A Radical Cut In The Texture Of Reality

August 28, 2016



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

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

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



Some Favourite Canadian Books


Islands of Decolonial Love – Leanne Simpson 
Zong! – M. NourbeSe Philip
Oscar of Between – Betsy Warland
Thou – Aisha Sasha John
From the Archives of Vidéo Populaire – Anne Golden
Salt Fish Girl – Larissa Lai
Canadian Healing Oil – Juan Butler
Ethics Of Luxury – Jeanne Randolph
Bodymap – Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha
Debbie: An Epic – Lisa Robertson
Worlda Mirth - Su Croll
The Sorrowful Canadians & Other Poems - Wilfred Watson
The Swallower Swallowed - Réjean Ducharme
The Well-Dressed Wound - Derek McCormack


August 22, 2016

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


2018 marks PME-ART’s twentieth anniversary. To celebrate the occasion, co-artistic director Jacob Wren has decided to publish a book entitled Authenticity is a Feeling: My Life in PME-ART. A compelling hybrid of history, memoir and performance theory, the book will be a highly subjective, chronological retelling and questioning of much of what has happened in and around our work over the past twenty years. It begins when Jacob meets Sylvie Lachance and Richard Ducharme in 1996, and traces a line through collaboratively created performances such as En français comme en anglais, it’s easy to criticize (1998-2002), Families Are Formed Through Copulation (2005-2006), HOSPITALITY 3: Individualism Was A Mistake (2008-2012) and The DJ Who Gave Too Much Information (2011-). It is a book that changes the rules for how interdisciplinary performance can be written about.

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


Peter Pál Pelbart Quote


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

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

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


August 13, 2016



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

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

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


August 4, 2016

Jean Claude Fignolé Quote


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

- Jean Claude Fignolé

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


August 1, 2016

Possibly opening for a new book (fragment)


Every time I start writing a book I imagine it will be my last. That I will be dead before it’s finished or shortly thereafter. Somehow I need this fantasy to convince myself to start writing. To make the book I am starting feel important, not just one more in an endless series of the same. So now, as I begin writing this book, I once again imagine it will be the last. That if I make it to the end I will be making it to my end as well. I suppose we all need fantasies in order to help us get things done.

It goes without saying that everyone eventually dies. But, for the most part, it is stated only occasionally. It’s somehow not profound. If only one person died, and everyone else lived forever, that one death would be a spectacular event. However, the startling frequency makes it, in one sense, unremarkable, though in another sense it overwhelms us with its one-of-a-kind intensity. It is often said that human life is sacred and I’m never quite sure what precisely is meant by this sentiment. People die all the time, in war and through every kind of societal neglect. Perhaps saying that life is sacred is just another way of saying: I don’t want to die.

But if you are reading this, and I am writing it, neither of us is dead yet. Life remains an ongoing concern. We must continue to figure out how to live it. I have often noticed that I find it enormously difficult to experience meaning. This difficulty might be described as cynicism or pessimism or depression, but I am almost certain it is something else, though I don’t quite know what. Perhaps I’ll know by the end of this book. Or perhaps this is only another half-promise I’ll find myself unable to keep.


July 30, 2016

Instead of a Diary a Billboard


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


July 11, 2016

Alicia Garza Quote


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

- Alicia Garza

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


structural inequality


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


July 3, 2016

Rich and Poor readings in Berlin and Cologne


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

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

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


May 26, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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