December 27, 2020

Some sentences from my past year


The technology and narrative we call “money” transforms the finite number of things a person can claim to possess into a seemingly infinite number of things and possibilities. In this way it also transforms finite possibilities for injustice into endless possibilities for injustice, which more and more we are realizing will soon reach some catastrophic limit if we let it.

I feel like the algorithms are gently corralling me toward more and more capitalist music.

Over the years I’ve gradually come to the perspective that useful activism is much more about what you’re for and not nearly as much about what you’re against. (But it is still absolutely necessary to clearly name the things you’re fighting against.)

The people who want change don’t have power and the people who have power don’t want change.

Activism isn’t about what’s possible but about what’s impossible. About taking something we’re repeatedly told is impossible and bringing it into reality.

There is one part of me that doesn’t want to write and just wants to be completely aware and painfully alive to everything that’s happening right now. And there’s another part of me that’s losing my mind because I seem unable to write.

When you’re a careerist, everything looks like a career opportunity.

When you see an argument, you don’t view it in isolation. You also look at the source. What they’ve said in the past. Whether or not you trust them. A solid argument from an untrustworthy source can at times be even more suspicious.

To be honest, I write because I want to change the world. But the evidence that I’m succeeding is not very convincing.

Alongside my madness, there also something about me that is almost too sane.

As things continue to get worse, paradoxically, there might be greater opportunities for change, as everywhere people begin to truly feel the severity of the situation and respond accordingly.

I spent my formative years reading about Latin American dictatorships - disappearances, torture, etc. - all perpetrated by individuals trained at the School of the Americas. And every moment of that reading was spent thinking: sooner or later this will all happen here as well.

I’ve always imagined an ongoing game where the purpose is to try to invent an art movement.

Every road and highway ever built was a subsidy to the automotive industry.

I don’t especially like people. I don’t especially dislike them either. I don’t know… people aren’t really my people.

Working on a book and also, every ten minutes, staring off into space wondering if the world will still be here when I finish it, or if it will be in any state that one can actually publish a book.

We are drowning in a very specific form of propaganda called advertising.

the world is ending / the world is unending

Well… I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. But since I’m my own worst enemy I guess it’s all right.

We all have blood on our hands. But definitely not in equal amounts.

I’ve never really understood why there always seems to be so much infighting amongst the left. Or even if it’s really true.

Why are there so many songs on the internet and why do I feel compelled to attempt to listen to every last one?

It’s my nature to be dissatisfied.

As an artist these days, I feel I’ve only got a few arrows left in my quiver. And I’ve got to make every last one count.

Being an artist is often about the feeling that other artists are getting something that you’re not.

I don’t really know what the right strategy is. My mind is the mind of an artist. It’s not really a mind of strategy and tactics. But whatever the strategy, we’ve got to keep pushing things to the left.

The people / divided / will always be derided.

Honesty without cruelty.

The romantic myth of the artist who struggles an entire lifetime only to be met with an astonishing rush of posthumous fame.

So many people are disappointing. But not all of them.

You finish reading a book and immediately pass it along to a friend.

I always feel better when I’m writing. But when I’m not writing it never really works to force it.

Money isn’t real. It’s a fiction, a story. But money can do things that nothing else can do. So in that sense – at the level of power – it has some sort of greater reality.

Today on the radio I heard the host say “what a frustrating time to be alive” and I felt that.

Watching some online performances this past year has made me realize something I already knew. The thing I like most about live performance is the fact that you’re there in person and it’s live.

desire and doubt

I decided to try to read some of the books I already have instead of buying any new books for awhile. And even though many of the books I already have are really brilliant and compelling, for some reason whenever I make this decision it always leaves me slightly depressed.

2020 was really the year I learned the degree to which I’m actually an introvert.

After nine months of greatly reduced work schedule during the pandemic, and an enormous amount of self-reflection, I have come to the conclusion that I have absolutely no idea what I want out of life.

Instead of trying to be more successful, which has never really worked for me, I have decided to actively attempt to become less successful with the hope that this will also backfire.

Selling Out Is Hard To Do (to the tune of Breaking Up Is Hard To Do.)

The sweet spot between finished and unfinished.


December 22, 2020

Every two years versus every four years...


I've been thinking about this a lot the past few weeks. I had been complaining - mostly to myself but also occasionally online - that I was putting out too many books. I published books in 2014, 2016 and 2018. Every two years felt like far too often. (Complaining is never a good idea. Complaining online is even worse. And complaining about complaining, and doing so online - as I'm doing here - must be the very worst of the worst.) I felt I should give myself more time between books to think about them and to reinvent what I was working on. However, now I finished another book at the very beginning of this year, and (somewhat due to the pandemic) I'm still not exactly sure when it will come out or with who. If it had come out now it would have been two years after the last one, exactly what I was telling myself I no longer wanted to do. Most likely, it will come out in 2022, four years after the last one, which is what I was telling myself would be a much preferable schedule: every four years. I'm now working on yet another book, and I'm considering making it longer, and working on it more slowly, in order that it won't be finished until 2026 at the very earliest, to stay on this imagined, ideal every four year schedule. And yet I can't stop worrying about when the book that's already finished will come out. And what people will think about it. How will it be received. Before I was obsessively worrying that I was putting out books too frequently. And now I'm obsessively worrying that the book I've already finished won't come out soon enough. How does one become this neurotic and this not consequent? And does it have anything to do with the exact same impulses that made me a writer in the first place? At any rate, I genuinely feel there's a lesson for me to learn in all of this. As I often say: it's my nature to be dissatisfied. The object of my dissatisfaction seems almost to be beside the point.


December 7, 2020

Five quotations on pessimism


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


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

Pessimists shouldn’t be committed to pessimism. On the contrary, they should always be glad to be surprised when good things occur against the odds. It can thus precisely be pessimism that allows joy. Pessimism is not invested nihilism. It is the considered result of an analysis that suggests that the odds are not good. That what is faced is incomparable difficulty, and unless it is faced in the knowledge of how unlikely triumph will be, there is no chance at all.
– Rosie Warren, Some Last Words on Pessimism

Pessimism is essentially a religious disease. In the form of it to which you are most liable, it consists in nothing but a religious demand to which there comes no normal religious reply.
– William James

Pessimism is an inner love for life. The pessimist is one who cannot enjoy the joys of life and is very conscious that he has the passion of the unsatisfied and of the unsatisfiable.
– Kiki Dimoula

it’s too late for pessimism and despair, they’re too popular
– Chris Cutler (in 1975)


December 6, 2020

2020-2030 (There's something I like about it being a calendar decade.)


Last night I was lying awake. I couldn't sleep. And I realized something that might be kind of stupid but felt like a revelation to me in the moment. I'm conceiving the book I'm currently writing - the telepathic kittens book - as the middle book in a trilogy. And I realized that if everything goes as planned the trilogy will take me approximately ten years to write and publish: 2020-2030. (There's something I like about it being a calendar decade.) And that each book in the trilogy might have been called Desire Without Expectation. I was originally thinking that Dry Your Tears To Perfect Your Aim might be called Desire Without Expectation but then changed my mind (it's now the title of the first chapter.) And then Amateur Kittens Dreaming Solar Energy was also - for a while - going to be called Desire Without Expectation, but I again changed my mind. And now I'm thinking of calling the third book in the trilogy Desire Without Expectation, but of course might also change my mind. (Third time's a charm.) And each book of the trilogy is about some kind of utopia. The question of can we imagine something better, what would it be, and what does it mean to try. Of course I might die before I finish, or not finish for some other reason, and that would be another kind of utopia.


December 4, 2020

Some favourite things from my 2020


[So it seems like I now do this list more or less every year. I really do love lists. As with previous years, this list is in no particular order and many of these things didn't come out during the previous year. Normally there would be at least a few performances, but it seems I didn't really get to see any performances this year. What a strange thing that is.]

Count Ossie & The Mystic Revelation Of Rastafari – Grounation
Damon Locks/Black Monument Ensemble – Where Future Unfolds
Mourning [A] BLKstar – The Cycle
Yves Tumor – Heaven to a Tortured Mind
Locate S,1 – Personalia
Thanya Iyer – KIND
US Girls – Heavy Light
Ben Reed – Station Masters
Nappy Nina - Dumb Doubt
Sandro Perri – Soft Landing
Destroyer - Have We Met
이날치 LEENALCHI - Sugungga
Stuart Moxham & Louis Philippe – The Devil Laughs
Carrie Cleveland – Looking Up: The Complete Works
NSRD – The Workshop For The Restoration Of Unfelt Feelings
Jody Glenham - Mood Rock
Vritra Burd – Wilma
Farai – Rebirth

Beyond Survival – Edited by Ejeris Dixon & Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha
Arts of Living on a Damaged Planet – Edited by Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing, Heather Anne Swanson, Elaine Gan & Nils Bubandt
I Hotel – Karen Tei Yamashita
Dominoes at the Crossroads – Kaie Kellough
M Archive – Alexis Pauline Gumbs
The Employees – Olga Ravn
Indelicacy – Amina Cain
Pew – Catherine Lacey
Trust Exercise – Susan Choi
You Are Eating an Orange. You Are Naked. – Sheung-King
Tender – Sofia Samatar
The Salt Roads – Nalo Hopkinson
Ferguson Interview Project – Ama Birch
The Lonely Letters – Ashon T. Crawley
Conversations with Toni Cade Bambara
We're On: A June Jordan Reader
Theory of Bastards – Audrey Schulman
Listening for Jupiter - Pierre-Luc Landry (Translated by Arielle Aaronson and Madeleine Stratford)

Stories and Poems read online
In the Beginning, Sometimes I Left Messages in the Street – Lisa Chen
Stranger Kinships – Fathima Cader
Three Finals – Orit Gat
53 Acts of Living – Canisia Lubrin
Heal Her – Ariana Reines

Film and Video:
Auxiliary Mirrors – Sanaz Sohrabi
Vases communicants – Edith Brunette & François Lemieux


December 2, 2020

Songs Between Works


[A edited version of this text appears in the exhibition catalogue for La machine qui enseignait des airs aux oiseaux.]

I am reminded of something I wrote many years ago, that “maybe all works of art are some kind of polyamorous love songs, offerings sent out into the world in order to get everyone to love you. Works of art and literature are not directed towards one person but towards many. Songs in the sense of birdsong, messages thrown out into the world.” I’m not sure I still agree with this sentiment.

There’s that lyric in the old Jane’s Addiction song that I misremember as:

I’ve never been in love / I don't know what it is / I only knows if someone wants me

Except in my version I think I might change it to:

I’ve never been in love / I don't know what it is / don’t even know if someone wants me

And I wonder if this is also something about making art. To make something you don’t know if anyone will want. And even after you’ve made it you might still not know. But these things, these makings, can sing to each other. Since artworks are in dialog with the viewer, and they may or may not be in dialog with history, but they are definitely also in dialog with each other. Such conversations are both seen and unseen, forming and reforming in space, over time, and in memory.

I once read that solo exhibitions hewed too closely to the logic of the market and therefore only in a group exhibition does art have the potential to think against capital. I don’t know if I agree with this argument but, at the time, it certainly provoked me. Can one framework really be said to be more commercial or subversive than another regardless of the works within it?

I have not yet seen La machine qui enseignait des airs aux oiseaux and therefore I am definitely not writing about it. Perhaps I am writing parallel to it. Or perhaps only parallel to my own thoughts and assumptions about art and the world. I know there is still something I love about art but often don’t know exactly what it is. It is something about love, about song, about sending something out into the unknown where it may or may not connect with a viewer or with other works. Where it may or may not become political or be seen as such. Where something might happen, but you have to have faith because there are no guarantees and it is not even completely clear just exactly what you must have faith in.

It is of course anthropomorphic to speak of birdsong as I first did. The birds clearly know what they are doing when they sing their songs: who the songs are for, who they are trying to attract. But even though the songs are not for us (unless you are a bird of the same species currently reading this), we have listened to them, and given them meaning, since the beginning of time. So I do sometimes like to think of art in the same way, beyond the artists intentions, artworks speaking to each other, singing to each other, clear across so many rooms. They don’t even know when someone wants them. But also they do.