November 18, 2019

Ten quotations on fame


Down in Atlantis the curator showed me around the space, gesturing to invisible artworks that will soon be expensively shipped from far away to fill the room. I am the least famous and the least rich and the least well paid artist; I am paid partly in the fame of other artists. I am paid pyrrhically in the currency of my desire to be seen on my terms. My desire has almost as many social claims and credit operations on it as a straight man’s sexuality; both are supposed to justify the movements of capital that provide the basic infrastructure of contemporary art. Overdetermined, my art-making suffers the fate of all socially appointed agents of desire; it becomes intermittently impotent, and terrorized by the threat of its own softness.
- Hannah Black, Dark Pool Party

By amusing myself with all these games, with all these absurdities, with all these puzzles, rebuses, and arabesques, I became famous, and that very quickly. And fame for a painter means sales, gains, fortunes, riches. And today, as you know, I am celebrated. But when I am alone with myself I have not the courage to think of myself as an artist in the great and ancient sense of the term. Giotto, Titian, Rembrandt, and Goya were great painters; I am only a public entertainer who has understood his times and has exhausted as best he could the imbecility, the vanity, the cupidity of his contemporaries. Mine is a bitter confession, more painful than may appear, but it has the merit of being sincere.
- Picasso, Libro Vero, 1952

I think it’s more obvious when the fame stops and the person cannot continue putting out and putting out and putting out – and so the public or the press stop being flattering, and then it’s very painful. People can spend a year being famous, the talk of the town, and then, gradually, there is a kind of lessening of it until in the end there is none of it. It can destroy people. Almost like someone they adored died, or something inside them died. I saw that happen with a couple of people who were friends of mine. And I thought, I certainly would not ever wish not to be famous but if I ever am famous I promise myself to be very, very, careful.
- Maria Irene Fornes

In a 1954 letter to Reina Reyes, his fourth wife, Felisberto Hernández outlined a story he had just “discovered”: Someone has had the idea of changing the Nobel Prize so as to give the writer who wins it “a more authentic happiness,” and prevent the fame and money currently attendant upon it from disrupting his life and work. The new idea consists of not revealing the identity of the winner even to the winner himself, but using the prize money to assemble a group of people – psychologists for the most part – who instead would secretly study and promote the writer and his work for the duration of his life. The conferral of the prize would be publicly announced only after the winner’s death.
- from the Prologue to Lands of Memory by Felisberto Hernandez

Success is the ethical quagmire par excellence of commodity culture because it jeopardizes our relation to dissent, to resistance, to saying no, as fame is precisely about what one is willing to do, how far one is willing to go, and how much (low in the form of high. Going low in order to get high) one is willing to say yes to. The road to fame is made up of assent. This is what gets you to the literal and figurative top. And this is why fame is almost always a parable about losing (not finding one’s way). About being led astray. “Making it” is not the struggle to become, as it’s always been said, but the willingness to be made.
- Masha Tupitsyn

I understood, but could not forgive, the temptations of celebrity hunger. I had my own “fifteen minutes of fame” in 1968-70 in the women’s liberation movement. Such attention can replace a fragile sense of self, so that only more attention can fill the void that remains, and more attention is never enough.
- Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, Blood on the Border: A Memoir of the Contra War

Make your ego porous. Will is of little importance, complaining is nothing, fame is nothing. Openness, patience, receptivity, solitude is everything.
- Rainer Maria Rilke

Work your ass off to change the language & dont ever get famous.
- Bernadette Mayer, Experiments

If you really want to know something about solitude, become famous.
– James Baldwin

I don’t need no fame
- Robert Forster, No Fame


November 12, 2019

Another short excerpt from Chapter Three of the work-in-progress Amateur Kittens Dreaming Solar Energy


A few weeks later, as promised, they were met at the train station by a young woman with two bicycles for them. At first Rana sped out ahead to lead the way, but it didn’t take long for her to realize that Petra and Veronika were keeping a much slower pace – they were doing everything more slowly around that time – and, being a good host, she slid back to match their rhythm. What would normally take four hours on that day took almost seven, but the extra time and slower pace allowed them all an opportunity to talk, a long and winding conversation that began when Petra asked Rana how she first ended up at The Vicinity and Rana replied it was really a long story, that she had spent most of her youth in a refugee camp, and there was a group of activists who would sidestep the guards, slipping under the fence to monitor conditions, report any human rights abuses to the media, and in this way some of the abuses of years past were at least partly curtailed. Another thing these activists would often do, whenever they had a chance, was teach children to read, as many children as they could gather, and Rana was one of the few children for whom these lessons basically became her lifeline, her only hope for staying sane within an often hostile containment. There weren’t many books on site but whatever books there were circulated widely, passed from hand to hand, and there was one book she became increasingly obsessed with in that way you can only become obsessed when you’re young and have not yet encountered enough of the world. The book was called Helpless Laughter. She was particularly obsessed with Chapter Five which was entitled The Uprising and documented an earlier event at a much different kind of encampment in which those interred rose up and took over, finding a way to organize the site (and themselves) using overlapping and multiple forms of self-governance. Later they struck a deal with the authorities allowing them to, in many ways, continue their experiment of autonomy as long as they remained within the confines of the fence along with a few other concessions. (Rana wasn’t sure why, but the chapter didn’t specify just exactly what these concessions were.) During those years, the more she thought about Chapter Five, the more obsessed she became, wondering if it would be possible to organize a similar uprising where she lived, in the place she had basically spent her entire life so far. So she went to work but because she was so young she was often not taken nearly as seriously as she wished. For many years she encouraged everyone she met to read Chapter Five as the book continued to be passed from hand to hand. She also regularly organized small discussion groups on the topic – it was important the groups remain small so as not to draw too much attention from the authorities – where they discussed all the many pros and cons of working toward self-governance, either through an uprising like the one in the book or through some other means.

And then came a day that completely changed her life. We’ll let her continue in her own words: “In those days, sometimes I would run. I’d run the inside perimeter of the fence over and over like a track. I told myself it was for exercise but knew it was also to tire myself out, since I did it mostly when I felt angry so that gradually the anger was replaced by exhaustion. Sometimes I’d imagine an opening in the fence that I ran through and just kept going. I was feeling especially angry that day, so at the moment I would normally stop I instead began running faster. It rapidly became apparent I had much more energy and stamina then I previously knew. I was feeling angry because I’d heard a rumor, heard it not once but three times, from three different people. It was a rumor about another uprising, something that happened in the past weeks or months, an uprising brutally supressed, where everyone was killed. It was only a rumor but there was no reason to believe it wasn’t true. People were telling me, three different people, because everyone knew how interested I was in the possibility of someday organizing an uprising. They were telling me to dissuade me and telling me perhaps to see how I’d react. Each and every time I responded with calm curiosity, saying that I hope we can learn more about it in the future. And if it’s true it makes me sad. But it didn’t only make me sad, it also made me angry. I knew if I seemed too impulsive or headstrong or angry my attempts to build resistance would be taken less seriously, would seem less credible. Already, even at that young age, I knew I needed to work carefully, through charm and logic and quiet confidant determination. And of course I also wondered how much easier it might have been if I were a man. (Not to mention how much easier it would have been if I were a white man.) But there’s enough macho bullshit in this world and I was dreaming about something completely different. There was so little wealth in that place and therefore no ostentatious displays of wealth. We all had about the same amount and therefore it cost us so little to share. At least with books, we were always sharing them, passing them around. I realized this was not the complete picture of our reality, but it was the reality I desired to work toward, and therefore it’s what I most often focused on. But on that particular day, as I was running and running, I was no longer sure if an uprising was worth the risk just because I read about it in a book. Books are beautiful things but, on that particular day, I was also asking myself if they can sometimes lead you astray. Or how often they lead you astray. Books are beautiful things but they are not reality. Reality was the people I saw every day sitting out in front of their tents and offering to share their tea. Reality was my closest friends who slept beside me every single night in the tent and who I would never want to see harmed in any way. And yet I remained convinced we should all continue working toward self-governance. The only question was how.

As I turned the corner running along the inside of the fence, for the seventh or eighth time – I’d actually lost count by that point – off in the distance, just a speck, at the far end of the site, there was clearly something going down. Even though I couldn’t see it clearly, I believed I already knew what it was. A group of activists were cutting away a single panel of the fence. They did so from time to time, when they wanted to load in things that were too big to slip underneath or throw over. It looked like they had a stack of large cardboard boxes but I had absolutely no idea what the boxes might contain. As I got closer they were cutting with their wire cutters and then just as I arrived they managed to pull the entire panel free as I ran straight through the opening and kept running as if for my life. (I didn’t see any guards then realized they wouldn’t be opening up the fence if there were guards around.) Many times in the past I’d imagined this happening and at that precise moment it seemed to me such imaginings were not fantasies but premonitions. For the first time in my life I had completely left the site and was running hard and long though I had absolutely no idea where I was going nor why. It was never my real fantasy to leave that place, or so I’d previously thought, though actions speak louder than words. My real fantasy was always to stay and work together to make something better for everyone. But there I was, a split second and everything in my life had completely changed. All I could think to do was run, keep running, I had no idea how far or for how long.”

As they pedaled, Petra and Veronika were both completely taken by the story. For a while they all biked in silence, with Petra or Veronika occasionally asking some further question which Rana ably answered before the quiet cycling resumed. Then Veronika had another thought: “You’ve told us how you escaped the camp, but that doesn’t really tell us how you ended up at The Vicinity.”

“That’s true. Maybe I’m not ready to tell you that yet. Maybe when we know each other better. But I just remembered something else. Something I haven’t thought about in a long time. I’m actually not sure I’ve thought about it since I lived there. Telling you the story must have triggered the memory. A good memory. Maybe one of the best from my entire childhood. Once or twice a week we all used to play a game. The game was basically soccer but for some reason we played it differently. After every point we would all stand together in a big circle and then everyone would take one step to the left. I’m not completely sure how to explain it. We were taking turns, one at a time, playing on both teams. After every point we each took a sideways step and the invisible division cutting the circle in two constituted the new teams. I never really asked myself why we did this but I suppose it was more fun that way. And of course it also made it more fair. At the time I just thought of it as something we did, I actually didn’t know any different, but now that I’m thinking back it feels almost like a small miracle: egalitarian children inventing a more egalitarian version of the game. Everyone gets a turn playing on both teams, but also the teams are constantly changing, every point bringing one new team member. That was the way I learned to play it and I wonder if there was ever a specific moment when I learned that it wasn’t also the way people played it everywhere. I must have come to know that more banal and less egalitarian reality at some point, since I know it now, but I don’t remember any specific moment when I learned it.”


November 10, 2019

Second short excerpt from the work-in-progress Dry Your Tears To Perfect Your Aim


After having read all four letters, after so much all-too-accurate criticism of my work, I have to ask myself the most difficult question: is there any real reason for me to be writing this book? And even if I manage to finish, is there actually a good reason to publish it? More than anything, I wish for any book I might write to concretely help those on the thin strip of land, or at the very least to vehemently express my infinite admiration and support for them. But will it? Does it? I think long and hard about this question and realize what I feel: so much guilt that I’m an artist and not an activist. Reading over what I’ve written so far, I can see that in so many ways this is one of the main topics. That I’m an artist and not an activist. A topic (and guilt) which of course helps no one. However, there is me with my tepid struggles. And then there are those on the thin strip of land whose struggles are considerably more important. I can’t tell the story from their perspective. I can only tell it from my own. Then there is also you, the reader. If I have been ineffective, there is no reason why you can’t read this, learn from my mistakes, and choose to be more effective than I could ever be. How you might do so is something I’m not able to tell you or even suggest. Why, having read this story so far, would you have any reason to listen to me. Of course, we all know you must never try to save anyone. Must always work in solidarity with others’ struggles, asking first what they need. (I’m directly addressing the reader while still unsure if I will ever finish or publish this book. Always getting ahead of myself.)

When I look back at the history of a certain kind of literature, I often see myself. In writers like Franz Kafka, Fernando Pessoa, Robert Musil, Robert Walser, Roberto Arlt, Sadegh Hedayat, Witold Gombrowicz, Cesare Pavese, W.G. Sebald; depressed and literary mostly European melancholiacs – often published posthumously – who could do little other than write and whose writing fed their alienated melancholia and vice versa. It is telling that none of these writers ever attempted to write an anti-war novel. Many of them never even got on a plane. Sometimes I tell myself: now is the time to change. If I believe, with all the injustices that surround us, that activism in our current moment is so much more important than art, then I must step up, transform myself, be the change I wish to see. (Like Prince at the end of Purple Rain except with politics.) But then I feel I’m only lying to myself. If I am good at anything, and of course I’m not so sure I am, it will always have something to do with art, it is only through some kind of writing or art that anything might happen. So here I am, again trying to write this book. From my own all-too-flawed perspective. Once again unsure whether I’m doing right or wrong. And I remember this quote from an interview with Myung Mi Kim: “The undecidability of whether I am making a difference or not – that ambiguity is part of the answer. Part of the work of answering the question of social efficacy has to include the ambiguity. If you actually had an answer, you wouldn’t be taking in the whole full weight of the questions.” For the moment there is no other way, finish the book first and only then decide if it should be published. Only then attempt to make the impossible decision as to whether it will do more harm or good. And when that moment comes, I very much hope it is a decision I will not be making alone.


November 7, 2019

Short excerpt from the work-in-progress Dry Your Tears To Perfect Your Aim


In the preface my friend writes: “Is it possible to write about my own death as if it were also the death of capitalism and patriarchy?” And, strangely, in the unreal way he has written up his travels, he (in some sense) does die four times, once at the end of each section. Unfortunately this last time was for keeps. Which makes me wonder: do capitalism and patriarchy need to die or do they only need to change? (If they change into something clearly unrecognizable as capitalism and patriarchy do we say they changed or do we say they died?) As we know, some people would rather die than change and I’m still trying to figure out whether or not my friend was one of them.


October 31, 2019

A short excerpt from Chapter Three of the work-in-progress Amateur Kittens Dreaming Solar Energy


There was a moment when I was working on this book when I started to lose my mind a little bit and thought: what needs to happen is that the telepathic kittens save us from ecological collapse. I became more and more obsessed with the idea. And it wasn’t clear whether I thought the kittens needed to save us within the narrative or outside of it, in reality, which I might have been somewhat losing my grasp on. And of course this thought is yet another variation on the kinds of stories where something – some entity or ideology or technology – comes to save us from ourselves. I believe such stories basically to be a form of despair disguised as hope, a form of wishful thinking that can be surprisingly convincing when performed with the right combination of insight and craft, which this particular version of it is obviously not.


October 25, 2019

Patti Smith Quote


When I was really young and struggling, the advice that William S. Burroughs gave me was, build a good name, keep your name clean. Don’t make compromises. Don’t worry about making a bunch of money or being successful. Be concerned about doing good work, and make the right choices, and protect your work. If you build a good name, eventually that name will be its own currency.

– Patti Smith


October 24, 2019

In love with the movement of the world


[This text was written for Ula Sickle's project Free Gestures - Wolne Gesty presented at the Ujazdowski Castle Centre for Contemporary Art. It is also published in the book of the same name.]


I raise my arm. If I were to have done this in an auction I might have just purchased something. Something I most likely can’t afford. If I were to have done this in a classroom I might have had to give the answer to a question or my thoughts on a specific topic. Answers and thoughts I might not have. I raise my hand on the street, at random, or here in the gallery and perhaps it means nothing. It is bad pantomime. I reach for something just above me, just out of reach. A metaphor or analogy. I raise my hand with an open palm or with a fist. I have to decide if I raise my right hand or my left, if it makes any difference which one I choose, or if I would prefer that someone else decide. If you have to raise your hand before you are allowed to speak, and I would prefer not to speak, nonetheless I raise my hand. In the group, at the meeting, we decided decisions would be made based on the desires of the majority. After lengthy debate and discussion, these desires would be ascertained through an open vote, your participation in each vote would be signaled by raising your hand. All in favor: I raise my hand. All against: I raise my hand. I know I am not allowed to vote twice but I raise my hand.


Across the street I see a person. They are a bit too far away. I cannot tell if they’re male or female or some other gender. They are walking along with the rest of the crowd and during this time I do not notice them, they do not stand out. But then they do the thing. I can only describe the thing as suddenly, unexpectedly raising both arms. But the thing is not raising both arms. It is something else. The arms are involved but the rest of the body is involved as well. It is always only one person who does the thing but everyone else is involved as well. Everyone on the street and everyone in their thoughts. I am watching the street and think I see them do the thing but then believe I’m mistaken, that I haven’t actually seen them do anything. I have a theory. My theory is that the thing is a small form of everyday political protest. It involves lifting both arms but also involves the entirety of the body, of the person and of the social setting that surrounds them. I have no particular evidence or reason for believing my theory to be true. It is less like a theory and more like a feeling. It is true. When I have a few hours to kill, when I’m unsure what to do next, I aimlessly stare out my window hoping by pure chance to see someone spontaneously do the thing. I think maybe I saw it yesterday. I think maybe I will see it again tomorrow.


I said: I understand that you’re angry at me. And if you want to express your anger you can punch me in the face. You have my permission. You can punch me in the face gently or with great force. This is not something I’m saying to you now. I don’t want you to punch me in the face. I’m not, I repeat, not giving you my permission to do so. This is something that happened to me many years ago. I knew she was angry at me and wanted to give her permission to express her anger. To effectively and physically express her anger. I said: I understand. And what I understood was anger. I was wondering how to give it permission to become physical. She did not punch me in the face, suspecting that I most likely didn’t actually want her too, and she was most likely right. I told myself: these are all questions of relative freedom. It is misery to possess anger and yet have absolutely nothing to do with it. If we had taken a vote, a vote as to whether or not she should punch me in the face, she would have voted no and I would have voted yes and it would be a stalemate. She said: I don’t want to punch you in the face, I want you to change your ways. I said: I don’t want to change my ways, I want you to punch me in the face. This only made her more angry. Still she didn’t punch.


I lie down, stiff as a board. You have to lie down for what you stand for. You don’t only have to stand. You can also lie down. I lie down alone in the most public of spaces. I know what it means to be tired but that is not the reason I lie down. That is never the reason. Some people think lying down has something to do with sex but I know they are wrong. I’m going to change the topic now. The new topic is looking straight ahead but at the ceiling. Looking straight ahead at the future which also happens to be the ceiling. It is not the glass ceiling most known to us through metaphors of inequality. It is the ceiling you see while you are looking straight ahead as if looking off towards the horizon. It is the ceiling one finds by lying down in public but ceilinged spaces, by lying down during a protest, by letting ones body go limp. In this position you can raise one leg as if raising an arm, as if you know the answer to a question in the classroom or wish to signal your desire to make a purchase in the auction hall. You can raise one leg as if raising an arm but the gesture is significantly different. We have all raised a hand but not all of us have necessarily raised a foot. It is not the way we vote. Not yet. A mischievous flexing of the ankle. In order to vote I lie down. I put myself in the way. I put myself in the way of those who are not lying down.


She made an obscene gesture. And because she made an obscene gesture I fell in love. It was so obscene. It made me want to take off all my clothes and raise my hand. Ask for permission. She did not make this gesture in order to impact me. She made it for herself. Of her own free will and for her own free will. She made it to piss off the world. While I stood there naked with my hand raised high, I wondered for a moment just exactly what I was voting for. If I had a choice, I think I would scream: I am voting for the obscene gesture and I am voting for love. They are one and the same thing. (Everyone can see they are one and the same thing.) But I am making this about me when really it is about her. I always do this. We all know the real question is this: how exactly do you imagine the obscene gesture? And how would you make it yourself when the time comes to do so? An obscene gesture is like an army. I am avoiding the question of how I fell in love. But what is love when placed against the strength and fortitude of the obscene gesture. I am writing this in secret. From the depth of our most secret hideout. The secret society of the obscene gesture. Raising both arms in the air. Raising both legs in the air. Arms and legs that know nothing of love. Something to do with the fingers and pelvis and muscles and blood. A small, obscene form of everyday political protest. Of social process. The obscene gesture can also fall in love. In love with its own obscenity. In love with the movement of the world.


October 10, 2019

Lindsay Nixon Quote


So it was that MDMA, and queer love, forced me into my body: my mouth, and my sweaty skin pressed against the rest of the crowd. And it was the dance floor that facilitated queer love. Every weekend, without fail, my young queer kin and I would situate ourselves on dance floors of the prairie rave scene, in an abandoned warehouse or a rented community centre, chasing feeling. We had all been dissociated from our bodies too long, told they were sick with fem mannerisms and thick thighs that were just a little too plentiful, too greedy, for public space. As queer kin, we gifted each other the ability to name desires I had been told I wasn’t worthy of, and let me believe I’m worthy of love, worthy to take up space, and worthy of being fucked, in the small-town queer communities we birthed at those seedy warehouse raves.

Was it Hollinghurst who said the gay novel is dead, even though he should have just said that the yt dude gay novel is dead?

- Lindsay Nixon, nîtisânak


October 4, 2019

Excerpt from a possible third chapter from the work-in-progress Amateur Kittens Dreaming Solar Energy


A few hours later, Petra is sitting in her office alone. As she does most days, she is trying to write. Staring down at the half-empty page in front of her, she thinks hard about just what exactly she’s working on. Deep in her heart she harbors a ridiculous secret. Although she is almost unable to admit it, even to herself, there is a part of her that feels, or hopes, you can save the world with a book, with the book she is currently working, this idea made more ridiculous by the fact that she is writing a novel. But if Ayn Rand could help ruin the world by writing those terrible right wing novels, why can’t she help save it by writing books equally compelling but politically opposite.

Lately she has not been making much progress. If she ever manages to finish it, this will be her eighteenth book. Does any writer really need to write eighteen books? She imagines a different model, a different world, in which instead of some people writing twenty plus books and others writing none, everyone gets to write exactly one book and therefore has to make it count. She loves to read, sometimes she loves to write, and more than anything she loves books, but increasingly she has to admit to herself that books seem just as much a part of the problem as everything else in this world. It was the way they accumulated, every year more and more books filling the bookstores and libraries, more than anyone could ever possibly read. But not only that, there was also the strange way they seemed to cancel each other out. So many people writing books documenting all the violent and devastating ways that ecological breakdown is real and getting worse, and yet then all the opposing corporate interests need to do is covertly (or not so covertly) commission an equal number of books that in blatant or subtle ways call such scientific facts into question. And of course not even an equal amount, just a small number of carefully argued counter-factual books can do the job, making it ever more unclear to the undiscerning reader what is real and what is fiction. In such matters books weren’t anywhere near the most guilty culprit. In newspapers, movies, television and most noticeably online, facts and fictions could scroll by indiscernibly, but the idea that it happens even with books, even with that beloved object, brought along with it a palatable sadness that at times made it difficult to continue writing. And she loved to write. Or at least sometimes she loved to write. If it didn’t do any good, did it really do any harm?

She was getting nowhere with the page in front of her so instead let her mind wander, starting to imagine who Veronika might be meeting and what they might be saying to each other. And then she started to do more than just imagine, she started writing it down:

V was late again. She was always late. The front door of the innocuous looking building had a two-step security protocol: first her fingerprint then her iris, then down the long hallway, through a secret panel in the wall, impossible to identify if you don’t start counting the panels from the very first one, and into a completely unlit elevator which takes you down into the earth the equivalent of a thirty story building. Why all this security every single time, she thinks to herself, but of course she knows why as the familiar elevator sinking feeling lodges in her stomach and she counts the minutes in complete darkness it takes to reach the bottom. Eight minutes. Always exactly eight minutes. For the uninitiated, eight minutes in pitch black freefall might induce panic, but no one was more initiated than V. The elevator smoothly reaches bottom where a second iris scan opens the doors and she’s back in the place she feels most at home, most vital. A long, calmly lit room where they meet at scheduled intervals and effectively work. To the best of her knowledge they are not under surveillance here, though the possibility always exists they might be someday soon. 
– You’re late. 
– I’m always late. 
– That doesn’t make it unworthy of comment. 
– Repetition is the soul of pedagogy. 
Y is staring at a large computer monitor. He has been staring at this computer screen, off and on, for a long as she can remember. On it is the magnification of a single drop of liquid. The liquid they have also been working on for as long as she can remember, still not knowing if it is only scientific fantasy or it might eventually be possible. And yet just a few drops of this fantasy liquid into a tanker full of oil would rapidly transform the oil into a clear, harmless, non-combustible substance, making it financially worthless. (Or at least that’s the hope.) A slight variation might also work on natural gas. And yet it never quite works. Is this the fantasy worth having? Is Y any more convinced it will eventually work than she is? Devoting oneself so fully to the potential of fantasies can also be a backhanded form of despair. 
– Any progress? 
– I don’t know. I haven’t tried it yet. I was waiting for you 
Together they walk to the far end of the room where they can watch the experiment through several panes of thick glass. A few times in the past the experiment has rather violently exploded so they no longer take any risks. Y sits down at the other computer and begins typing the exact same commands he has already typed so many times. As he does so a robot arm carefully positions itself over a petri dish of oil, dropping a single drop of their ongoing experiment directly into the center of it. As it gently ripples outward the darkly viscous liquid gradually turns clear. They’ve seen this happen before, each time getting their hopes up and being disappointed in turn, but this time it looks different. As it is programed to do, the petri dish automatically rolls into a slot in the wall and they both walk back to the large computer screen at the other end of the room. Immediately they can see that something is different, different in a good way. Y is smiling like she’s never seen him smile before. 
– I want to try. 
– Don’t you want to do the rest of the tests first? 
– This looks promising. I want to try. 
– All right. It’s your money. 
Together they walk back to the large rectangular window as the petri dish slides back into its former position. The robot arm lights a single match, dropping it directly into the middle of the petri dish and the flame is completely extinguished as if it had been dropped into a glass of cold water. This has never happened before. Y begins to smile and then laugh. 
– I think that’s it. 
– Are you sure. 
– I’m definitely not sure. But you saw it too. 
– I definitely saw it. 
– I think that’s it. 
Of course there’s also a problem. This liquid is exorbitantly expensive to produce, even a few drops. But there must be a way to keep that information secret. To transform the largest quantity of oil they can find and then simply threaten that they will also transform the rest. To hold that blade over the neck of the fossil fuel industry in order to find out what concessions they can wring out once they have them in a compromised position. But is it really the best strategy? Because once they reveal their hand they will be hunted mercilessly and their days will be numbered. Might it not be better to covertly transform a few carefully chosen oil supplies, leading those in charge to suspect it’s a naturally occurring phenomena, placing every aspect of their self-understanding of their world into question? 
They were now one step closer to obtaining a weapon but what strategy might put it to best use? This was a question to be analyzed and debated for many months to come. Tonight they would celebrate. Y had already sent out the message and the others would be here soon. V couldn’t quite believe it. She now realizes she had never completely believed it would work and perhaps she was wrong. Hadn’t she just seen it with her own eyes? The oil had turned clear and extinguished the flame.

It is late at night when Veronika arrives home and, though she doesn’t completely know why, Petra feels slightly guilty. Guilty for writing about Veronika behind her back. (But, then again, if Veronika is having secret political meetings behind Petra’s back maybe it’s only fair.) And was she really writing about Veronika? Could such a magical and far-fetched story actually be said to be based on anyone from real life? Also there was something undeniably exciting about it, about imagining the love of her life battling corporations and saving the world. In the imagination of literature anything was possible, but was this literature or just some doodle in the corner of a page whose sole purpose was to procrastinate the book she was actually supposed to be working on. (Or could such a doodle eventually become part of the book, be folded back into it.) Petra then wonders if it’s politically irresponsible to write this way, suggesting a few drops of magical scientific liquid can solve the world’s problems, rather than the long, hard toil of activism, dismantling capitalism and collectively finding some other way for humanity to organize itself. She had never thought of it as her job to offer up solutions. And yet, in the current predicament, shouldn’t everyone be working toward a solution, doing whatever they could practically all of the time. (Then again, we’re surrounded by capitalist fantasies. Why not have a few gloriously anti-capitalist fantasies as well.)


As well, you can find my first attempt at a preface here.


October 1, 2019

An excerpt from Authenticity is a Feeling


[What follows is an excerpt from Authenticity is a Feeling: My Life in PME-ART from the chapter concerning The DJ Who Gave Too Much Information:]

There are a few stories we tell (and don’t tell) in The DJ Who Gave Too Much Information that so clearly resonate with my own ongoing struggles with collaboration:

A story about the Fall. About how the Fall had over sixty members, and the reason there were so many is that Mark E. Smith kept firing them. It goes without saying that many former members were less than happy about this situation. Mark E. Smith didn’t write any music and didn’t play an instrument. He only wrote the (generally brilliant) lyrics and spoke/sang them, and also gave commands in the studio and onstage as to how precisely the songs should be played. (In general he wanted them played with greater simplicity and more ferocity.) So members who were no longer with the Fall had written all of their best-known riffs and melodies, and then were later replaced with others who did the same. But Mark E. Smith said they shouldn’t complain, that if past members were all so great then why hadn’t they done anything as great after they left. For Mark E. Smith, himself plus anyone was the Fall. Or as he once notoriously put it: “If it’s me and yer granny on bongos, it’s the Fall.”

I believe, or at least hope, that I’m a much gentler soul than Mark E. Smith was. (Or at least more Canadian. And I’m certain that I drink exponentially less.) But the evidence on the table shows that there are many who have worked with PME-ART in the past who no longer work with us. I certainly didn’t fire them, but perhaps there were some who wanted to continue further than they did. Or maybe, on the other hand, they really, really didn’t. I don’t actually know. Over the years there have not been many conversations along these lines. In one sense, this is simply our roots showing: we are structured like an (experimental) theatre company that works with creator/performers on a project-to-project basis. We invite people to work with us on a specific project and then see how it goes. But most of the work is so highly collaborative that this way of explaining the structure never feels completely right to me. I do gravitate toward the idea of “projects,” artistic endeavours with a beginning, middle, and end (as one can see from the way this book is structured). And, at times, I have also felt that me and anyone (and yer granny on bongos) is PME-ART. But most of the time I realize just how untrue this actually is.

(Perhaps all of this also reflects a decision semi-made all those years ago, after sitting in on the Forced Entertainment rehearsals, when I asked them if we should stick with the same people or open up to new collaborators. But it also seems to be a decision I am continuously making and unmaking. I can’t quite let it rest one way or the other.)

The story we tell in The DJ Who Gave Too Much Information about Pavement has to do with their final concert before they broke up (and also a few years before they once again reformed). The lead singer, Stephen Malkmus, walked onstage wearing handcuffs, holding his cuffed hands high above his head, and said: “If you want to know what it feels like to be in a band, this is what it feels like to be in a band.”

But there are also two stories about Pavement that I’ve never told in the show. The first is about how, after Pavement broke up, I read an interview with Malkmus in which he said that Pavement was basically all him: he wrote all the songs, wrote all the guitar parts, and often had to teach the rest of the band the songs several times before they were able to properly play them. (In their early days Pavement recorded a number of songs that were a bit too obviously influenced by the Fall.) Malkmus has now released a number of solo albums (some with his new band, the Jicks) that, in my humble opinion, are nowhere near as good as anything he made with Pavement. So the other members of Pavement clearly must have been contributing a great deal. (Also, to give Malkmus the benefit of the doubt, that was just one interview, maybe he was having a bad day.)

The second untold Pavement story is more apocryphal. I believe my favourite Pavement record is Wowee Zowee, made while they were still high off their first somewhat mainstream success, Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain, and its single “Cut Your Hair.” Wowee Zowee was their most experimental and adventurous album, pushing in different directions with every track while still holding it all together. It was also a relative flop. And I feel they were overly stung by its reception. After that they were less likely to take risks, more likely to play it safe. Somehow I’ve had analogous experiences with PME- ART. Some of our most adventurous works (Unrehearsed Beauty-Le Génie des autres, HOSPITALITY 3: Individualism Was A Mistake) have also been the hardest to tour. I always need to push myself back toward taking artistic risks again. To remember that Wowee Zowee is still the best Pavement record and the world just needs to catch up.

These stories about Pavement and the Fall are perhaps ways for me to reflect on my different position within the group, within any given PME-ART creation process. How I am both one of the gang and the boss, and I suppose it’s not really possible to be both. And yet that is the struggle of the work. The ethical/artistic struggle that can never entirely be solved. Since, at the same time, I’m never only in charge. Within a PME-ART process it is always possible for me to be outvoted or to change course based on the desires of the group. It’s happened often. How to be transparent about my role within the collaborative dynamic? I often hate the lived experience of collaboration but somehow still so fiercely believe in it, knowing it would be so much better if it was the opposite: if I loved collaboration then I wouldn’t even particularly need to believe in it.

(Marie Claire writes that, yes, within PME-ART the leadership is pretty clear, even though it is subject to discussion. But also, it was only through her learning The DJ Who Gave Too Much Information that she came to understand just how much Claudia and Caroline hold and lead the work with me. For the HOSPITALITY/HOSPITALITÉ series, this has been absolutely true.)

The story about Parenthetical Girls is one we used to tell in the show but for some reason don’t anymore. When I saw the Parenthetical Girls play in Berlin there was one moment that will always stick with me. During a split-second pause in a song (I no longer remember which one) they all smoothly and effortlessly switched instruments. The drummer stepped over his drum kit and slid into the guitar strap that was held open for him, as the guitarist stepped over to the keyboard, the keyboard player was handed the bass, and the bass player sat down behind the drums without missing a beat. Or at least that’s how I remember it. This is also a story about collaboration, about those ecstatic moments when it really works, all the pieces sliding together without a hitch. I wonder how many times they had to rehearse it before it worked, or if it happened that smoothly every night. A moment of grace that can only be achieved through fully working together. (This actually isn’t the kind of thing I usually like in performance. Too virtuosic for my tastes. But in this case it caught me off guard and lodged in my memory accordingly.)

Another story about Parenthetical Girls. In 2016 I had a residency in their hometown of Portland, Oregon. And, while there, I would tell everyone I met that I loved the band. And everyone responded that they knew frontman Zac Pennington, or one of the other members, but no one had ever seen them live or listened to any of their records. (Parenthetical Girls put on a phenomenal live show.) As someone said to me: “Of course I know Zac. He’s really good at karaoke. Is his band any good?” As the French expression goes: you can never be a prophet in your own village.


September 30, 2019

Movie Pitch


An action adventure movie in which the “hero” – in fight scene after fight scene – battles and often kills hundreds upon hundreds of faceless, nameless “villains.” But then, in the sequel, decides to travel the world and, without revealing his identity, meet with the families of everyone he killed.


September 12, 2019

Some passages from The Feminism of Uncertainty

Some passages from The Feminism of Uncertainty by Ann Snitow:


Everyone who engages in the tragicomedy of activism will negotiate the stretch between speculative desire and the shortfall of action in her or his own way. Happy endings require that one set sail toward a near enough horizon and keep one’s eyes off the inevitable: failure, confusion, and the falling out of comrades. There is no right way to balance these things…


One can’t help remarking that internecine fights are often the hottest – because of the tearing apart of what is also – in some ways – connected, and because other more powerful enemies are further off, even harder to imagine as subject to change.


...the strange line we draw between work and play


The women retold tales Dorthy had loved about the triumph of eros over thanatos, like the one about a woman who falls off an ocean liner and, some hours later, when they discover she’s gone and turn back, they find her because she’s still swimming.


In an anecdote she loved, a young man decides to kill himself, jumps off a high bridge, changes his mind in the air, straightens his body out into a dive and survives.


The unorganized are always the most vulnerable to cynical or instrumental manipulation. They can’t produce social institutions that shape or interpret political experience.


…things come from outside, and people make use of what comes, even from tainted hands.


How obvious this sounds now, how rare and shocking then. The courage it took to demand a new place in history can no longer be imagined.


Words are their way of denouncing mayhem and of living in it. As far as I know, writing puts power and powerlessness together like no other experience. As far as I know.


I live with a composer, Daniel Goode, who has a piece called “Finding the Unison Sentence.” A group of people are to start talking, each one talking continuously, all trying to find a sentence they want to say together. I used to think the piece was a failure, since the groups never came close to unison, petering out instead. But the composer suggested that on the contrary, perhaps the piece shows that there is no unison sentence.


People make change; it’s never only a matter of macro forces which no one can predict or influence; we are, gulp, in some sense implicated in the construction of our world. Art is one way into imagining something different, activism another. Always people are imagining, wanting, and acting from somewhere in themselves, or rather from often unacknowledged multiple states of self.


There is always the personal question of how to survive being forgotten or aggressively misunderstood. Inevitably, with longevity or luck, one outlives one’s formative moment. In the case of those who were a part of ecstatic, hopeful, utopian movements, this common tragedy of the mismatch between an individual’s life and the arc of history is likely to be particularly acute. For them, forgetting goes beyond personal loss to the loss of the whole world.

But one step beyond these feelings, that one’s acts and words of protest have been specially chosen for neglect and insult, lies another more reliable experience feminists share: in modernity, feminism keeps returning. Though obscurity and abuse dog feminism, self-conscious feminist struggles are constantly finding new forms. Even if each return is greeted as if it were for the first time – the New Woman again and again – still she keeps coming. And she keeps bringing back some version of feminist resistance.


Dinnerstein offered a subtle, revealing account of the deals men and women have traditionally struck with each other, including what was for me the first intelligible, usable explanation for women’s shamed acquiescence in male power, and our ambivalence about our own uses of force. She saw the female monopoly of infant care as decisive in all the gender asymmetry of social life that follows. It is a woman who introduces us to the world before we can recognize her as a limited, mortal being like ourselves. Struggling out from under the control of this first alluring, seemingly all-powerful person is the biggest fight we ever fight. Exhausted, we fling ourselves out of the sea full of mermaids onto the dry land of minotaurs who roar and strut but who nonetheless seem much more tamable and rational in contrast to the mother still stalking in an infantile layer of our personality.

Dinnerstein argues that male power in the public sphere feels right, even when terrible; at least male tyranny stands on the firm ground of adult mastery and will; at least it seems solid in its denial of absurdity, limitation, and death. For the most part, public projects are carried on without the constant modifying influence of doubts. One boldly builds the bomb: one doesn’t let anxiety about how to stow radioactive garbage slow one down. Worrying about the waste products of human efforts is somebody else’s job, and that irritating, nagging somebody is a woman. Men agree to build the world while women agree both to support them in this struggle and to give vent, like harmless jesters, to the knowledge both sexes have that “there is something trivial and empty, ugly and sad, in what he does.” A proverb records this bargain: Men must work and women must weep.

In spite of feminism’s extraordinary energy and collective will, which did indeed change so much, hatred and fear of women is entrenched, pervasive within us as well as without. The Mermaid and the Minotaur didn’t rescue me from this fact, or from my vulnerability to policing by men, but Dinnersteinian knowledge shifted the burden, making my common womanish feelings of self-doubt, foolishness, inconsequence into a shared – perhaps an alterable – condition.

Such a public airing of women’s often unconscious, usually private griefs went a long way toward explaining where the powerful rage of feminism comes from in our time. The ancient symbiosis between men and women, with its traditional divisions of labor, was never fully consensual, never reliable. In modernity, the old arrangements show increasing strain. Women notice and suffer from this crisis more. They are now supposed to do both men’s and women’s traditional work, an emotional and physical overload neither honored nor supported by the culture. Because they are the ones who were dependent on that symbiosis to recognize themselves as valuable and whole, they feel bitter when men retreat from the traditional responsibilities of the old bargain. But finally, however much they depend on it, women lost more under the old regime, sacrificing sexual impulse and worldly freedom. From that dear old familiar system’s decay they have the least to lose.


August 28, 2019

Vilma Espín: "Well, there are always some who fail."


A meeting had been called for November 28, but I didn’t give it much importance. It was just one more meeting, I thought. But it turned out to be preparations of all the action groups for November 30. On the morning of the 29th, Frank told me the boat had left Mexico, so we were to have everything ready for the early morning hours of the 30th.

I had many things to do, including giving the action groups the addresses of the “medicine chests.” All the arrangements were last minute. Things were done in a big hurry, but the secret was tightly kept right up to the very moment of the action.

Everyone had been informed it was a trial run, a test. But at 6 a.m. we were all told, “This is not a drill. The boat has already left, and it should land today.” It was scheduled to arrive at 7 a.m., and that’s when all the events of November 30 began.

I was to stay home in order to give a tape we’d recorded the night before to a man who was going to play it on national radio through a telephone hookup. The tape reported Fidel’s arrival and called on the people to rise up in revolt.

But the tape was never broadcast, since the man who was supposed to do it was so scared he burned it… Well, there are always some who fail. But almost everything else was carried out exactly as planned.

– Vilma Espín, on the November 30 action from the Cuban revolution


August 23, 2019

the lie is no longer necessary


Democracy was a lie capitalism told the world in order to win the propaganda war against communism. Now that communism is gone the lie is no longer necessary.

When capitalism is threatened it turns into fascism to stamp out resistance. And our current ecological collapse threatens the validity of capitalism more than anything that’s come before.


August 20, 2019

the first thirty pages


Writing the first thirty pages of a new book and then completely abandoning it seems - if the frequency I have done so is any indication - to be absolutely my favourite genre of writing.


August 9, 2019

Music I like perhaps mainly because it makes me feel a little bit better about getting older


Between some Robert Forster solo records (Songs to Play, Inferno) and some Edwyn Collins solo records (Understated, Badbea) I no longer think getting old in rock 'n' roll is such a bad thing.

(When I posted this on social media someone also mentioned Peter Perrett's How The West Was Won.)

(And of course, now and always, Robert Wyatt's Comicopera.)

(Also, perhaps somewhat related, I've always loved Boy George's 2013 single King of Everything.)

And since I now realize this post is mostly about aging, out of curiosity, I thought I would take a moment to look it up:

Robert Wyatt was born in 1945
Peter Perrett was born in 1952
Robert Forster was born in 1957
Edwyn Collins was born in 1959
Boy George was born in 1961

(I was born in 1971)


August 7, 2019

Four passages from Stage Fright, Animals, and Other Theatrical Problems


Four passages from Stage Fright, Animals, and Other Theatrical Problems by Nicholas Ridout:

The experience of this theatre-goer, then, is one in which anticipation gives way to disappointment, in which pleasure is bound up with anxiety and even perhaps pain and illness, in which acting is confused with vulgar interruption, in which the transcendent possibilities of the world’s greatest dramatic poetry appear to pass by almost unnoticed in a ‘deliberate monotone’, and success appears as dependent upon the audience as it is upon the artistic capability of the actor. Yet for all this, for all the confusion, anxiety and disappointment, it is an experience which he cannot bear to bring to an end, and to which he will repeatedly seek to return.

This ambivalence certainly characterizes my own relationship with the theatre. Theatre, being queasy, makes me queasy. That such queasiness is widespread, that we find theatre uncomfortable, compromised, boring, conventional, bourgeois, overpriced and unsatisfactory most of the time, is I think not only generally accepted as true, but also generally accepted as part and parcel of the whole business. Theatre’s failure, when theatre fails, is not anomalous, but somehow, perhaps constitutive. What I want to argue here is that it is precisely in theatre’s failure, our discomfort with it, its embeddedness in capitalist leisure, its status as a bourgeois pastime that its political value is to be found. Theatre is a privileged place for the actual experience of a failure to evade or transcend capital.

Of course, never in the history of theatre has the social position of the actor been so similar to the social situation of the character: they are, at last, contemporaries, and more than that, members of the same social class. This means that the ‘actual life’ the actor is required to simulate is close enough to her own for her life to become a private resource for public display. While Diderot feared that the actor’s over-identification with the emotions of the character would be detrimental to theatrical representation because it would lead the actor to lose control of her technique, the new danger for the actor is that their new technique, along with the new forms and subject matter of bourgeois naturalist drama, might permit so intense an over-identification, that the actor might no longer be required to act at all, but instead just effectively ‘be’ a version of herself.

McKinnie points out that the theatre is an economic subsector in which work is clearly alienated. Picking up on this perception one notes how the employee’s time is regulated with rigorous force by bells and curtains, how both the rehearsal process and the nightly routine of performances are dominated by repetitive activity, how wage levels are set in structures of extreme differentiation, how these are maintained by a huge pool of surplus labour which renders effective industrial organization impossible, and how the core activity itself is both a metaphor of alienation and alienation itself: the actor is paid to appear in public speaking words written by someone else and executing physical movement which has at the very least usually been subjected to intense and critical scrutiny by a representative of the management who effectively enjoys the power of hiring and firing. The actor is both sign and referent of the wholly alienated wage slave.


August 5, 2019

Jorge Herralde on running the publishing house Anagrama


This job is wonderful, though it’s not easy, can be difficult, but by its nature it offers great joy and huge disappointments. It’s a roller coaster. It’s, as I said in an article once, about dolling out and receiving pain. Dolling out pain to so many manuscripts that one has to reject. If it’s an author you have no ties to, they experience the pain, but when it’s an author who has published several books with you but you decide not to go with, it’s painful for the publisher and even more so for the author. And then one receives pain, when there are misunderstandings with authors who are very much to the publisher’s liking but who decide to listen to siren songs, which can be deafening.

– Jorge Herralde, on running the publishing house Anagrama


August 2, 2019

Jessa Crispin Quote


“Don’t end up like Bertolt Brecht.”

That seems like horrible advice. Shouldn’t the goal of life be to end up as close to Bertolt Brecht as possible. I need a little context.

“When Brecht moved to Los Angeles, he had such a difficult time learning English that he gave up. It soured him, being unable to communicate, and he started to hate America. Read his journals, you’ll see.”

For Stefan, every topic of conversation circles back to Bertolt Brecht, the way for me every topic of conversation circles back to William James. I take his point, which is made in impeccable English, shaming me further. I have been stubborn about learning to speak German. It feeds into my unsettled state. Why learn German if I’m only going to be here for a few years? But then how can I know if I want to stay unless I assimilate a little and give the place a chance? It is mortifying when someone addresses me in German I can’t follow, and yet part of me likes the little bubble I live in, the way I can tune out conversations on the subway because I can’t follow them anyway.

“Read Brecht’s journals,” Stefan repeats. “And learn German.”

– Jessa Crispin, The Dead Ladies Project


July 31, 2019

Susanne Moser: "But it’s basically the idea of keeping the Anthropocene to a really thin layer in the geologic record and being one among many species that live on this planet ..."


Laurie Mazur: With the story of climate change, there's so much loss: loss of the familiar, of places we love, of the stable climate that gave us a huge boost as a species. Are there things to be gained as well from moving out of that certainty?

Susanne Moser: I certainly think so. The loss is tremendous and heartbreaking on so many levels, both the human suffering and the wiping out of other species, the loss of places, seasons. And it strikes me that it seems so much easier to imagine these losses than to imagine that we could change ourselves and create a different form of living on the planet.

It is really crucial that we learn to imagine what we could gain. If we can't imagine it, it’s more difficult to create. It'll make us dependent on accidents, serendipities.

When [atmospheric concentration of carbon passed] 415 parts per million, people were saying that we had never had these kinds of atmospheric conditions during the time that homo sapiens have been on this planet. And we’re now moving to double that, and beyond.

So we’re having to deal with completely new environmental conditions, and we will be changed by that. Can we imagine that? No. Can we try to imagine that we’re not just clobbering each other over the head or blowing each other up? I can imagine something different.

Laurie Mazur: When you imagine it, what is the best thing about that new world?

Susanne Moser: That we will be a nondominant species again. I'm not the first one to say that. But it’s basically the idea of keeping the Anthropocene to a really thin layer in the geologic record and being one among many species that live on this planet within the confines of its resources, without damaging it, and in fact making it part of our species’ purpose to recreate and nourish the conditions for the continuity of life.

In my highest aspirations for the human species, that’s what we will be: servants of life.

[From Despairing about the Climate Crisis? Read This.]


July 28, 2019

Lidija Haas Quote


At a party, a woman in her twenties, someone you find slightly intimidating, tells you that you and others your age (mid-thirties) are being used as “beards” by men who employ your friendship as a convenient badge of feminism while behaving poorly, when your back is turned, toward younger, less professionally established women. The claim doesn’t seem to be an attack; she’s trying to help you make more informed decisions. Your first reaction is, You think I’m established? Your second: How could I possibly know if what she describes is happening? And third: It’s probably true. (This last strikes you as an alternate instance of what the psychoanalyst Christopher Bollas calls “the unthought known.”) Can people abuse power they don’t see themselves as possessing? All the better, probably. Not seeing power must be a function of having it.

- Lidija Haas, #ETTU?


July 24, 2019

Ursula K. Le Guin Quote


The validity of the promise, even promise of indefinite term, was deep in the grain of Odo’s thinking; though it might seem that her insistence on freedom to change would invalidate the idea of promise or vow, in fact the freedom made the promise meaningful. A promise is a direction taken, a self-limitation of choice. As Odo pointed out, if no direction is taken, if one goes nowhere, no change will occur. One’s freedom to choose and to change will be unused, exactly as if one were in jail, a jail of one’s own building, a maze in which no one way is better than any other. So Odo came to see the promise, the pledge, the idea of fidelity, as essential to the complexity of freedom.

– Ursula K. Le Guin, The Dispossessed


July 21, 2019

Erin Hill Quote


I have been thinking about sharing, it is a pillar, is a gesture, and I have been trying to notice its smallest interactions. Upstairs wakes us.

The birds were awake when I was awake, 7:18, that’s new for Berlin sunrises.

I don’t think the Share button on Facebook is actually for sharing, doesn’t sharing involve an intended receiver?

The share button is for spreading, and spreading is territorial, is taking up space.

Sharing is fundamentally about survival.

I don’t believe myself in what I’ve written here… but it’s early.

– Erin Hill, Real Life Magic


June 27, 2019

early rules for an eventual novel


To let the book ferment in my head for years and years before I actually start writing it.

Write a little bit, think a lot, write a little bit more.

“I hated the idea that there can be such a thing as a masterpiece and I hated the fact that I wanted to try to write one.”

A novel with many storylines, many loose ends dangling – and some of the loose ends are tied up, some are partly resolved to varying degrees, and some are left dangling – so as you continue to read you are always unsure which storylines will be completed and which will be left incomplete.

A novel about kindness and tenderness.

A satire of a novel about environmental collapse.

Trying to write a really long book.

The world needs people. (Or at least it used to. Perhaps what it needs now is in fact considerably less people.)

This isn’t science fiction therefore we don’t need to explain how the kittens first develop telepathy.

I didn’t invent sex.

When she was young she of course wanted to be famous.

A novel without a single protagonist, with so many protagonists it’s impossible to keep count.

A story about how millennia ago evil magicians planted oil deep in the earth so that it would someday be discovered and destroy humanity.

Never again: ripped from the headlines. No more: ripped from the headlines.

Letting ideas percolate in my head for many years before eventually writing them down.

“I think I will eventually write another book, someday, but I’m not working on anything at the moment and have no immediate plans to do so.”

I thought I would try to write about the emotional complexity of sex, which isn’t necessarily something I know very much about.

A person who sets up a museum in their home.

A horse that climbs into a boat.

Reading a non-fiction book and encountering a minor character, a character mentioned only in passing, but who is clearly portrayed as despicable, and then gradually realizing the character is based on you.

Being a public figure whose private life does not match up with their public image. The fear of being exposed or being blackmailed.

Spending years trying to find your idol, finding him, at which point he attempts to scam you out of money.

Not actually writing a novel, but fantasizing about writing a novel.

“I never found out if that book actually existed.”

“Climate change is so interesting because it, more so than other crises, reveals the neoliberal demand for "individual responsibility" as being an ideology whose sole function is to protect the ruling class from collective action.”

[Bonus: you can find my possible first attempt at the preface here.]


Aravinda Ananda Quote


One of the processes for dismantling white supremacy is, oddly, building up white people’s sense of fundamental worth and belonging. Not entitlement or superiority, but a deeper feeling that they do belong among other humans and will not be discarded as they learn. The last thing I want to do right now in my stage of racial identity development is hold space for white people; I actually want to get really far away from them. But you can’t shame someone out of a shame aversion, and so working with white people has become very important for me. Caucusing in order to do that kind of hard work of drilling down into white assumptions and fragility in a way that can hold people and bring them through the work has been so valuable. It responds to that call to “hold your people.”

- Aravinda Ananda, from Turn This World Inside Out: The Emergence of Nurturance Culture


June 22, 2019

Nora Samaran Quote


Men with avoidant attachment styles may not notice the confusing nonverbal signalling they are actively doing very early on that prevents safety from happening with women they want to nurture and support, who may become more and more imbalanced towards them in response.

Since ‘absence of nurturance’ is just an absence, it can be hard to recognize early. When early avoidant responses to requests for closeness are not noticed as such, attachment science teaches us, ‘protest behaviour’ – the distress when needs aren’t met – may get louder over time, in ways both people are contributing to and neither understand. It becomes all too easy in a patriarchal culture that values rugged individualism over interdependence to call an anxiously-attached woman ‘crazy’ without noticing the parallel avoidant responses that are contributing, that are ‘crazymaking’. In other words, it takes two to enter into the avoidant-anxious trap, but patriarchal culture normalizes an avoidant style and stigmatizes an anxious style, wherever it appears.

None of this is worthy of shame; fundamentally, all of the insecure styles are based in an unquestioned belief that people will not be there for them and that nurturance is somehow a problem rather than wholly desirable and good. Avoidant attachers ‘know’ from an early age that the ice will break, the chair will collapse, best not to try. Insecure attachment styles are not chosen, are not conscious or intentional, and it is an understatement to say they are not easy to change. They deserve understanding, compassion, and empathy.

And yet living without loving, secure attachment bonds is the loneliest experience in the human repertoire.

- Nora Samaran, The Opposite of Rape Culture is Nurturance Culture


June 18, 2019

The more novels I write...


The more novels I write the more deeply I question the ethics of writing fiction. (Perhaps this has something to do with taking things from life and from the world and transforming them without the ability to give proper credit.)


May 27, 2019

the exact same feeling


I have this overwhelming feeling of failure. Then I think, probably no matter what I had done, or how it had gone, it would have changed nothing: I would have had the exact same feeling of failure. Because I still would have failed to completely change the world (for the better.)


May 24, 2019

The purpose of stories is to help us learn how to live.


The purpose of stories is to help us learn how to live. So many of the stories we currently learn from, often from a very young age, are provided to us through popular culture, through movies and television. The creators of these stories most often center them around conflict. Conflict is a part of life, therefore learning how to work through conflict could be one useful approach to any given culture’s stories. However, so many of our popular culture’s versions of conflict focus on a hero and a villain, or some variation on that pattern, and the story ends when the hero defeats the villain, and the viewer is expected to most identify with the protagonist, with the hero. This is no way to have any sort of general understanding as to how we should approach conflict, and yet having been raised on such stories our subconscious is shot through with them, and we see the results of this all the time, in how the people around us approach every sort of interaction and situation. Vanquishing an enemy is no way to resolve a conflict.


May 21, 2019

dian marino Quote


I advocate difference but I also advocate connectedness. To me being different in a creative way means that I’m willing to connect my difference to other people’s differences. That can be a paradoxical connection – that people would want to be clear about their different positions, where their differences are located, and then also wish to figure things out collaboratively, collectively. Frequently when we encounter difference, we don’t explore it; we try to manage it. Perhaps we can search for common threads while we appreciate our differences.

– dian marino, Wild Garden: Art, Education, and the Culture of Resistance


April 18, 2019

Carmen Maria Machado Quote


In her essay “On Liking Women,” trans lesbian critic Andrea Long Chu completely dismembers this idea, and asks: what if it doesn’t matter? What if queerness or transness is about moving towards desire, and not affirming some inherent trait? Why is the lack-of-choice narrative necessary? This is obviously a very controversial idea, but I find it bracing, exciting, even moving: the idea that one might choose what gives them pleasure no matter their instincts or body or social constructs, and no one should have anything to say about that. I’m not saying all queerness is chosen, but rather that we should be open to that possibility.

- Carmen Maria Machado

[You can find the rest of the interview here.]


April 2, 2019

Possible preface for a novel tentatively entitled: Amateur Kittens Dreaming Solar Energy


I’ve been thinking about how I don’t write about sex anymore. It has something to do with my gender. I am reading a book written by a woman that contains plenty of sex. I think: if I wrote this exact same sex in the exact same way it would still be different. It would read as male fantasy. It would be written with patriarchy sitting on my shoulder, egging me on. It goes without saying that I most often try to write in a manner that feels opposite to this. Which is perhaps only one of the factors that has resulted in my current practice ending up a bit sexless. But all the other factors have considerably more to do with my actual life.

I hated the idea that there can be such a thing as a masterpiece and I hated the fact that I wanted to try to write one. I also hated the idea that there can be no such a thing as a masterpiece. The world I’m writing about and within is more or less this world, but with one significant detail shifted, in that it is a world in which the only sex we know is cuddling. (However, there might also be a few other ways this written world differs from our unwritten one.) When you want to have sex with someone who doesn’t necessarily want to have sex with you – meaning, at least in this story, when you want to cuddle with someone who doesn’t necessarily want to cuddle with you – there is of course a certain understandable degree of disappointment. Learning how to gracefully breath through such disappointment is another question I hope we might eventually get around to.

There is a cartoon I saw on the internet. A corporate executive sitting behind a large wooden desk. In the first panel he says: “You want coal? We own the mines.” In the second and third panels he says: “You want oil and gas? We own the wells.” Fourth and fifth panels: “You want nuclear energy? We own the uranium.” Sixth panel: “You want solar power?” Seventh: “We own the… eh… ah…” And in the final panel: “Solar power isn’t feasible.” (No one owns the sun.)

In his book The Accursed Share, Georges Bataille writes about how everything on earth, all the growth and energy, originates from the sun. And there is always an extra part, beyond what is needed for human survival, that he designates with the French expression the devil’s share (or the accursed share.) We can use this extra energy to make art or we can use it to make war. How we use it says so much about what we value as a culture. I am writing all this from memory. I read the book so long ago. I will have to look at it all again to verify. Books one read so long ago are so explicitly faded in our memories of them.

I have been thinking so much about solar energy, about how much of what I read, especially from a mainstream perspective, seems misplaced. When I read that we will not be able to generate enough energy using solar and wind, I feel they are completely missing the point. The points are: 1) That these new, sustainable technologies will force us to use less, will demonstrate – on a real, lived, experiential basis – that resources are renewable but not infinite. 2) That there is more autonomy, and less greedy profit, in a decentralized power grid. 3) That the many exorbitant expenses of polluting the air and water are simply not being factored into the standard calculations. Environmental devastation is expensive on every level.

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

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

There is a novel I have never read about talking human ears. The reason I have never read it is that it has yet to be translated into English. It was written in Danish by Per Hojholt and is entitled Auricula. I often think about it. If someone could write a novel about talking human ears perhaps I am not letting my own writerly imagination roam freely enough. If I can write about absolutely anything, I ask myself, why exactly am I writing about this. Whatever the this might be in any particular instance. (I frequently ask myself a similar question about the world.) As I’ve read online, the premise of Auricula is that “time very briefly came to a stop 7 September 1915, which led to the birth of a great many ears (yes, ears) which floated around and got involved in especially the arts of the time.” On Goodreads, Nicolai’s review of Auricula is brief and to the point: “Not a very good novel, but an outstanding book.”

When I see a picture on the internet of miles and miles of solar panels – for example a solar farm in the desert – I think to myself: no, that’s completely wrong, they have it completely wrong, that’s completely the wrong model. I have no particular expertise or experience upon which to base this opinion. It’s simply a hunch. To me it looks like the old model and we need a new model. I of course feel the same way about the novel. Which I suppose is why I’m finding it so difficult to let the actual narrative begin. I prefer characters without names, perhaps for similar reasons that I prefer cuddling to sex, though sometimes I still have sex, or at least I used to. But there is an obvious problem with a character that doesn’t have a name. You have to find a way to refer to them which doesn’t create any further confusion in the reader than strictly necessary. When a character is speaking about themselves in the first person it feels natural that they would rarely refer to themselves by name, so in this mode the difficulty rarely arises. But I would hate to limit myself to first person for only this reason.

The story hasn’t started yet but it will. Since I keep telling myself that I am writing a novel and not an essay. (Though I have always liked the novels best that at times verge on becoming essays. Or at least I used to.) The world needs to change. Therefore, the novel also needs to change. But perhaps what is required of the novel is not that it change but that it disappear. That it become something else. The energy contained in fossil fuels once came from sunlight. The energy contained in literature once came from songs and rituals and stories and fables. Songs and stories once helped us understand how we should live. I do not see how the novel currently does any such thing. In a sense, we already know from which direction we came and therefore, coming full circle, in which direction we should return. But now I feel I’m becoming preachy and moralistic and, since I continue to write this novel, also very much a hypocrite. What kind of knowledge can be fully lived and in this way travel from generation to generation? What kind of knowledge will this novel not contain?


March 29, 2019

Claudia La Rocco Quote


I wake up and it is like I have always been. All of them staring with their big cow eyes, pale frames flush against one another. I don’t know enough then to know why I shouldn’t like these faces and of course in fact I also love one of them. The pelican sucks the world down into itself. There is no before. I wake up.

When they ask Jacob Wren to name a difference between him and a person he loves, he says I feel completely different from everyone in almost every way but know there is no way this can be factually true. Also, I fear I don’t really love anyone. A simpler answer: I always drink coffee black.

The rogue AI robot was pretty angry by the time we found her. She was holed up in Toledo, and she made a point of saying, and this is a direct quote, that she didn’t think it was worth wasting her whole fucking life just to satisfy some ridiculous fantasy about staying alive forever, whatever the fuck that means. End quote. She swore a lot.

The monster when she opened her wings was the palest, most beautiful of reds. What you might say was saffron. She was sexually insatiable. She was immortal. She was cursed.

Or maybe, my avatar says, just maybe I am an alien intelligence sent to inhabit a viable life form in order to help, uh, shake things up a bit on this backwater planet, by which, yes, I mean Earth, you’ve read enough science-fiction to know that I am in fact talking about your stupid planet.

– Claudia La Rocco, petit cadeau


March 24, 2019

Kari Marie Norgaard Quote


This state of affairs brings to mind the work of historical psychologist Robert J. Lifton. Lifton’s research on Hiroshima survivors describes people in states of shock, unable to respond rationally to the world around them. He calls this condition “psychic numbing.” Following his initial studies in Japan, much of Lifton’s work has been devoted to describing the effect of nuclear weapons on human psychology, particularly for Americans (see, for example, Hiroshima in America: Fifty Years of Denial). Out of this project, Lifton describes people today as living in an “age of numbing” due to their awareness of the possibility of extinction (from the presence of both nuclear weapons and the capacity for environmental degradation). In this usage, numbing comes not from a traumatic event, but from a crisis of meaning. Lifton says that all of us who live in the nuclear age experience some degree of psychic numbing. We know that our lives can end at any moment, yet we live as though we do not know this. Lifton calls this condition the “absurdity of the double life.” We live with “the knowledge on the one hand that we, each of us, could be consumed in a moment together with everyone and everything we have touched or loved, and on the other our tendency to go about business as usual – continue with our routines as though no such threat existed.” According to Lifton, the absurdity of the double life profoundly affects our thinking, feeling, identity, sense of empowerment, political imagination, and morality. He writes, “If at any moment nothing might matter, who is to say that nothing matters now?”

– Kari Marie Norgaard, Living in Denial: Climate Change, Emotions, and Everyday Life


March 12, 2019

the brevity of astrology


I don't know so much about astrology, though I do hear a fair bit about it these days, but I read a tweet this morning about my sign and it unnerved me that my entire personality could so easily be summed up in so few words:

"cancer is ruled by the moon and wants and struggles with wanting to process and feel their emotional vulnerability + connect with others, while also remaining elusive and always somewhat hidden + isolated from the world"

(I suspect the book I'm currently writing is almost entirely summed up in these words + literature + politics. But who needs literature and politics. Maybe I should dedicate my life to the brevity of astrology.)


March 8, 2019

Peter Linebaugh on Silvia Federici


As a woman and a feminist she observes the production of the commons in the everyday labours of reproduction - the washing, cuddling, cooking, consoling, sweeping, pleasing, cleaning, exciting, mopping, reassuring, dusting, dressing, feeding children, having children and caring for the sick and the elderly.

- Peter Linebaugh on Silvia Federici


January 17, 2019

A possible premonition for my future...


“He is currently working on a novel about solar energy, telepathic kittens and cuddling.”


January 14, 2019

Where I Come From We Show Love


I said to myself: you should write about how much you like cuddling. How come you’ve never written about that before? Is it too personal? Too intimate? You’ve written so much about loneliness and yet hardly anything about how much you like cuddling. But, then again, do I really have anything to say about it? Just that I like it and then my mind goes blank trying to figure out what else might be said. Also asking myself if the reason I don’t write about it is because I’m not sure I’ve ever really experienced cuddling not connected to sex. Or in a way that wasn’t sexual. And so I wonder: what is it exactly that I’m saying I really like?


At the Noname concert she’s introducing the band and starts by introducing the keyboard player (sorry I don’t remember his name), and we applaud for him, but then she suggests we haven't applauded heartily enough, that we should applaud more enthusiastically, saying: “where I come from we show love.” And right away I feel the anxiety that where I come from it was the opposite. People were awkward, insecure and timid, and I often experienced this as them being cold. I think: where I come from we didn’t show love and of course fear that I still don’t. And don’t think I’ll ever really be able to embody anything like it or know what’s an appropriate expression. But in that moment Noname isn’t exactly talking about love, she’s talking about applause and cheering, so of course we all applaud and cheer for the keyboard player, and then for the rest of the band as each one is introduced.


I’ve decided to call this a short story. And as I’m writing it I find myself wondering: is there some way that writing a short story might change my life? If I write that I really like cuddling – and people who know me, but who don’t know I really like cuddling, read it – would that change anything. What kind of confession is it exactly? It doesn’t seem like much, but I find myself unusually reluctant to write about it, so that must mean it’s actually quite a lot. I’ve been writing and publishing for about thirty years now and have gradually come to the conclusion that nothing I write or publish changes my life very much, or at all. But is it very much or at all? Why don’t I quite know?


I could maybe start again from another angle. I was writing a novel about war, about a utopia surrounded by war, and I was doing a great deal of research. All that reading and thinking about war became so undeniably bleak. When I began writing novels, many years ago, I promised myself I wasn’t going to write depressing novels but now, about fifteen years after declaring this goal, I was somewhat falling short of it. I felt confident that my war novel wasn’t only depressing, that it was also strange and thoughtful and funny and defined by some slight yet sharp sliver of hope, but it was also clearly depressing. And I thought: if this book is extra-depressing when compared to the others, then whatever I write next should be extra-not-depressing to compensate, and what could I think of that I found extra-not-depressing and the only thing I could think of was cuddling. (That’s not entirely true, I also considered writing about solar energy.) But what kind of novel, or short story, could one possibly write about cuddling? There is something so static about it. And yet isn’t so much of the problem with the world, and with art, embodied by the fact that’s it’s so easy to imagine writing a novel about war and so difficult to imagine writing a novel about cuddling?


Someone posts on social media, something like: “touch deprivation is a real thing, we should be talking about it more.” And I try to get my mind around it: touch deprivation is a real thing. Also, on the internet, I remember reading about a “loneliness epidemic,” a phrase that feels to me almost satirical but at the same time all-too-real. (The time I spend online is often spent in a kind of mesmerized loneliness.) There is a loneliness epidemic and it is on the rise. And loneliness is bad for your health. And people can even, in some sense, die from it. And I wonder what it would really take for me to believe such things as facts. Or what community feels like? Or what solidarity feels like? How reading an article, or even a single sentence, on the internet lodges inside your brain and makes you see the world differently, even if you are not entirely convinced that the article or sentence is true. Or in precisely what sense it is true. I’ve thought this before, and think it now again, that the problem is I see my loneliness as my own, as my own private problem, and not as part of some larger social loneliness that we all must try to work towards solving together. I have never tried internet dating, and wonder if the reason I have never tried it is that I don’t want to think of all the people on the internet as real. I would find it almost unbearably sad. But of course they are real. Or most of them are real. And it’s almost terrifying the degree to which I’d prefer not to see it.


January 11, 2019

"Strangely enough my ambition tends to come in moments of depression." / A few passages from David Bowie: An Oral History


[I thought I had never been that interested in David Bowie. But I guess reading David Bowie: An Oral History proved me wrong. Here are a few passages:]

He played with the idea of being a rock star but he was very good at sabotaging that role. And at the moment when he looked like he might become Billy Joel or Elton John - that moment when you get accepted and therefore you are fixed, he walked away. He had to work out: How can I be famous; how can I be that star that I want to be, but also be able to keep changing? Because of course the very consequences often of keeping changing is that you ruin your popularity because those that love you want you to be the same. So he managed to be absolutely the same all the time, always David Bowie, by constantly changing.
- Paul Morley (on seventies Bowie)

His self-analysis was lacerating. He talked a lot about his sense of self, and one of the things that came across, and this was not false modesty, was his constant anxiety that what he was doing wasn’t quite interesting enough. Here was a person who seriously pushed himself, and constantly reevaluated his contribution, and he found himself lacking. Blessing and curse.
- Angus MacKinnon

Even when he was out of favour, he was aware of his out-of-favourness and he was exploiting that because to try not to be out of favour would have been deeply uncool.
- Paul Morley

My biggest mistake during the ‘80s was trying to anticipate what the audience wanted.
- David Bowie

Strangely enough my ambition tends to come in moments of depression.
- David Bowie