A Radical Cut In The Texture Of Reality.

July 21, 2014

"I write when I’m not dancing."


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

- Jacob Wren, from Writer’s Block at LPG


July 19, 2014

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


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

- David Grubbs, Records Ruin the Landscape


July 17, 2014

From the Twitter feed of Fuck Theory


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Fuck Theory on Twitter. Fuck Theory Tumblr.]


July 13, 2014

Art and Compromise (Fragment)


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

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

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



July 9, 2014

lonely girl phenomenology // a violation of my quotation marks


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

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

table of contents:

Diaries | Jacob Wren

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

We love as cannibals / Stay alive longer | Christiane Craig

Decomposure | Kay Rozynski

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


June 29, 2014

Gods and goddesses against the gods.


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


June 21, 2014

The Drunken Orchestra


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


June 20, 2014

Surreal, transgressive and unsettling...


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

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

[Read the rest of the review here.)


June 14, 2014

French is the most beautiful language


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


June 9, 2014

Monica Byrne Quote


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

- Monica Byrne, The Girl in the Road