December 23, 2011

Explanations are metaphors

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Explanations are metaphors
we understand through approximation
experience short-circuits understanding
and we re-establish perspective through analogy
if one thing, or experience, is not like
another, what then is it like?
it is like itself but this explains nothing
we might say it is a question of
language, of wanting to explain
of wanting to understand
it is a question of desire
when you want
you want to know what and why
why and what happens next
requiring explanations
with no explanations there is nothing
therefore metaphors are the
engines of our heart
or the opposite
an empty heart can only be filled
therefore metaphors are the rusty armor
that paralyze experience
I’ve never used the word heart
in a poem before
and I’m realizing now
it is no coincidence it appears
among concerns of explanation
and metaphor
the technical heart pumps blood
but our own blood
is not what we crave


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December 19, 2011

It feels like being a loser

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It feels like being a loser
everything, especially writing this poem
everything the same as nothing
(if you want something you can’t have,
and want it all the time, it’s equally
dissatisfying as wanting it never)
this feeling of being a loser
buys into a set of social values I am
completely against
but I feel it, the feelings we feel
reject and feel again
and accept, reject and feel again
with everything I am asked
to do, I ask myself: do I have a choice?
in what way do I have a choice?
I see the winners, the bullies
the assholes, and reject them
wondering if they are happier
and see myself, reject myself too
the world, what is the
world apart from this world
we have created
it is many, many things
it is everything and we
so rarely see it
it is everything, at least
for a few more hours
this feeling of being a loser
of everything, much like
the many things
already lost



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Performing, tradition and politics

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To feel like a trained performing monkey
is normal enough in my profession
if one can say that it's normal to feel

when bad ideas become traditions
we call it modernity
in this time when traditions barely last

if art is a mirror to society, of politics
than it is no wonder all this art sucks
there is the painful sucking and the pleasurable kind

why not both? the constant search for a
third way, as every third is folded back into
the second or first, into one trivial substance

too tired to fight, the exhaustion keeps fighting without us
a discussion needs neither a beginning nor end
an aphorism requires little more than brevity



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December 17, 2011

Obsessing over the ramifications of the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act. (A moment in history.)

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In the bright light of day, the United States becomes a lawful fascist state.

Finally American citizens can legally be treated in the same spirit that America treats everyone else, in the spirit of American foreign policy, as if they were part of the world they are destroying.

Evil rich people caught in moments of fake compassion.

When something exists it must be used. (Because nuclear weapons exist, sooner or later they must be used, to justify their existence.)

Obsessing over the ramifications. Feeling a paranoia that verges on perfection. McCarthyism times three trillion. So many lives ruined on a million of the flimsiest pretexts. Not tomorrow. Soon enough.

I wrote paranoid poems before and came to the conclusion there was no point. I wanted to write for the future, in that spirit: as if there was a future to write for. I wanted to say to the future: We saw it all happening. We knew it was terrible. We knew our culture was criminal. We felt powerless.

I want to ask the future how it feels but this might be the single stupidest thing I’ve ever written. Wanting solutions from the future is little more than a sign of despair. There is only now and we must find whatever small solutions we can within the present.

Wondering if – today, tomorrow, some time in the next twenty years – it’s possible for me to write something that will cause me to be arrested, whisked away, taken somewhere secret for an indefinite period, tortured. I know it is and at the same time know it isn’t. Wondering if anything might happen because I’m writing this now. Wondering about consequences.

It probably won’t be me. I'm too ineffective. It will be someone else. Again and again. Closer and closer. How much longer will it take before we feel it with every breath?

There have been so many turning points, each one turning towards the worst, spinning. We are dizzy from them.

I still like listening to music.



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December 12, 2011

Early Notes (Perverse Curating)

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The meta-questions play free bird.

I'm a failure here myself.

Bestseller on the topic of spectacular sexual failure.

Guitar solos of spectacular width and brevity.

The meta-questions play startled stallion.


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December 11, 2011

Debt is the perversion of a promise.

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Debt is the perversion of a promise, a promise that has been perverted through mathematics and violence. I’m not saying mathematics is bad, but the combination of mathematics and violence is extremely bad. A debt is a promise to give a certain sum of money, in a certain amount of time, under certain conditions. It is a contract that is ultimately enforceable through the threat of force. The problem is that through a genuinely perverse historical alchemy, we’ve come to see such acts of violence as the very essence of morality.

- David Graeber


[The rest of the interview can be found here.]



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December 4, 2011

Fundamental to our understanding of making art is the fact one is frequently misunderstood.

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Fundamental to our understanding of making art is the fact one is frequently misunderstood. /// But how misunderstood should one allow oneself to be? /// Comedy should not be mistaken for bitterness, yet mostly that is the well from which it springs. /// If one is understood too much it might also feel like a misunderstanding. /// Like an x-ray that sees us as we really are (by seeing straight through us.) /// Critical analysis can be like that x-ray, what it sees is not precisely what is there, both more and less. /// X-ray as a kind of misunderstanding, looking too specifically as a way of mis-seeing. /// But these are not the misunderstandings I meant. /// Anything can be said to concern anything. /// It is not assumed that the artist accurately knows what he or she means. /// There is always the desire to find the meaning behind the intention. /// The advertiser knows the exact intention of his or her work, but the artist does not. /// Yet the artist has an excess of intention. /// Within the very nature of this excess there is a gap, and it is this gap that interpretation seeks to fill. /// It is like a person where you wonder if you really get them, if there is in fact more to get, what they are holding back. /// They are a person but you are an x-ray. /// As if wandering through an airport, the person must submit. /// The artist is holding something back, cannot give you everything, but you will uncover the secret. /// The secret is that the artist cannot possibly know everything his or her work is doing in the world. /// (Or failing to do.) /// People are constantly telling me how great I am. /// Meanwhile, I am dying of loneliness.



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December 3, 2011

Evil is just bad choices vehemently pursued

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Evil is just bad choices
vehemently pursued
like a course in doing the right thing
where they teach you: think of the wrong thing
than do the opposite
but forget to teach you to do the opposite
there are pains you can escape
and pains that will pursue you
crimes that change your life
and crimes that go unnoticed
when will the wrongs be set right?
right after the next wrong goes terribly wrong
I can be generous, but I can also
be small-minded and petty
does this make me like everyone else?



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November 30, 2011

Nothing that exists is going away any time soon

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Nothing that exists is going away any time soon
not nuclear power nor sympathy
not the desire for a better world nor warlords nor
the unmanageable complexity of the industrial world
we are stuck with these things
there will be famine and plague but
nothing will go away
we still have the church and we still have cigarettes
there are still a few people who think the world is flat
and some day I might join them
what difference does it make to my life
if I think the world is flat or round
(and there is always a strange pleasure
to be part of some small, self-chosen group)

Nothing that exists is going away any time soon
not sexism nor emancipation, not art
nor the end of art nor television or drugs
or the war against drugs
and none of these things will be spread evenly
across the planet either
always some will have more, some less
(some will have more warlords while
others will have more diamonds)
not even going way will go away
there is only here
sickening and joyous
and everything in between
we can fight and we can lose or
we can make a little progress
we can lose hope or keep it
cherish small progress or let it go
there are good arguments on all sides
bad arguments too
not apocalypse nor utopia nor
happiness nor doom
let each of these things shake our
imagination and our actions
each in its turn



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Early

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I am looking at young people and wondering if they always seemed so young

these particular young people are particularly inarticulate

also not speaking their first language

one says: this unambitious attitude is really important, that is why we took this opportunity to do what we want

normally one translates from another language into one's own

later I find out that the main one is famous, her father also famous, her unambitious attitude too

the cliches keep on giving



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November 28, 2011

Coment on a coment on teaching

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I think if they had been talking about 'family, babies or a recipe they enjoyed' I would have been equally disgusted.

But if they had been talking about a new record I might have been interested.

This is all, of course, extremely unreasonable and arbitrary. I can be flexible but I'm also searching for the pleasure of writing things that are unreasonable.

It seems insane to me that I still have a romantic view of artists, since I see no evidence to support such a view, but it remains a desire. A desire for art to be something more (or violently less) than everything I see around me.

And, reading the comments again, I realize again that my humour is often too black, slight or dry, and people miss that the words I write are both meant and not, that I feel my views as painful but can also see them (and myself) as ridiculous. (I mean, I've never punched anyone in my life.)

I am flexible. Which means I know just how boring being flexible can sometimes be.



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München

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I don’t think this is the kind of place I would go if I lived here, but since I don’t live here it is the best coffee I have found so far. If there’s money involved you admit to behaving differently, but maybe you don’t behave as differently as you think (or secretly hope.) Everything here reminds me of money, but this is only a shallow first impression, one it is unlikely I will get past. (In the end I did a little.) Today the coffee comes with a single pink rose petal on the saucer (or maybe a petal from some other flower, I’m not sure.) They meant it to be a ‘nice touch’ but it also reminds me of money. Strange it reminds me of money since a single petal doesn’t cost much, but of course the cost is somewhere else. (Perhaps in the privileged confidence of the flourish.) And the coffee is strong, rough, with some bite to it. I am here for one week and don’t imagine I’ll ever be back, but the people I meet here I might meet other places, since we all seem to travel (another privileged flourish.) I want to have some thoughts that are worth writing, that are worth putting down, but my thoughts only remind me of other, more consequent, thoughts I had, and wrote down, in the past. Today’s versions feel watered down but perhaps something might happen tomorrow that would spark them in some new direction. There is a strange pleasure to writing when it feels like there’s no point. For as long as I can remember I’ve sat in cafes to write. Sometimes, as one dull sentence ends, the next one starts in some way you never thought possible, a little surprise that comes from you but at the same time doesn’t. The radical potential of the unconscious is that it is impossible to completely know or predict. This is also what is frightening about it. Sometimes the next sentence surprises you but, so far, not today. Yesterday, as we were walking towards the metro through the too cold night, I made the joke that I would prefer to be in Brazil. I said something like ‘thanks so much for inviting me to your festival, but there’s one thing about your festival that feels really wrong to me and that’s the fact that it’s not in Brazil.” And we laughed for a moment but today it is pure gray sky and just as cold and I really would prefer to be in Brazil, even though I’ve never been there, my constant tendency to obsess over warm places I’ve never been as some sort of utopian escape from winter. And later this week, for the first time in fifteen years, I will publish poetry, a small booklet entitled Someone who doesn’t experience or understand pleasure. Fifteen years ago I promised myself I would stop publishing poetry, that I no longer wanted to be in that ghetto, but then this moment came when I sent in a manuscript on a whim, I saw an open call on Facebook, and suddenly here it is, twenty-four pages written over the past ten years. That is back in Montreal and I am here in Munich. I must really be lost if I’m publishing poetry again. I mean, I do think we need more poetry in our lives (for example: pretending, if only for a moment, that Munich is Brazil), but we also need less poetry in poetry. To be so marginal feels almost violent to me and yet I realize I will always be marginal. Real success is not for me, while at the same time people are constantly telling me how successful I am. I can only write on my blog when I imagine no one is reading it. The moment I imagine someone might be reading this, the writing immediately stops.



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November 20, 2011

Reasonable

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Everyone is so reasonable and the results are so tepid.

Then everyone is so unreasonable and the results are equally tepid.

And occasionally, for no reason at all, the results are exhilarating.

Who wouldn’t love to be painfully bursting with life.

When you write the first line you don’t know the next and certainly don’t know the last.

If it lasts for a while, it might as well last forever.



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November 19, 2011

Addendum

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How, when you speak, to mean not only what you say, but also to mean the opposite, at the same time. Because life, and each of us, are so full of contradictions.

Then again, why do I think the anti-spectacular always equals the humane. No shock and no awe.

The institution knows only one trick: to absorb things from outside itself, present them, in order to make them more safe. To save them from obscurity and bind them to history. But there are so many different ways to do this: good, bad and every shade between.

One trick is not so much, and yet, sometimes, years, decades, pass in which the institution cannot do even that. It still knows the trick but simply chooses not to. Is a little bit of spice better than nothing? And for who?

For me. I don’t know how to live.







[This text is a kind of addendum to the previous post: Strange Gratitude]


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November 6, 2011

Strange gratitude

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You said to me that I saved the institutions anniversary. (Of course only a joke.) But I don’t want to save the institution. I don’t want to save anything.

I think the institution is a factory for producing mediocrity and for maintaining the status quo (sometimes a little bit more adventurous, sometimes a little less, but never a compelling shift, never a hopeful curiosity, openness or break.)

I want to burn it to the ground but I’m too polite. And there would be no point since new institutions would quickly arise, the same or worse. And my burning to the ground skills aren’t up to the task.

I want things to change but the changes I desire are too much for reality. And the small shifts that do occur feel in not exactly the wrong (or right) direction.

Why must everything be pumped up with false energy and enthusiasm? Where is the vulnerability? If we are insecure, why must we front? Why can’t we walk on stage and perform in ways that show our insecurity? That are fragile? That show we are damaged, curious, unsure and therefore human? Why can’t our politicians do the same? (Because they would never win.)

Is it only because we are always auditioning, for everything: for love, work, friendship, value, meaning, time, hope? I no longer know how to sort the fantasies that matter from the ones that don’t.

What others find entertaining does not entertain me, but, then again, what does? If I feel that someone is trying to sell me something, especially themselves, I completely shut down.

And yet here they were trying to sell myself back to me at a reduced, yet more expensive, price. A commercialized, scrambled, overproduced version of myself I could barely recognize.

How to be if the world does not understand my aims, even when they try, and if equally I do not understand theirs? (And is their anything accurate in this sensation I had while watching, and later thinking about, what had occurred. Rarely am I accused of excessive gratitude.)

M. writes: “More problematic to me was to see them bursting from a kind of overconfidence that seemed to hide their own lack of self-assurance. While it gave an interesting look to the more political bits of your work, it also seemed to hinder the parts that are more revealing, full of self-doubt and honesty.”

But it’s easy to criticize. This, what I write here, is barely rational, not critique, an emotional language, a sad insanity, intensity.

Such insanity compels me to send this out into the world, fires me up to confess that watching that show, even once, made me feel completely suicidal, completely bereft. (But I’m always suicidal, so what is this sudden surge in intensity? Might there be something positive in it?)

I don’t even know how to live in the days following the premier, a night that feels like the complete betrayal of everything I have been trying to do for the past twenty-two years, of everything I desire, of everything I believe in. And I really don’t say this against the people who made it, since, in many ways, I believe they genuinely did the best they could. I say this only against myself, for agreeing to it, for saying yes in the first place. For saying yes to a scenario I knew from the start would have this precise result.

I fear my ‘yes’ came mainly for cheap reasons: to promote my name, expand my brand. I have no high horse to get up on. And yet I’m on this galloping horse nonetheless. Henri Michaux writes: “It is when you gallop that your parasites are most alive.”

And if, actually, against my better judgment, I do eventually post this, it will be little more than another passive-aggressive act in a lifetime of the same. I apologize and, as always, feel sad. Sadness, confusion and conflicted feelings.

From this position what constructive politics could possibly emerge?



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November 1, 2011

Teachers generally like teaching

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What I've learned through the comments on the post below, both here and on Facebook, is that, it seems, teachers generally like teaching. Strangely this was news to me.



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October 30, 2011

On teaching

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There’s a joke I often make about teaching.

Something like: I hate teaching. I hate the students. I just want to punch them in their smug little faces over and over again. But I am led to believe that this is not within the boundaries of acceptable pedagogy.

It always gets a laugh. Its not particularly funny. People laugh because the sentiment is both inappropriate and (more than?) a little bit true. Here we arrive at our first lesson: teaching is not generally considered to be a matter of violence. Except when it is.

When I wonder about my own motivations: in teaching, in life, in art – I always find it most comforting to attribute my actions to the basest motives. That I do these things only for money, ego or (most gloriously) for absolutely no reason at all.

It feels better to think I am doing something for a bad reason than to say I would like to do something for a good reason. For me this is very close to the idea of pedagogy.

The honest desire that I want things to change, that I want my actions to effect the changes I desire, seems ridiculous to me.

I was at an art opening, standing around with a group of artists, all artists whose work I admire.

One of them started complaining about teaching, about the workload and the level of the students. About how draining it was. Everyone joined in, and suddenly I wasn’t standing around with a group of artists, I was standing around with a group of teachers.

Despite all evidence to the contrary, I continue to have a fairly romantic view of artists, while I have a remarkably unromantic view of teachers. (My father was a teacher.) And in the moment when the switch happened, when the people I was surrounded by flipped from artists to teachers, it was a bit like the entire world unraveled.

If artists are teachers, then what are artists?

I felt certain that the motives of each of us in the circle, our motives for teaching, were mainly connected to money, to the desire to make a living. (I probably teach the least of the group, which sadly made me feel just a little superior.) I felt our teaching had nothing to do with the dissemination of knowledge or with any sort of genuine caring for the students. But why did I think this? What evidence did I have? Was I only projecting my cynicism onto those around me or could I actually say something in support of my theory?

When one is standing in from of a classroom there is an incredible pressure to perform.



[Unfinished.]



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October 28, 2011

Blaise Cendrars quote

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I was a youngster in those days,
Hardly sixteen and already I couldn't remember my childhood.
I was sixteen thousand leagues away from the place I was born.
I was in Moscow, the city of a thousand and three belfries and seven railroad stations,
And the seven railroad stations and the thousand and three belfries weren’t enough for me
... For youth was so burning and so mad
That my heart smoldered like the temple of Ephesus or flared like the Red Square of Moscow
At sundown.
And my eyes were headlights on the old roads. I was already such a poor poet
That I never knew how to get to the end of things.

- Blaise Cendrars



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October 26, 2011

Failures come alive

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Perverse curating

Dressing up and acting normal

Boring lecture on a fascinating topic

Failures come alive



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October 19, 2011

Club music

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Club music. A beat that doesn’t change or that shifts constantly, relentlessly, when you least expect it or at regular intervals. Squelching noises. Very low sounds against very high frequencies. A part where it escalates, getting more and more intense, faster like a panic attack. On a crowded dance floor, sweating, you twirl and brush against another dancer, against naked flesh, and suddenly it’s the most sexual experience of your life, sudden shuddering orgasm, almost epileptic, you come and collapse, half-conscious, curled up in a ball in the middle of the dance floor, thrusting and kicking feel surround you. If dancing is sex than what is sex. Sex is like a map, a series of memories, a series of sketches of your most intense and emotionally complex experiences. Where are the songs that find ways to be completely honest and accurate about emotions, because that’s not what songs are for. Love songs are lies to get the ball rolling and the right kind of lie is delicious. A blog is a very dead thing in comparison. Artists who can’t find the sea.



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October 18, 2011

And I noticed my poems were too staged

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And I noticed my poems were too staged, too rational, reasonable – it was like they’d never fucked anyone – arching their way towards closure, conclusion. I wondered if they’d ever crack into confusion of jagged edges or if I would, and why I wanted this more chaotic so much, why psychotic equaled pleasure. Often when out with people I would find myself bored, disengaged. Why write poems that were only a diary of nothing happening and the resulting reflections, so others who also had no vital life could read them and relate. If my poems were fantasies on what ledge would they break, find defeat, elation, defeated elation falling in and out of love. Where is the sinister point of exaltation? Last night I gathered a few poems and sent them to a magazine run by young people wanting to get things done. When I was their age my life was even more dull. I have tried to outgrow my youth, tried to become younger, but the chastity of my twenties haunts me like a crime. If there is one way I would like to be normal I would travel back in time and be normal like that. Is sex the anarchy these poems lack? Is skydiving with no parachute? Will formal constraints save me, when everything else is lost?



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Song fragment (concerning the vagaries of aging)

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I think there’s something you don’t understand
you won’t always be a hot young band
your hair will gray and your styles grow old
I’m not telling you this just to be cold

I think there’s something you don’t understand
your songs will age, so will your fans
your photographs will no longer seem bold
the songs that sell will have already sold

You had your rock, you had your run
hope you put a little something in the pension fund
but don’t give up, don’t think you’re through
just remember I’ll always be older than you



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October 15, 2011

Excerpt from Chamber of Public Secrets' subjective effort to explore the richness and specificity of collective curating

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To begin with, there were a couple of questions from Viktor Misiano: ‘If not you, who? If not now, when?’ And a number of responses straight from thinking loud:

a) The idea of collective curating is a matter of being able to renounce what I already know in order to learn what I do not know – and someone else in the team does. How far can I embrace this attitude and renounce my individual knowledge? Collectives (should) resonate wider; it is not only a matter of adding knowledge and producing something that is bigger than the sum of its parts. It is a dynamic that works by detraction rather than addition and extends its reach precisely by renouncing the singular power position.

b) The above is also important in terms of building and enlarging audiences, be that an art public, a media audience or a peer community: besides renouncing or acquiring knowledge, it is a matter of giving up control and accept risk. Collective production can go awfully wrong or fantastically well for unforeseeable reasons because they involve a greater number of actors. In this context, I work within a territory that is (and remains) uncharted. Calculated risk is a chimera.

c) Furthermore, collective curating is interesting outside the field of art. While it is rather common to group-curate literature (editors) and cinema (programmers), it is less so to ‘curate’ science, journalism or architecture. How would it be for a group of scholars to curate a scientific endeavour or programme, how could it work out a journalistic platform curated collectively (deciding together what to cover and how, not merely producing in team), and what about an urban masterplan devised by a (small) community of inhabitants? (The fact I added ‘small’ is a clue of what can/cannot work within a collective effort.)

d) The crucial question, which exists independently from the activity of curating: why collectively? The first response would be that to work alone, I get bored – a good enough reason. There is something else. In a collective, the risk of overwhelming ideologies, blind faiths or devastating emotional responses is less. All is diluted both in relations, space and time. Of course group ideologies do exist and are no less effective than those imposed single-handedly. But even if the process is slower and sometimes unnerving, there is a good chance that thinking, working and deciding together may bring a less self-centred and more interesting outcome. If people stick around long enough, that is.


[The rest of this text can be found on the Chamber of Public Secrets website here. Their remarkable Immigrant Image Archive can be found here.]  



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October 13, 2011

I had no other choice but to walk

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So I began to think about how long I’ve been taking walks. Years, decades. And if I live significantly longer I could keep on adding, because one thing I’m sure of is that I’ll never stop. But despite this great amount of walking, however, no walk has provided me with any genuine revelation. In my case it’s not as it was in the past, when walkers felt reunited with something that was revealed only during the course of the walk, or believed they had discovered aspects of the world or relationships within nature that had been hidden until then. I never discovered anything, only a vague idea of what was new and different, and rather fleeting at that. I now think I went on walks to experience a specific type of anxiety, one that I’ll call nostalgic anxiety, or empty nostalgia. Nostalgic anxiety would be a state of deprivation in which one has no chance for genuine nostalgia. There may be various reasons for the block. If I’m going to explain it, I have to tell the story of my borrowed ideas, which I’m full of – I say “borrowed,” but I’m not suggesting I don’t have full rights to them, on the contrary…

One of these ideas, among the first I assimilated so thoroughly as to make it my own, was the idealization, initially during the Romantic Era, then the Modern, of the long walk. There must have been something wrong with me, because at the point at which I should have chosen a way of life for my future, I found nothing persuasive. From early on I’ve felt unequal to any kind of enthusiasm: incapable of believing in almost anything, or frankly, in anything at all; disappointed beforehand by politics; skeptical of youth culture despite being, at the time, young; an idle spectator at the collective race for money and so-called material success; suspicious of the benevolence of charity and self-improvement; oblivious of the benefits of procreation and the possibilities of biological continuity; oblivious as well of the idea of following sports or any variety of spectacle; unable to work up enthusiasm for any impracticable profession or scientific vocation; inept at arts or at crafts, at physical or manual labor, also intellectual; to sum up, useless for work in general; unfit for dreaming; with no belief in any religious alternative while longing to be initiated into that realm; too shy or incompetent for an enthusiastic sex life; in short, given such failings, I had no other choice but to walk, which most resembled the vacant and available mind.

- Sergio Chejfec, My Two Worlds



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October 4, 2011

It's hard (song fragment)

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It’s hard to be an everyday habit
and it’s hard to be a tossed away stone
it’s hard to be an orgasm rabbit
and it’s hardest to leave it alone


[Unfinished]



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September 28, 2011

Artists, by definition

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Artists should, by definition, have a more bohemian life in which they work less than other people. This is apparently not the case.



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September 16, 2011

Trondheim > Malmö

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In Trondheim we had one day of sun followed by three days of rain. And, staring at the strange juxtaposition of dark clouds against blue sky, I think of them as a mirror. In my artistic practice perhaps one day of sun is always followed by three days of rain. We’ve had especially good shows in Mannheim, Olso and, last night, here as well. There is a moment when the work takes over and it is as if you are thinking alongside it. You are not in control, if you ever were, and decisions occur in the space between your intentions and what you have made (and what continues to remake itself every time you perform it.) I feel the paradoxes piling up all around me. I am an ideologue, fighting for a certain, fairly specific, way of thinking about and enacting performance, a way that I feel is severely under-represented within the contemporary performance landscape and that many believe is a bit amateur (while I feel they do not see the critical subtlety and complexity. The humanity that speaks louder than skill.) And yet I am an ideologue against ideology, fighting for something that is relaxed, warm, intimate, flexible, spontaneous and open. I am fighting for a way of thinking about performance that refuses to fight for itself and is easily destroyed in combat. What I love is fragile and crumples under the weight of my own critical scrutiny. And yet I don’t want it to crumple, I want it to prevail. I want to fight but believe if we fight too much we lose everything. And yet I don’t know what to do with my anger, which most of the time feels unreal. I’m not exactly sure but it often seems like audiences see almost none of this. The fight occurs behind the scenes, though I am certain they can feel it. The differences between what is seen and what is felt. In which case the spectator is also presented with a paradox: a warm, welcoming space that barely conceals a world of almost infinite confusion and conflict. A fragile oasis in the eye of a tornado. Tomorrow we head to Malmö.



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August 30, 2011

It begins to feel normal.

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It begins to feel normal. That one has no idea what to do with oneself. That everything feels tepid or worse. That life’s small pleasures feel misguided. That one fulfills one’s obligations to the best of one’s ability and with a great deal of uncertainty. That one feels ideas opposite to one’s own might well have merit but such merit doesn’t make them less inimical. I don’t want entertainment. I want to think about the world, about this situation of living in times with no feeling of future. I hope desperately it is still possible to think of it in new ways. I want to think about it slowly and without pretending that everything is all right. Think about moments of possibility in Iceland and Chile and wonder what might happen here, wherever I am at a given day or time. I am on a train. This morning I was in Groningen. Tonight I will be in Berlin. We showed a new performance in Groningen. I believe it divided the audience but I’m not sure. I used to love the idea of a divided audience, of inciting debate, of friends going out afterwards and arguing for or against, trying to define their positions, continue the never-ending process of figuring out what they think and why. I used to think the worst thing was for everyone to agree. And yet I don’t believe we incited debate. We divided the audience in milder ways, like all the mild divides that clutter our small conversations and sense of self. These small divides also resonate. I’m drifting into the world of small steps and minor epiphanies. It never ceases to amaze me how two people sitting beside one another can have such a different experience watching the exact same thing. How much of ourselves we throw into everything that is in front of us. When many like the work I almost dismiss them, their enthusiasm runs past me. When people are indifferent I use their indifference as a knife to stab myself. It’s sick how those who hate the show feel closest to my heart. Sometimes I think it is only a question of being too sensitive. It’s not that I don’t want to please, pleasure is as good in art as anything else. But why are so many artists trying to please so much? Why do I feel the market bearing down on me as I watch? Why does the person sitting beside me see and feel something completely different? And, if this is the case, where does the conversation start?



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August 26, 2011

Henry Green quote

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I think Joyce and Kafka have said the last word on each of the two forms they developed. There's no one to follow them. They're like cats which have licked the plate clean. You've got to dream up another dish if you're to be a writer.

- Henry Green




[The rest of the interview can be found here.]



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August 24, 2011

Henri Michaux quote

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It is when you gallop that your parasites are most alive.
- Henri Michaux



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August 20, 2011

Some Favourite Books

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Fiction

Aliens & Anorexia – Chris Kraus
Dark Pool Party – Hannah Black
The Transformation – Juliana Spahr
Event Factory – Renee Gladman
The Ravickians – Renee Gladman
Ana Patova Crosses a Bridge – Renee Gladman
Houses of Ravicka – Renee Gladman
The Activist – Renee Gladman
Islands of Decolonial Love – Leanne Simpson
The Adventures and Misadventures of Maqroll – Alvaro Mutis
The Manuscript Found in Saragossa – Jan Potocki
Third Factory – Viktor Shklovsky
Haunted Houses – Lynne Tillman
Motion Sickness – Lynne Tillman
The Hills of Hebron – Sylvia Wynter
The Story of My Accident Is Ours - Rachel Levitsky
The Man Who Cried I Am – John A. Williams
Progress of Stories – Laura Riding Jackson
The Seven Madmen – Roberto Arlt
Salt Fish Girl – Larissa Lai
Sitt Marie Rose – Etel Adnan
The Guérillères – Monique Wittig
Indivisible – Fanny Howe
The Fourth World – Diamela Eltit
Artificial Respiration – Ricardo Piglia
Malina – Ingeborg Bachmann
Chapel Road – Louis Paul Boon
Hopeful Monsters – Nicholas Mosley
Impossible Object – Nicholas Mosley
The King of a Rainy Country – Brigid Brophy
Head in Flames - Lance Olsen
The Girl in the Road - Monica Byrne
Gentlemen & Arseholes – Lene Berg
Death in Rome – Wolfgang Koeppen
Meeting at the Milestone – Sigurd Hoel
The Waste Books – Georg Christophe Lichtenberg
The Skull of Charlotte Corday and other stories – Leslie Dick
Canadian Healing Oil - Juan Butler
Monsieur Teste – Paul Valéry



Non-Fiction

May ’68 and Its Afterlives - Kristen Ross
The Gentrification of the Mind: Witness to a Lost Imagination - Sarah Schulman
Ethics Of Luxury: Materialism And Imagination - Jeanne Randolph
Lee Lozano: Dropout Piece – Sarah Lehrer-Graiwer
The Mushroom at the End of the World – Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing
Debt: The First 5000 Year - David Graeber
Ghostly Matters – Avery F. Gordon
Bodies of Work: Essays – Kathy Acker
Laconia: 1,200 Tweets on Film – Masha Tupitsyn
Outlaw Woman: A Memoir of the War Years, 1960–1975 – Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz
Mr. Wilson’s Cabinet of Wonder – Lawrence Weschler
Collected Writing: 1993-2003 – Frances Stark
Drugs Are Nice – Lisa Crystal Carver
Between Dog & Wolf: Essays on Art & Politics - David Levi Strauss
Critique of Cynical Reason – Peter Sloterjik
One Place after Another: Site-Specific Art and Locational Identity – Miwon Kwon
Caliban and the Witch – Silvia Federici
Tastes of Paradise – Wolfgang Schivelbusch
The Culture of the Copy – Hillel Schwartz
The Quest for Corvo: An Experiment in Biography – A.J.A. Symons,
Chromophobia – David Batchelor
Secret Publicity – Sven Lütticken
Terror and the Sublime in Art and Critical Theory – Gene Ray



Poetry

Zong! – M. NourbeSe Philip
Forgery – Amira Hanafi
Bodymap – Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha
The Descent of Alette – Alice Notley
Style – Dolores Dorantes
Belleza y Felicidad: Selected Writings of Fernanda Laguna and Cecilia Pavon
Many Glove Compartments - Oskar Pastior
It – Inger Christensen
Thou - Aisha Sasha John
Eruditio ex Memoria - Bernadette Mayer
Selected Works - José Antonio Ramos Sucre
In the Moremarrow - Oliverio Girondo
A Night With Hamlet – Vladimir Holan
The Drug of Art: Selected Poems of Ivan Blatny
Mercury – Ariana Reines
Debbie: An Epic – Lisa Robertson
The Sorrowful Canadians & Other Poems - Wilfred Watson


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August 16, 2011

Trying to shift reality closer to hopes that are still in the process of being defined

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Trying to shift reality closer to hopes that are still in the process of being defined. Always struggling with the emotional triage of defeat. When faced with insurmountable odds, the only real choice is to find some way to keep going, to cling tight to the truth that the way things are will not always be the case, the world is constantly changing, and our actions have consequences.



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August 11, 2011

Contrary to former times...

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Contrary to former times, this is an age in which money begets money. Today it is the man of common ability with capital, rather than the man of rare ability with no capital, who gains profit.

– Ihara Saikaku, 1693



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August 10, 2011

A sign of autumn

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For Arrighi, the history of global capitalism can be understood as a spiral, at once recursive and expansive. At the scale of the world and across long waves of global development, its cycles integrate the ebb and swell of states and markets and take on familiar and even predictable patterns; in the passage from cycle to cycle, however, uncertainty is the only emperor.

In his telling, there have been four “cycles of accumulation,” each with its own imperial leader. In each period of something more than 100 years, a leading nation is able to organize the larger sphere toward its own interests — sometimes via force, but in main because it serves the interests of other states and enterprises to align themselves with the leader, a kind of influence known variously as hegemony, soft power, or neo-imperialism.

The four “long centuries” have been led by Genoa, the Dutch, the British, and the United States. Some things about this grouping are surprising, including the earliest: We are more used to recalling the glory of Venice and Florence than we are the Ligurian republic of shipbuilders. Other commonalities are plain enough, such as the reminder that the British East and West Indian Companies were cover versions of the Dutch innovation.

Most striking and most dramatic is the discovery that each of these long centuries has itself been divided into three phases, choreographically consistent: a merchant phase based on trade, followed by a phase of industrial expansion, and finally a period of financialization, in which economic vitality moves to the banking sector. It is a febrile vitality indeed, burning hot and fading away; the shift to finance is always, in Braudel’s lovely phrase, “a sign of autumn.” And when the finance era runs its course, so does the empire.

This, finally, is the crux of the book: the discovery “that the financial expansion that came to characterize the global economy in the closing decades of the twentieth century was not a new phenomenon but a recurrent tendency of historical capitalism from its earliest beginnings.” It is this that grants us some purchase on the mercurial catastrophe of the last couple of years. We should not think of the rule and ruin of Wall Street as a novel historical fact; Genoa, after all, invented modern banking, and Amsterdam saw the first stock market. In the British Empire’s dotage, the City of London became financier to the world (in The Dial in 1922 the ever-grumpy T.S. Eliot described the cosmopole as “a little bookkeeper grown old”).

The schematic quality of Arrighi’s history, seductive as it is, has also summoned skepticism. Does it not promise a sort of eternal return, the same shape repeating irrevocably — in a manner that seems discordant, to say the least, with the shifting course and deeply variegated texture of history, its subjective influences and contingent character, and its essential unknowability?

Arrighi’s postscript to the new edition, written shortly before his death, addresses these doubts directly by pointing out that he had never in fact offered such a parade of the endless same. Yes, there is a three-staged cycle that keeps coming around. But each time, it recurs at a larger and more complex scale, internalizing new costs of protection or transaction, making a more efficient order of things. Each arises from a successively larger base, with more resources and more population: from the Italian city-state to the nation-state and eventually to the continental state of the US. And in turn the reach of each empire is broader, spiraling outward toward the only real spatial limit, the arc of the globe itself. This is what globalization means, after all; it has been in motion for quite some time, but has now perhaps reached some sort of limit. We recall the preceding cycles not to mutter about how there is nothing new under the sun. We reach back into the tradition so as to better reflect on our present predicament.

- Joshua Clover on Giovanni Arrighi. The rest of the article can be found here.




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August 7, 2011

Idea for a novel

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Idea for a novel: kidnapping the richest men in the world, stripping them of their possessions, and abandoning them anonymously in the worlds poorest slums.



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August 6, 2011

Inspiring and heartbreaking appeals

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I've been thinking of some of the inspiring and heartbreaking appeals I've read on line recently: Tom Lutz's letter when he stepped down as chair of MFA Creative Writing Department at UC Riverside, Tim DeChristopher's impassioned speech to the jury before he was unjustly sentenced to two years in prison for a beautiful act of civil resistance and Jerry White's accurate, tough-minded socialist reading of the debt crises. I am wondering what to do with this information. The writing on the wall is so large and vicious it is almost blinding. I am wondering if anything is left to say. And for one brief second it flashed through my mind, Churchhill's 'when you're going through hell, keep going.' Always the same question: how to offer an inspiring vision of what might come next?



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August 3, 2011

Subcultures

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Subcultures are niche markets
but subcultures aren’t only niche markets
because of friendship
and because of being young
when friendships are more intense
and new meanings more easily generated
new niche markets must continually be generated
because where capital reigns
nothing remains still
blasting through this wind-tunnel
buying subcultural t-shirts
produced by someone, somewhere
for pennies a day



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July 31, 2011

Inger Christensen quote

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The resistance of being to purity.

- Inger Christensen



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July 29, 2011

Felisberto Hernández's Nobel Prize

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



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July 28, 2011

Tim DeChristopher quote

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But the speech was about empowerment. It was about recognizing our interconnectedness rather than viewing ourselves as isolated individuals. The message of the speech was that when people stand together, they no longer have to be exploited by powerful corporations. Alienation is perhaps the most effective tool of control in America, and every reminder of our real connectedness weakens that tool.


[Excerpt from a really amazing speech by imprisoned environmental activist Tim DeChristopher. You can read the rest of the text here.]



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July 24, 2011

Monsanto...

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Monsanto is the Lysenko of neoliberalism.



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July 22, 2011

Felisberto Hernández Quote

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Furthermore, I will ask you to interrupt your reading of this book as many times as possible, and perhaps – almost certainly – what you think during those intervals will be the best part of the book.

- Felisberto Hernández



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July 18, 2011

Michèle Montrelay quote

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Play [le jeu] rules the world. Play is everywhere, even where things seem to be most serious. The power that makes you hold your breath in a stadium, that inspires a crowd at a race track or poker players gathered all night around a card table, that’s the power we think of when we talk about the kind of fascination play exercises. But here I’m talking about extreme cases, stereotypical images that intensify and dramatize the thrill of the game. They make us forget that in a less obvious way, this pleasure is an indispensable part of everyday life. Naturally the more banal forms of play vary from country to country. I suppose hunting – on foot, with a rifle – isn’t as popular in the United States as it is here. In France hundreds of thousands of men await the opening of hunting season at the end of every summer, totally fixated on this dreamed-of moment, feverishly making a million and one preparations. Not to mention the political and athletic jousting that is ardently followed on television.

But the best playing field – and I think it’s the same in the United States as in all industrialized countries – is the professional workplace, because what is essential in order to succeed there is this gratuitous pleasure you take in overcoming obstacles, wrestling with the unknown, outplaying the adversary, even laughing with him. There is no discussion in business, however implacable, that does not partake of the tacit rules of the game, rules that confirm a kind of complicity among the players. As you know, without this no agreement can be reached.

There are many playing fields, including the arena of thought. And no one really talks about it, nor accords to this phenomenon the considerable importance it has in reality. To explain this lack of interest, we have to look at the difference between men and women. In the case of women, it is just as difficult to perceive its importance, but for the opposite reason; it’s that this phenomenon has not been experienced and acknowledged as such. You will say: but women play, and in all sorts of ways! Women can show themselves to be clever and able players, more than even their male partners! I agree with you completely on that point. But – there’s a big “but” – they play because of desires that for them count much more than the game itself: love, the need to possess I was speaking about earlier, eroticism, seduction. In short, women play games, but without being particularly concerned with what, for men, is the foundation of the game, namely, gratuitous pleasure. Don’t think that I’m telling you that men are better than women, that they’re more generous. Not at all: they’re no more angels than we are, they can be very partial when playing; in their endeavors, money and power play a considerable role, just as you say. But what you do not emphasize enough is that the power and the money are there as stakes of the game; they function as the bid or the winnings, increasing the pleasure of risk-taking, of going for broke. And a moment comes when even the most greedy of men, the biggest cheater of them all, starts to play for the sake of playing, forgetting about his own interests, accepting that finally everything, even the impossible, even failure, could be the outcome. Thus, it isn’t that players as individuals are disinterested, but rather that the pleasure of the game, which is far stronger than they are, makes them forget themselves.

When we see men playing together, we often regard them with a kind of amused compassion: they are children, we think to ourselves, their amusements aren’t really serious. And we don’t understand that this “not really serious” aspect of the game – its masculine dimension of gratuitous play – is the key, the very foundation of social power, from which women are excluded. Why? Because the game is not what interests women the most; because women are not “real” players; they lack that sense of free play that is, in essence, the spirit of the game.

Perhaps certain feminists have come up with the same analysis I am elaborating here. I would be interested in meeting them and finding out what practical conclusions they have drawn from their analysis, how it has helped them to determine what actions to take.

Now, to be realistic, we have to go even a bit further. We have to recognize the way in which women are excluded. Certain men – the really ferocious misogynists – exclude us deliberately. But the most common form of exclusion is the result of an anonymous yet organized collective. If we take seriously the idea that power is always instigated, articulated and distributed in a kind of playing field, then this collective must be conceived of accordingly. We should state the problem in the following way: it is the playing field itself that is excluding us, more than any particular man or men; men are really just the subjects, the pawns, of the game. The next step would be to specify exactly what this playing field consists of, taking the word “playing field” not simply as the designation of a circumscribed space, an area, but as the sphere specific to the masculine game itself. We’d have to try to comprehend its raison d’etre – something I won’t try to do here and now. The book I’m writing on masculine sexuality [L’Appareillage] begins with a discourse on play similar to the one I’ve just been giving you. This discourse begs for further elaboration, but rest assured, I’m not going to take it any further today!

Well, maybe just one more brief comment. This sphere can be thought of as an organism that possesses its own laws, organs, economy, and libido. Like a living body, it has its own system of expulsion. And we – women who aren’t “real” players – we are the foreign bodies ejected by this organism, we are like organs that are supposed to be grafted onto the organism, but that it can’t help but reject. That’s how we’re shut out – as if spontaneously, out of neither good nor bad will.

I believe that all the women who share a little bit of the power pie with men, those who are out on the playing field, and who thus work most effectively for the feminist cause, these women have sized up the game and the masculine pleasure that is part of it, and have discovered, whether consciously or unconsciously, how to come to terms with it. How? You’ll have to ask them.

- Michèle Montrelay



[This quote is from the book Shifting Scenes: Interviews on Women, Writing, and Politics in Post-68 France edited by By Alice A. Jardine and Anne M. Menke]



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July 17, 2011

After I kill myself...

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After I kill myself, all the years of despair will suddenly become consequent.



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July 10, 2011

Mina Loy quote

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My love is eternal and my train leaves in fifteen minutes.

- Mina Loy



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July 5, 2011

A letter about The DJ Who Gave Too Much Information

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Dear curious spectator,

I am currently reading the book Love Saves The Day: A History of American Dance Music Culture, 1970-1979 by Tim Lawrence. (It is essentially a history of disco.) In it, there was one particular anecdote that fascinated me. In 1965, when the New York club Shephard’s replaced its house band with a DJ, the American Federation of Musicians picketed in protest.

This story echo’s many of my questions and artistic concerns. Is there something fundamentally different between the experience of going to see a live band and listening to a recording? Are there some essential attributes that make a performance situation ‘live’, and if so how do they differ from attributes of recorded media? Is a live experience more intense? More real? More immediate? More unexpected? I don’t have precise answers for any of these questions, but it’s my hope that our work itself is a kind of an answer, or at the very least a way of making such questions more rich, more complicated, of making them resonate.

In the above anecdote the DJ is literally putting the musicians out of work. (In such matters I always side with the union, but can’t fail to admit I love, and perhaps even prefer, listening to records.) It also suggests a certain dynamic between the individual and the community: the musicians cooperate with each other, they work, play (and in this case picket) together, while the DJ spins alone.

As we now know, the future was in many ways on the DJ’s side. We live in a world in which we are constantly surrounded by mediated experiences: photographs, television, movies, music, internet, advertising of every kind. I have always wondered if making a live performance might offer alternative ways of watching and of being together, ways that differ significantly from watching a movie or being on the internet.

In our new show The DJ Who Gave Too Much Information we play records and tell stories about them. We tell every kind of story: about bands, things that happened to us, to our friends and to complete strangers, theories about the world, about love and about life. They are stories that suggest the songs we listen to also affect how we think, live and understand our daily lives. The alternation between telling (live) stories and listening to (recorded) music also feels important to me. We have records by A Tribe Called Quest, Al Green, Broadcast, Burial, Caetano Veloso, Jacques Brel, Kronos Quartet, LCD Soundsystem, Omar Khorshid, Pavement, Prince, Public Enemy, Red Guitars, Robert Wyatt, Selda, Sister Nancy, The Ramones Eddie Kendricks, Cate le Bon, Hefner, Jane Weaver, Dirty Three, THEESatisfaction, The Jackson 5, Lloyd Miller, Nina Simone and so many more. (I think we have almost a hundred and seventy.)

I don’t think there’s anything particular you have to do to prepare yourself. For me this work is simply a place to relax, listen and enjoy. We don’t anticipate dancing but, then again, why not.

Hope to see you there.

Jacob Wren
Co-artistic Director
PME-ART



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June 28, 2011

Giorgio Agamben Quote

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The ones who can call themselves contemporary are only those who do not allow themselves to be blinded by the lights of the century and so manage to get a glimpse of the shadows in those lights, of their intimate obscurity. Having said this much, we have nevertheless still not addressed our question. Why should we be at all interested in perceiving the obscurity that emanates from the epoch? Is darkness not precisely an anonymous experience that is by definition impenetrable, something that is not directed at us and thus cannot concern us? On the contrary, the contemporary is the person who perceives the darkness of his time as something that concerns him, as something that never ceases to engage him. Darkness is something that – more than any light – turns directly and singularly toward him. The contemporary is the one whose eyes are struck by the beam of darkness that comes from his own time.

- Giorgio Agamben, What Is The Contemporary?



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June 21, 2011

The Children's Book Writer

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He preferred to write drunk. His books were more successful when he wrote them drunk. His theory was that his drunk books were looser and more anarchic, and children loved anarchy, meaning they still believed they would be happier if they could just do whatever they want. He didn't think of children when he wrote, he thought of drinking. The book he was currently working on was called Tears. It was about a child who cries and cries until her tears form a puddle, then a river, then a lake, then an ocean, until finally the entire world is covered in salty water. It was the drunkest book he had ever written, and when he thought of it this way he felt a little bit proud. Often, when he was drunk enough, he cried as well. He drank and wrote and cried and the tears in his eyes and the tears on the page were more or less the same tears. His publisher would worry the book was too sad to publish but eventually published it anyway. His publisher worried about his drinking. Sometimes he went to see prostitutes. He told the prostitutes he wrote children's books because he thought this might make him seem kind. Sometimes when he was with a prostitute he would cry and then he would tell her about the little girl whose tears became a puddle, a river, a lake, an ocean and then the entire world. The prostitute would roll her eyes but he wouldn't notice. When Tears was finally finished, late at night, he would walk by the children's bookstore and see his book in the window. One night when he was standing in front of the window a family with two small children also stopped to look. He pointed to the cover of Tears. "I wrote that," he said. They might have not completely believed him, but nonetheless seemed mildly impressed.



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June 19, 2011

Book launch at the karaoke bar, a brief report

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I stayed at the launch for approximately twenty-five minutes. I often go to events for a short amount of time. When Warhol was asked how he managed to be seen at all the parties on a given night, he replied it was simple: he walked in the front door, through the party, and directly out the back. I’m not especially like Warhol. At least I hope I’m more earnest, political and complex, plus I sometimes have a beard, but it’s difficult to generate an accurate assessment of one’s own practice or personality. During twenty-five minutes I bought the book but did not remove the shrink-wrap. I bought a vodka-tonic. The bartender gave me the vodka and tonic in separate glasses. When I poured the tonic into the vodka, the glass was still barely half full. I drank it quickly, out of nervousness but also because there wasn’t very much. I had short conversations with M and M-A. During the conversation with M he invited me to contribute to this zine. I had a slightly longer conversation with C during which she suggested we organize an event together, something really big. At the phrase ‘really big’ I must have turned unenthusiastic, because she said I looked afraid. It’s true I’m afraid of big gestures. With small things one can only have small failures. I love small failures. But with ‘really big’ you might actually burn down everything. Which I also like. Perhaps I’m afraid I like it too much. I’m afraid I like self-sabotage too much. C said that when I wasn’t afraid anymore we should talk, then went to say hello to other friends. For a split second I considered having another drink but was already out the door. Then I walked a route I’m not sure I’ve ever walked before, a shortcut: across the street, alongside a community garden, through an alley, alongside a playground. In the playground two small girls were in a spray of water jumping up and down over and over. I glanced at them and wondered if I had ever felt joy like that. I don’t believe I was a particularly joyous child. Moments later I was at Cagibi writing this report straight through in one go. I will have to remember that shortcut if I ever want to do karaoke. I love karaoke: the small failure par excellence.



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June 18, 2011

Unfinished and ridiculous poem tangentially about a certain view of Darwinism

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Assholes are everywhere
in the trees and in the eaves
from summer skies to autumn leaves
telling lies and thwarting needs
they're everywhere

Assholes are everywhere
in governments and corner stores
from corporate law to dirty wars
they care who pays, count who scores
they're everywhere

Assholes are everywhere
getting worse, accruing power
from every bee to every flower
in hopeless sighs, endless tries
they're everywhere

Assholes are everywhere
in tanks and banks, in snakes and lakes
in violent shoves and on the make
for a quick buck, a quicker fuck
they're everywhere

Assholes are everywhere
in selfish genes, hipster scenes
the subtle ways that we come clean
when you say evolution it's not what you mean
they're everywhere

Assholes are everywhere
in hopeless bets, desperate wealth
when you won't help another but still help yourself
from savvy smiles, love defiled
they're everywhere


[Unfinished.]



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June 14, 2011

What to do with the desire.

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What to do with the desire? With the desire that cannot be sated. With the violence and anger that stems from this desire and with the violence and anger that blocks it out in equal parts. What to do with the lack of acceptable poetry in the world, with the utterly embarrassing and ridiculous nature of all poetic attempts? What to do with the unavoidable and sad and joyous everyday poetry that smacks against us like a violent storm? What to do with our paltry careers, that cannot satisfy and yet cannot be dismissed? It is criminal the way we live, with no hope or only false hope, and yet nothing we might call life is truly criminal. Stop being an artist in order to start. Different kinds of loneliness: in work, in crowds, alone, in love.



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June 13, 2011

A corporate executive, a union member and a Tea Party member....

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A corporate executive, a union member and a Tea Party member are sitting at a table. On the table are 10 cookies. The CEO reaches out and takes nine cookies at once and then turns to the Tea Party member and says, “Look out! That union guy is trying to take your cookie!”



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June 11, 2011

Lynne Tillman Quote

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In Thailand the ad “Come alive – you’re the Pepsi generation” was translated into their language. It became, “Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the dead.”

- Lynne Tillman, Motion Sickness



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June 7, 2011

From Of Ourselves and of Our Origins by Peter Schjeldahl

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An abundance of good art is being made today. It’s just not good for a lot that matters, in the reality-altering way that great art seems to. This is even more the case with criticism. The present sheer quantity of smart art writing is unusual, in my lifetime. But, similarly, the writing is not smart about very much. Critics now are good at answers. We’re short of good questions. This is a matter of how the world is. The world isn’t raising questions in forms that individuals can very well lay hold of. We might conclude that the world hates individuals, but that would be to flatter ourselves. The world doesn’t care.

I would like to be proved wrong tomorrow, when I come across new writing that is brilliant in itself, compelling in its comprehension of our lives in common, and suggestive of fruitful attitudes and actions – a game-changer. But I won’t bet on it.

Our part of the world is droopy these days, isn’t it? Prevalent are moods of frustration, senses of insufficiency and piled-up disappointments. The worst thing about this is that it conduces to despair, which conduces to bullshit. Bullshit is a time-honoured way of disguising voids of meaning and of getting by in life by getting around people, because who cares? I would like to think that some of us care or, at least, might act as if we care and see where that goes. Call it moral make-believe. Make-believe has nothing in common with bullshit, by the way. It requires absolute honesty. Ask any little kid.


[And also this:]


I saw recently that Bob Dylan was buttonholed by a fan who enthused, ‘You changed my life!’ Dylan replied: ‘What the fuck am I supposed to do about it?’

That was bad manners. It wouldn’t kill Bob Dylan to say thank you, fake it a little. But his point is impeccable. If you’re an artist, you don’t start the morning by saying to yourself, ‘Hey, think I’ll change some idiot’s life today’. You work. To be really good at anything, assuming that you’re talented, is to work harder and longer, with more ruthless honesty and discipline, than other people could do without bursting into tears. Your secret is that, hard as it may be, it doesn’t feel like work to you. It feels normal, like eating and sleeping. You are not about to hand your own life over to anybody to change or to not change, though you might wish you could. And you positively do not accept responsibility for the lives of your audience. That’s not good for them, and it is a day-spoiling pain in the ass for you.

So as an artist you’re lonely. You know the fragility and vulnerability of your Great Good Place but you lean your whole weight into it anyhow. Along with wanting fame and money and sex, like everybody, you want to slip that place into the map of the world, to make the world a little less wretched to you. You will even go without the fame and money and sex parts, if necessary. You will be misunderstood, often enough by people – darling dumbbells – who praise you. (Be kind to them if you can.) That’s the deal. No one said you were an artist. You said you were an artist. You asked for it. No whining.


[The full text of the Peter Schjeldahl talk can be found here.]



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June 3, 2011

The Facebook-Orwell Letters

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[The following letters were written as part of the project Big Brother where art thou?, a collaboration with Lene Berg. The project took place entirely on a Facebook page that you can find here.]


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Dear Big Brother,

Money seems important in our world. The philosophy that money is the only measure of value is perhaps the closest thing our moment has to Big Brother. I’ve been searching for slogans, words that might pry open our current situation, that might open a window and let in some air. I came up with this: neoliberalism is the totalitarianism of capital. But to call the enemy names, to cast the enemy in a totalitarian light, however true it might be, is also to distract from whatever it is that we are. And I believe we are lost. How to make a virtue from our lostness? How to make from it a weapon?

The weakest part of Nineteen Eighty-Four, the most unconvincing, is when O’Brien attempts to explain the motivations of the inner circle. (“The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake. We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power. Not wealth or luxury or long life or happiness: only power, pure power.”) No one seeks power for absolutely no reason. One always seeks power in order to do something with it. We don’t really understand the motivations of Big Brother. We don’t really understand the motivations of everything that is going terribly wrong all around us. And when you don’t understand you don’t know how to fight.

When I have success I believe it is because I am talented and clever. I am also willing to admit that pure luck is a factor. And that the cultural capital associated with my socio-economic background played a role. But my first thought, that I only begin to question moments later, is that it is because I am talented, that the main cause is something essential within me. I can dismiss this as ego but I also know that it is potent. Rulers, kings, dictators must also believe that their skill, strategy and guile have taken them to the top and will keep them there. Your power is irrefutable evidence of your genius. If your power is absolute, so must your genius be.

But every time I begin to understand my understanding falls short. Perhaps the true lesson of the twentieth century is that propaganda works. We might also say this about advertising. If you tell a lie long enough and loud enough, it becomes the truth. Or, as you, as Big Brother, might put it, if you tell the truth long enough and loud enough it becomes a lie.

Sincerely, A


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Dear George Orwell,

What would have happened if you had never become quite so famous? Repressive governments that distort the truth are now forever connected to your final work or, it sometimes seems, to a generalized sense of your posthumous celebrity in the form of the term ‘Orwellian.’

As is well known, Warhol once said ‘in the future everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes.’ (Ironically, perhaps the phrase he is most famous for.) A more recent cliché says: on Facebook everyone will be famous for fifteen people.

A book review I once read claimed that famous red-baiter Joseph McCarthy started the anti-communist witch-hunt not because he was a true ideologue, but because he wanted the fame that came along with it. I believe you also very much wanted the fame that came to you mainly after you were gone. This of course is not a sin. In fact, for an artist, it is most likely a normal, one might even say banal, condition.

One might also say that, within the fictional world of Nineteen Eighty-Four, Big Brother is extremely famous. How much of the brutality in the world comes from this desire to be seen, to be known, and to be known to have done something important, to be known as someone who changed the world.

Sincerely, A


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Dear Facebook,

One might say one is addicted to a lover. But one has to be careful when using the same word to describe different things. I don’t know what an addiction to a lover feels like, but I will try my best to describe this addiction that I am experiencing here and now. Much like Ingsoc, in my day to day life Facebook replaces all other social interactions; with pokes, posts, notes and likes as it’s minimal, effective and acceptable Newspeak. Everything is allowed but gestures that are not allowed immediately receive censure from a spontaneous conglomeration of ‘friends’ who quickly comment to express their disapproval. However, censure is relatively rare. Far more often my behavior is shaped through positive reinforcement. I do something acceptable and, almost immediately, a number of friends ‘like’ it. This is a more satisfying and simplified form of positive reinforcement than one is able to achieve within other aspects of so called daily life. As well, there is a vague sense of simultaneous contact with a large number of people, contact with little danger of conflict. Does it need to be said that Facebook, much like Ingsoc, is an exceedingly lonely place? And yet the addiction stands.

Sincerely, A



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Dear users of Facebook,

There are millions and millions of you. If you wanted, you could start the revolution.

Sincerely, A



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Dear corporations buying statistical information from Facebook,

I am concerned. Is my information useful to you? Is it useful enough? You now know something about me. But what is it you know precisely? Do I fit within a category that makes it seemly or convenient for you to sell me something or am I momentarily outside of such categories? If neo-liberalism is the privatization of everything, the totalitarianism of capital, then are you – the anonymous, omnipresent purchasers of the statistical version of my interface with this device – in some sense the Big Brother of capital?

Sincerely, A



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Dear secret service agents using Facebook to spy on us,

I know your weakness. There are too many of us. There is no possible way for you to keep track of every last one. You scan for suspicious words but we avoid such words. You watch the YouTube videos we post, see what we had for breakfast. What precisely can you do with such information? There are millions and millions of videos, millions and millions of breakfasts. Do you really have the time or manpower to scroll through them all? All of this suggests that resistance is possible. And yet, secretly, we know it is not.

Sincerely, A



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Dear Facebook users using Facebook to spy on each other,

We can all understand the pleasure of spying on one’s neighbor. Also the ritual of the promenade. The internet is a place to find out information about things and people and to be entertained. A place to scan through a large quantity of disparate information very quickly. Your ‘friends’ on Facebook are a kind of information. They provide clues about themselves. On occasion someone will post something about themselves quickly, barely even realizing they have done so. This happens less and less. For you, within the private moment of spying, these posts are vicarious treasures. These are the moments one never clicks ‘like.’

Sincerely, A



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Dear readers and viewers of this project,

It’s a strange feeling attempting an art project on Facebook. One thought that recently occurred to me is that Facebook could take down this page at any time and for any reason. This would most likely occur if someone were to ‘report’ our project, like children in Nineteen Eighty-Four ratting out their parents. To report an offence to the authorities is an ambiguous act. If you see something you feel is wrong, it’s only natural to want to act on that feeling of wrongness. But who are the authorities you’re reporting to and to what degree do you trust them? How do we negotiate the things we think are wrong without appealing to some distant to authority?

Facebook is a culture of re-enforced positivity. You ‘accept’, ‘like’ and ‘comment’ (most often positively.) Negativity exists on Facebook, but it stands out. In this sense Facebook is far more like Brave New World than Nineteen Eighty-Four. But there are two sides to Facebook. The user’s side, and the way the user – in the form of information – is, can or might be used. (The Brave New World side and the Nineteen Eighty-Four side.) But this is all, of course, too simplistic.

The idea that this page could be pulled at any moment, could disappear, is what I keep coming back to. That working here, on Facebook, feels somehow less real, more contingent. But, then again, contingency is perhaps one of the more precious aspects of being alive.

Sincerely, A


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Dear Facebook equals Big Brother paradigm,

These things seem to me to be mainly a question of scale. Not of one person, or a group of people, imposing their will on others. But the scale upon which one person, or a group, is able to impose their will on others. The greater the scale the more difficult it is to fight, the more omnipotent it feels on a lived, day to day level. What is the scale of Facebook? It seems like everyone is on it and if you aren’t you would be reasonable in feeling left out. On the other hand it feels mainly like a toy.

Facebook isn't so frightening in the here and now. Facebook is mainly frightening if we consider how it might be used in the future. The novel Nineteen Eighty-Four also places its frightening situation in the future. This is always the most suspicious thing: to place the catastrophe in the future and not here in the present. Because the problems we can actually deal with are here and now. Both less and more disastrous than we currently feel them to be.

Canada is not Burma. Germany is not North Korea. But our lives – the richness and sense of possibility of contemporary life – are impoverished by the structures within which we currently live. What I don't know is if this has simply always been the case. Or will always be the case from now on. Something can only be bad in comparison to something else which is less bad. If everything is bad than everything is fine. But things only get better when you fight.

In Nineteen Eighty-Four there is no way to fight. On Facebook there is no way to fight. I hate it when I become didactic. And also hate it when I don't.

Sincerely, A



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May 28, 2011

Big Brother where art thou?

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‘Facebook equals Big Brother’ is a common trope of our time. Big Brother where art thou? – a collaboration between Lene Berg and Jacob Wren that takes place entirely on Facebook – is an attempt to unravel the question of what Big Brother might mean today, examining the life and legacy of George Orwell by posting questions, dialogues, images, videos and whatever else they can create or find.

The project takes place entirely on a Facebook page that you can find here.



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May 13, 2011

Manifesto for Confusion, Struggle and Conflicted Feelings

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I’ve been making art for my entire life and I’ve never felt more lost. In this, I believe I am not alone.

Do we care enough about art, meaning, the world to admit there is no obvious or effective way forward? That we’re going in circles with an ever-lessening effect? That we’re going in circles but are unwilling to admit it?

The grand excitements of art – the modernist breaks, the new movements, the cataclysms – are long behind us. More recent trends are fleeting at best. The belief in originality is utterly depleted and, more importantly, no longer feels like a worthy goal. All we have now is A LOT, far too much, of everything. A LOT of art, theatre, dance, performance, music, installation, painting, literature, cinema, internet: of every possible type and gradation of quality. More stuff than you could possibly experience even if you lived for several million years.

But we don’t live for even a million years. Our lives are brief and what it means to seize the day is by no means clear. Why must we pretend that we know what to do?

Politics have lost the plot – right wing governments and the ascendancy of the super-rich are the order of the day – and artists are of little assistance. On our current environmental trajectory we believe the planet will not survive. But, if we keep hurtling forward, in fact it is we who will not survive, as the planet steps in to take care of itself. (Then again, it is likely at least a few of us will survive to sort through the wreckage. But we can’t make art for them. They’re not born yet. We must make art for now.)

With this present, and this future, how can one feel that bold artistic moves have any real energy? Conflicted feelings rule the day. Daily confusions of every stripe. Ambivalence is king. Where is the art that strikingly knows it’s own futility but stumbles forward compellingly, anyway, because as an artist you have no choice?

To change anything you have to work together with other people. This is the essential logic behind an art movement, behind a manifesto. To work together with other people you need to line up behind a potent conviction, agree to all run in the same direction, at least until you score the first few goals. There is power in numbers, in clans, clubs and mafias. So why can’t all the artists in the world who feel as lost as I do come together, think about what is left to do and how? There may be no convictions to unite us, but why can’t we unite in the potency of our contemporary ambivalence? In the desire to be honest and vulnerable about where we actually stand?

(An artist who is little more than an advertisement for him or her self is so lost there might be no way back towards meaning. I live in constant fear that this is what I might become.)

I dream of energy, content, value, meaning. Effective left wing populism. The end, or reduction, of alienation, consumerism, war and stupidity. But when you dream you are asleep, and right now I would prefer to be as awake as possible. And to be awake means to admit I have almost no idea how to bring such dreams closer to reality. All roads seem blocked. I have no idea what strategies – in life, politics or art – might be genuinely useful or poetic. I want to be awake, while not losing touch with the knowledge that to stay sane one must continue to sleep and dream.

In fact, I wish to write a manifesto that will admit to everything: ambivalence, conflicted feelings, doing things only for money, humiliation, cynicism, confusion, not being able to tell my friends from my enemies. To admit to everything and find out if anyone agrees. If anyone out there is with me. If such honesty and confusion can mean anything in the current world. If there can be any integrity to it. If it can transform itself into a useful truth.

An artist doesn’t need conviction. An artist doesn’t need to know which way to go. An artist needs talent, naiveté, community and life experience. None of these things are incompatible with feeling lost.

(I would someday like to write another manifesto about how art that is not intrinsically connected to life is of no value. But I feel too lost to enter into life. I’m an extreme case. I can’t find the way in.)

Of course, about such things one doesn’t write manifestos. But perhaps we should find a way to start.




[ You can also read the French translation by Simon Brown here.]



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May 10, 2011

A novel with a lot of characters but no protagonist...

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It’s incredibly difficult to write a novel with a lot of characters but no protagonist. A novel with a number of equally interesting, equally complex characters who are all working together towards a common goal. We experience every story as having a clear protagonist because the protagonist is oneself, you experience your life as a story with yourself at the centre.



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May 5, 2011

Overanalyzing something that is...

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Overanalyzing something that is actually, in fact, pretty stupid, like an unwillingness to admit how basic and manipulative the factors at play are. There must be more to it, the mind compulsively brays. And yes, of course, there is always more. But the essential thing is also the most obvious. A sadness that our world is not as complex as we’d like it to be. And that the pathetic, nasty, desperate action is little more than that, little more than show.



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May 3, 2011

When I first heard the phrase workfare...

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When I first heard the phrase ‘workfare’ (a kind of welfare where the recipient is forced to work) my knee jerk reaction was that it was a proposal for some kind of contemporary slavery. But I’ve been thinking a lot about left-wing populism lately. And it got me wondering if there was some ethical way to positively connect the welfare state with voluntary community service. So that when one was unemployed one became more connected with ones community instead of less. And how one could be unemployed and still be of service to others, since being useful generates self-worth. There is often a kind of paradox in our culture that when people have more free time they have less resources to make use of it. What kind of model might make a welfare-community service connection possible? How to prevent such an idea from devolving into something ugly?



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