December 27, 2013

A playlist of 115 videos for 2014 (with commentary.)

Previous playlists: 2010, 2011, Japan and 2013.

Yesterday I was reading about old school hip hop and realized that Missy Eliott is the same age as me. I wondered what, if anything, I could make of this fact. I thought of googling "(other) celebrities born in 1971" but then thought that would be pathetic. (Born in 1971: Tupac Shakur, Snoop Dog, Mary J. Blige.) I'm now wondering if this has anything to do with my recent, reignited obsession with hip hop, a music that I have been alive for the entire history of. A music that has changed, become less innocent, perhaps more cynical, over the exact same years I have.

If you have been reading A Radical Cut in the Texture of Reality, and I find it almost impossible to imagine that anyone is, you will know I have spent much of the past year obsessed with my own failure. I still can't quite believe that the most hits here this past year went to my post Must lead to something else, where I begin: "Most of my favorite artists follow a fairly standard trajectory. They start out okay or good, have a period of getting better and better, peak, then slowly or rapidly decline. (Some of them die young, before the decline begins, but that’s another kind of question.) I have now been making work for about twenty-five years and wonder if my decline has already begun, or will begin any minute."

(At the same time I know at least some people are looking at this because I obsessively check the blogger statistics. I suppose this is mainly what I mean by 'failure': this life of checking blogger statistics and compiling YouTube playlists. And at the same time I manage to do so many other things. I'm never quite sure how. I suppose I work quickly and don't look back.)

I was about to start writing this post about failure (even though I am continuously promising myself that I will stop writing about failure on my blog) when I stumbled on the Momus post 2013: A bloody good year to be Momus. I was going to write about what a failure my life is while, at more or less the same time, Momus was writing about how well things are going for him. (Momus writes about all the amazing things he did this past year but I could never bring myself to do the same thing in regards to my own past year. I wonder why. Is it only because I'm a self-deprecating Canadian?)

As many people seem to already know, Momus is one of my ongoing obsessions. (Others include: Hip Hop, Las Malas Amistades, Chris Kraus, The Transformation by Juliana Spahr, Alvaro Mutis, Lene Berg, David Graeber, I'm sure there are more I can't think of at the moment.) But for such a long time Momus has been an obsession very much connected to my own sense of disappointment. In my early twenties I was so obsessed with his first five records (Circus Maximus, The Poison Boyfriend, Tender Pervert, Monsters of Love, The Ultraconformist -- not actually his first five records but those were the ones I loved) and so much of what came after was a let down. Specifically, I had a story about him I told myself: that he made a conscious decision to sell out, that he wanted to sound more like The Pet Shop Boys, and more importantly to have their success, and this decision led him down a road that, for me as a listener and fan, was mainly a road of disappointment.

Strangely, I have the same story in my head about David Bowie, a story I heard in an interview with Nile Rogers, that when Bowie came into the studio to begin recording Let's Dance, Nile Rogers was preparing to experiment and get weird, but instead Bowie began the session by saying: "I want a hit." For Bowie it worked (for one album at least, after Let's Dance I think it was pretty much downhill), for Momus not so much (I think he had a minor hit with Michelin Man but then got sued by Michelin and had to remove the song from his record.) However, both of these stories are burned into my mind as a kind of lesson: when you make a conscious decision to 'sell out', it later becomes extremely difficult to get back onto the right artistic path.

I say 'strangely' because Momus begins his post with how excited he is that Bowie put out a new record in 2013. I was disappointed with Momus, but Momus was never disappointed with Bowie (I believe his major influence.) And the past few years I've come around to Momus again. I liked Otto Spooky, Ocky Milky, Joemus and Hypnoprism. I spent a lot of time this year listening to the first MOMUSMCCLYMONT record and now there's already a second. And I realize I've listened to every record he's ever made many many times, and even on the records I liked the least there were a few songs I still listen to. Disappointment is part of life and yet shouldn't go on forever.

I'm wondering if I'll have to stop making these YouTube playlists because there now seems to be a commercial between almost ever track. When I started the playlists in 2010 I don't recall it being this way. Everything on the internet is becoming (unsurprisingly) more monetized. More ads on Facebook, boost your post, more commercials on YouTube, etc.

Something has changed in how I listen to music. This was the year I decided to try living with no internet at home (in a futile attempt to spend less time on Facebook), and because of this I mainly leave my computer at the office. So at work I listen to music on the internet and at home I listen to CD's. This split has somehow begun to fascinate me. I listen to music in completely different ways on my computer than I now do at home. The most obvious difference being at home I listen to albums all the way through while on the computer its always some form of jumping around or shuffle. The computer is really the land of A.D.D. And at home I'm listening to the same records again and again, while the computer ignites my thirst to hear something new, always new. More music than I will ever be able to listen to and a slight sense of defeat that I will never make it through it all.

Last thought (for now) on YouTube playlists. If I love all these obscure songs enough to compile them every year, why aren't I delighted to be among the obscure and relatively unknown? Why do I consider my own relative obscurity as such a complete failure? Is it only because I feel that music - as a thing in itself - is so much better than anything I'm capable of? Yet these seem to be the (mostly obscure) artistic things I love most.

And Missy Elliott is still really good.


December 25, 2013



Society might well be a series of social constructs, but in attempting to undo these constructs we also produce an anxiety that we are losing our connectedness to the world.


December 23, 2013

The Great Fire of Slander -- (yet another attempt at a new novel)


About one year ago, I published an earlier draft of the first chapter of this book in a literary periodical called The Coming Envelope. (Not one year ago from whenever you happen to be reading this, but one year from when I’m writing it now. Today is December 13, 2013.) The version in The Coming Envelope was six pages, but I had edited it down from an earlier draft of thirty-six pages, an earlier draft that was also the beginning of yet another failed attempt at writing a new novel. This earlier, never finished, novel was also called Past, Present, Future, Etc., but I somehow had another title or nickname for it. I often called it, at least in my mind, ‘the slander book’.

There were three main ideas I planned to utilize in the writing of the slander book. The first was that it was a book I would decide beforehand would take me ten years to write. The second was that I would use it to slander all the people in my life who I didn’t like (which ended up being almost everyone.) And the third was that I would refer to everyone slandered not by their names but simply by using the letter X.


Ten Years

At the time in my life when I began the slander book, I had completed five books but only published three. (Published: Unrehearsed Beauty, Families Are Formed Through Copulation, Revenge Fantasies of the Politically Dispossessed. Unpublished: Polyamorous Love Song, Rich and Poor.) Five books, to me at the time, seemed like enough. I prefer writers who write less, find writers who have written shelves and shelves of books to be somehow pompous or excessive. Another anxiety was that the more books you write, the greater the odds that the well will run dry, the formula become diluted. Perhaps I’ve always had the overly romantic idea that the less you publish, the harder the choices you have to make in terms of what to edit out, what you actually want to say with the relatively small literary space you have allotted yourself. The fewer the published works the more intensely focused and potent each one will be. So, in one sense, ten years was simply a way of forcing myself to write less books, to perhaps write more pages but then edit them down (much like the previous chapter was edited from thirty-six pages down to six.)

But, of course, the other reason for the ten year decision is it would be much easier for me to slander people if the result would be published not tomorrow but ten years from now. And as the book progressed, it would require more and more courage for me to continue slandering people, since the gap between writing and publication would constantly grow slimmer.

Finally, deciding beforehand that the slander book would take ten years to write was about the search for new ways of dealing with time. As mentioned in the previous chapter, more and more I feel that time is the problem that politics must begin to solve. To reconcile ourselves with the fact that we’re going in circles, and put this fact to better political use.


There has always been a chasm between my public persona and my inner life. In public, through the thick sludge of my social awkwardness, I try to keep things positive. To the best of my limited ability, I am warm, supportive, always searching for ways to keep going. But inside my head are almost only negative thoughts. In this dynamic there is some residue of my teenage attempt to reinvent myself, to not become a caricature, to avoid the self-parody that all depressed souls so easily drift down into. Instead of wearing black I would wear colours. Instead of always predicting the worst I would try to find the quiet humour in each new hopeless situation. In one sense, I feel I live my life in such a painfully dishonest way, and that I’m not doing my depression any favours by keeping it all bottled up inside. But in another sense, for some reason, and have been enacting this divide between my inner and outer life for so long that I barely notice anymore. Another way of looking at this dynamic is that when I behave in a depressed manner no one wants to hang out with me, while with my current personality, combined with a low level of artistic success, there always seem to be people swirling about. When I think about it, I have to admit that most of these people I don’t particularly like, but most of the time I don’t think about it. (Of course, at the same time I’m fooling no one. If you were to ask anyone who knows me, or anyone who has read my work, if I am a depressed or negative person, I am sure not a single one would hesitate to immediately say yes.) I don’t tell any of these people that I don’t like them, instead I try to be as friendly and kind as possible, but I’m sure many of them suspect. Then again, what’s the difference between liking no one and liking everyone?

So a book that would pour all of these repressed thoughts, insights and feelings out onto the page. Not as therapy (though I have no problems with art as therapy, often find it one of the most interesting strains) but as a way of having a different kind of intensity, a different kind of reality, of honesty, in my work. This, however, is not that book. (You can sense the residue of this earlier slander aspect in a line from the previous chapter: “As I get older, there are more and more people I don’t particularly like.”)

The Letter X

I wanted to be honest but didn’t want to attack each of these people by name. By calling them all X, I would turn almost everyone I knew into one many-headed monster of irritation, a monster ready for the sword of my literary slander.


I don’t think anyone will have any difficulty understanding why I abandoned the slander book. It was a project that could only get me in trouble and, with every new page, it became clearer to me that I was not nearly tough enough to deal with the eventual fallout or repercussions. However, now I am only on page eight of this new attempt at a novel and already I am full of doubts. Have I started writing yet another book about how misanthropic and negative I am? Is this really the vision of myself I want to put out into the world? Is it even accurate? I remember, years ago, meeting someone who had read my books, and her telling me how surprised she was, that I was nothing like she imagined I would be. When I asked her what was different, she explained that she was certain I would be far more harsh and curmudgeonly. She was surprised how much I smiled – I smile when I’m nervous and I’m almost always nervous – that I laughed and cracked jokes. From reading my work she had imagined almost the exact opposite.

There was in fact yet another, even earlier, version of the slander book (before I had the idea to call it the slander book), with yet another title. It was called I Want To Start Again, and began as follows:

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.

It now strikes me that this earlier opening is also about time, this ‘wanting to start again,’ in fact it is the very conception of time I now feel we need to work past before a real possibility for emancipatory politics can gain ground. This wanting to start again – which I feel so strongly at regular intervals in my life – suggests it is possible to make a clean break with the past, when in fact it only possible to do the exact opposite: to keep going in circles, and each time we come round again, learn from past mistakes, build just a little bit more on whatever progress we managed to make last time around.

I am starting to believe in all this but, I have to admit, I still don’t really like it. As well, I have no idea how big the circle is. Will we come back around to a time before capitalism or only to the beginning of the unions? Or both at different times, different speeds, different cycles? Writing in this way I realize I can’t mean anything nearly so literal. I must mean something more like: the solution doesn’t lie in the future, doesn’t lie in the past, and there is no solution because we’re just going round and round, and knowing this might be the only reason to keep going, even as we crash into difficulties very close to our impending extinction. And yet I also try to imagine it differently, what if the ‘I want to start again’ was not a desire to make a clean break with the past, but rather a way to acknowledge rounding another bend of the circle, to say winter is ending, spring is coming, another year is done, what have we learned and what can we do differently, here we go again. This vague metaphor needs an anchor in reality. Or many anchors.

In writing about the slander book, a project I have started, re-started, abandoned and re-abandoned many times over, I can’t help but recall another book about an earlier book that couldn’t be finished (or perhaps couldn’t even be started.) Much like Past, Present, Future, Etc., The Great Fire of London by Jacques Roubaud is two books, an earlier book also called The Great Fire of London that Roubaud was never able to finish, and the book he did eventually publish in which he recalls his earlier failed attempt, contrasting his memory of it with the reality of his current life, thoughts and writing. There is a silently bleak shadow that hangs over The Great Fire of London: Roubaud’s young wife had recently died and, perhaps to deal with his grief, he gets up early each morning and writes, always moving forward, never looking back, meticulously describing his actual working process as he goes. He writes:

And I am writing only in order to keep on going, to elude the anguish awaiting me once I break off, once I suspend their uncertain and awkward progression, in order that this new beginning, in the wake of so much anxiety and paralysis, won’t turn out to be merely a false start of the prose enterprise, object of my vain endeavours for so many years.

And I’m also nervous that, as I write this, I am simply embarking on yet another ‘false start.’ But then, if I am working towards a new way of thinking of time, maybe ‘false start’ is simply another way of thinking there is nothing else to do but round the same circle again, each new aborted start another step in the same ongoing cycle. A few pages later, on page twelve, Roubaud writes:

So then I write in this notebook, and each autonomous slice of prose figures here like a white paper band of sorts running with even stripes of black lines, closely written in a minute and almost illegible script (even I find it so on occasion!) between other lines, red or green, marked with dates (of composition), a numerical order, some sort of title. These red or green lines separate the black slices, each supplemented by a line of white. There are rarely any additions or corrections – infrequently, and for two reasons: the first being that I never move, as it were, backwards, and hesitate only mentally; the second, that any rate there is practically no space for corrections, because the lines are extremely dense (a good hundred or so upon a single page), full from one edge to the other, from top to bottom.

Only moving forwards, never back, as a way to make sure that this time his literary project will not stall (as it had stalled so many times before), as a way of fleeing from the recent past, which held only heartbreak and, line by steady but almost illegible line, towards something hopefully more bearable. We move forward because we die, because those around us die. A different way of thinking time would suggest reincarnation, that we don’t end but rather come back, in different ways, different forms.

My idea for this book is that, as it goes, as it goes round and round the same questions and topics, these topics might begin to transform themselves into fiction and literature. I think of writing stories in which after we die we come back, in which time runs in circles and activism utilizes this reality in order to undermine capitalism, in which everything is alive and has agency. I wonder if it would be possible to write such narratives without becoming science fiction or magic realism, while retaining a direct connection my own, and to the readers, daily reality and agency. What kind of stories might these be? How can I get from slander, from my own personal struggles, to some larger grasp of how to get off this accelerating one directional highway towards greater dystopia and catastrophe? Or towards a sense of progress that shifts in many directions at once? What kind of circles should I be writing and why include stories? There’s the famous Godard quip: “A film should have a beginning, middle and end, but not necessarily in that order.”


December 20, 2013

December 17, 2013

Two Links


Two of the best essays I've recently read:

For A Left With No Future by T.J. Clark

Critique and the Hermeneutics of Suspicion by Rita Felski


Luc Boltanski Quote


The problems posed by the way in which the notion of domination was employed in critical sociology derive from the fact that it is at once too powerful and too vague in character. Extensive use of the notion of domination leads to conceiving virtually all relations between actions in their vertical dimension, from explicit hierarchical relations to the most personal of links. By the same token, what the sociologist will establish, in critical fashion, as a relationship of domination is not necessarily presented or even lived by actors in this register; and the later might even turn out to be offended by such a description. (If, for example, as a sociologist you explain to a man engrossed in the enchantment of love that the passion he experiences for his companion is in fact merely the result of the effect of social domination that she exercises over him, because she comes from a higher class than his, you risk meeting with some problems in getting your viewpoint accepted.) This extension of the notion of domination leads to extending the notion of violence in such a way as to stretch physical violence, which is experienced and described, at least in a number of cases, precisely as violence by the actors themselves, in the direction of symbolic violence (a key notion in Bourdieu’s sociology), which invariably is not experienced as such.

To explain how and why actors are dominated without knowing it, the theory must accord great importance to the illusions that blind them and appeal to the notion of the unconscious. An initial consequence is that actors are often treated as deceived beings or as if they were ‘cultural dopes’, to use Harold Garfinkel’s phrase. Their critical capacities in particular are underestimated or ignored. Another consequence is that preponderant weight is given to the dispositional properties of actors, at the expense of the properties inscribed in the situations into which they are plunged, and an attempt is made to explain virtually all of their behaviour by the internalization of dominant norms, above all in the course of the education process. It takes the form of an incorporation, which inscribes these norms in the body, like habits – a process that accounts for the reproduction of structures. However, by the same token, situations are neglected, sometimes in favour of dispositions and sometimes of structures. While situations can be observed and described as clearly by the actors who are continually immersed in them in the course of their everyday life as by sociologists, knowledge of structures is accessible exclusively to that latter. Their unmasking in fact requires the use of instruments of a macro-social character and, in particular, statistical instruments, based on the construction of categories, nomenclatures, and a metrology. But this is also to say that the instruments of which the exposure of structures is going to be based are largely dependent on the existence of powerful centres of calculation invariably places under the supervision of state or inter-state organizations. It follows, as numerous works over the last thirty years have shown, that these macro-social instruments, as well as the categories and metrologies on which they are based, must themselves be regarded as products of social activity and, in particular, the activity of states, so that they occupy the dual position, embarrassing to say the least, of instruments of social knowledge and objects of that knowledge.

Finally, a third consequence is to increase the asymmetry between deceived actors and a sociologist capable – and, it would appear from some formulations, the only one capable – of revealing the truth of their social condition to them. This leads to overestimating the power of sociology as science, the sole foundation on which the sociologist could base his claim to know much more about people than they themselves know. Sociology then tends to be invested with the overweening power of being the main discourse of truth on the social world, which leads it to enter into competition with other disciplines laying claim to the same imperialism. Above all, however, the critical enterprise finds itself torn between, on the one hand, the temptation of extending to all forms of knowledge the unmasking of the ‘ideologies’ on which they are based and, on the other, the need to maintain a reserved domain – that of Science – capable of providing a fulcrum for this operation. Finally, let us add that the intensification of the difference between sociological science and ordinary knowledge leads to an under-estimation of the effects of the circulation of sociological discourses in society and their re-appropriation/re-interpretation by actors – which is rather problematic in the case of a sociology that claims reflexivity. These repercussive effects of sociology in the social world are especially important in contemporary societies on account of the fact, in particular, of the enhanced role of secondary and university education (not to mention the role of the media), which leads actors to seize on explanatory schemas and languages derived from social science and to enlist them in their daily interactions (particularly in the course of their disputes.)

- Luc Boltanski, On Critique: A Sociology of Emancipation


Fragment 1


Something went wrong. This something implied there was a different way things might have gone. Two ways, a fork in the road. But there weren’t two ways. There was only the way things actually went and that way was wrong. Because this wrongness has already occurred, is already a part of my history, of my life, there is another sense in which it is now right. The wrong thing has found its place in time. Time, the past, is a series of things gone wrong made right by their passing.


Fragment 2


So you asked for a favour and are given a favour so then you ask for a bigger favour but are refused and you don’t know if you should be upset for being refused or upset at yourself for trying to push your luck or simply grateful for the earlier, smaller favour you actually were granted. There are at least three choices and you’re sure there must be more. But then something else happens and you completely forget about this earlier dilemma because the new thing has presented a new dilemma, even stickier.


December 13, 2013

...they don't have to be the "right" or "great" works...


My list in response to the Facebook meme with the rules: In your status line, list 10 books that have stayed with you in some way. Don't take more than a few minutes and don't think too hard - they don't have to be the "right" or "great" works, just the ones that have touched you.

1. Aliens & Anorexia – Chris Kraus
2. The Transformation – Juliana Spahr
3. Motion Sickness – Lynne Tillman
4. The Adventures and Misadventures of Maqroll – Alvaro Mutis
5. The Manuscript Found in Saragossa – Jan Potocki
6. Third Factory – Viktor Shklovsky
7. Event Factory - Renee Gladman
8. The Seven Madmen – Roberto Arlt
9. Chapel Road - Louis Paul Boon
10. Impossible Object – Nicholas Mosley

[I later did a revised list which you can find here.]


December 3, 2013

This overwhelming feeling of failure.


When I joined twitter, about a year ago, the first thing I wanted to tweet was “I have this overwhelming feeling of failure,” and every time I tweet anew my first desire is to tweet it again “I have this overwhelming feeling of failure,” and I do, know I am not alone in this, know it is disconnected from reality and is, very basically, the way I am part of the problem, buying into impossible and wordly notions of success and wanting more and more of one thing (success) that serves no purpose other than to create a greater sense of dissatisfaction within me. I know this is what drives me, am able to see everything that is wrong with it, yet I keep going. In his diaries, Andrei Tarkovsky wrote: “It’s a feature of any kind of acclaim that it eventually leads to depression, disappointment, even to something rather like a hangover, a feeling of guilt.” And I have had acclaim, more than my share, but it never quite catches, just drifts past me, a few warm comments and it’s gone, wondering what it’s like for others at more or less my level of success, if they feel any more or less satisfied. At other times I think my dissatisfaction, which might only be another word for this sense of failure – and it’s always been my nature to be dissatisfied – has a positive side in that it drives me to keep challenging myself, to make better work. But then I’m not sure, since it seems to me today there is so little connection between quality and success. So much of my favorite work is relatively obscure when compared to the endless mediocrities continuously rolled out as being the most successful, most acclaimed, or even the hot new thing. So if I want more success perhaps, instead of making better work, I should try to get worse. (But worse in such a specific way: “I dumb down for my audience / And double my dollars”) From another angle, another myth, good or great artists are only discovered after they are dead. The real hope lies far in the future, a Kafkaesque utopia where my Max Brod will push my posthumous writing as hard as today I secretly hope (to myself) that it is meaningful or worthwhile. Are there hidden Kafka’s in the corners of today's culture or has the internet, at least partially, exposed every last one? Exposed them as semi-available and semi-obscure? There is some connection between this sense of failure, too much fleeting acclaim, and an inability to believe in the future. Perhaps there is no future for my work, but it is even more likely that there is little future for culture as we know it due to some degree of environmental collapse. Did those in the past really have a greater belief in their distant future? Again I chance upon what is perhaps the most effective treatment for these tepid feelings of failure: I must read more history. Why have I never been interested in history? Why am I so threatened by it? I have tweeted: “those who do know history are doomed to endlessly dissect it.” And then, later: “trying not to repeat history is a repetition of others who have tried not to repeat history in the past.” Finally: “those who don’t know history are doomed to think that things are worse now than they were in the past.” Twitter, the internet in general, is such an absence of history. Things endlessly scrolling downwards and vanishing into the barely remembered nothingness of a few minutes ago. I started making performances because I wanted to make something in the present, something that would feel like it was happening now, but now feel cursed by how ephemeral it all was, how everything I’ve made seems to have so completely disappeared. (I suppose this is why, a few years ago, I started putting more energy into making books.) “I have this overwhelming feeling of failure.” And yet perhaps still think failure is beautiful, only wish I was not quite so overwhelmed. When is being overwhelmed most productive? When does it ask the precise right questions, knowing the answers will never come?