December 27, 2016

I spend all my time reading fiction but in so many ways I’m against fiction.


I come across a paragraph I wrote several years ago. I read it with fascination, as if it is written by someone else:

“I spend all my time reading fiction but in so many ways I’m against fiction. I’m against fiction that imagines itself as crafted and seamless. I’m against characters that the reader is supposed to imagine as fully formed real people. I’m against fully formed people, believe we are all a series of fragments, that our business is a perpetually unfinished one. I have nothing against a story that playfully knows it is a story, with characters that are simultaneously people, ideas and fragments of the author, with truth that is stranger than fiction and fiction that keeps asking itself difficult questions about fiction (and life) it knows it will never be able to answer. Working within literature, this counter-position feels excessively lonely. The road less travelled is often filled with devastatingly empty moments that threaten to stretch out into a lifetime, or worse a career.”


December 25, 2016

Long Live THEESatisfaction


THEESatisfaction broke up this year. With all the talk about Prince, Bowie, Cohen and Phife Dawg (and I now also want to add Prince Buster, David Mancuso and Pauline Oliveros), I think the musical news that actually hit me hardest is that there won't be many, many new THEESatisfaction records to listen to in the years to come. Their two records awE NaturalE (2012) and EarthEE (2015) were two of the records I listened to most often over the past five years. They are records I feel I will listen to for the rest of my life and never get tired of. I feel they are also, in so many ways, musical landmarks for the moment we are currently living in.

I think I'm writing this because, based only on a quick internet search, it seems to me that no one else did. No one else celebrated what an awesome and important band they were, or at least not nearly enough people wrote about the significance of their breakup. When I think of awE NaturalE, I think of something I once read (attributed to Brian Eno), that "The Velvet Underground's first album only sold a few thousand copies, but everyone who bought one formed a band." I try to never predict the future, but I have the strange feeling that in the years and decades to come THEESatisfaction might take on a similar importance. At the very least, they already have for me.

It has something to do with music and politics. This music that is so political and finds such a deeply honest and pleasurable way to be so. Music that experiments with such verve and joy and speaks about the things that hurt and heal and are so fucked up in this world, but always with a sense of community and possibility. An avant-garde that is also completely pop and finds ways to take risks on both sides of the outmoded divide. Actually, I'm not sure what else there is to say. Just listen...


Two end of year mentions for Rich and Poor


"Jacob Wren’s Rich and Poor (BookThug) is political fiction at its sharpest. An aspiring concert pianist, reduced to working as an under-the-table dishwasher, becomes obsessed with taking violent revenge on the man he considers responsible for his plight: a billionaire oligarch who gets his kicks by, among other things, watching children fight.

Wren alternates in first-person between the two, effectively dramatizing the 99-per-cent vs. one-per-cent divide. In lesser hands it might have read as clumsy allegory, but because the two voices are equally compelling, what we get is something like an intellectual thriller.

Rich and Poor is essential and bracing reading, especially at a time when millions of poor Americans can convince themselves that a rich man is their champion."

- Ian McGillis, Madeleine Thien heads class of 2016, but don't stop reading there

"Wren’s novel opens with a poor man planning to kill a rich one, but, with a crisis at the halfway mark, things get messy and the greater violence, the brutality of the economic system, reveals itself. Rich and Poor reminds us that art can be resistance, and our love, revolutionary."

- Jade Colbert’s Favourite Canadian Small Press Books of 2016


December 23, 2016



I know my limitations
they are many
they are very, very, very many
unlike others who don’t have any

to live within them and go without
I’m done pretending there are other choices
done as ‘too much’ is done with ‘many’
other choices are just other voices

poems rhyme towards the nursery
written quickly, quickly unpublished
like my limitations, hurt me
in the background like a story

when I started as a poet
when I gave up on all poems
both moments like some search for power
neither one my finest hour

I know my limitations
more than ever
because I’m very, very, very clever
a bad poem is forever


December 22, 2016

A playlist for 2016

I said I wasn't going to do this anymore, because YouTube now has too many commercials, but it seems I can't stop. I've now made YouTube playlists in 2010, 2011, Japan, 2013, 2014 and 2015. The above playlist is 346 videos long. 

Usually, as part of these YouTube playlist posts, I reflect on my internet addiction, which I suppose is more or less as out-of-control as ever. But I think, for the time being, I've said all there is to say about it. Perhaps the number 346 says it all...


Unfinished Novels


[This story was originally published in Fence Spring/Summer 2014.]

I haven’t had a lot of sex in my life and therefore don’t quite have a handle on what it does to me emotionally. I was traveling, in a small, boring city in Europe, and I had what at first felt like a one night stand. After our night together we continued to hang out, to talk, and there was a feeling that if circumstances were different we might have had something more, also perhaps not, or at least I had that feeling. I don’t think we ever spoke about it. And writing this down now, remembering how basically, between age fifteen and twenty-eight, every single time I had sex with someone new I ended up trying to turn it into literature. There are six or eight early, unfinished attempts at novels that each begin with one or more new sexual encounters, yet at the time I didn’t see the pattern. I only see it now, looking back. As I write this I am waiting to meet her. This afternoon we are going to the museum to see an exhibition called ‘Only Sculpture.’ I’m doing it all over again, something I feel I haven’t done in ages. I had sex and immediately I’m starting to write a novel about it. I wonder if this one will remain unfinished like the rest.

At the same time, I have two requests for new short stories, one from a magazine (the very magazine you are currently reading) and the other from an online journal, and I have never written a short story in my life. Or, at least, I have never written one on purpose. Several times I have begun new novels, abandoned the attempt twenty or forty pages in, and then, much later, edited the aborted attempt down into something I eventually published as a story. I think the reason I never write stories is the same reason I claim to no longer write poems. (If you google me you will find all sorts of poems and stories online, some of them quite recent. Nonetheless, this is not how I view myself. This is not the story I tell.) Both poems and stories, as pubic forums, feel so marginal to me, and I desire that my writing reach as many as possible, even though, so far, this has mostly failed to be the case. I often ask myself what difference would it make in my life if my books were read by twice as many people? Or ten times as many? Or one hundred times? The few minimal brushes I’ve had with success haven’t been particularly enjoyable or illuminating. But, I suppose, for me writing is always connected to a certain hunger, a certain desire, to reach out, envelop the world. If I were to more fully accept the marginality of my position, it would also be like I was betraying this larger artistic desire. All of this is, of course, embarrassing to admit.

We are shifting, moving forward and back in time. Yesterday I went to a panel discussion at a music festival on the theme of when to say no. Now is a period of my life in which I feel extremely overbooked, overworked, in which I think I should have said no to at least a few things so I could feel less exhausted each morning. Being exhausted feels like such a terminal waste of time. Reflecting on my own current experience, I assumed it would be a panel about saying no because you were too busy, in order not to burn out from overwork. Instead it was more about ethical questions: saying no to having one’s music licensed for use in advertisements, used in movies, or to generate content for internet platforms that could then monetize their subsequent increase in traffic.

Some of it reminded me of this quote I’d read recently from Jeff Tweedy. (A quote I feel somewhat ambivalent about):
I think about telling my dad, who worked for 46 years on the railroad, ‘Somebody offered me $100,000 to put my song in a movie, and I said no because it’s a stupid movie.’ He would want to kill me. The idea of selling out is only understandable to people of privilege.
But the impression I got from the panel was almost the exact opposite as the one conveyed in this quote. There was one guy, he ran a local record label, arguing for a deeper integrity in how we live our artistic lives. He said it was not only about saying no to corrupt opportunities, but more importantly about forging other models for how we do things. It was a panel of four and the other three weren’t exactly getting it, not exactly arguing against him either. One of the younger guys, who also ran a record label, said that, for his artists who were still on their first albums, mainly he worried they wouldn’t even make it to a third, forth or fifth album. That some money for an ad might help them get there, keep them alive as they built a career. I thought about how little sense there was today of the value of sacrifice, that holding an ideal also meant having to give something up, most likely you will be less successful (in commercial terms) than you would if you didn’t hold and live by such ideals.

After the one night stand, a few weeks after I got home, there was some email correspondence. Not so much but a few. But before that, there was another night, my last in the small, boring European city. She had gone away then come back. And since she came back I felt the possibility we would sleep together again before I left the next morning. We smoothly ditched the rest of the group and went for a drink just the two of us, which I thought verified my sexual hopes, but then as hours and drinks passed I changed my mind, it seemed it wasn’t going that way and it was 3 a.m., I’d had way too much alcohol, and if I was going home alone I thought I might as well go home alone now. It took another hour before she told me the problem, her last relationship, nine years long and now one year past the break up. I said new romance, for me, was always about a fear of hurting and a fear of being hurt and she said it was, for her, at the moment, more about a fear of hurting. How, for the last few years of the nine year relationship she’d had many (or at least a few) affairs, he hadn’t suspected a thing, and when he found out he came at her with all the anger and sadness of a complete betrayal.

The day we went to the museum, now I no longer remember what order it all happened in, I had been talking about something else, and I quoted Genet:
Anyone who’s never experienced the pleasure of betrayal doesn’t know what pleasure is.
I often use that quote. It is one of the sentences that has stuck with me more tenaciously than any other. I still don’t completely understand what it might mean, why betrayal might be pleasurable, but it stays on top of me, a mystery and a question. I think, at the time, after the museum, I was talking about betraying literature, how literature must fight against literature, try to make something new. Reject good literary taste and good literary sense. But her reaction was almost mortified. Quite suddenly I knew I was brushing up against a painful story I may or may not ever hear. A painful story that was defining her current life and feelings about the world, as so many of our painful stories seem to do.

The guy on the saying no panel, who ran the local record label, and was arguing for a way of working that forged different, more idealistic, models for how we might live and form communities, went on a long tangent about how today, when you are young and have your first success in music, you suddenly feel you have to jump on it, push hard and fast at your career, do as many festivals as possible, that the window of youth culture opportunity is brief and you should make your money while you can. How no one ever feels they are making enough money, no one is satisfied with their current level of success, everyone wants more, and a musician wanting to make as much as possible during his or her brief window of flash-in-the-pan success is barely different from the kind of rapacious thinking that is sending our entire planet into arrears. The fact that there is no limit, it is never enough, we have to make and want more and more and more. Gobble up everything, no rest for the wicked. And I also feel no limit to my ambition, though it certainly hasn’t, so far, resulted in any kind of rapacious success. I’ve slept with relatively few women but also, often, find myself wanting to sleep with all of them, except the women most often say no, like Bartleby say they would prefer not to, and I don’t push, my feminist training having taught me that no means no, though in reality I know this is not always the case, nonetheless I search for, I wait for, enthusiastic consent, which is rare. If I’d had more affairs when I was younger, maybe I would also have more unfinished novels, and therefore more stories.

When she told me of her nine year relationship, of how it ended with him shutting down in a spasm of feeling completely betrayed, of her fear of hurting people because of the fallout from this story, after she told me, it was if an enormous weight had been lifted from her shoulders. All that night, since returning to visit me, she had been preoccupied, full of stress and doubt, and suddenly she seemed light and happy again. The change occurred in a split second. I could barely believe that just telling someone something could result in such an instant, visible, positive change for the better. It almost made me believe in therapy. I thought about how secretive I am, how little I tell people about my life, and wondered if I were more forthcoming if I might have a lighter energy in this world. Then she came home with me a second time, it seemed too late to have sex, but we cuddled, which I also like, perhaps more so. Our bodies intertwined as we slept as if we were a couple that had been sleeping together for years. I got up early the next morning, completely exhausted, got on an airplane back to Canada. I barely remember saying goodbye.

After the saying no panel I kept thinking about how I lived and worked, kept wondering why I feel all this ambition, this overwhelming feeling of failure, why I want so much but instead feel only, completely, dissatisfied. The affair also made me feel dissatisfied, though it was great. But it was great because it was a meaningful encounter that made me reflect on my life, my history and how I interact with people while travelling, and I had this strange feeling that I would have preferred great sex. The encounter was not cheap and I was wondering if I would have preferred something that was. There is a kind of truism or cliché I’ve often heard, that one should take everything that happens in life and experience it as if it was the very thing that was meant to happen at that moment. That the things that happen to us are in no way accidents, but are all meaningful parts of our story. And if you can see your life in this way everything becomes easier. I, of course, cannot see my life in this way. My life seems arbitrary and aggravating. But it makes so much sense to me that if I could simply change my perspective, more often see the chance occurrences that fall into my path as meant to be and significant, my life would be so much easier, more consequent. A shift in perspective can change everything but I have never managed anything of the sort. I know most people are against writing as therapy, and perhaps I am verging on such bad taste here in these reflections, but I want to write about myself in ways that feel not allowed. Bad writing that doesn’t necessarily make me feel any better.

The other thing that struck me after the saying no panel was that so many musicians have this opportunity to sell out, while I have no such opportunity. I have no idea if I would actually have the integrity to say no to a lucrative advertisement offer and will most likely never know. Turing down money is never easy, however one wishes to live in the world, and I make, more or less, as many decisions motivated by financial worries as any other artist. Where do financial worries end and greed begin? Where is the line, since for the last few years I really haven’t been starving, though, like most artists today, I also feel little security around questions of money, especially if I try to think further into the future. Our entire system thrives from this fear of falling off the money trail and directly into the gutter. A sense of lightness might come from feeling the things that happen to us happen for a reason, but another feeling of lightness also might come from a feeling that a social safety net is in place to catch us when we fall.

It’s not only that a short story is a less hegemonic form, it’s also that it ends so quickly. And endings are hard. The aborted, unfinished novels of my youth had no endings, barely even trudged into the middle, and in this sense must have given me some sense of freedom. They remained open ended if only because they were abandoned. Turning them into short stories closed down a bit of that freedom, but also allowed me to publish them, put them out into the world. Because I got up so early, so exhausted, after only a few hours of sleep, and left so quickly, the rush to some innocuous airport, it was almost as if the small, boring city in Europe story had no end either, or at least a slapdash ending barely thought out and uncomposed. Or perhaps the night before was the real end, since it was in fact a fairly complex emotional climax, one I’m still grappling with, finding out so much about someone in so little time. An epiphany is learning something about oneself, or about the world, that one already knows, but learning it more suddenly, more sharply, with greater force or rush or impact. On the plane back home I was struck again by how dissatisfaction is the engine that drives so much of my work and my actions. I felt so dissatisfied by what had happened though it was fascinating. And how, at least in this one aspect, I am so much like everything else that is currently fucked in the world. Wanting more instead of accepting the small pleasure life offers us. I don’t write stories or poems (but of course I also do.) And I don’t know what to think about love.


December 17, 2016

I can't believe his name is actually Rich Fink


By the late 1980s, Richard Fink had supplanted Cato’s Ed Crane as Charles Koch’s main political lieutenant. Unlike Crane, who was interested in libertarian ideas but regarded it as “creepy when you have to deal with politicians,” Fink was fascinated by the nuts and bolts of power. After studying the Kochs’ political problems for six months, he drew up a practical blueprint, ostensibly inspired by Hayek’s model of production, that impressed Charles by going beyond where his own 1976 paper on the subject had left off. Called “The Structure of Social Change,” it approached the manufacture of political change like any other product. As Fink later described it in a talk, it laid out a three-phase takeover of American politics. The first phase required an “investment” in intellectuals whose ideas would serve as the “raw products.” The second required an investment in think tanks that would turn the ideas into marketable policies. And the third phase required the subsidization of “citizens” groups that would, along with “special interests,” pressure elected officials to implement the policies. It was in essence a libertarian production line, waiting only to be bought, assembled, and switched on.

Fink’s plan was tailor-made for Charles Koch, who deeply admired Hayek and approached both business and politics with the systematic mind-set of an engineer. While some might find it disturbing to regard the democratic process as a factory, Charles soon adopted the strategy as his own. As he told Brian Doherty, the libertarian writer, “To bring about social change requires a strategy that is vertically and horizontally integrated.” It must span, he said, from “idea creation to policy development to education to grassroots organizations to lobbying to political action.”

- Jane Mayer, Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right


December 15, 2016

Excerpt from the final chapter of Polyamorous Love Song


[People often ask me about the title of my book Polyamorous Love Song. The following is a short excerpt from the final chapter in which I explain it:]

Around that time I was thinking a great deal about pop music. I had the idea that most already existing love songs, mainstream or otherwise, were directed towards one person, the ultimate soulmate or new excitement, and maybe a polyamorous love song, a love song directed towards a few (or many) soulmates, might undermine some basic songwriting assumptions. I dreamed of these not-yet-existing love songs, wondering what they would actually sound like, who might write them and who might listen.

Pop music is the gasoline of monogamy. Love songs are propaganda for monogamy. Writing is another form of loneliness. These are all statements that feel relatively true, that feel true in their gestures of empty, highly personal, provocation. Statements whose truth-value is little more than an opening for debate. Songwriting is a strange kind of writing. I remember something I once heard Darren Hayman (from the band Hefner) say in an interview, that people often complimented him on his lyrics, and he was flattered by this, but he had always been more interested in writing tunes. Because a song could have bad lyrics and a great melody and still be a good song. But if a song had great lyrics and a terrible melody, the entire endeavour was kind of doomed. How would we experience love if pop culture did not exist?


Love songs attempt to describe how we feel when we’re in love. But as they’re describing, they are also telling us how we should feel, creating norms we can compare to our own experiences, giving us language that helps us describe a realm of emotion that in some sense is always beyond language. Many of these songs are written in about five minutes and yet we can listen to them over and over again for years. Love songs are about desire, but they are also, often, about loyalty. In some ways romantic love is the passage from desire towards loyalty. But maybe the polyamorous love songs that I dream might some day exist will complicate such dualities, generating nuances closer to our daily reality in which, if we are open to life, conflicting thoughts, questions and desires continuously surprise us.


November 30, 2016

Some favourite things from my 2016


[It seems I really do love lists. (Thought perhaps not quite as much as I love quotes.) As with previous years, many things on this list were released prior to 2016. I have listed them more or less in the order they gradually came to me. Also, I don’t know quite how it happened, but I read so many good books this year, it really helped me get through it all…]


The Hills of Hebron – Sylvia Wynter
Outlaw Woman – Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz
The Mushroom at the End of the World – Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing
I Have Devoted My Life to the Clitoris – Elizabeth Hall
Zong! – M. NourbeSe Philip
Fierce Femmes and Notorious Liars – Kai Cheng Thom
Accordéon – Kaie Kellough
Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio – Pu Songling
Oscar of Between – Betsy Warland
All We Know: Three Lives – Lisa Cohen
From the Archives of Vidéo Populaire – Anne Golden
Whatever Happened to Interracial Love? – Kathleen Collins
Radical Love: Five Novels – Fanny Howe
Dark Pool Party – Hannah Black
Counternarratives – John Keene
Salt Fish Girl – Larissa Lai
Style – Dolores Dorantes
Pamela: A Novel – Pamela Lu
Her Paraphernalia – Margaret Christakos
Double Teenage – Joni Murphy
Testament – Vickie Gendreau
Job Shadowing – Malcolm Sutton
Belleza y Felicidad: Selected Writings of Fernanda Laguna and Cecilia Pavon


Good God! Apocryphal Hymns
Larry Levan – Genius of Time
Noname – Telefone
Frank Ocean – Blonde
Solange – A Seat at the Table
Blood Orange - Freetown Sound
Chance the Rapper – Coloring Book
Isaiah Rashad – The Sun's Tirade
Duckwrth – I'm Uugly
The Last Artful, Dodgr – 199NVRLND
Anohni – Hopelessness
A Tribe Called Quest – Midnight Marauders
Princess Nokia - 1992
Above Top Secret – Above Top Secret
The Internet – Ego Death
Kamaiyah – A Good Night in the Ghetto
serpentwithfeet - blisters
Jay Arner – Jay II
Tasha The Amazon – Die Every Day
Lolina - Live in Paris
Abra - Rose

Films / Videos:

Cemetery of Splendor – Apichatpong Weerasethakul
Painting with history in a room filled with people with funny names 3 – Korakrit Arunanondchai
The Journals of Knud Rasmussen – Zacharias Kunuk & Norman Cohn
The Prison in Twelve Landscapes – Brett Story
Arabian Nights – Miguel Gomes
No Home Movie – Chantal Akerman


Decomposition of a Continuous Whole – taisha paggett
…Truthteller… – Eroca Nicols (Lady Janitor)
The All-Token Speakers Panel Presents – Artivistic


November 13, 2016

All Profound Distraction


[This text was originally published in Fiktion: Concentration.]

All profound distraction opens certain doors. You have to allow yourself to be distracted when you are unable to concentrate. —Julio Cortázar

If something is boring after two minutes, try it for four. If still boring, then eight. Then sixteen. Then thirty-two. Eventually one discovers that it is not boring at all. —John Cage

I don’t think I know what I’m doing. I don’t know what I think I’m doing. I stare at these two sentences. I know they each have a distinctly different meaning but for a long moment can’t intuit which means which, or which one I mean. Either way, I don’t know what I’m doing and haven’t for a very long time. This ‘not-knowing’ is something I tell myself I believe in, and might be reformulated as a fairly specific kind of concentration. I even find myself searching for a ‘more real’ not-knowing, while at the same time experiencing anxiety that I’ve accidentally fallen into a false one: that I do actually know what I’m doing, only pretending I don’t in service of some half-articulated ideal of how an artist should or shouldn’t proceed.

Directly next to any not-knowing I perform or attempt to conjure while creating work, there is another, perhaps more honest, not-knowing that keeps me awake at night, and that, more often than not, makes me almost unbearably sad. This awake-at-night not-knowing has something to do with all the injustice and suffering in the world. Why don’t we simply just know how to reduce it, fight it, undermine it? This must be pure naiveté on my part, but I cannot believe it would be so impossible or so difficult. Yet apparently it is all that and more. I can think about these problems endlessly, read about them endlessly, turn them over and over in my mind, and get virtually nowhere, back around in circles to things I already know and seem so obvious that there was little need to give them any thought in the first place.

So what I now find myself wondering is: what is the connection between these two aspects of my not-knowing? Between not-knowing as a longing for artistic breakthrough, as desire to leave behind both acknowledged and unacknowledged habits, and not-knowing as not knowing how to save or even slightly improve the world?

When I write I often listen to hip-hop. On a line by line basis, I have to admit that my comprehension of what they’re getting at in any given track is, to say the least, somewhat limited. Some things are of course clear, others I’ve listened to hundreds of times and remain, for me, in the realm of multiple possible meanings. As a writer, at least I think it’s because I’m a writer, when I listen to music I focus on the lyrics. So listening to hip-hop while writing is often a distraction that almost completely prevents me from actually writing, focusing on lyrics I’m perpetually unable to fully decipher instead of on the blank screen in front of me I’m supposed to be filling with words. My solution is to turn down the volume until the track is barely a murmur. This hip-hop murmur pulses in the background as I type and somehow gives me a feeling that somewhere in the world there is an energy greater than the dull silence in the room that surrounds me.

My computer is full of hip-hop that I mainly listen to on shuffle. Often when a track comes on that seems too sexist or homophobic I simply delete it. I don’t know if this is the right thing to do, but I’m nervous about sexism and homophobia seeping into my subconscious through tracks I listen to sometimes hundreds of times. It might be stating the obvious to say that this hip-hop also exists as an artistic otherness, completely removed from anything I immediately identify as part of my daily life or experience. Many tracks speak of socioeconomic experiences I haven’t had: life-threatening poverty or almost comically conspicuous wealth (or both at the same time.) I also listen to a lot of hip-hop that has nothing to do with either of these things yet the modality of the language itself is mostly enough to separate me from relating it to my own experiences too directly. (It just occurred to me that I delete tracks that are too sexist or homophobic, but don’t delete tracks that are too capitalist, which might be equally important.)

When I ask myself why I like hip-hop so much there is one aspect to the pleasure that is fairly straightforward. I am a writer with a certain faculty for language. In many ways my writing is performative; it asks to be spoken aloud. However, even mediocre hip-hop displays a virtuosity of spoken language that I could never approach or aspire to. It is simply something I can’t do. The pleasure I get from it might be analogous to the pleasure I assume others get from watching sports, seeing someone do something that you could never possibly do that well yourself.

I remember something I said in a recent interview and go looking for it in my computer. When I find it I’m disappointed; it doesn’t quite say what I had hoped. What it does say is: “I’m searching for breakthroughs, if one is still allowed to think in such romantic terms. At the given juncture of any breakthrough one momentarily feels there is no precedent. It is only later that one might see how everything fits (or doesn’t fit) into various histories and narratives.” This feeling, this momentary feeling that there’s no precedent, must in another sense be a kind of concentration, almost tunnel vision. A radical openness combined with an equally intense focus on a few key aspects of a current endeavour. Do artists still want to have breakthroughs? Do people? Is it something we can still imagine having at every stage of our life, right until the end, or is it only for the young?

Thinking about the many ways my love of hip-hop is problematic, I begin to think about Descartes as one of the foundations for white Western thought. How he decided to sit in front of that fireplace and simply concentrate on the core philosophical problem, get rid of all distractions, all assumptions, and begin again. Descartes wanted to know, to get to the truth of the matter, while when I concentrate on a given artistic question I claim to want to not-know. But either way, isn’t there something a bit anaemic about this idea of what it means to concentrate—to block out distractions and focus—when another word for distractions might be life: other people, the sensual world that surrounds us.

My thinking takes places in dialogue with so many things, texts and people, and yet I most often feel I’m working in almost complete isolation. I regularly complain about this isolation but now also wonder if it is a sort of Cartesian ideal that I claim not to want but perhaps actually do. What does it mean to actually want something you claim not to want? I know relatively little about Descartes but he is an unquestioned stand-in for something in the daily habits of my thought. He is a stand-in for a mode of scientific thinking that focuses on certain questions at the expense of everything else. To give a cartoon example: that focuses on how to get the oil out of the earth as efficiently as possible at the expense of all the repercussions involved in doing so. This also has something to do with a desire for certainty, often connected to domination of things and/or people. Within a certain theoretical framework, much of this has also become, over time, a cliché.

I’ve made 20516 posts on Tumblr but only two have gone viral. The first was from a Rwandan speaking as part of the Moth podcast ‘Notes on an Exorcism’:
We had a lot of trouble with western mental health workers who came here immediately after the genocide and we had to ask some of them to leave. They came and their practice did not involve being outside in the sun where you begin to feel better. There was no music or drumming to get your blood flowing again. There was no sense that everyone had taken the day off so that the entire community could come together to try to lift you up and bring you back to joy. There was no acknowledgement of the depression as something invasive and external that could actually be cast out again. Instead they would take people one at a time into these dingy little rooms and have them sit around for an hour or so and talk about bad things that had happened to them. We had to ask them to leave.
The second was from Walter Benjamin:
Mankind’s self-alienation has reached such a degree that it can experience its own destruction as an aesthetic pleasure of the first order.
In the space between these two quotations lies almost the entirety of the problem.

In 1953, Mohammad Mosaddegh, the then newly elected president of Iran, was overthrown in a CIA-sponsored coup. His crime was his desire to nationalize the Iranian oil industry. I often wonder what that part of the world would look like today if he had successfully managed to build a working socialist-democratic precedent in the region. When I lie awake at night, more and more often it is history that fills my thoughts: Jacobo Árbenz in Guatemala, Patrice Lumumba in the Republic of Congo, Salvador Allende in Chile. There is another moment I often think of: shortly after Mussolini was elected he apparently managed to either kill or jail almost every single card-carrying member of the Italian communist party.

When you start reading the history of the left, stories like these pile up one atop of another. (As I’m writing this I chance upon a New York Times piece about Operation Condor: six South American military dictatorships meeting in 1976 to “concoct a secret plan to eliminate their left-wing opponents.”) It is stories like these that form the background for Margaret Thatcher’s “there is no alternative.” The more I read the clearer this background becomes: over the course of the twentieth century, all attempted alternatives have been systematically undermined using money, propaganda, dirty tricks and, whenever necessary, extreme violence.

Of course, we can’t change the past, things that are done cannot be undone. But how to effectively think possibilities for the present and future while at the same time keeping this history at the front of one’s mind? How to actually feel the fact that the world we currently live in didn’t just happen, that battles were fought, won and lost, and in so many ways we are living the desired outcome of the victors. Through posing these questions, I am attempting to walk myself towards activism. In most of what I have witnessed, single-issue activism has the greatest chance of success. But I always fear this is little more than blocking out larger realities in favour of short term gains. Is it possible to have a genuine overview and still effectively fight? This fight might resemble the familiar slogan: think globally, act locally. In this sense I can always get behind the hope of setting a precedent: success in one context can create a sense of possibility elsewhere—a sense that there is, in fact, an alternative.

If I concentrate my energies on the specific activist battle at hand, it does not necessarily mean I am ignoring the global history that has brought us to this point. But I do feel there is something painful, almost enervating, in attempting to focus on both levels of reality at the same time, both on the devastations of history and on possible gains in the present moment. So many battles have already been lost that the playing field feels almost nihilistically askew.

There is a most-likely apocryphal story I’ve seen mentioned in various forms over the years. In it, there was a secret meeting of all the major record labels at which they decided to work together to promote gangsta rap, to make gangsta rap the dominant form in hip-hop. Whether or not this meeting actually took place, any hip-hop fan can’t help but notice that the lyrical content of early hip-hop was considerably more varied, often more sunny, and generally more political than it is today . When one form dominates, other perspectives fall by the wayside. Even if marginalized, however , they never completely disappear. When concentrating on the things directly in front of us, our peripheral vision remains rife with every possibility not currently pursued. The peripheral might be seen as a distraction or it might, perhaps as effectively, be seen as our only chance for discovery.


October 27, 2016

Every Song I’ve Ever Written in Montreal (Nov 4-11)


PME-ART presents: 

Toutes les chansons que j’ai composées
Every Song I’ve Ever Written

Friday Nov 4th
Karaoke Version
Musée d'art contemporain de Montréal 
Nocturne de la Biennale
Facebook Event

Monday Nov 7th
La Chapelle Scènes Contemporaines
6pm - 11pm
Pay What You Can
Facebook Event

Wednesday, Thursday, Friday / Nov 9, 10 & 11th
Band Night
La Chapelle Scènes Contemporaines
Facebook Event
The Besnard Lakes 
Catherine Valéry 
Jef Ellise Barbara 
Mozart's Sister 
Elena Stoodley 

And at all times the website:

World premier of the entire project 
Presented in partnership with La Biennale de Montréal 
In collaboration with Usine C as part of Actoral festival 

Les beaux malaises de Jacob Wren
Un mariage spectacle et «talk-show»


October 15, 2016

An ongoing list of possible titles


[It seems my main activity these day is trying to think of a title. I will attempt to continue this as an ongoing list.]

More Utopian Than We Can Fathom

Actions at the Border

Instead of a prison I would build a...

My General, My Popsicle

Utopian Counterinsurgency

Reading the Obits and Finding Your Own Name

Jacob’s in a State of Decimation

Art in the Age of Ecological Collapse

Helpless Laughter

Falling and Laughing

Magic to Turned Backs

The Also-ran

Solar Kittens

Amateur Compassion

The Uncontrived Encounter

Promiscuous Bewilderment

The Worst Apology

I Must Decline For Secret Reasons

A Vagabond Steps Off A Cliff

The Earth Owns Itself

So Much To Unlearn

Those Who Can't Teach

The Past is the Future

Having Never Experienced Jealousy

Imperfect Love

Unfinished Love

The Unfinished Present

My Apologies

Past, Present, Future, Etc.

How Not To Be A Hypocrite

Desire Without Expectation

Unfinished Love / Imperfect Love

Some Future

Life is very short and should not be spent crawling at the feet of miserable scoundrels

The Depressed Saint

Ashes Without A Phoenix

Not of the Ruins

Unfinished, Imperfect, Untitled

Everything Has Not Been Done

My Plan is to Stay Calm

I often say that I'm not particularly consequent

Because I Love Art, I Want Art To Be Different

When We Bomb It's War, When They Bomb It's Terrorism

Care and Time

Pushing the Wealth Upwards

Practical Utopias

And the Sadness is Comedy

Aging Rock Star

Do people like sex?

Hospitality and Resistance

Something Might Still Change

Love Is Not A Game

Manifesto For Collective Child Rearing

There Are At Least Seven Bands With The Name Triangle

Always Connected To Disappointment

How Not To Be Irrelevant

Where I Come From We Give Love

You Told A Secret But Not The Truth


September 18, 2016

The Bookhug Interview with Jacob Wren, author of Rich and Poor

The Bookhug Interview with Jacob Wren, author of Rich and Poor


September 14, 2016

On Tori Kudo, Reiko Kudo and Momus


I can’t remember how long ago it was now when I walked into the Montreal record store Phonopolis and, over the sound system, heard a record I absolutely loved. The album was Rice Field Silently Riping In The Night by Reiko Kudo. It is an album I have come back to again and again. Not a year goes by in which I don’t listen to it at least a few times, and often many more.

Around that time, I wrote to a Japanese friend to ask her if she’d also heard it. I was surprised when she wrote back suggesting an artistic collaboration between Tori Kudo and myself. I was already in the process of listening to absolutely everything I could find by both Tori and Reiko. The owner of Phonopolis was also obsessed with their music so it was possible for me to find almost everything they’d put out.

From January 24 to February 23, 2012, I went to Matsuyama and Kochi to begin working with Tori and figure out what we might do together. Tori suggested we begin by making pottery, something that not only had I never done but in fact had never even considered. Over a month I got to know Tori a little bit and we made some things. I have previously written that “all the artists I admire are such a strange combination of completely open and completely stubborn,” and Tori might be the perfect example of this phenomena. (Of course, the same might be said about me.)

The music of Maher Shalal Hash Baz represents for me some kind of perfect balance between structure and freedom, between pure music and impure anarchy. Tori’s complex, and at times self-defeating, virtuosity meets the energizing non-virtuosity of so many different band members over such an expanse of years, each member twisting the project ever-so-slightly in their own direction. It is classical pottery full of spirited cracks, with the cracks built in, pushing forwards and retreating against the pure timeless spirit of rock ‘n’ roll and glorious punk.

Reiko Kudo’s music feels, to me, timeless in a different, perhaps deeper, sense. Timeless like dust. Like gold dust. Fragile melodies from multiple other worlds. You can hear Tori’s anarchy informing the background and yet it is clear that Reiko is so precisely and delicately in charge. I of course don’t understand Japanese so I often don’t know what she’s singing. But like the very best singers somehow I do know what she’s singing because I imagine that I can feel it through and against the limits of language.

I do of course know what Momus is singing. More so than with most singers because I have so many of his old songs memorized or almost memorized, like they have been with me from almost before I was born. There was a period of my life – the period in which I wrote many of the songs from Every Song I’ve Ever Written – in which I listened to Momus every day. There were many, many days in which I listened to nothing else. With Momus I imagined the pop song as a literary novel, the pop song as a philosophical tract, the pop song as perverse détournement of everything else that wasn’t a song by Momus.

And speaking of a perverse détournement: in Tokyo it is very possible we will have Momus performing the songs I wrote twenty-five years ago which were, at the time, almost completely inspired by Momus. (But, then again, he might also choose different songs.) My teenage self could have never imagined things coming full circle in quite this way. A story of time travel that is almost, but not quite, worthy of a Momus song.

Every Song I've Ever Written will be performed at Sound Live Tokyo on Sept 17 & 18, featuring Momus, Reiko Kudo, Maher Shalal Hash Baz & The Hardy Rocks (Keiji Haino).

You can listen to the Momus covers here.

And find a playlist of my favorite Tori, Reiko and Maher Shalal Hash Baz tracks here.



August 29, 2016

Betsy Warland and Anne Golden


A few days ago I finished reading Oscar of Between by Betsy Warland. I’ve been wanting to write something about it constantly since. This is definitely not a review, just a few thoughts and much literary enthusiasm. (For a review I would highly recommend Julie R. Enszer’s considerable insights over at Lambda Literary.) Back in June, I heard Warland read from Oscar of Between at Across No. 3. in Toronto and was instantly hooked. What is this book? Why didn’t I know about her work before? I thought about this question more than I probably should have and a somewhat related question: why don’t more people read the books I love? I thought of both of these questions more than I should have while reading Oscar of Between because Warland raises them herself on more than one occasion. For example, a few brief passages from Part 7:

The literary seen. For decades Oscar within but not: a knot cinched tight. Her own growing complicity. Recently removing some evidence of this this when preparing her second round of literary archives; speaking less and less to her writing friends about being ostracized, understanding their need to stay on the right side of the right people, understanding the greater the force of denial the greater the force of losing personal power.


During the 1980s then ‘90s, Oscar fell in love with two literary men’s partners. Although the falling in love was mutual, Oscar was blamed. Since then, Oscar’s observed, literary men are not ostracized for becoming lovers with literary men’s partners.

There. Lies. The just. Of just-us.


In a 2013 Margento essay for the first time Oscar wrote:

“In hindsight, I realized that I emerged as a feminist lesbian author and this was an aberration. Other feminist lesbian writers’ lives hadn’t unfolded this way. In their early publishing years they had had close friendships with, a number had romantic relationships with, and nearly all had been students of literary men. I had not. Consequently, my inclusion in the poetry community was significantly limited.”

This reminds me of Chris Kraus, the exhilarating feeling I had back when I read I Love Dick and Aliens & Anorexia for the first time. A dangerous willingness to call out slights and abuses one is apparently supposed to take in stride in this or that world of art. The sentences also often reminded me of David Markson: a certain poetic crispness and lucidity. At other moments the Maggie Nelson of Bluets came to mind. But Betsy Warland is nothing like Kraus, Markson or Nelson. When reading something new one might be forgiven for searching out comparisons.

Oscar of Between is a work unto itself. Fragmented yet cohesive, it continuously surprised me. I rarely had any idea where it might go next and yet each step along the way thrived with its own strong desires and inner logic. It is memoir driven by experimentation and driven by honest yet unexpected thought. It makes itself as it goes along and questions its own methods in ways that always add forward momentum. Another brief passage:

Oscar of Between initially subtitled “A Story of Failures.”

Several writer-friends recoiled, “No one will want to read it with a title like that.”

The longer she lives, the more interested Oscar becomes in failure – what we consider it to be. How so often it’s the unnamed force that shapes the story.

All of this also somehow made me think of another book I recently read and loved: From The Archives of Vidéo Populaire by Anne Golden. (Actually, what really made me think of it was Sara Spike’s beautiful review in the Montreal Review of Books.) I first read From The Archives of Vidéo Populaire when I was asked to blurb it. Here’s my blurb in full:

I couldn’t stop reading From The Archives of Vidéo Populaire, found ever word convincing, almost as if it had happened to me and my friends. So many aspects of Montreal that I genuinely haven’t encountered before, visions of the Seventies and Eighties, all written up in compelling, magnetic, verbatim detail. A book for everyone who has every considered doing the impossible and perhaps, at least partially, succeeded. A book to give us strength in such heartfelt endeavors. Early video art has finally found its literary masterpiece.

I read From The Archives of Vidéo Populaire at the beginning of the year, so it’s not nearly as fresh in my mind, but what I remember most is the same feeling I had reading Betsy Warland: I can’t believe how unexpected this book is, how energized and surprised I feel reading it. This is literary pleasure. Books that value thinking, that embody thinking as writing, and embody thinking as writing to deeply think about the world in which we live.

Betsy Warland and Anne Golden are both Canadian writers. Both of these books came out this year. And I suppose I’m also a Canadian writer. I’ve often thought how strange it is that it’s easier to identify myself by nationality than it is to identify myself in relation to any specific aesthetic, artistic or literary affinities I might have or desire. I’ve definitely spent most of my reading life engaged with authors from elsewhere and perhaps somewhat neglected Canadian literature in the process. I’ve also, a bit stupidly, longed for some international literary movement that I could join but, like most of the artists I admire, wherever I look it seems I don’t quite fit. At any rate, by the time I started writing the age of artistic movements was apparently over and done.

Often when I’m in Europe I’m asked to recommend some Canadian books that I like and I’m embarrassed that off the top of my head I can’t quite think of any. And reading Oscar of Between I really felt that the problem is me, not Canadian literature, that I’m simply not searching hard enough. (I also made this list of favourite Canadian books that I can hopefully use to answer the request if it should ever arise in the future.) Sometimes I feel that Canadian literature is too small to support a truly lively counter-literature, a body of works that really show there are completely other ways of writing books. (If we’re talking about poetry the question is a bit more complex. I suppose I’m mainly thinking about novels.) I’m perhaps also thinking of the Semiotext(e) novels that I read throughout the eighties and nineties (and continue to read), an endless series of books that showed me again and again how another literature is possible. How what I’d previously thought a book could be was actually only the very beginning. Oscar of Between and From The Archives of Vidéo Populaire both clearly suggest, at least for me, what a Canadian counter-literature might look like. I will definitely be reading each of them again.


Lisa Cohen on style


“What is style?” the American modernist Marguerite Young has asked. Her own reply: “Style is thinking.” A riddle of unconscious excitements and conscious choices, style is a way to fascinate oneself and others – and to transform oneself and the world. It is an attempt to make the ordinary and the tragic more bearable. Style is a didactic impulse that aspires to banish doubt, a form of certainty about everything elusive and uncertain. Style is at once fleeting and lasting, and it has everything to do with excess – even when its excesses are those of austerity or self-denial. It is too much and it is nothing at all, and it tells all kinds of stories about the seams between public and private life. As a form of pleasure, for oneself and for an audience, and as an expression of the wish to exceed and confound expectations, to be exceptional, style is a response to the terror of invisibility and isolation – a wish for inclusion. Above all, it is a productive act that, although it concerns itself with the creation and experience of brilliant surfaces, is powerful because it unsettles what we think we know about the superficial and the profound.

- Lisa Cohen, All We Know: Three Lives 


August 28, 2016



Instead of actually working on a book, I am producing an endless series of titles for said book.

An endless series of possible titles for a book I will probably never write.

For years now people have been telling me that I'm "good at titles" and it seems I'm finally choking under the pressure.



Some Favourite Canadian Books


[When I'm in Europe I'm often asked to recommend Canadian books I like and generally can never think of any off the top of my head. When I read Oscar of Between, I was really blown away by it, and somehow it inspired me to make this (obviously really subjective) list. As is my habit, it is in no particular order. I think the list might get a bit longer in the days, months or years to come...]

nîtisânak – Jas M. Morgan
Islands of Decolonial Love – Leanne Betasamosake Simpson 
Little Blue Encyclopedia (for Vivian) – Hazel Jane Plante
We, Jane – Aimee Wall
Zong! – M. NourbeSe Philip
Oscar of Between – Betsy Warland
Accordéon – Kaie Kellough
Dominoes at the Crossroads – Kaie Kellough
Thou – Aisha Sasha John
From the Archives of Vidéo Populaire – Anne Golden
Our Lady of Perpetual Realness & Other Stories – Cason Sharpe
You Are Eating an Orange. You Are Naked. – Sheung-King
Bodymap – Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha
Tonguebreaker – Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha
Salt Fish Girl – Larissa Lai
This Is How You Lose the Time War – Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone
Fierce Femmes and Notorious Liars – Kai Cheng Thom
Antigone Undone – Will Aitken
The Subtweet
 – Vivek Shraya
Sitting Shiva on Minto Avenue, by Toots – Erin Moure
The Swallower Swallowed - Réjean Ducharme
Listening for Jupiter
- Pierre-Luc Landry (Translated by Arielle Aaronson and Madeleine Stratford) 
The Obituary – Gail Scott
American War – Omar El Akkad
Little Fish – Casey Plett
Canadian Healing Oil – Juan Butler
Ethics Of Luxury – Jeanne Randolph
The Baudelaire Fractal – Lisa Robertson
Prison Industrial Complex Explodes – Mercedes Eng
The Sorrowful Canadians & Other Poems - Wilfred Watson
The Well-Dressed Wound - Derek McCormack
Debbie: An Epic – Lisa Robertson
Pandora - Sylvia Fraser
Saudade: The Possibilities of Place - Anik See
Smoke Show - Clint Burnham


August 22, 2016

A User’s Guide to Authenticity is a Feeling / Short Project Description


2018 marks twenty years since the first PME show En français comme en anglais, it’s easy to criticize. To celebrate this anniversary, co-artistic director Jacob Wren has written a book entitled Authenticity is a Feeling: My Life in PME-ART. A compelling hybrid of history, memoir and performance theory, the book will be a highly subjective, chronological retelling and questioning of much of what has happened in and around our work over the past twenty years. Sometimes Jacob also jokes that what he’s writing is in fact “a novel about PME-ART.” It begins when Jacob meets Sylvie Lachance and Richard Ducharme in 1996, and traces a line through collaboratively created performances such as Unrehearsed Beauty-Le Génie des autres (2002-2004), Families Are Formed Through Copulation (2005-2006), HOSPITALITY 3: Individualism Was A Mistake (2008-2012) and The DJ Who Gave Too Much Information (2011-). It is a book that aims to change the rules for how interdisciplinary performance can be written about.

But books about performance never feel quite right, or at least never feel like enough on their own. Addressing performance requires performance. Therefore, we are also creating an accompanying work entitled A User’s Guide to Authenticity is a Feeling. It will begin with Jacob reading excerpts from the book and showing photographs of the works in question, and then gradually move towards an ever more personal and artistically vulnerable perspective on what the past twenty years have meant. It is an artist talk turned inside out, an artist talk that tells more about artistic struggles and challenges than about any worldly success, raising complex questions as to what exactly it means to be making performance today. It is an author in dialog with his own strange book, and with his own life spent making collaborative work, casting new behind-the-scenes light on just why we do it, why we continue to believe so stubbornly in the fragile but essential act of “being yourself in a performance situation,” and how we continue to hope against hope that our destabilizing tangle of art and politics might still, in some small way, change the world.

The performance will also document the reactions all of PME-ART’s past and current collaborators had to the book. What they agreed with and what they found unfair will also become part of the piece, demonstrating how our shared artistic history creates collaborative dynamics that are complex, fascinating and all too human. Finally, in an ongoing manner, the performance will be altered for each place we visit. In each city there will be a section of the performance that speaks directly to all the times PME-ART has presented there in the past, to the specific relationship between our work and that venue and city.

A User’s Guide to Authenticity is a Feeling is our most personal, direct and honest work to date. It gets to the very heart of what PME-ART means and, in doing so, opens up new artistic possibilities for the future. It speaks to how sometimes the only way to move forward is by first looking back, and how the unique ephemerality of performance creates a sense of time and memory that is perhaps one of its greatest qualities.


A User’s Guide to Authenticity is a Feeling was on tour in 2018:

Malmö / Inkonst: October 26 & 27, 2018
Düsseldorf / FFT: November 7 & 9, 2018
Reykjavík / Everybody’s Spectacular: Nov 15 & 16, 2018

Was in Montréal at La Chapelle: April 17 & 24 / May 1 & 8, 2019

And was in Vancouver at PuSh on February 5 & 6, 2020

You can also order the book Authenticity is a Feeling: My Life in PME-ART here.

Bonus: all the links about PME-ART currently available on the internet.


Peter Pál Pelbart Quote


In 2005, Alejandra Riera came to São Paulo and got to know the Ueinzz Theatre Company’s work. Shortly after she arrived, she proposed a collaboration with the theatre company involving a project she called Enquête sur le/notre dehors, along the lines of her previous research. Out of this, a device was activated with the actors from the company for a very specific, though open, inquiry and recording. It consisted of a group outing every day for several days to some place in the city suggested by the actors, where the group would approach someone of their choice – a pedestrian, street vendor, a student, a police officer, a stranger, a homeless person – and directly fire at them any questions that came to mind. In an unusual situation where the interviewee knows nothing about the interviewer – but sometimes perceives a certain strangeness – the rules of a journalistic interview are reversed and everything starts to go wrong, without anyone managing to detect the reason for the derailing. Postures begin to come undone, the personal, professional or institutional masks which everyone dearly holds onto fall to the ground, allowing a glimpse of the unusual dimensions of the disturbing “normality” which surrounds us every day, as the artist used to say. With a displaced camera that questions the anchoring point of discourse, a hiatus is created between image and speech, and thus a suspension in the automatism of comprehension.

Let us take one miniscule example. We were in front of the Legislative Assembly in São Paulo talking with a peanut vendor. One of our actors asks him what the magic of this place is. The street vendor does not understand and asks if the interviewer wants to know how much he earns. “No, I wanted to know what is your happiness here?” “I don’t understand,” says the peanut vendor. The actor, a little agitated by his interlocutor’s deafness, asks him point blank: “I want to know what is your desire, what is the meaning of your life.” Then everything stops, there is a suspension in the dialogue, a silence, and we see the man sinking into a dimension that was totally other, far from any journalistic context. And he replied, quietly, with a certain difficulty: “suffering…” This is the basis without a basis of the entire conversation, the disaster, which already occurred, the exhaustion which cannot be spoken of; it is the bitter isolation of a man cornered in front of a monumental building which represents an unshakable, but nonetheless empty power; everything which only appears by means of a sudden interruption, triggered by a sort of vital irritation. An interruption provoked by the one who is supposed to be drowned in his own abyss – the crazy actor. And here everything shifts, and the spectator suddenly wonders what side life is on, and if that question still has any meaning, since it is nothing but a whole context of misery which emerges from this unusual dialog. What causes an eruption is the psycho-social instability upon which everything else rests; and also, for fleeting moments, the germs of something else. In making the situation schizophrenic, for a time there is the impression that everything may become derailed: functions, places, obeisance, discourses, representations. Everything may fall, including the device itself. Even if we encounter what was there from the very beginning – suffering, resignation, impotence – we witness disconnections that make so-called normality flee, along with its linked automatic reactions; and also the evocation of other possible bonds with the world. As Riera says, this is not social reporting or a survey with humanist ends, but the recording of an experiment. It has no make-up, no claims to denounce a situation, and no inclination towards aesthetics. At the end, we do not really have a proper documentary, or a film, but an unusual object, a trace of an event that when seen may trigger other events – as was the case when some fragments were shown in the La Borde clinic, where Guattari once lived, in the presence of dozens of patients and psychiatrists, including the founder of the clinic, Jean Oury. In the enormous central hall of this decaying castle, one late Friday afternoon in September 2008, the people were waiting for the “Brazilian film” made by a theatre group, according to the rumor that was going around. But there will be no “Brazilian film,” nor any “documentary,” nor any “film,” nor any “theatrical piece.” Absence of work. How to explain this without disappointing such high expectations? The weekly meeting ends, the hundred people seated in the auditorium turn toward the screen, already stretched, the windows are closed in order to allow for the showing of the “Brazilian film,” and Alejandra Riera compliments those present and straightaway points out that she does not intend to show a film. She explains that this is only an experiment, that it is very difficult to talk about this… and instead of giving a talk on the project, on her intentions and its logic, as one would expect, she confesses that she has experienced great difficulty working lately… that in the end she could not manage it any more… to work or to build… imagine the effect of this talk on people who long ago had abandoned the circuit of “work,” “projects” and “results.” She then adds that lately all she could manage was to take things apart. She does not even stop from taking apart the tools with which she once worked, such as the computer… And she takes from her handbag two plastic bags with fragments of the disassembled keyboard: one of them contains the alphabet keys, the other the functions (Delete, Ctrl, Alt, etc.) She then passes around the transparent plastic bags containing the pile of pieces so that they can be circulated among those present. The spectacular expectations of a film gives way to an extraordinary complicity with an artist who does not call herself an artist, who does not bring her work, who confesses that she is not able to work, who shows the remains of her computer, pieces that have been dismantled, evoking a project whose impossibility is immediately made known, leaving only the impasse, the fiasco, the paralysis, the exhaustion that is common to us all, whether we are lunatics or philosophers, artists or psychiatrists… Only once the link between “art” and “audience” is short-circuited, once the glamor, entertainment, culture, work, or object which could be expected from that “presentation” of images us undone, and the central protagonist who leaves the stage is “de-individualized”: only in this way can something else occur – an event as the effect of suspension. A projection of fragments can even take place, or a controversial discussion, at times accusatory or visceral, that drags into the night, into the twilight of the auditorium, which no one has taken the trouble to light up and which ends with the hilarious question from a patient: “Do you all have a project?” As if reconnecting to Alejandra’s initial speech, in which she confessed about her difficulty in working, in constructing a project, in doing work, it evokes Blanchot’s intuition on the common ground existing between art and unworking, or Foucault’s idea about the relationship between madness and the rupture of work. Perhaps this is where we can find a performative exhaustion of the project or of the work, so that inaudible voices and improbable events can emerge.

- Peter Pál Pelbart, Cartography of Exhaustion: Nihilism Inside Out


August 13, 2016



Those who do know history are doomed to endlessly dissect it.

Trying not to repeat history is a repetition of others who have tried not to repeat history in the past.

Those who don’t know history are doomed to think that things are worse now than they were before.


August 4, 2016

Jean Claude Fignolé Quote


But if we are to link Spiralism to its antecedents, then we must also look to the movement developed in Veracruz [Mexico] known as la ronda which premised that art itself was of circular form and movement. In addition, there was the Guatemalan author, Emethias Rosotto, who wrote in his novel Mr. General that art could only be spiral. This formula worked for us, because our writing style is spiralistic and not linear. As we write, we turn and we turn and we can embrace all as we turn.

- Jean Claude Fignolé

[Read the rest of the interview here: Becoming Actors in History]


July 30, 2016

Instead of a Diary a Billboard


In my diary I can write today I want to kill myself and no one will ever know but I don’t have a diary and a secret cry for help feels somehow impractical so instead of a diary a billboard and, at any rate, more or less every day I want to kill myself and it’s been like that for as long as I can remember and I’m still alive. When I don’t know what else to do I sit in cafés and write about how miserable I am and I’ve also been doing this for as long as I can remember so clearly the therapeutic effect is minimal. There is so much injustice in the world and here I am sitting in cafés writing the same thoughts over and over again, year after year, using slightly different words. There is so much injustice in the world and I, like many, feel powerless in the face of it all. But I also no longer believe that there’s nothing that can be done. Or it’s more like I’m split in two: one half feels hopeless and powerless and the other half feels there must be something that can be done. Pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will. Yet I have so little will. And Gramsci wrote that, thought that, from jail. In jail your will can barely touch the outside world. But I am not in jail. I am simply sitting here in this café writing about how miserable I am.


July 11, 2016

Alicia Garza Quote


I think we have to be clear a revolution is a process. It’s not an act, and it’s not a destination. The second thing is, I think what people are calling for is radical action, and what people are saying is we don’t want to keep doing the same thing and expecting different results. Ultimately, people have the right to feel disgusted, and frustrated and to be calling for new types of action that get us further than where we’ve gotten so far. If people are serious about getting involved and figuring out how we take the movement to the next level, it really has to be focused on making sure we’re building a base of power that is more powerful than their power.

- Alicia Garza

[Read the rest of the interview here: Black Lives Matter Co-Founder Alicia Garza Talks Philando Castile, Alton Sterling and How You Can Get Involved in Fighting Injustice]


structural inequality


It seems so hard to truly understand, or more to the point to really feel, structural inequality. It's even harder for the people who benefit from it. (I am of course one of them.) But even though I know it, so often my privilege remains more or less invisible to me. Of course I want to believe that my success solely relies on my talent and persistence, everything in my life would feel so much better in the comfort of this belief, but I now know this is very much not the case. Seeing the situation as it is results in all sorts of complex feelings of powerlessness, guilt, denial, etc. Men are especially bad at dealing with their feelings. (I still have to continuously remind myself that my decisions are more often made based on feelings and less often based on thoughts, while of course feelings and thoughts are also in constant confluence with each other.) But I also often ask myself: what is the motivation to change a system that you clearly benefit from? Some people want to simply do what's right, but I don't believe we can rely on that or them. Sometimes I also believe, and I'm not completely sure about it, that positive changes to structural inequality would in the long run benefit everyone. That benefiting at the expense of others is a psychic pain. That a more egalitarian situation would also be more joyous. That living respect for others would be a more energizing way to live. But I'm not sure why exactly I believe this. I also feel I have no proof. And if I look in the mirror I'm not sure what I'm really doing to be the change I wish to see in the world.


July 3, 2016

Rich and Poor readings in Berlin and Cologne


I will be reading from my new book Rich and Poor at these fine events:

Thursday, July 7 at 8pm
Hannah Black and Jacob Wren at Saint George's Bookshop 
Saint George's English Bookshop Berlin 
Wörther Str. 27 
Facebook event

Friday, July 15 at 8pm
Mark von Schlegell & Jacob Wren at "Schalten und Walten"
Schalten und Walten 
Sömmeringstr. 47a 
Facebook event


May 26, 2016

World Stage Scholars-in-Residence Matt, Julia and Denise discuss the song Literature

As part of Every Song I've Ever Written at World Stage / Harbourfront (June 9th and 11th), World Stage Scholars-in-Residence Matt, Julia and Denise recorded a discussion - which doubles as a cover version - of my song Literature.

It's never occurred to me to analyze one of my songs in this way, and I'm completely fascinated by all the insights that Matt, Julia and Denise provide, but I thought I would mention a few things I was thinking about back when I wrote the song that, having not written the song, these scholars might have missed.

The first line is "Everyone I met was writing a novel," which to me suggests that the novels the song is talking about might not be the best novels ever written. Perhaps these are wanna-be novels, amateur novels, works by young people who haven't yet found their voice. Literature and art are full of works by young people who want to be artists but don't yet know if they're up for the task. This also, of course, reflects my own youthful insecurity that I would never manage to write anything of lasting worth.

The line: "literary novels about the holocaust" definitely for me conjured the frequently quoted Theodor Adorno line: "to write lyric poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric." (There are many different versions of this quote.) But it also might bring us back to the first line: by writing failed or not-very-accomplished literature about world-historical tragedies are we even further devaluing them? Are we writing to illuminate the world or only to try to escape our own lives?

The "lottery ticket" might refer to achieving literary fame or riches, but from my beginner perspective at the time it might also only refer to getting a first book published or a first screenplay produced. These are noticeably more modest goals than achieving a lasting literary reputation.

At one point Matt asks: what is a non-literary novel? A non-literary novel might be a popular novel, for example a novel by Stephen King or Dan Brown. Which a lot of young writers were also trying to do. But I wasn't writing (and singing) about them. I was writing about the more pretentious camp of which I was definitely a member.

And, yes, I wrote the song Literature in the nineties, long before 9/11. But the idea that the line "And writing or not writing, these are twin terrors" might refer to the Twin Towers is kind of mind blowing for me.

I'm sure there is so much more I could say, but a writer who answers back to every single point raised by literary critics analyzing his work is a rather pathetic creature. I just wanted to add a few extra thoughts to the conversation. Thanks so much to Matt, Julia and Denise for taking the time to think and speak about my long-ago song. It is an honour my teenage self would have never imagined possible...