December 30, 2014

Hugo Ball Quote

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A line of poetry is a chance to get rid of all the filth that clings to this accursed language, as if put there by stockbrokers' hands, hands worn smooth by coins.

- Hugo Ball



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December 29, 2014

I look at my life and think...

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I look at my life and think:
I’m dying of loneliness
I look at my life and think:
I’m dying of loneliness but
I have no one to blame but myself
because I can’t really deal with others
but lord knows I try

I look at my life and think:
is the loneliness I feel the
loneliness I’m actually experiencing
or am I feeling something different
than my experience, am I feeling
a fantasy of what is or isn’t possible
and what is or isn’t possible
for me to feel

I dissect the phrase: I look at my life
I look at my life instead of living it
there is summer rain and winter rain
my poems aren’t as complex
as some of the other poems I read
but I like their simplicity
all those years ago I decided
I didn’t want to be a poet anymore
all those years ago I decided
to be lonely or not to be lonely
still doing that as well



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December 8, 2014

Two end of year mentions for Polyamorous Love Song

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Saelan Twerdy includes Polyamorous Love Song in his 2014 Staff Picks:

For what it's worth, I finished this book in the hospital during my partner's 48-hour labour. Even if I'd read it in more prosaic circumstances, though, I don't think I'd forget it. Jacob Wren is an endlessly fascinating individual: no writer I can think of is so sincere in their pursuit of questions about the value of art and its relation to life. Like most of his writing, Polyamorous Love Song straddles the boundary between essay and fiction, art and literature (Wren is also active as a performance artist). He asks himself difficult questions about why we make art and what we hope it can do while also offering a rollicking, sometimes absurdist sci-fi adventure featuring an organization of terrorists in mascot costumes and a virus that only kills political reactionaries. It's a book that defies boundaries and categorization: Wren's art is total or not at all.



Polyamorous Love Song is also one of The Globe and Mail's best 100 books of the year:

An experimental novel with interests as multiple as its title suggests: art, anarchy, freedom, but most particularly, the power of dreams. Dark yet hopeful and unabashedly avant-garde.



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December 5, 2014

Some favourite things from my 2014

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(As is often the case with me, many of these things were released prior to 2014. I have listed them in the order they gradually came to me.)



Music

Oddisee – Tangible Dream
Ratking – So It Goes
Leikeli47 - Lk-47 Pt. II
Little Simz – E.D.G.E
Pearls Negras – Biggie Apple Mixtape
Noname – what the fuck is a noname gypsy
Karol Conka – Batuk Freak
Cate le Bon – Mug Museum
Planningtorock – All Love’s Legal
Destroyer – Five Spanish Songs
1970s Algerian Folk & Pop




Books

Forgery – Amira Hanafi
The Gentrification of the Mind: Witness to a Lost Imagination – Sarah Schulman
Islands of Decolonial Love – Leanne Simpson
Postscript on Insignificance: Dialogues with Cornelius Castoriadis
Ana Patova Crosses a Bridge – Renee Gladman
The Book of the Dead – Kgebetli Moele
The Girl in the Road – Monica Byrne
Thou – Aisha Sasha John
Records Ruin the Landscape – David Grubbs
The Story of My Accident Is Ours – Rachel Levitsky
History of Animals: An Essay on Negativity, Immanence and Freedom – Oxana Timofeeva
The Best Most Useless Dress: Selected Writings of Claudia La Rocco
Karmic Traces – Eliot Weinberger
So Far From God – Veronica Gonzalez-Peña



Films

Concerning Violence – Göran Hugo Olsson
Seven Blind Women Filmmakers – Mohammad Shirvani



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November 27, 2014

Black Lives Matter - TORONTO PEACEFUL PROTEST ACTION

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I was walking towards the "Black Lives Matter - TORONTO PEACEFUL PROTEST ACTION" earlier tonight. I was a bit late. Up ahead I heard chanting. From several blocks away I could already tell it was a good turn out. So many voices in the distance, chanting in unison so loudly, so much pure energy. But I couldn't quite make out what they were saying until I got closer, then suddenly heard it clearly: Black Lives Matter, Black Lives Matter, Black Lives Matter, Black Lives Matter... And I just started crying, tears started streaming down my face uncontrollably. I don't know when was the last time I cried that hard. Such a simple, basic, necessary demand and yet so far from the reality of the world that surrounds us. I cried the entire rally. The chant kept coming back. Hoping to god (and I'm not in any way a believer) that this is only the very beginning of a long and successful fight. I didn't know about Justice For Jermaine Carby. But now I do.



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November 14, 2014

Roger Fry Quote

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And here we touch on a curious economic accident, the importance of which as a determining condition of art production has never been properly emphasized. In modern life, great works of art generally have been, and I suspect, almost must be, produced in defiance of the tastes and predilections of society at large. The artist, therefore, except in those cases where he possesses inherited means, must be able to live and function on an extremely small sum. He must exist almost as sparrows do, by picking up the crumbs that fall from the rich man’s table. What wonder, then, that periods of artistic creation and impotence are as hard to predict or account for at the weather itself! And yet there is a certain irony in the fact that every civilization is ultimately judged by what of spiritual value it has contributed to the human patrimony. It is only at each present moment that this appears to be of so little consequence as to be negligible.

– Roger Fry



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November 13, 2014

Some Short Quotes

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I dedicate every pore to what’s here.
– Ikkyū


Skepticism is the elegance of anxiety.
– E.M. Cioran


Do it or don’t do it – you will regret both.
– Søren Kierkegaard


I make art in order to give other people my problems.
– Mike Kelley


Why else keep a journal, if not to examine your own filth?
– Anne Sexton


Theory is good, but it does not prevent things from existing.
– Jean-Martin Charcot


How long can a person recover before it becomes another form of not being?
– Claudia La Rocco


I don’t do anything with my life except romanticize and decay with indecision.
– Allen Ginsberg


There are not millions of deaths. It happens millions of times that someone dies.
– Etel Adnan


The artists I work with turn to emotion because this is where ideology does its most devastating work.
– Jennifer Doyle


It is not that I have no past. Rather, it continually fragments on the terrible and vivid ephemera of now.
– Samuel R. Delany


He loved the moment when a bouncing ping-pong ball stops bouncing, but one doesn't know if it has finally come to rest.
– Eliot Weinberger on Hans Faverey


To be making something as yet unformed, unknown – to be living in a deferred moment – is the most seductive way to exist.
– Moyra Davey


The more a ruling class is able to assimilate the most prominent men of a ruled class, the more solid and dangerous its rule.
– Karl Marx


But a creative life cannot be sustained by approval, any more than it can be destroyed by criticism – you learn this as you go on.
– Will Self


If I do nothing, if I study nothing, if I cease searching, then, woe is me, I am lost. That is how I look at it – keep going, keep going come what may.
– Vincent van Gogh



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November 12, 2014

Three passages from Islands of Decolonial Love by Leanne Simpson

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etienne gets out the lines and in two minutes we know we’re on the school because we’re pulling in mackerel easy. he watches as i hold the hook and snap the fish into the garbage pail, which is my reveal. it’s sunny and it’s windy and it’s perfect and the arms of the day are wide open and no one has to be anywhere. i see a northern gannet and i love gannets because they can disconnect their wings before they plummet into the sea after a fish. imagine disconnecting a body part! the gannet swims over to the boat smelling the fish blood and etienne hands the gannet a fish and says “the bird is my family, all of this, the fish, the seals, the water – this is my family,” which is his reveal.

our eyes meet because now he has my attention. i walk over and hug him and he is the kind of person that can give and receive a real hug and i’m not one of those people because my alarm system goes off when people touch me and I freeze up and shut down. this time that doesn’t happen. i decide to kiss him and it’s perfect and easy and we make out void of awkwardness but with a clearly defined beginning and a clearly defined ending, then he drives back to shore while i gut the fish in the back of the boat using his terrifyingly sharp knife, feeding the guts to the gulls and the gannets. he drops me off on the dock. we thank each other. we say goodbye and i pay attention to each step, instead of looking back.


....


old lady levi then asked ira to speak and tell them about the project. he lit a cigarette and he told them three things. first, that the band council had asked us to help the elders document all the ways they related to the land in the past and in contemporary times. second, that throughout the project, the elders would be in charge. they would make all of the decisions because as far as he was concerned, they were the experts. and third that the final document could be whatever they wanted.

then he sat down.

old lady levi stood up, thanked us and asked us to leave. she opened the living room door, watched us as we passed through it, and then told us to wait outside until she reappeared.

we did. for probably two hours.

we heard a lot of talking. some praying. some singing. some more talking.

ira smoked. i drank watery maxwell house out of a styrofoam cup, and then bit teeth marks all around the top edge, wondering what was going to happen to me when i hit the end of the prozac prescription no one was monitoring.

then we heard old lady levi’s footsteps. she paused on the other side of the door. i imagined her hand on the handle, hesitating and then opening it.

we stood up.

she looked through us and said, “come back next month, maybe a monday next time. monday is better.” she went back into the room and shut the door.

ira lit another cigarette, did up his coat, and walked outside, remotely starting the car on the way. it was nearly four, and the sun was sinking below the stand of black spruce out my window. we retraced our morning’s steps back to thunder bay. a month later, this time on a monday, we went back, and we kept going back for two years, sometimes moving the meeting twice a month.

i redrew the maps those old ones kept tucked away in their bones. i took these notes:

how to pluck the feathers off a goose
how to roast a duck on an open fire
how to block the cnr lines
how to live as if it mattered



....


bringing up trauma from my life made therapy-lady cry, especially if it was “aboriginal” themed. she said “aboriginal” a lot, and i knew she was trying to be respectful so i planned on letting it slide until the breaking point and then i was going to let her have it in one spiralling long manifesto. therapy-lady liked to compare my life to refuges from war-torn countries who hid their kids in closets when airplanes flew over their houses. this was her limit of understanding on colonized intimacy. she wasn’t completely wrong, and while she tried to convince me none of us had to hide our kids anymore, we both knew that wasn’t exactly true. i knew what every ndn knows: that vulnerability, forgiveness and acceptance were privileges. she made the assumption of a white person: they were readily available to all like the fresh produce at the grocery store.

lucy says that I made a critical mistake on my first day of therapy. “you have to lay all of you indian shit out on the first day, drug abuse, suicide attempts, all the times you got beat up, all of that shit. then you sit back and watch how they react. then you’ll know if they can deal or not.” lucy had a social work degree but she didn’t buy it, which is always useful.



[I wrote about Islands of Decolonial Love here and you can order it here. Highly recommended.]



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November 9, 2014

The counter-literature prize

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The wrong books win the prizes: safe books, conventional books, books that strive for the known excellence of today rather than for the unknown excellence of a not yet known future. Books that are too much of their time, as opposed to books that leap into the pure breakthrough risk of the untimely.

We think there should be a prize for books that are different, unusual, unnerving, too political or unrealistic, not quite right. We think there should be a prize for books that are really, really good but - because they are just too different - will most likely never win any of the many literary prizes that already exist in the world.

For now, this prize is only a hypothetical entity. What might be the best way to bring it into reality? Who should the judges be? How would we even find the strange, counter-literary books in the first place?


[Unfinished.]



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October 12, 2014

A short notes on: Adventures can be found anywhere, même dans la mélancolie

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The Book of Disquiet

The Book of Disquiet was written as a series of inter-related fragments that Fernando Pessoa worked on between 1913 and his death in 1935. It was discovered in a trunk left behind in his small room, a trunk that also contained a lifetime of other writings: poetry, plays, philosophy, criticism, translations, linguistic theory, etc., variously typed, handwritten or illegibly scrawled in Portuguese, English and French. He wrote in notebooks, on loose sheets, on the backs of letters, advertisements, handbills and in the margins of earlier texts. The Book of Disquiet was first published in Portuguese in 1982 and there have been many different versions since, as various editors and translators attempted to put the book together in whatever way seemed best to them at the time.

Fernando Pessoa also continuously fragmented himself into other writers he famously called heteronyms: imaginary characters created to write in different styles. Some of his most fully developed heteronyms include: Alberto Caeiro, a shepherd, a humble man of little education who nonetheless wrote poems filled with philosophy and paganism; Ricardo Reis, a classicist, a monarchist, a doctor who wrote in an austere, cerebral manner, with particular attention paid to the correct use of the Portuguese language; and Álvaro de Campos, a world traveller, whose poems expressed a fervent wish to experience the entirety of the universe in himself. However, Bernardo Soares, the author of The Book of Disquiet, an accountant working on Rua dos Douradores in Lisbon, was merely a semi-heteronym. “He’s a semi-heteronym,” Pessoa wrote in the final year of his life, “because his personality, although not my own, doesn’t differ from my own but is a mere mutilation of it.”

Pessoa clearly planned to compile his fragments of disquietude into a finished manuscript, but never managed to do so. Based on the many notes he left behind, if he had been able to complete the book in his lifetime, it is likely he would have edited it down towards a shorter, more cohesive narrative. Like many authors, he might very well have edited out some of the most contentious, vulnerable or revealing passages. Therefore, the ramshackle glory of The Book of Disquiet that we know today derives in no small part from the fact that it was assembled long after its original composition, and that this method of assembly implicitly acknowledges the work’s deeply unfinished nature.



Adventures can be found anywhere, même dans la mélancolie
The only basis for truth is self-contradiction. The universe contradicts itself, for it passes on. Life contradicts itself, for it dies. Paradox is nature’s norm. That’s why all truth has a paradoxical form. – Fernando Pessoa

When you watch a film that makes you cry, do the tears come from within the film or from within you? This is a stupid question, since the answer must be something like: a bit of both. Another question might be: if you were to get together with your friends and remake the film not in order to imitate it, but in order to change it into something closer to your own life, would this new, remade version still make you cry?

The relation between art and emotion is a long and complicated one. With Adventures can be found anywhere, même dans la mélancolie, PME-ART rewrites The Book of Disquiet page by melancholy page, altering the emotional tenor of the book in many subtle and unsubtle ways. Of course, within any conventional view of literature, rewriting such a classic and deeply loved text is practically sacrilege. But the intention here is not to break any particular canonical rules, rather to see what happens when a door long assumed to be locked is partially reopened, when fragments left unfinished seventy-nine years ago are mischievously treated as if they still remained unfinished today, as if one could simply continue working on them.

Fernando Pessoa was a great writer and it is unlikely that PME-ART will be able to consistently match his eloquence or depth. They will give it their best shot, but clearly that cannot be the point. This is a more playful, democratic, collaborative notion of writing. Pessoa’s virtuosity in turning his own compulsions and doubts into literature here meets a contemporary moment, the year 2014, in which compulsions and doubts are expressed in a multitude of old and new ways: online, in televised pseudo-reality and in every kind of autobiographical literary expression. What might it mean to rewrite these fragments today? What shades of early twenty-first century emotion might be woven into Pessoa’s unfinished twentieth century elegy?

One joke we often tell: PME-ART is rewriting The Book of Disquiet to make it a little bit happier. But just a little bit. And then what kind of happiness could this possibly be? Is it the author or the reader whose mood will be lightened? The word ‘happiness’ perhaps conjures an imaginary past-life America: ‘Life, Liberty and the pursuit of…,’ fantasies that in the harsh light of our current economic and ecological collapse might seem threadbare at best. At times, in artistic works, there is a kind of reverse psychology effect; extremely sad works can make you feel happy and vice versa. Sometimes simply expressing something socially taboo, for example extreme sadness or apathy, gives the viewer or reader a feeling of release, even elation. Pessoa’s almost absolute melancholy has this effect on many readers, and therefore the happiness being sought of course already exists between the lines, in the affect of the original text.

One clue to the added happiness PME-ART is searching for might be found in the unfinished nature of the composition itself. While previous experts and translators sought to work towards some definitive version of The Book of Disquiet, here we clearly find ourselves drifting towards the distant other end of the finished/unfinished spectrum. (Emotions, one might suggest, are always left unfinished.) When nothing is finished, everything remains possible. At least for awhile. Or at least within a work of art. This is one of the paradoxes that art can scratch away at and evoke: sometimes a job well done is a job left partially undone, to make room for the future. Pessoa never finished his masterpiece The Book of Disquiet, and neither does Adventures can be found anywhere, même dans la mélancolie. One can gaze at a fragment and fear its implicit sense of failure. Or one can glance at a fragment and think: this is only the beginning.




Adventures can be found anywhere, même dans la mélancolie happens from October 23 - November 1, 2014 at the Leonard & Bina Ellen Art Gallery.


Facebook event here.



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October 11, 2014

Twenty all-time albums

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No one asked  me but I started wondering what a list of my twenty all-time albums might look like so this is an attempt:


Alhaji K. Frimpong – Kyenkyen Bi Adi Mawu
Chrisma - Chinese Restaurant
Connie Converse - How Sad, How Lovely
Destroyer – Streethawk: A Seduction
Electrelane – The Power Out
Al Green – The Belle Album
Hailu Mergia & The Walias Band - Tche Belew
Killer Mike – R.A.P. Music
Las Malas Amistades – Patio Bonito
Lloyd Miller – A Lifetime In Oriental Jazz
Mammane Sani et son Orgue - La Musique Electronique du Niger
Moles – Instinct
Momus – Circus Maximus
Mustafa Ozkent – Gençlik Ile Elele
Palace Music – Arise Therefore
Philip Cohran and the Artistic Heritage Ensemble – s/t
Reiko Kudo – Rice Field Silently Riping In The Night
Selda – s/t
THEESatisfaction – awE natural
Young Marble Giants – Colossal Youth



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October 2, 2014

The search for new forms of art is somehow directly connected to the search for new ways to love.

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"My favorite read this summer, Jacob Wren’s latest book Polyamorous Love Song, surprisingly ends with a happy moment of a loving couple, after weaving layers and layers of dark stories about art, sex and violence. A group of New Filmmakers are making films without camera, by scripting and directing their lives as if these were movies. Mascot Front is a terrorist organization that might or might not be an art movement.

In the book, the search for new forms of art is somehow directly connected to the search for new ways to love.

The events in the book take place in a world where art is in crisis, the society is in violent struggle, and artists and activists are looking for new strategies to work, to engage, to create change, to make sense. But at the same time, to blur fiction and reality, to establish multiple points of view, to battle dualities, to be transgressive and unpredictable.

It is a world that looks suspiciously like the world where we live now."


- Eva Neklyaeva, from her program notes for Baltic Circle



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September 28, 2014

Moyra Davey Quote

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To be making something as yet unformed, unknown—to be living in a deferred moment—is the most seductive way to exist.

- Moyra Davey, Polyvalence



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September 27, 2014

Moyra Davey Quote

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Finally, there is the accident of words: what wells up when we make space for such occurrence, when we lie on the bed in morning sunlight and bring laptop to lap. I’ve often heard it said, most recently by novelist Monica Ali, that as writers “we’re not at liberty to choose the material, the material chooses us.” Geoff Dyer has noted parallel statements by photographers: “It is the photo that takes you” (Henri Cartier-Bresson), “I don’t press the shutter, the image does” (Arbus), and one from Paul Strand on choosing his subjects: “I don’t… . They choose me.” While I’ve always intuited this about pictures, I was skeptical when it came to words. But I now know it to be true, beyond any doubt, for writing as well.

- Moyra Davey, Notes on Photography



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Future

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If you truly begin to alter the system
in fundamental and emancipatory ways
they kill you
if they can’t buy you first
they kill you literally
or in some other way
bombs and teargas are the music of neoliberal governance
you can struggle your whole life
to change a few small things
“to have a political life is, often, to have a broken life”
and if you succeed beyond your wildest dreams
they kill you
and jail your friends

If everyone in your coalition agrees
your coalition is too small
they kill you
but how to stay focused
on five, ten, fifteen generations into the future
if there is no future
there can be no change
the only thing that works is persistence
the only thing that works is persistence
the only thing that works is persistence
I hope some day I can begin
to imagine things again
or for the first time



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September 23, 2014

Sentiment

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From my near perfect disaster solitude
I wonder what might be possible
when it comes to interacting
with others, I continue to try my best
but feel all such interactions
are like little gusts of wind
that come from nowhere and go nowhere
never enough to fill a sail
yes, this is about loneliness
but also, no, it is not about loneliness
often I confuse loneliness and ethics
how to treat others well gets confused
with how to fully engage
solitude against solidarity, longing
for solidarity
I think: if you don’t know how
to be alone you don’t know how
to be with others
then: this must be the point, that
I don’t know how to be alone
don’t know how to be with others
everything that is true is also not true
trying to find something honest and vulnerable
trying to be something honest and vulnerable
trying to find the right lie



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September 17, 2014

Revised list of ten books

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After reading A Feminist Response to "List Ten Books that Stayed with you Some Way" I decided to redo my previous list. This new version was also made somewhat spontaneously, while at the same time attempting to correct my previous, perhaps unconscious, bias. Here's the new list:



1. Aliens & Anorexia – Chris Kraus
2. The Transformation – Juliana Spahr
3. Motion Sickness – Lynne Tillman
4. The Adventures and Misadventures of Maqroll – Alvaro Mutis
5. Ghostly Matters – Avery F. Gordon
6. The Manuscript Found in Saragossa – Jan Potocki
7. The Girl in the Road – Monica Byrne
8. Third Factory – Viktor Shklovsky
9. Event Factory – Renee Gladman
10. Ethics Of Luxury: Materialism And Imagination – Jeanne Randolph 


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September 12, 2014

Jacqueline Mabey wrote this on my timeline...

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Jacqueline Mabey wrote this on my timeline:


"i've been thinking about your comments about only experiencing solidarity as a short-lived or temporary condition. and thinking that maybe that's critical to it: we stand in solidarity with others in order to reach some critical mass or moment of progressive chance, some change of state. so maybe solidarity is utopian in that it is no-place, it is nowhere you can inhabit permanently but a shifting space of alliances."


Followed by this link:


Students show solidarity by helping Columbia rape survivor carry her mattress



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August 28, 2014

I don’t mind being wrong.

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I don’t mind being wrong. I don’t mind writing things, and publishing them, and then later realizing they were in fact completely or partially wrong. I don’t mind someone reading something I wrote and disagreeing with it, or even thinking I’m an idiot. (Though I do at times feel it is my job as an artist to activate honest or vulnerable reactions in and around my words.) When I read something, I am not looking for it to tell me how things are. I want to consider it, question it, decide for myself, agree or disagree, be provoked or refuse to be provoked. I want to read two different, intelligent, well-written texts that argue almost opposite points of view and consider all the ramifications of how they relate to each other, conflict and intertwine. I’m not saying there is no truth, but rather truth is the thoughts we choose to fight for, and in doing so we must continuously consider other possible perspectives on each matter. I fear that people who want to be right see thought as a sport and they want to win. I’ve never been good at winning, so perhaps when I say ‘I don’t mind being wrong’ it is only a form of sour grapes. But I wonder: how is it possible to really know what one is doing? To write something and think: now I’ve really got it. Not to hope one might still think something remarkably different in the future, might still have the good fortune to completely contradict oneself. At the same time, I don’t want to only be wrong, I don’t want to get more and more wrong the further I go, or to be my own worst enemy. And realizing I was wrong about something in the past does not mean that suddenly now I’ve got it all figured out. Of course, constantly changing my mind about every single thing all the time is exhausting, so I agree (with myself) to think a few things for the time being. Time heals all wounds.



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August 26, 2014

I have fallen in lust with this universe...

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"The novelist Robert Anton Wilson once described art as an act of seduction. If this is true, then Polyamorous Love Song is Jacob Wren's sly invitation into a world of sex cults, neorealist filmmaking, and radical biological-warfare. It entices you with an alternate universe where all your strangest fantasies are not just a reality, but a new way of life for people all over the world. Contrary to my best judgement, I have fallen in lust with this universe... along with everyone in it."

- Alison as part of McNally Robinson's staff picks



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August 22, 2014

A short text on certain aspects of collaboration

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All of my work has been in (some sort of) collaboration and yet I’ve always found these experiences of working together difficult, often unpleasant, and continue mainly because I have some ideological belief in it: that in working together with other people it is possible to make something more compelling, more tender, more unexpected, more vulnerable than it is possible to make alone. I don’t know if I genuinely believe this (anymore), in reality, but I continue to believe it in some other sense: as an ideal or fantasy. Then the question becomes: how does this ideal or fantasy interact with the difficulty of the reality? What do I do with my frustrations and disappointments? How do I lower my expectations while at the same time working towards something worthwhile?

Or a different kind of question: how does one live and take energy from one’s own loneliness? I know, as a teenager, I thought it perfectly reasonable to assume that working with others would make me feel less alienated, less isolated. For the most part it has not. I now fear I pinned my teenage hopes on the wrong misguided solution. I now wonder if there was some other question: how to be alienated together (from both each other and the world)? I associate being in a group with talking. What would it mean for me to associate it with silence? Or music? In a conversation about working in collectives, someone once told me there was a Columbian (I think it was Columbian) expression: “He with the most spit wins.” This made me laugh out loud in recognition. But am I even thinking about collectives anymore? What about leadership? What kind of leadership allows all members to flourish? Or a model where, for different things, at different times, we each take turns being in charge?

In a completely different text, I recently wrote: “I keep circling round and round this idea that what politics needs today is a different way of thinking about time, that the problem with Marxism is it was working towards victory in the future, while what we need is more like a victory of living together in mutual loneliness, a victory-in-the-present-as-future-that-will-never-come, which sounds frustrating, and probably is. But how to imagine this impossible present-future hybrid as not frustrating, as something good, something desirable, a struggle and strength worth having, as possible. Trying to imagine the things I am not yet able to imagine.”

A short text should end with a fantasy and the fantasy is as follows: I have an idea for how we should do it and you have an idea for how we should do it. I don’t much care for your idea and you don’t much care for mine. But we respect each other enough. So we try to think together what aspects of your idea are most important to you and what aspects of my idea are most important to me, to come up with a third idea that is so much more remarkable than anything either of us could ever come up with on our own. And we realize we have made a breakthrough, cherish this fact, want to keep going so it might someday happen again. And perhaps such things happen every day. Or perhaps togetherness really becomes magical when we leave, once and for all, the realm of ideas behind.



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August 11, 2014

The BookThug Interview with Jacob Wren author of Polyamorous Love Song



"And yet in that feeling that my position is marginal, there's also the hope that anything can happen..."



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August 8, 2014

A convention-busting novel about breaking social and aesthetic norms.

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"Polyamorous Love Song is a dream-like novel about the meaning and value of dreams, a convention-busting novel about breaking social and aesthetic norms. Wren has successfully married content and form, but it is important to remember to what end. Form is prescriptive. The value of a polyamorous love song would be the new kinds of love stories it would allow us to tell. This Polyamorous Love Song is dark, murky, anarchistic, but also deeply aspirational – a form to better reflect the conflicting desires of our lives and our dreams."

- Jade Colbert for The Globe and Mail.


[Read the rest of the review here.]



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August 6, 2014

Ten quotations on failure

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Failure exists in Relation to goals. Nature has no goals and so can’t fail. Humans have goals, and so they have to fail. Often the wonderful configurations produced by failure reveal the pettiness of the goals. Of course we have to go on striving for success, otherwise we could not genuinely fail. If Buster Keaton wasn’t genuinely trying to put up his house it wouldn’t be funny when it falls down on him.
– Cornelius Cardew



Everybody knows that failure is the key to everything. But then what’s next? If we know that failure is the way to get anything done that feels good, then it’s about getting the space to imagine the actual utopia that follows it. So yes, fail, but also allow yourself to imagine what could come next – not the perfect world inside of this world, but the perfect world that seems impossible. That is the thing that I hope comes out of a million failures.
– Erin Markey



I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.
– Michael Jordan



Lacan is not this kind of poet of failure. The truly traumatic thing is that miracles – not in the religious sense but in the sense of free acts – do happen, but it’s very difficult to come to terms with them. So we should reject this idea of a poetry of failure. For Lacan, Real is not this kind of Thing-in-itself that we cannot approach; Real is, rather, freedom as a radical cut in the texture of reality.
– Slavoj Žižek



You’re going to make some mistakes. Every time you make something that somebody likes, your impulse is to remind them that if you hadn’t made some of these other things that they hated, you wouldn’t have been able to make the thing that they liked. The attitude toward the stuff they don’t like is so extreme because they don’t understand the role that it has in your development.
– Steven Soderbergh



I assumed that everything would lead to complete failure, but I decided that didn't matter – that would be my life.
– Jasper Johns



Success and failure are greatly overrated. But failure gives you a whole lot more to talk about.
– Hildegard Knef



There's nothing that gets my heart going like the sense that I will fail.
- Miranda July



The greater the success, the more closely it verges on failure.
– Robert Bresson



If at first you don't succeed, failure may be your style.
– Quentin Crisp



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August 4, 2014

The thing standing in for its opposite.

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Anything can be corrupted, anything can be used as a cover for its opposite. The Vatican (and the inquisition) as Christianity that is basically the opposite of the teachings of Christ. Stalin as Communism that endlessly contradicts the more egalitarian desires of Marx. (The workers, not the state, should control the means of production.) America covertly toppling democratically elected leaders (Iran, Chile, the Congo) in the name of Democracy. You propose the dream of X, get others to believe in it, and I produce a nightmare while at the same time claiming my allegiance to X is true and real. And when someone says: that’s not X, that’s its opposite, I have them punished as a heretic or a terrorist. Is there any dream or plan or thinking that cannot be corrupted in precisely this manner?



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August 2, 2014

50 year fragment

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I had an idea. I would write a book and publish it on my 50th birthday. If I lived that long the mid-life crisis birthday would serve as a kind of deadline. The deadline came and went. It was going to be this book, but then I was unsure about this book and wondered if it could be some other book...



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July 21, 2014

"I write when I’m not dancing."

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I write because I’ve always enjoyed reading more than I enjoy life, and always enjoy life more because of certain things I’ve read. I write because I can still read books that were written hundreds of years ago (my favourite: The Manuscript Found in Saragossa by Jan Potocki, written between 1805 and 1815) and hope that some day, by some miracle, people will have the same opportunity with mine. However, so many books are currently being produced that it is extremely unlikely very many of them will survive, and even more unlikely that my books will be among these few. I write because it is a way of turning my despair into something other than despair. I write in the uncanny suspicion that there are others out there in the world who love reading unknown books as much as I do. I write because I don’t know what else to do with myself. I write when I’m not dancing. I write because no one has ever suggested I have a talent or aptitude for anything else. I write because literature must find new ways to be political and new ways to be literature. I write because, at some point, when I was much younger, someone must have given me implicit permission to do so. I continue to write because, some time around 2002, I got an email from someone I didn’t know saying she had found my book Unrehearsed Beauty in a used bookstore in Brazil, and I had absolutely no idea, or way of knowing, how it got there. I write because books travel in strange, unexpected ways. I write because I still have the pure fantasy that some day I will compose a sentence that is completely and utterly joyous.

- Jacob Wren, from Writer’s Block at LPG



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July 19, 2014

"If that’s what you’re interested in, well, what are you doing here?"

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Henry Flynt’s newfound enthusiasm for recordings of blues, jazz and rock and roll soon found an interlocutor in the person of John Cage. In February 1961, Flynt performed his own music in two concerts at Yoko Ono’s loft. Following one of the performances, he had an exchange with Cage that loomed large in his choosing to exit the scene. Flynt had attempted a piano piece – by his own account, unsuccessfully – that was inspired by Ornette Coleman’s free jazz. In their conversation after the concert, he and Cage found themselves speaking two entirely different languages. When pressed to explain the piece, Flynt told Cage of his interest not only in Jazz but also in the rock and roll and rhythm and blues of Bo Diddley and Chuck Berry. None of these names rang a bell for Cage, and someone had to explain just exactly who these people were that Flynt was talking about. Flynt recounts: “Cage said, ‘If that’s what you’re interested in, well, what are you doing here? And he was right, actually.”

- David Grubbs, Records Ruin the Landscape



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July 17, 2014

From the Twitter feed of Fuck Theory

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Corporate efficiency is not invested in negotiation or in imagination. Since the dawn of the industrial age, variation has been its enemy.

The legacy of Fordism is the dream of repetition without difference, of actions infinitely repeatable without variation.

Two separate issues here: One is an obscenely exploitative academic profession. The other is a general decline in personal time.

"Philosophy" happens when conceptually-inclined individuals have the time and space to indulge in complex speculation. That's all.

All of us have less and less free time, less and less open space, less and less energy not instrumentalized and regimented by capitalism.

Our tragedy is not the death of philosophy, it's that we won't be around to witness philosophy's absolutely inevitable renewed flourishing.

Philosophy survived the conquest of classical Athens, the fall of the Roman Empire, the rise of Islam, the reconquest of Iberia.

Also the end of Scholasticism, the Industrial Revolution, the rise of scientific positivism, & its own death at the end of the 19th century.

Framing the stakes as loss of humanity's intellectual legacy reproduces the ideological myth of the university as its heir and sole trustee.



[Fuck Theory on Twitter. Fuck Theory Tumblr.]


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July 13, 2014

Art and Compromise (Fragment)

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In my most recent book Polyamorous Love Song there is a chapter entitled “The Centre for Productive Compromise.” In that chapter, rather cryptically, one of the characters explains that the phrase “The Centre for Productive Compromise” is slang for “a really good fuck.” It is an odd, perhaps unfunny, joke and is never referred to again. But as I continued to work on the book I did consider attempting to explain, or at least to question, it. Does good sex take place in the realm of pure desire or does it, somewhat counter-intuitively, take place in the realm of compromise?

I have had several recent experiences in which I have watched artists compromise in ways that, from my perspective, resulted in considerably less interesting work. Some of these compromises were due to financial limitations, some due to questions of accessibility and other apparently the result of simple miscommunication. I do not want to name names. I do not want to accuse anyone of anything, or condemn compromise in any way. I love a good, productive compromise. I simply want artists to think more about the artistic compromises they are and aren’t making. I would like to begin a dialogue around the topic.

Most compromises take place behind the scenes, are relatively invisible. When you go see a given work you have no idea how close or far it is from the artists preliminary desires. If you like the work, you assume that’s the way it was meant to be, but equally, if you don’t like the work, you also assume that’s the way it was meant to be. Nonetheless, there are so many factors along the way of making anything that are negotiated through various degrees of experiment and compromise, though the word compromise is almost never used. What if compromise became an acknowledged method rather than a minor taboo?


[Unfinished.]



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July 9, 2014

lonely girl phenomenology // a violation of my quotation marks

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My text Diaries is featured in a special issue of the Dubai-based publication TheState. The issue is guest edited by lonely girl phenomenology/Amanda Lee Koe:


ISSUE #1: lonely girl phenomenology // a violation of my quotation marks


table of contents:

Diaries | Jacob Wren

Notes of a Crocodile (Notebook #2; 4) | Qiu Miaojin (translated from the Chinese by Bonnie Huie)

We love as cannibals / Stay alive longer | Christiane Craig

Decomposure | Kay Rozynski

Last Words from Montmartre (Letter #15) | Qiu Miaojin (translated from the Chinese by Ari Larissa Heinrich)



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June 29, 2014

Gods and goddesses against the gods.

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I was in a used bookstore and there was a book on the table. I didn’t buy it and still haven’t read it. It was called God Against the Gods. It was a history book about how monotheism eradicated pantheism, and flipping through it I had this moment of almost epiphany, thinking this is really the entirety of the problem summed up in one short title. The idea that there is only one way to do things: that capitalism, communism or democracy is the only way and all other approaches must be left in the dust. But life is nothing if it is not the energizing possibility that there are completely different ways of seeing the world, co-existing, conflicting and contributing to one another. Even as I write this I fear I am falling into the enervating hole of tepid democratic pluralism: anyone can believe whatever they please as long as nothing changes. Therefore different points of view must be alive within each of us, which is not the same as believing everything (or not believing anything) equally. In some sense, everything that exists in the world is also inside of each of us. Many gods and goddesses, many impulses, are in dialog and in conflict. The idea that there is only one god is a denial of this basic reality and therefore deadening...



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June 21, 2014

The Drunken Orchestra

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This work requires an orchestra. The orchestra prepares a program of music. This program should be slightly longer than usual. They rehearse this program as they would in preparation for any concert. The program is then divided into approximately thirty sections. On the night of the concert, between each section, all musicians down a shot of the alcohol of their choice (thirty shots each.) As the evening progresses, the performance gradually evolves into the work knows as The Drunken Orchestra.



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June 20, 2014

Surreal, transgressive and unsettling...

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"In a letter to a friend, Franz Kafka once wrote, “I think we ought to read only books that bite and sting us. If the book we are reading doesn’t shake us awake like a blow on the skull, why bother reading it in the first place?” Jacob Wren’s Polyamorous Love Song is such a book: surreal, transgressive, and unsettling. It has the capacity to not only deliver itself like a punch to the gut but also leave a lingering sting."

- first paragraph from the Liz Worth review of Polyamorous Love Song in Quill and Quire


[Read the rest of the review here.)



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June 14, 2014

French is the most beautiful language

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[This text was originally published in the Oh Canada catalog.]



In 1996, about sixteen years ago, I wrote the following text in preparation for my first performance in Montreal:
French is the most beautiful language. Anything you might want to say automatically sounds better when spoken in French. One sentence in English equals at least two sentences in French. Everything is not only longer, but also more beautiful.

French is the language we use to clarify and illuminate sentiment. It’s delicacy reveals what the rough-hewn edges of English do not.

Language destroys what it creates, is inhuman, makes true intimacy impossible, separates us more ferociously than the crumbled stone edifice of the Berlin wall. But within the humble clemency of the French tongue all is forgiven.

Politics is a disciple of language. Legal documents form a literature within which it is possible to destroy peoples lives in a much more concrete manner than the great romantic poets had even imagined. But every word one writes has consequences. And it is no coincidence that so many of the great works of literature and philosophy were originally formulated in French.

And when Europe becomes the most violent bloodbath that the millennium has yet to experience, as seems likely within the next hundred years, it is even more likely that the epitaph for the millions of mutilated and dead will be written within the supple intonations and tonalities of the ancient yet incalculable French language.

Personally I do not speak, read or understand a single word of French. I am speaking only hypothetically.

Near the end of his life Rainer Maria Rilke switched from German to French for the following reason: in German there is no word for absence which also implies presence and fulfillment. In German, absence is only emptiness...
Sixteen years ago, it seems, I wrote more poetically than I do now. At the time, I believed I was writing as simply as possible but did not know what lay ahead. Today, I am writing these (hopefully simpler) lines on a flight to Japan. I moved from Toronto to Montreal about ten years ago, and still don’t speak or understand French. But, as I travel, it strikes me that I really don’t speak or understand Japanese. When someone speaks to me, slowly and clearly, in French, I probably understand about thirty per cent. When someone speaks to me in Japanese, no matter how slow or clear, I understand nothing. I feel guilty about my lack of French, because in Quebec language is so politicized, while in Japan I feel virtually no guilt, perhaps partially because I am only visiting, but mainly because there is no expectation from the Japanese people I meet that I should speak their language.

The last time I was in Japan I walked by an art school and there seemed to be a gathering inside so, unsure if I was allowed, I wandered in. It was an opening for the end of year show and the teachers were leading a group of students around the room, stopping in front of each work in order to critique it. The spirit was not convivial: only the teachers spoke, the young artists being critiqued did not reply and the other students also said nothing. From a distance it was extremely clear who was in charge, as each student became tense and uncomfortable when their turn came. (I fear writing this since it verges on caricature and stereotype, and for all I know I might have only been projecting these dynamics, might have had it entirely wrong. They were speaking in Japanese so of course I understood nothing. Nonetheless, this is how it appeared to me at the time.) I stayed as far away from the procession as possible, looking at artworks I had no context for and did not particularly understand.

I was standing in front of a child-like drawing of a girl in bed smiling. It was all bright colors and naïve lines. As I was looking, the artist came up beside me, I did not yet know she was the artist, she couldn’t have been much more than twenty-five, and started grilling me, wanting to know what I thought. I was often asked my opinion in Japan, as if a Western opinion came from a significantly different place, had a different value, was exotic. I looked at her drawing and couldn’t think of a single thing to say, but, since there was no getting out of it, said that I found her work playful. “What does playful mean?” she asked, she didn’t understand the English word, and I tried to explain, saying it was like having fun. “Do you mean it’s happy?” she asked. From the way she asked I felt, for her, happy was an important quality in a drawing, something she was going for. “Yes,” I said, “I mean it looks happy.”

The first time I created work in Montreal – a performance entitled En français comme anglais, it’s easy to criticize – we rehearsed in a working class, francophone neighborhood in the east part of the city. The building was a former warehouse converted into artists studios and its most memorable feature was a large smokestack. As I walked to rehearsal each day, the first thing I would see was the graffiti on the smokestack spelling out the word “OUI” in giant black letters. I can’t quite remember, but this was either just before, or just after, the second referendum, and that OUI was a call for Quebec to separate from the rest of Canada. As a recent arrival, every day, that OUI said to me that we don’t exactly want you here. (Or at the very least I should learn French if I desired to stay.) At the same time, almost everyone I met was essentially kind to me and curious about what I was working on.

Much later, in 2009, my friend Sylvie told me she saw a documentary on Quebec television that clearly demonstrated that bombs thought to be planted by the FLQ (Front de Libération du Québec) in the sixties and seventies were in fact planted by the mounted police. The reason was to make the protesters seem more violent than they actually were, at first as a pretext to declare martial law, which Trudeau did in 1970 (the year before I was born), and later as a pretext for further arrests. Rumor has it that in 1970 the American minimalist Carl Andre threatened to read the FLQ manifesto as part of his exhibition at the National Gallery of Canada, and therefore the exhibition was cancelled. Andre’s purpose was likely to express sympathy with the FLQ, to support them, and perhaps also to align the aesthetic radicalism of his sculpture with radicalism of a more directly political kind. (I wonder if I am doing something similar here.)

Clearly the slight anger I occasionally experience, in Montreal, directed towards my lack of French is connected to history, a history I have only read about and feel little connection to. Then again, I ask myself what history can embody connection for me. Living in Montreal, I suppose, I feel as much resonance with this history as I do to any. With Canada’s current right wing government remaking the country as rapidly as they can legislate – remaking it into something that is, to me, terrifyingly neo-liberal, militaristic, corrupt, oil and prison crazy and perhaps much worse – Quebec’s desire to separate once again has the strange taste of sanity. In the most recent election, Quebec went orange (meaning NDP, our mainstream left-wing party) while the rest of Canada did not. It was a clear sign of Quebec’s differing values, not only that it is a more socialist province, but also that they took the risk, the leap of faith, to vote for a party that allegedly had only a slim chance.

The night I arrive in Japan we go to see the band Maher Shalal Hash Baz in concert at a small, dirty club called Shinjuku JAM. I am here to begin a collaboration with the band’s leader Tori Kudo. On the plane I was thinking over and over again about Quebec and Canada, in order to finish this text, but now such concerns feel irrelevant. Home is once again, for the time being, in the past. Hiromi is at the concert with me, she helped organize my residency here, and as we watch the band (who are spectacular, music has always meant the most to me) I look over at her, remembering something she told me during a previous visit: that the individual does not exist, the individual is a Western invention. I want to believe this is true, and also that it is a hopeful idea. That connecting with some larger idea of humanity or nature might offer up possibilities, either for me, to mitigate my depression, or for politics. But also: we become what we invent. We are products of the culture in which we were raised.

I believe I have to end this story by attempting to answer the question why, after all these years, I still (basically) do not speak or understand French. And to be honest, though I have many theories, I genuinely don’t know. I have tried to learn many times but it doesn’t seem to go in. There is something like a mental block. Some might say I’m simply lazy, but for me laziness has few negative connotations. In his seminal essay The Praise of Laziness, the Croatian artist Mladen Stilinovic writes: “Knowing about laziness is not enough, it must be practised and perfected. Artists in the West are not lazy and therefore not artists but rather producers of something.” He concludes: “there is no art without laziness.” However, if I thought that laziness was only great, I would not be quite so ashamed of the fact that I have spent my life doing the things that come easily to me and avoiding what was more difficult.

These days, Canada is clearly heading in the wrong direction (like most of the other countries in the world), and I believe we will manage to go quite far towards destroying what is best about it. I could condemn myself for this pessimism, or defeatism, but I can’t because I believe my thinking on these matters is basically accurate. (Unfortunately, almost everyone I know agrees.) Though I live in Canada, though I am a citizen, I feel powerless to alter the situation in any significant way. The fight will be too difficult. Sometimes I wonder if I would simply prefer not to know, not to see things so clearly, or at least not to see them in this way.

So perhaps there is a connection between my inability to learn French and this more general desire not to know. I travel a great deal, mainly to places in Europe where I do not speak the language, but the last time I was in Australia I was on a streetcar and started eavesdropping. This is horrible, I thought to myself, burdened by a sudden comprehension of the small talk around me. The things they were saying felt awful: trite, bland, small-minded, backward and petty. I likely would feel something similar if I understood the French conversations that surrounded me on the streets of Montreal. But misanthropy will not save us, neither will ignorance, and we must keep the hope alive that something within us still might.



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June 9, 2014

Monica Byrne Quote

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Mohini once said to me that we’re all children of rape, somewhere in our lineage, and how did I feel about that? We’re all the result of energy forced, not welcomed. The waves coming whether we want them to or not.

- Monica Byrne, The Girl in the Road



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May 30, 2014


May 22, 2014

Jacob's first letter for Adventures Can Be Found Anywhere

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Dear _________,

Today I received a publication in the mail. It is a publication that I am a part of, that I have a text in. They finished producing it last year, but didn't send out the contributors copies because they were slightly embarrassed. They had rushed production to have it ready for the concurrent exhibition, and therefore explained there were many typos within the magazine's pages. (They corrected the typos on the PDF.) I opened it and read the following: "How many friends can we have at a time? What happens to the friends you no longer see or hear? Where do you put them? When do you stop knowing them?" (These lines were written by Anicka Yi.)

Over the years I have thought a great deal about friendship. In some ways I worry that I am not a good friend, while in other ways it is clear to me that I am able to offer something unusual and honest, though certainly not consistent. It is certainly clear that much more of my time and energy is put towards artistic questions than it is towards questions of friendship, or even (or especially) towards questions of life. And now, quite suddenly, I see the problem of me also writing these letters. I see that I have in fact chosen Pessoa because (more or less) I basically am him. My writing consists of the same energetic melancholy that I so enjoy in his work.

I have never been against the idea of art as therapy, though I am aware of the fact that is has a bad reputation. But what is suddenly obvious, almost too obvious to state clearly, too obvious to write here, is that this comical idea of 're-writing Pessoa to make him more happy' must also have something to do with re-wiring myself to be happier.

What is my relation to the idea of happiness? When I hear the word 'happiness' my first response is the word 'America.' (This might be the most Canadian thought I have ever had in my life.) There is the old comparison - in Russia, when you meet someone in the street and they ask you how you're doing, you're supposed to say: life is hard, things could be better, it's always a struggle, etc., while in America, if you're asked the same question, you're suppose to simply say that you're doing great. So I guess when I hear the word 'happiness,' my first thought is something like 'fake happiness.'

Perhaps all of this has to do with the fact that my father grew up in America, that he only moved to Canada as an adult. I actually don't know anything about Pessoa's parents. Yesterday Adam made the joke that instead of re-writing Pessoa to make it more happy, we should in fact re-write Pessoa to make it more erotic. And I believe there is a kind of truth to be found in that joke (as there is in all good jokes), since much of Pessoa's melancholy had to do with unfulfilled romantic longing, with a lack of erotics in his actual life.

I've often wondered if there is any deep connection between sex and happiness, or if the connection was merely fleeting and the truth of happiness lies elsewhere. I have run out of time, so perhaps now is a good moment to end this strange letter.

Sincerely,
Jacob
May 21st, 2014



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May 18, 2014

Three quotes from Panegyric Volume 1 by Guy Debord

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Never to have given more than very slight attention to questions of money, and absolutely none to the ambition of holding some brilliant post in society, is a trait so rare among my contemporaries that some will no doubt consider it incredible, even in my case. It is, however, true, and it has been so constantly and abidingly verifiable that the public will just have to get used to it.



Our only public activities, which remained rare and brief in the early years, were meant to be completely unacceptable: at first, primarily due to their form; later, as they acquired depth, primarily due to their content. They were not accepted.



This time, what was an absolutely new phenomenon, which naturally left few traces, was that the sole principle accepted by all was precisely that there could be no more poetry or art – and that something better had to be found.



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May 12, 2014

Fragment 3

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Do not make threats you cannot keep or defend. Do not make threats, make something else instead. Someday someone will remember something you do not remember. Ask you what you meant by it. What will you tell them? In a café near Buenos Aires, No Future plays on the radio. That was thirty years ago and are we any closer to imagining a livable future that we might actually want to live in?



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May 11, 2014

I suspect that it might be more accurate to say that fundamentally we are social creatures who just happen to feel as individuals.

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The trouble is, as soon as therapeutic schools start to formalize and professionalize their procedures they nearly always—advertently or not—enmesh themselves in interiorizing philosophies of one kind or another. There are in fact very few approaches to psychological therapy that don’t in some measure subscribe to individualist, idealist and/or what I call magical voluntarist positions. All such approaches have their foundation in a general cultural assumption that is in fact very hard to shake off—i.e., that fundamentally we are all individuals who just happen to find ourselves in societies. I suspect that it might be more accurate to say that fundamentally we are social creatures who just happen to feel as individuals.

- David Smail



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May 7, 2014

Example of a Mithraic catechism...

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… He will say: ‘Where … ?

… he is/(you are?) there (then/thereupon?) at a loss?’ Say: … Say: ‘Night’. He will say: ‘Where … ?’ … Say: ‘All things …’ (He will say): ‘… you are called … ?’ Say: ‘Because of the summery …’ … having become … he/it has the fiery … (He will say): ‘… did you receive/inherit?’ Say: ‘In a pit’. He will say: ‘Where is your …?… (Say): ‘…(in the…) Leonteion.’ He will say: ‘Will you gird?’ The (heavenly?) …(Say): ‘… death’. He will say: ‘Why, having girded yourself, …?’ ‘… this (has?) four tassels. Very sharp and … ‘… much’. He will say: …? (Say: ‘… because of/through?) hot and cold’. He will say: …? (Say): ‘… red … linen’. He will say: ‘Why?’ Say: ‘… red border; the linen, however, …’ (He will say): ‘… has been wrapped?’ Say: ‘The savior’s …’ He will say: ‘Who is the father?’ Say: ‘The one who (begets?) everything …’ (He will say): ‘(‘How ?)… did you become a Leo?’ Say: ‘By the … of the father’. … Say: ‘Drink and food’. He will say ‘…?’

'… in the seven-…



- Example of a Mithraic catechism, apparently pertaining to the Leo grade, discovered in a fragmentary Egyptian papyrus



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April 18, 2014

Mirjam Bayerdörfer Quote

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In my spare time I've been trying to read, a lot on theater recently. Theater seems to be unavoidable after all. I found a quote by Jean-Loup Riviére talking about Roland Barthes relationship to theater, which I really like. It's in German, and I don't know if I get the point when translating it, but it would be something like this: Does not theater inherently contain something that eventually makes you abandon it/turn your back? Barthes himself also formulates interesting thoughts on theater, on how the stage resembles a private, homely situation within four walls, where someone tore open the door and leaves/exposes the actor or the human figure to total embarrassment. How the stage is a confined space with a strict logic and with no margins or fringes...

 - Mirjam Bayerdörfer



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March 30, 2014

Polyamorous Love Song launches and events

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I will be presenting my new book Polyamorous Love Song at these fine events:


April 4 & 5, Vancouver:

There are reasons for looking and feeling and thinking about things that are invisible: A two day event on New Narratives in Art Writing
Western Front Grand Luxe Hall
April 4, 7 - 9pm | Eileen Myles and Jacob Wren

April 5, 2 - 5pm | Lynne Tillman and Maria Fusco
Facebook event


April 11, Montreal

Double launch with Jacob Wren and Guadalupe Muro
Drawn & Quarterly Bookstore, 7 pm
Facebook event


April 15, Toronto

BookThug Spring 2014 Toronto Book Launch
Supermarket, 7:30-10:30pm


May 3, Montreal
BookThug Launch at Blue Metropolis Festival

Hotel 10, 4:00 - 5:00pm


May 4, Montreal
Montreal Book Launch for Angela Carr with Guest Jacob Wren 
Librairie Le port de tête, 6:00 - 8:00pm


 

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Hans Ruin Quote

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Collegial rule has always belonged to a culture where people within an institution function as each other’s evaluators. In the academy, researchers are constantly engaged in assessing each other’s work. It is a culture of both training and evaluating, first of students, but also of one’s peers. The culture of peer-review, in this respect, is at the centre of the academic ethos. However, in their search for clear standards of measurement, the administrators of the new management culture, with their stress on accountability and rational and transparent allocation of resources, have adopted standardized matrixes for the evaluation of research performance. This is the effect of what is nowadays also often referred to by social scientists as the new so-called “audit society”. Since the quality of research cannot be evaluated outside the space of the qualified judgement of one’s peers, the model of peer-reviewing and publication in peer-reviewed journals has now been adopted as a world standard for research performance.

In adopting this standard, the administrators of higher education have in a certain sense followed the ideal of collegial rule, yet at the same time they have also produced a grotesque perversion of this standard. Since resources have to be allocated according to some objective and transparent standard, one has adopted the only standard that the system can generate, namely peer-review. But precisely in picking up this standard, not ultimately with the purpose of securing quality and truth, but for resource allocation, one is also undermining the very ethos that lies at its heart. When researchers learn that their funding is dependent on peer recognition, they will behave rationally not in a long-term sense, but for short-term gains, which means that the system will also generate more of the same, like-mindedness, and cynical cartels of knowledge production, where researchers are quoting one another for short-term gains. This is a both sad and – depending on from what perspective one looks at it – ironic development.

In his commentary on the future of the humanities, [Simon] Critchley is led to the conclusion that in the end the universities, and in particular the humanities, must reconsider their role in this new situation, and reflect again on their core purpose: namely to and develop good intellectual skills, which means teaching people how to think, how to search for the true, how to experience the joy of realizing how it is. In its obsessive desire to produce and deliver good management, the new management culture is currently risking the corruption of precisely that very public institution that it claims to foster.

- Hans Ruin, On the Role of the University in the Age of Management Politics


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March 18, 2014

Chris Kraus Quote

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People who I respect say that you can only really deal with politics and situations after a passage of time, but I don’t agree. I think that if we don’t try and process, both for ourselves and publically, what’s happening in the present, it’s a very great loss. Because that is the archival material of the future. I think there’s a way of understanding things in the present that is impossible to ever understand in retrospect. So much gets lost. Usually it’s the ordinariness, and the pettiness, and the banality that gets lost.

- Chris Kraus


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



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March 16, 2014

Jill Magid Quote

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The danger for an empire or a communist state – or even a democracy gone awry – is that the people with power and those without are pushed farther apart. And the people on the inside become more cruel to those on the outside for fear of becoming them.

- Jill Magid, Becoming Tarden



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March 4, 2014

Heriberto Yépez Quote

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Imperial ideas transform time into space. Nomadic ideas, on the other hand, tend to understand time as a multiplicity of times. These times—tribes of monads—are autonomous from each other, each one obeying its own laws. (The notion of a single spatialized time is linked to the historical appearance of the State.) The Rarámuri, for example, developed a model based on the existence of more than one internal time, sustaining the existence of various “souls” that simultaneously co-existed within the human body. While the Huichol believe that when a pair of nomad groups meet two different times collide. This understanding of time not only functions to plumb the profound nature of the human animal but also to impede the formation of a unitary political order, a system of centralized control.

- Heriberto Yépez, Empire of Neomemory



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March 3, 2014

David Graeber Quote

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There would appear to be no society which does not see human life as fundamentally a problem. However much they might differ on what they deem the problem to be, at the very least, the existence of work, sex, and reproduction are seen as fraught with all sorts of quandaries; human desires are always fickle; and then, there’s the fact that we’re all going to die. So there’s a lot to be troubled by. None of these dilemmas are going to vanish if we eliminate structural inequalities (much though I think this would radically improve things in just about every other way.) Indeed, the fantasy that it might, that the human condition, desire, morality, can all be somehow resolved seems to be an especially dangerous one, an image of utopia which always seems to lurk somewhere behind the pretensions of Power and the state.

- David Graeber, Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology



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February 16, 2014

Let's go, anxiety doesn't change a thing!

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In response to my post below Text for The Politics of Friendship, in which she is mentioned, Antje Majewski writes:


Dear Jacob, I am very glad you are a feminist. If you want, you can become interested in our feminist group ƒƒ (fffffff.org). We already have one male member who is a feminist. Or, you can also become a "friend of the apple"… Let's go, anxiety doesn't change a thing! White males of the world, join us in having fun while doing things differently! with my very best wishes, Antje



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February 11, 2014

Text for The Politics of Friendship

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[This text was written for The Politics of Friendship, a publication partly in response to the article Further Materials Toward a Theory of the Man-Child by Mal Ahern and Moira Weige.]



I want to embody a radical politics (in the form of art) but mainly fail, come up against my own limitations, my inability to change (or change enough), my ambition, or simply the fear that I won’t survive. I don’t know if a straight white male (I rarely think of myself in these terms, but understand when others do) can be a feminist in any meaningful sense. But I am certain he should not go around proclaiming himself to be. Raised in this society, in this culture, we have so much sexism, racism, capitalism within us. One can and must be anti-sexist, anti-homophobic, anti-racist, etc., provided one is fighting against these things within oneself as well. One can also be a jerk.

My alienation is part of capitalism and I am more alienated than ever. (I’m noticeably bad at solidarity.) My loneliness is a part of capitalism and I’m lonelier than ever. (A feeling of connection constantly eludes me.) But should the Man-Child seek therapy? Why does therapy seem beside the point? So much therapy seems to work towards functioning more productively within the existing rules. Are there therapists teaching men to renounce a degree of their power, hand it over to the women around them? Does anyone with power or privilege honestly want to have less?

It is two years ago. I am in a museum in Graz, watching a video in which the artist Antje Majewski interviews Alejandro Jodorowsky, who is saying that he wonders if there can be such a thing as ‘secular grace’ (since historically grace was always connected to religion.) He is speaking about how every Wednesday he goes to a café and reads the Tarot cards of anyone who wishes to join him. In doing so, he ‘imitates’ sanctity (“…being at other people’s service. Without judging them.”) In real life he is full of anxiety, can be cranky, behave badly, but for one day per week, reading the cards of complete strangers, he tries to be a good person. “I imitate. But it’s a good imitation, because there are people who imitate being an assassin. In reality, I think everyone imitates something. Authenticity is difficult to find.”

I would never write anything as hateful or sexist as Theory of the Young-Girl. But this is no time to let oneself off the hook. As soon as you start speaking or writing about politics, you open yourself up to every kind of accusation and error. Expectations of purity or perfection lead endlessly in circles. So we must make (honest) mistakes, at times apologize, accept apologies or choose not to, change our minds, listen to what others say and (sometimes, genuinely) realize they are right. Moira Weigel and Mal Ahern are clearly right. In this time when even the best ideas lack praxis, the most painful questions are scattered in the future, and every honest man knows the future has not quite begun.

I re-read my last sentence, see I should change it. I have posited yet another future endlessly deferred, opened the door to further indecision. Weigel and Ahern propose something more concrete and want it now: more imagination, more courage, clarity, organization, a praise song and a program. I must listen.



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February 10, 2014

Text for the Rhubarb! 35 Performances for 35 Years Cabaret

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[This text was written for the Rhubarb! 35 Performances for 35 Years Cabaret.]



The year is 1989. I am eighteen years old and for some reason insist that everyone call me Death Waits, insist that this is my name. I have written a short play entitled A Brood of Doves and it has been accepted into Rhubarb! It is the first play I have ever written. I am assigned a director. She comes from Israel. I was raised Jewish but don’t self-identify as a Jew. It is only much later that I learn that Jewish artists have a history of taking on new names to conceal their Jewish origins and wonder if this has anything to do with the reason I changed my name to Death Waits. In my Jewish upbringing there was no mention of Palestine, therefore at age eighteen I have never heard of Palestine and am not yet politicized around the topic of Israel. The director I’m assigned comes from Israel. A Brood of Doves is heavily influenced by my juvenile reading of Foucault. It features two men, two women and a gun. They take turns pointing the gun at each other while discussing power. I have not looked at this text in a very long time and am sure I would be mortified if, for some reason, I were forced to read it today. The way the director directs my text makes it seem misogynist, as if the men were continuously abusing the women. This was definitely not my intention. It is a minor scandal. Some people feel my text and intentions were misogynist. I am traumatized by the experience and, in some sense, remain traumatized by it to this day. It was my first experience making theatre. The lesson I took from it is that the director has the power. A Brood of Doves was meant to be a meditation on the discursive nature of power. The lesson I took from it was: if you were to take a single text, and five different directors, they could make the same text say five different things. That was the moment I decided I would be the only one to ever direct my own work. I have only strayed from this policy a few times in my life, but every time I have done so I have found the experience incredibly painful. The decision to be the only one who is allowed to direct my own texts eventually led me to abandon playwriting altogether, to search for a new kind of theatre based on collaboration instead of on writing. If I didn’t want someone else to direct my words, I also didn’t want to put words in anyone else’s mouth. It seemed more ethical to me if performers said and did things they could take full responsibility for. In this sense the negative experience of A Brood of Doves set me on the artistic path I am still on to this day. This path had a painful origin, which is perhaps the reason it has mainly been painful. Or perhaps the reason lies elsewhere.



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February 5, 2014

Like A Priest Who Has Lost Faith: Notes on art, meaning, emptiness and spirituality.

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[This text was first publish in Etc 96.]



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Is it true that today, in casual conversation, artists often speak about wanting to have a career, but rarely speak about wanting to make something meaningful? Or is this casual observation only my cynicism rising to the surface? In the most general sense, the hope that art can be meaningful in people’s lives brings it very close to the spiritual, and this might be one of the many reasons the topic is often avoided. If I say I want a career (which, of course, I do as much as any artist) I might come across as ambitious, but there is also something practical and down-to-earth in my pronouncement. If I say I want to make something meaningful it is a higher style of arrogance, more old fashioned, less critical and therefore less contemporary. The desire to make something meaningful brings along with it a thousand small distastes and taboos.

When you like (or love) a particular work of art, and happen to meet someone else who feels the same way, it creates a sense of possibility: for connection, for the potential that shared values might exist, that these values might be articulated (and questioned) in relation to a shared experience. This is the agency of the work of art, to draw you towards itself and open up peculiar opportunities for connection amongst disparate individuals. This possibility for unexpected connection is, for me, the edge along which art draws closest to the spiritual. Or to put it another way, a sense of ongoing connection, with friends or strangers, in relation to an object or idea outside ourselves, is the closest my thought gets to spirituality.

Let me attempt a rough definition: the spiritual is a sense that there exists something larger than us, larger than us as individuals and larger than us as humanity. There is not just us and what we see in front of us, there is also something else, and it is through this something else we are able to experience ongoing connections between us. This definition is so rough that, using it, we could easily say that fascism is a form of (debased) spirituality. And of course it is. If we don’t get the real thing, if we are not allowed a genuine sense that the gods or spirits exist, that there is something otherworldly to believe in, we will search for every kind of possible substitute.

(I used fascism as my first example, but fear this was only empty provocation. Of course, using my rough definition, a more obvious example would be to say that a felt connection to the natural world – with plants, animals and eco-systems – is extremely spiritual. Many do, and at this point in our disastrous ecological freefall, it is hard to argue.)

Like many of us, I am in crisis (with one possible difference being that I have a compulsion to announce my sense of crisis as often as possible.) I am in crisis about art and also about everything else. There are many ways I have attempted to describe this crisis, but the one I use most often is as follows: I feel like a priest who has lost faith in god, but continues to give a weekly sermon anyways. This description has something to do with making performances, with the feelings engendered by getting up in front of a room full of people, people who are there to watch you, and performing something for them (or for yourself yet in front of them.) About the anxiety that what one is doing may, or may not, be meaningful to many of those present. The performance situation itself suggests a certain potential for connection among a room full of strangers, but this connection is bound to (at least partly) fail, because when the performance is over the connection is severed, is relegated to memory.

If the congregation believes in god, but the priest giving the sermon does not, there is an unbridgeable chasm of intention between what is being said and how it is perceived. If the priest believes in god, but the congregation does not, then one might wonder why they even bother to attend in the first place. Yet even if everyone in the room believes like crazy, there is always a paradox at work in the heart of the experience, since it is the belief itself, the faith and the fact that it is shared, that generates the sense of connection. And, vice versa, the connection that generates a sense of faith. A classic feedback loop. We feel connected to the people who surround us because we all believe in the same thing, and our belief is continually reinforced by our sense of feeling connected to each other.

All of this has very little to do with my actual experiences of watching contemporary performance or looking at contemporary art. I am much too secular, too isolated, for such examples to take on a life of their own. Nonetheless they are analogies that feel potent to me, that speak to a certain lack. When I walk into a contemporary art exhibition what is it exactly that I am supposed to believe in? How many of these beliefs am I expected to bring with me prior to my experience of looking at the work, and what aspects of these beliefs, these preconceptions, are necessary for me to be able to experience it?

I am astonished how empty I often feel after watching a performance or viewing an exhibition. I always wonder how many others feel this way, why more people I know don’t speak of their experiences of art in these terms? It is as if everyone involved in art is simultaneously expected to be a cheerleader for the cause, to keep reciting the sermon every Sunday whether they feel it or not. You are allowed to say you want a career, but you are not allowed to say you want more meaningful art experiences. All of this, of course, makes me wonder what I would need from art in order to feel less empty.



2.
In his 1991 book We Have Never Been Modern, Bruno Latour argues that the scientific separation between nature and human affairs that marked the onslaught of modernity – the revolution that severed the modern from the pre-modern world – in fact never occurred. Instead of clearly dividing the natural world from the human one, Latour posits that modernity formed around a series of crafty double games, playing nature against society and vice versa, utilizing critique of both past and present to generate complicated hybrids and paradoxes that become impossible to circumvent. For example, on the one hand modernity says “nature is not our construction, it is transcendent and surpasses us infinitely,” and “society is our free construction, it is immanent to our action.” But, at the same time, it also says “nature is our artificial construction in the laboratory; it is immanent,” and “society is not our construction, it is transcendent and surpasses us infinitely.” While these two positions might, at times, be debated by individuals on opposite sides of a given argument, when taken in their entirety they form a world view that is utterly inconsistent, and can utilize it’s own inconsistencies as a pretext to take power and exploit the natural world. While the modern might claim that primitives were full of irrational beliefs, Latour demonstrates that modern beliefs are equally (or even more) irrational, that they are matters of faith.

I recently became interested in Latour while reading a interview with him in Animism I, the first of two catalogs from a touring exhibition curated by the artist Anselm Franke. Two short sentences in an interview with Latour struck me with particular force: “What is the action of the gene? What does it do and where does it come from?” These questions occurred in the midst of a discussion on animism, when Latour decides to speak of animism not in terms of belief systems of previous cultures, but simply as the possibility that objects, and by extension the natural world, has agency. He imagines confronting a hypothetical critic of Franke’s exhibition:
Now, you are anti-animist. Does that mean there is no agency in the world? At all? Your interlocuter would say, yes, of course there is agency. Atoms have agency, cells have agency, stars have agency, psyches have agency; and then you begin to look at the specificity and the specification of all these agencies, and you realize that you begin to jump from one field to the other […] So we begin to have a whole series of transports, of agencies from one domain to the other. Biology would be full of it. The whole question of agencies in biology is the gene. What is the action of the gene? What does it do and where does it come from?
I believe this question struck me so forcefully because it took me back to the anger I felt, in the early nineties, reading The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins. (The opening sentences of this text might well be subtitled ‘the selfish artist’.) The feeling I had that, in the wrong hands, evolution was little more than a tepid creation myth: once upon a time there were genes that wanted to preserve themselves and these genes evolved and evolved until eventually they became people. The misguided anthropomorphism with which Dawkins speaks of these genes infuriated me, as did his misplaced anger towards religion, which in fact he only wants to replace with his own theory, a theory that is considerably less complex and resonant. It seemed to me that if Western modernity is going to have a creation myth, the very least we could do is come up with something helpful, something that offers solace, something that makes life better instead of worse. And then this well-known quote from Darwin: “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.”

Unfortunately, I have not seen Franke’s exhibition. I have only read the catalogue, which begins:
For most people who are still familiar with the term “animism” and hear it in the context of an exhibition, the word may bring to mind images of fetishes, totems, representations of a spirit-populated nature, tribal art, pre-modern rituals and savagery. These images have forever left their imprint on the term. The expectations they trigger, however, are not what this project concerns. Animism doesn’t exhibit or discuss artifacts or cultural practices considered animist. Instead, it uses the term and its baggage as an optical device, a mirror in which the particular way modernity conceptualizes, implements, and transgresses boundaries can come into view.
The exhibition, inspired by Latour, desires to examine animism in order to question whether modernity’s claims of having broken with the past are accurate. From the images in the catalog, all of which are intriguing, I believe it stages this inquiry as a strong contemporary art exhibition, with photographs, videos, installations, historical materials, wall texts, etc. The exhibition clearly doesn’t want to be animist, it only wishes to make use of the topic in order to ask extremely pertinent questions. (Questions I am clearly fascinated by.)

There is something ironic in using critique and questioning, the modern strategies par excellence, in order to undermine the assumptions of modernity. Latour is clear that there is no point in critiquing modernity – since modernity continually thrives on critique in order to re-invent itself, creating new hybrids and paradoxes in the process – and instead we must go somewhere else, find another way of looking at the world, another way of understanding our relation to the past. Strategies used by the Animism exhibition suggest there would be no way for an exhibition today to embody an animist worldview, such a thing could only take place if the viewers themselves were believers. However, it is also true that we simply don’t know, since no attempt is made to imagine what kind of exhibition might embody a spirit of animism today. In its refusal to struggle with the possibility that works of art do have a life of their own – in that we, at times, believe in them, and this belief can actually make us act, lead us do or think in ways we would have never otherwise considered – I suspect an opportunity is missed, a challenge that may well be taken up by some future project.

I wonder if the framework in which most contemporary art attempts to generate meaning is analogous to the ‘never been modern’ framework that Latour criticizes. Art is a world that separates, continuously playing the divisions against one another in ways that are often contradictory: good art against bad, art against everything else, political art against commerce, etc. The gallery is a place for art, but it is also a way of removing art from the rest of life. In my earlier analogy of the priest who has lost faith, I move back in time towards Christianity (a faith I have no personal experience with) but perhaps I don’t go back far enough. I have not read nearly enough anthropology to know about previous cultures, previous ways of life, but following Latour’s lead I would like to imagine an art, society and worldview that is considerably less divided. (Latour calls this position ‘amodern’.) If nature is alive then it can, of course, speak to us. And if art is anything, it must have some life of it’s own, but a life far more integrated with our daily impulses and actions. These are ideals I have not taken even the smallest step towards. Nonetheless, I wonder about such matters constantly.

Richard Senett writes: “Ritual’s role in all human cultures is to relieve and resolve anxiety, by turning people outward in shared, symbolic acts; modern society has weakened those ritual ties. Secular rituals, particularly rituals whose point is co-operation itself, have proved too feeble to provide that support.” Going to galleries and performances is a kind of ritual, as is making any kind of art. But they are weak rituals indeed, full of bad faith, ego and careerist intentions. Why can’t we create works of art, and philosophies, that actually help us live our lives? Why does this question feel so naïve and ridiculous to me? From the beginning of time utopians of every stripe have been searching for a less divided world, and there is certainly no reason to stop searching today.



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