February 24, 2021

The VMI Betsy Warland Between Genres Award

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The VMI Betsy Warland Between Genres Award


"For a book published in Canada in 2021 that is a hybrid genre, or straddles two or more genres." 


"Creative nonfiction writer, poet, essayist, teacher, manuscript consultant, and editor Betsy Warland’s 14 books are not easily classified or categorized in one genre, yet they have contributed greatly to Canadian literary history and continue to influence emerging authors. Many beloved books do not find a comfortable place on a bookshelf or on a prize list because they are innovative in terms of form, creating/inviting/forcing new ways of being read. Considered uncategorizable, they are overlooked or misread. Named in honour of Betsy Warland, this award celebrates work that disrupts convention about what a book should be, how it should read, what it should sound like, what subject matter is acceptable."



Find out more about it here.



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February 22, 2021

A paragraph from the work-in-progress Amateur Kittens Dreaming Solar Energy

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We set out at dawn the next day. Perhaps the motorcycles were only to look cool, but they were also especially well-suited to our mission. Riding single file through small towns on through even smaller towns until we reached the desert. Keeping our distance from one another in case there was trouble and we were forced to split up. This wasn’t desert before, but drought after drought was steadily edging the soil in that direction. You could still feel the residue of grass and trees as patches of it sped by. Greenery fading brown and grey. We had studied the maps and knew exactly where we were going, knew it so intensely it was almost as if we had been there before, had done this before, the route that unraveled before us providing some feel of uncertain destiny. As we rode, distances between us widened, we were naturally spreading out, each taking up our necessary space. Soon I could no longer make out either R’s motorcycle up ahead nor B’s motorcycle far behind me, but I could sense that we remained in formation, that the four of us continued to ride in sync. We had practiced this together so many times, each keeping our speed even and steady, sand blowing past us on either side of the thin asphalt strip. There was a lone building in the distance we all knew marked the turnoff, and I turned left on the road just past it. Even though I could no longer see them, I knew each of the others had or would do the same. I’d never felt more focused or, for that matter, more alive. It was another hour before we spotted the pipeline, stretching endlessly in both directions.



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February 18, 2021

Some passages from Writing in Space by Lorraine O’Grady

Some passages from Writing in Space, 1973–2019 by Lorraine O’Grady:


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I wanted to set up a situation where the movement back and forth between the experience of the piece and the process of hearing me talk about it might be disorienting, might create the feeling of anxiously watching your feet as you do an unfamiliar dance.


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Dancers, for instance, who use multi-media are adding new props, but they are still trained bodies moving in space, no matter how outrageously. That is why they offer more audience satisfaction and are more traditionally successful than artists and writers doing performance. And why they are much less interesting.


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That first week, I went to the Eighth Street Bookstore to look for books on visual art. The first book that attracted me looked like no other I’d seen before. It was a small-format book, wider than it was high, and had a strange red cover totally filled with print. It was Lucy Lippard’s Six Years: The Dematerialization of the Art Object. It was the first art book I ever read, and it totally changed my life. It was an almost artless chronicle catalog of documents and events, and I’m sure Lucy never anticipated that someone would read the book from cover to cover, but I did. By the time I finished that history of the conceptual art movement and all its subgenres – performance art, body art, earth art, and so on – I said to myself, “I can do that, and what’s more, I know I can do it better than most of the people who are doing it.” You see, I was always having those ideas, but I didn’t know what to do with them. I didn’t know they could be art, and until then, I hadn’t been in a position, in an intellectual milieu to discover it. After that, the struggle became focused: to discover what my art was, where it came from in me.


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One of my personal cognitos, a favorite is: “I dance therefore I think.”


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The one advantage art has over other methods of knowledge, and the reason I engage in it rather than some other activity for which my training and intelligence might be suited, is that, except for the theoretical sciences, it is the primary discipline where an exercise of calculated risk can regularly turn up what you had not been looking for.


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I spent all of the 1980s and the 1990s feeling “God, will it never end? Will they never stop taking up all the room, stop speaking for themselves as though speaking for everyone?” The death of the author? The total construction of subjectivity? Sexual liberation as the prime victory of feminism? For you, perhaps. But for others, there was more.


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History as the single-minded story of the winners is something premodern and modern cultures have in common. But history has, in reality, always been just one story among many – and not always the most interesting, not always the most useful to present. It was just the story that was needed to survive, to justify power, or the one capable of being understood with the mindset then available. I like to see the lost stories recuperated: stories to use, to amuse.


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February 17, 2021

Chris Finley Quote

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One of my dear friends, political organizer Lee Ann Wang, theorizes that we need to prepare for things to go wrong as part of political organizing campaigns. None of us is completely right or good, so why do we act like political organizing is a sacred space where only whole, righteous subjects roam? We are all broken and cannot possibly have read everything, so we will be wrong sometimes. We live in rape culture. None of us gets to be free of this even as we work toward critiquing heteropatriarchy and white supremacy. Living among humans and in the world is a true act of courage because, even with those working toward social justice, institutionalization and violence exist. We are all in the world, which is full of violence. This is not an excuse for bad behavior but an acknowledgement of the fact that we can try our best but still fall short of being perfect subjects. The call-out culture has only made the gap between the good and the wrong deeper and wider. We need to celebrate moments of truth a solidarity too.

– Chris Finley, Building Maroon Intellectual Communities



[From the book Otherwise Worlds: Against Settler Colonialism and Anti-Blackness.]


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February 16, 2021

Two Nicolas Galeazzi Quotes

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We started with an interest in the fundamental differences between exchange and sharing. Exchange demands a distribution of goods between different entities, from where they can be brought into barter. This declaration of ownership is the basic principle of the market economy. Currencies make this bartering easier; abstract it from complicated personal relations and that makes accumulation desirable. It doesn’t matter whether the currency is money, gift or reputation: the accumulative motor is immediately set in motion.

Sharing, instead, is an economy of responsibility. Here it is not the goods that are distributed, but the care-taking procedures – and as ownership is obsolete, a fair distribution has to be organized collectively. This economic form of a shared responsibility for the usage of common good is what is usually understood as the basic principle of the commons.

– Nicolas Galeazzi, Commoning the Arts?


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But this disregards that the historical struggle between the common and the private is obviously the other way round! First and foremost, things are common in the broadest sense, and any human economy has to justify its form of distribution. The claim for private enclosures, and ‘ownership’ is just one possible form of distribution – and we know the consequences of this claim. This applies also to knowledge and creativity. ‘My idea’ is never ‘my idea’, it is always a cultural product built up through a common history on the one side, and a highly renovating contemporary common process of knowledge production on the other.

But the capitalist desire-machine embeds the individual into a system that demands the clear declaration of an individual position, accountable for the effectiveness of its personal individuation. The machine is efficient. It creates desires that an individual can recognize and accept as their own. The individual creates itself along the lines of these desires and becomes exactly what the system needs – a unity that is identifiable and flexible according to the needs of the machine.

– Nicolas Galeazzi, Commoning the Arts?




[From the book Turn Turtle! Reenacting the Institute.]



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February 2, 2021

"If I told the truth I'd like to live my life again / Walk around my youth in somebody else's skin."


I saw this tweet and it reminded me I've been meaning to write about Momus again. There was something so unlikely about seeing Momus on the same list as OutKast, Steely Dan and John Coltrane. But, also, those first three Momus albums (Circus Maximus, Poison Boyfriend and Tender Pervert), which I listened to obsessively (to an almost insane degree) in my twenties, are probably the reason I'm a lifelong Momus fan. There's always a part of me that believes those three records (along with two other Momus records from the same period: Monsters of Love and The Ultraconformist) basically changed my life.

So, as I've often mentioned over the years, I've been some sort of obsessive Momus fan. But it's really the strangest kind of fandom. The early Momus records meant so much to me. But since then he's made a lot of records and I've found some of them unlistenable, many of them just okay, and a few of them pretty good. (I still sometimes listen to Ocky Milk and Hypnoprism.) During so many of those years I found myself extremely frustrated by his recorded output. I wanted him to be a Maoist intellectual in the music industry, but it seems he wanted to be some sort perplexing cross between the Pet Shop Boys and a Scottish/Japanese version of Serge Gainsbourg. However, also during that time, on almost every record, there were at least one or two songs that did mean something to me. (Well, definitely not on every record. But often enough.) Not sure I could even make a full list, but a few that come to mind: Song in Contravention, Platinum, Christmas on Earth, I Am a Kitten, Giapponese A Roma, Paolo, I Want You, But I Don't Need YouMiles FranklinNervous HeartbeatDatapanikGibbous Moon, Precocious Young Miss Calloway, The ThunderclownErase. (I especially like the opening lines of Platinum: "If I told the truth I'd like to live my life again / Walk around my youth in somebody else's skin." Which is perhaps the subtext of this entire post.) Over the years this list of individual Momus songs really starts to add up. Many albums I find it hard to listen to all the way through. And many songs I love listening to on repeat. 

And now there is something else. Because, for some reason, 2020 was the year I really started listening to Momus again. Perhaps it began when I read his sort-of-autobiography Niche. (And soon I'll also read the new book about him: Famous for Fifteen People.) And, even though I've listened to every single Momus record hundreds of times each, whether I like them or not, I started to feel his 2018-2020 run was the first time since the beginning he's put out three records in a row that I genuinely like: Pantaloon, Akkordion and Vivid. I'm not sure I would completely recommend these records to someone who is not already a Momus fan. Still, three Momus albums in a row that I rather like. Nothing in the past thirty years of his recorded output suggested to me that this was ever going to happen again. Coming back again to things that gave me solace when I was younger is perhaps also due to the pandemic. And Vivid is a record entirely about the pandemic. Which has also been a solace. (As he sings on the Vivid track September: "And when you think you've reached the end / It’s only the beginning of the end.") (But then I think of the opening lines of his very first single Morality is Vanity: "Seven million people died in the great war / A bout of influenza quadrupled that score / Why pimp to posterity? / Why should they admire us? / All the heroes of Valhalla / Weigh less than a virus.") Even with these records it's mainly only certain songs: Good Time Coming, Glacier, The Poet, Grand Guignol, Inside, Oblivion, September, Empty Paris, Optimism. But the songs I like continue to add up over the years. And the songs I don't like as much seem to fall away.

All of this has something to do with getting older. Momus is ten years older than I am. I've always felt that, as an artist of any kind, when you get older the most likely thing to happen is that one's artistic work becomes less good over time. You start to repeat yourself and the repetitions bring diminishing returns. Or you try to go in some completely new direction and end up doing something you're not nearly as good at. I'm constantly trying to figure out how I might avoid this rather pessimistic assumption from becoming a self-fulfilling reality. And there is some way Momus is both repeating himself and going in new directions all at the same time. Everything is familiar but you can also feel him so often pushing in new directions. I'm not sure what other sixty-year-old pop musicians continue to be so inventive. 

I met Momus in 2016 in Tokyo when he covered some of my songs as part of the project Every Song I've Ever Written. So maybe that also softened me to him somewhat. It was so amazing to hear him cover my teenage songs, which were in some ways imitation Momus songs, and to hear him turn them into real Momus songs. And then the other day I clicked on his new track Coco The Clown in which he sings the lines: "I lack what I lack / but I am what I am / so cut me some slack / I'll cut you some back." And I thought: maybe I should cut him some slack. Perhaps cut myself some as well. And, at the same time, I feel that possibly the only way to keep making good work as an artist over the course of an entire lifetime is to be vigilant with oneself. I'm not sure.

So perhaps a good way to end these rather unfinished thoughts might be with a few lines from the Momus song Brexochasm:

Finally fulfilling my potential
Success arrives belatedly
I’m seeing in the end that mere survival
is serenity…






[Edit: I wasn't paying as much attention to his work around that time, but it now occurs to me that starting in 2010 Momus had another pretty good three album run with: Hypnoprism, Thunderclown and Bibliotek.]




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