he wants something, can’t say what it is, and nevertheless is frustrated not to get it. Satisfaction having been foreclosed long ago, he becomes a kind of hesitant, recessive, bemused personality. You might think of Woody Allen but it would do just as well to picture Al Gore, John Kerry, or Barack Obama. We liberal or left-wing citizen–clinicians feel that these men are decent, intelligent, and somewhat principled—that their desires are basically the right ones, their intentions more or less good—but that in the service of reality they must ignore the desires latent in their (and our) political unconscious. In deference to a punitive public superego, they sweep under the rug their real urges—which we’d like to think are for truth and justice—and thus come across, in classic neurotic fashion, as more or less castrated. In a way, the citizen–clinicians of the GOP agree with us: they too suspect that Obama is a radical at heart. The difference is that we doubt whether Obama is in communication with his heart anymore.

[From the article Politico-psychopathology: Neurocrats vs. the Grand Old Psychosis by Bejamin Kunkel which can be found here.]


September 16, 2012

This confusion of writing and thinking with the internet...


I have now been doing this blog for about seven years. Lately, I have once again become a bit obsessed with it, wondering what it is and why. It receives between 1,000 and 2,000 hits a month. There are very few comments. (136 in seven years.) Many of those who click on it are, I believe, people I have met or know, but there must be at least a few strangers in the mix. I have been wondering, for someone who either barely or does not know me, what kind of impression I make through what I write here. If you were to know me only through this blog what, if anything, would you know. (I think about this far more here than I do with my books or art writing, since there is always something vaguely diaristic about blogging.) I basically never write about my personal life, or about everyday things. I’m not sure precisely why, but I find it almost impossible to get myself to write about daily things, I suppose because I have little interest. I write a little about politics, a little about literature, the occasional poem, a little about art. (Half my life is spent listening to music, but for some reason this particular obsession is barely represented here.) Quotes and aphorisms make up a great deal of it, and I am wondering if the reason I gravitate towards them is because, I believe, they provoke while at the same time giving little away.

I suspect many, if not all, of my posts are imbued with a certain sadness and negativity (or even worse ambivalence), since those are the qualities I feel most strongly in life, but at the same time I often delete posts if I later feel they are too negative. (A few times, when my writing was too depressing, strangers have written to me, worried I was going to kill myself. This always seemed so strange to me. I just can’t imagine my writing would seem suicidal to a stranger.) I am sad but don’t believe in being sad. I am depressed but don’t believe in being depressed. These are things I try to fight against, both within myself and in my writing, but most often I simply lose the battle. (If you don’t find my writing to be as negative as I am portraying it, perhaps that means I’ve won a few more battles than previously thought.) At the same time, so many people I know are depressed and hardly anyone talks about it. Maybe if we talked about it more we’d be less depressed. I don’t know. One part of me thinks depression is a reasonable reaction to the current state of the world, and the other part thinks it's only a disease or waste of time.

I hope there is also a certain anger, honesty, wisdom and energy to my posts. Sometimes I believe I write because I feel there is some way I can put things, some way of thinking about the world, that I don’t particularly see anywhere else. And other times I think it is only because it calms me and fills time when I don’t know what else to do. I also make performances, but hardly ever write about them here. In many ways these performances have been my main vocation over the past twenty years. But, more and more, I don’t know what to think or say about them. They are something else, something live, in the moment, out there in the world. Writing about them always feels strange. Like it would be better for you to see them in person, and reading about them will always be besides the point.

Then there is the fact, the irony of our age, that more people read this blog than my books, which I of course work much harder on, vainly hoping they will outlive me. (Of course, something could happen that might reverse this dynamic. At this particular moment it doesn’t seem likely.) And it is somehow misguided to compare books with blog posts. They are two different worlds, two different ways of reading, that perhaps don’t especially intersect. I don’t know. The past few months a number of people have written or spoken to me about this blog. I had the uncomfortable feeling that it was one of the main things I was doing in the world, my public face, and really wondered what it was all about: this confusion of writing and thinking with the internet. As I wonder, I stare at the following list of my most popular blog posts of all time. It really does give me an uncanny, even unnerving, picture of my life. (Perhaps in the same way that anything popular gives a distorted view of the culture from which it emerges.) It is true, music is featured more prominently on this final list:

Notes from the Jacques Rancière / Pedro Costa round-table - February 19, 2011 (957 hits)
Manifesto for Confusion, Struggle and Conflicted Feelings - May 13, 2011 (713 hits)
A play list of 83 videos (with commentary) - October 10, 2010 (447 hits)
A play list of 96 videos (with commentary) - April 9, 2011 (378 hits)
Excerpt from Revenge Fantasies of the Politically Dispossessed - July 22, 2010 (351 hits)
Perverse curating - February 24, 2012 (343 hits)
Some Favourite Books - August 20, 2011 (304 hits)
Trying to shift reality closer to hopes that are still in the process of being defined - August 16, 2011 (292 hits)

That last one is perhaps worth quoting in full:

Trying to shift reality closer to hopes that are still in the process of being defined. Always struggling with the emotional triage of defeat. When faced with insurmountable odds, the only real choice is to find some way to keep going, to cling tight to the truth that the way things are will not always be the case, the world is constantly changing, and our actions have consequences.


September 15, 2012

Democracy and air conditioning


I am vaguely remembering a quote that I read once but now can't seem to find, that American democracy is like one of those modern hotel rooms: you can turn on the air conditioning, or you can turn off the air conditioning, but you can't open a window.


September 14, 2012

Ignorance is bliss.


Moments ago I realized there is a feature on Amazon that gives authors sales info. Examining it, I learned that since September 2010, all three of my books put together have sold six copies on Amazon.

Revenge Fantasies of the Politically Dispossessed: 3 copies. Families Are Formed Through Copulation: 2 copies. Unrehearsed Beauty: 1 copy.

I know my books have sold more in bookstores. And the statistics don't include any sales from Canada or Europe. So it doesn't really mean much in terms of what the books did overall. Just a strange thing to see on a screen in front of me.
I believe this experience is a perfect illustration of the common expression ignorance is bliss.


I didn't write everything Kafka read.


Meaning to say I haven't read everything Kafka wrote, I instead said: I didn't write everything Kafka read.


September 12, 2012

Some of my favorite passages from Artificial Respiration by Ricardo Piglia

Artificial RespirationArtificial Respiration by Ricardo Piglia

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Some of my favorite passages from Artificial Respiration:

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.


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


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 rush 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. Every night before going to sleep I feel the weight of that golden illusion against the skin of my waist. A personal secret, hidden like a crime. Not even Lisette knows about this. What do you carry there? she has asked me. A bronze sash, I have replied; a doctor recommended that I wear it to correct a curvature of the spine. And I don’t lie: didn’t I walk bent over double like a slave for years? Nobody can be surprised now if in order to combat the effects of the uncomfortable posture prescribed for me by history I should have to use a sort of corset made of solid gold. Only gold cures the memory of subjection and betrayal.

Besides, 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. But – how can the traitor’s evil deeds be rewarded in the future?


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?


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.


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.


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.


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 Nietzsche 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.


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September 11, 2012

Two quotes from Dukla by Andrzej Stasiuk

Dukla (Polish Literature) Dukla (Polish Literature) by Andrzej Stasiuk

Andrzej Stasiuk writes:

It's Sunday and people are still asleep, that's why this story ought to lack a plot, because no one thing can cover up other things, when we're headed toward nothingness, toward the realization that the world is merely a momentary obstacle in the free passage of light.


So I decided to try and find the house that R. and I had discovered when we were here in the summer. At that time dusk had been falling. We walked down Cergowska, turned into Podwale, then into Zielona. It was an inconspicuous cottage of blackened wood. It stood at the far end of an untended yard. A yellow light shone in the window. Five minutes later and everything would have been completely dark, but the remains of daylight allowed us to take a look at this yard or lot. It was laid out in a truly curious order. Scraps, pieces, and torn lengths of rusty sheet metal had been arranged in a tidy geometrical pile. Someone had gone to a lot of trouble to organize the misshapen pieces into an almost perfect cuboid. Everywhere, rocks, rubble, and brick fragments lay in a pyramidal prism smoothed into an exact cone. Shards and pebbles had been stuck in the crevices between the larger pieces as precisely as a mason would have done. Whole and half bricks had been ordered in a neat hexagonal stack. In another place, leftover roofing paper and plastic sheeting had been gathered together, rolled up and aligned according to type and size. The tubes and rolls had been placed so neatly upon one another in a tapering pile that on the top there was one roll crowning the whole. Wood too had been sorted according to size and shape. Rotten planks in one place, short lengths of thick beams elsewhere in a cubic mound, like building blocks. Next to them lay scrap iron. A snarl of rusted shapes had been disentangled. To one side pipes, rods, rails, channel bars, in other words long thin objects; to another small irregular polyhedrons, old bicycle parts, kitchen fittings, tin cans, and God knows what else. These items, whose shape prevented them from matching one another, had been tipped together to form a rounded semicircle heap, care being taken to make sure nothing jutted out to spoil the relatively even outline. Beneath the overhang of a shed built of sawmill offcuts, glass had been collected. Hundreds, maybe even thousands of bottles had been stacked on one another to form a wall of glass, necks toward the shed, bottoms facing out. Here too a rudimentary order had been maintained. Green, brown and clear glass were each kept together, in addition to which the bottles had been grouped according to size and shape: flat ones were separate from round ones, while half-liter bottles were not mixed with quarter liters, or with one-liter cola or orangeade bottles. The scheme was exceedingly complex, since three colors and multiple shapes give a dizzying number of possible combinations. Then there were jars, also sorted according to their dimensions. A little father still was an old tree with spreading branches, from which there hung loops of string, coils of electric cord, small and large lengths, and snippets, tied together, fastened tight, solid, dangling like horses’ tails. There were also stuffed plastic bags, over a dozen colored sacks filled with who knew what, but certainly something light, because they swung in the breeze. It looked like the creation of the world. A path had been trodden through the heaps of trash. It looked as if the creator of this order strolled around his work, admiring it, straightening it up from time to time.

We went toward the ruins of the synagogue. Birch saplings had taken root in the top of a wall several feet above the ground. We could hear the rustle of young leaves. At this point R. said he really liked the place we’d seen, that the person in that wretched old shack, the worst house on a whole street of big, expensive, ugly houses, that that person was just trying to give meaning to his world, and that was fine, he wasn’t trying to change it, just put it in order a little, the way you organize your thoughts, and often that’s enough to stop you from going mad. That was what R. said, so I gave up on the idea of creation, because it seemed like R. was right.

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September 7, 2012

Chris Kraus Quote


Hence, her writing was read almost exclusively in the art world, where she attracted a small core of devoted fans: Asperger’s boys, girls who’d been hospitalized for mental illness, assistant professors who would not be receiving their tenure, lap dancers, cutters, and whores.

- Chris Kraus, Summer of Hate


September 4, 2012

For me Chris Kraus is something like the perfect writer...

Summer of HateSummer of Hate by Chris Kraus

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

For me Chris Kraus is something like the perfect writer (whose books are made even greater by the honesty of their many imperfections.) She is the writer my generation needs to jump start English-speaking literature again in these hopelessly depleted, heart-sick and mediocre times, to re-invent directness in a world of spin and televisual lies. Every novel she writes, for me, reinvents the game (though Aliens & Anorexia remains my favorite, perhaps only because it was the first one I read.) She is a writer who is always driving towards the content, towards a more personal and accurate understanding of the world we live in today, alongside theory but also away from theory's hypocrisies and excesses, towards what is concrete and significant in what she is saying and how she is saying it. When I meet someone who also reads and admires the novels of Chris Kraus, I know I have met someone I'm happy to talk with for awhile. (And yet it always makes me nervous when I start to overload the praise.) Just read all of her books.

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September 2, 2012

On the comment: you should try a real job one day and see its affect on your writing.


A few days ago, on my post entitled Polemic, I had an anonymous comment which said: 'You should try a real job one day and see its affect on your writing.' I responded: 'What real job would you suggest?', going for what was, to me at the time, the cheap joke. But of course, as anonymous comments often do on the internet, this one hit a nerve.

In general I consider it one of my significant failures in life that I am barely able to engage with the world in any way, apart from thinking about it. I consider my life to be almost a complete failure, an absolute disaster, though I realize this is often not how my life is perceived by others. But about that my main thought is that they simply don't know the extent of the disaster.

And yet, at the same time, I don't think a 'real job' would have so much effect on my writing, at least not at this point, at age forty-one. I think I would walk through any real job with the same abstracted distance that allows me to survive all the other unpleasant things in daily life, always searching for the correct overview, the insights that will make all the hopeless struggle just a little bit more worthwhile.

I absolutely do not want to give any disrespect to real jobs. But I think organic farming is a real job, fighting for a more just world is a real job, maybe healing the the sick is a real job. Of course I do none of these things. But so many of the things that people call real jobs, that people do to make money, especially if they are making large quantities of money, seem to me to not be jobs but crimes. Even things people do to make small amounts of money, because they feel they have no choice (since there are so many things in each of our lives about which it most often feels we have no choice), are embedded within these networks of poorly thought out destruction.

Of course I don't think art, or writing, is any better. Everything is just a slightly different angle on the same overwhelming problem. We all do the things we feel able to do.

I often write about how the psychotic unfairness of our world completely destroys me. That some people do beautiful, important jobs and can barely survive, while others do evil, stupid jobs and fill their offshore accounts with more money than they could spend in a thousand lifetimes. I think about all this when I hear the word job: what is important, what does our culture value and not value, what does it mean to survive and what does it mean to live. I can't think about the fact that I don't have a 'real job', and that my life is relatively easy compared to most, without thinking about the web of incredible unfairness in which all these categories are embedded and create.

Yet this is not my real reaction to the comment. My real reaction is that it is essentially correct, that I am too far away from the rest of the world and from the way that other people I know (and don't know) see things. I am always striving for difference, for a different way of seeing things, and yet when I achieve it not only is it emotionally painful, but it also doesn't feel like I've achieved much.

I don't really know how to end this post.


September 1, 2012

John Ashbery quote


Most reckless things are beautiful in some way, and recklessness is what makes experimental art beautiful, just as religions are beautiful because of the strong possibility that they are founded on nothing. 

— John Ashbery, The Invisible Avant-Garde


August 31, 2012

Marguerite Duras quote


I can say what I like, but I shall never know why people write and how it is people don’t write. In life, there comes a time, and I think it is total, that we cannot escape, where we doubt everything: that doubt is writing.

 - Marguerite Duras


August 30, 2012

Enrique Vila-Matas quote


In those days I had no idea that, as Gide said, the great secret of works with style – the great secret of Stendhal for example – consists of writing on the spot. Gide says of Stendhal that his style, what we might call the malice of his style, consists in his stirring thought being so alive, so freshly colored, like a newly hatched butterfly (the collector is surprised to see it emerge from the chrysalis.) From this comes Stendhal’s vivid, spontaneous, unconventional touch, sudden and naked, that captivates us again and again.

– Enrique Vila-Matas, Never Any End To Paris


August 18, 2012

Marcia Tucker quote


As a novice academician, I was assigned to the introductory classes, but I felt that I had leeway to be inventive, since the department head wasn’t paying much attention to the basic courses. My favorite was art appreciation, the class no one really wanted to teach because, unlike, say, “Sixteenth-Century Folio Editions in the Flemish Lowlands,” it did little for a résumé. I threw everything I knew, and much I didn’t, into the mix, hoping my students – many of them only a few years younger than I was – could understand that art was important. I wanted them to experience what it was like to make something that wasn’t “useful,” and to come to respect it. Many were from rural and working-class families where art was considered extraneous, a put-on, a waste of time. I didn’t ask them to actually make artworks because it was an art appreciation course, not a studio class. Instead, I used games and exercises to try to help them discover their potential to live a creative life.

One exercise I gave required that the students do something they had never done before – something that seriously scared and challenged them and that would take an entire semester to accomplish. A student who had never cooked a single thing in her entire life produced a soup. Another of my students, an older man, taught himself to tap dance, and he demonstrated for us – he wasn’t very good at it, but it was just beautiful. One of my students taught herself to ride a motorcycle, and she got her license the day of our final class. Another taught herself to fix her car. On the last day of class, she dragged in a car engine and proceeded to take it apart and put it back together in front of us. Our jaws were on the ground. Some projects were very personal: one man explained that he had been estranged from his father his whole life and spent the semester reconnecting with him.

- Marcia Tucker, A Short Life of Trouble


August 12, 2012

Shestov / Thacker quotes


When a person is young he writes because it seems to him he has discovered a new almighty truth which he must make haste to impart to forlorn humankind. Later, becoming more modest, he begins to doubt his truths: and then he tries to convince himself. A few more years go by, and he knows he was mistaken all round, so there is no need to convince himself. Nevertheless he continues to write, because he is not fit for any other work, and to be accounted a superfluous person is so horrible.

- Shestov, The Apotheosis of Groundlessness

The above citation is also the concluding paragraph of the essay Cosmic Pessimism by Eugene Thacker. What follows are two more quotes from Cosmic Pessimism:

No one ever needs pessimism, in the way that one needs optimism to inspire one to great heights and to pick oneself up, in the way one needs constructive criticism, advice and feedback, inspirational books or a pat on the back. No one needs pessimism, though I like to imagine the idea of a pessimist activism. No one needs pessimism, and yet everyone—without exception—has, at some point in their lives, had to confront pessimism, if not as a philosophy then as a grievance—against one’s self or others, against one’s surroundings or one’s life, against the state of things or the world in general.

Perhaps this is why the true optimists are the most severe pessimists—they are optimists that have run out of options. They are almost ecstatically inundated by the worst. Such an optimism is the only possible outcome of a prolonged period of suffering, physical or metaphysical, intellectual or spiritual. But does this not also describe all the trials and tribulations of each day—in short, of “life?” It seems that sooner or later we are all doomed to become optimists of this sort (the most depressing of thoughts...)