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