The Year 2017
A Collective Chronicle of Thoughts and Observations
Welcome to what is going to be a collective chronicle of the year 2017! This journal will follow the general change that we experience in our daily lives, in our cities, countries and beyond, in the political discourses and in our reflections on the role of artists and intellectuals. Originating from several talks and discussions with fellow artists and thinkers FFT feels the strong need to share thoughts and feelings about how we witness what is going on in the world. Week after week different writers, artists, thinkers and scientists will take the role of an observer as they contribute to this collective diary.
#1 January, 1st - 8th
January 1st, 2017
Last year, from April until October, I found myself basically working all the time. As soon as I finished one thing I would immediately start another. I remember factual things from this time: where I went, what I did there, more or less how it was, but I have very little recollection of how any of it felt. There’s always been a certain margin of my work-life I might describe as ‘going through the motions’, but somehow over the past year I feel this margin overflowed and flooded the rest.
Because of all of this, I’ve decided to try to stop travelling for a while. I am currently two months into this attempt, which I’m thinking will last in total for about a year. Since I made this semi-decision, two things have happened:
1) I have the overwhelming feeling that I don’t want to live in Montreal anymore. (I am actively ignoring this feeling in order to find out if there’s anything on the other side of it.)
2) I am anticipating what I think of as my “no-longer-traveling” nervous breakdown. Anticipating it, but it has not quite yet begun.
About once a year, or once every two years, I write and publish something about how burnt out I am. This has been going on now for at least ten years. I suspect, like many things in my life these days, it’s becoming a tradition. Perhaps last night I should have made a New Year’s resolution to stop doing this. A resolution I would of course now have already broken.
January 2nd, 2017
Donald Trump. As I wrote a few weeks ago: “There’s such a striking continuity from Ronald Reagan to George W. Bush to Donald Trump, each one noticeably worse than the last. They’re all entertaining figureheads who stand out front causing much violent and clownish distraction, while behind the scenes the real work is being done: changing the laws, destroying and dismantling anything and everything that might in any way support or help people. Then the democrats have eight years to normalize the damage before the entire cycle starts all over again. And eventually there will be nothing left.” Also: “I think what we’re seeing now is the actual results of the cold war. If communism lost and capitalism won, we’re now seeing the psychosis of the victory dance.” And: “I think there will be hope again when oil is no longer profitable.”
But none of this gets anywhere close to what I’m actually feeling about the current situation in the world, which is closer to some kind of absolute historical terror. A feeling that there’s absolutely no limit to how bad things might continue to get. That things are going to get worse before they get even worse. Politically, I feel one must always believe there is at least a certain degree of possibility, along the lines of the well-known Gramsci quote: “Pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will.” But with the election of Trump it is like I feel all will completely draining out of my body.
And then writing the name Gramsci makes me think about Germany and Italy, about how many books and movies I’ve consumed about the Nazis, and how this must be the unthinking background behind my feeling that Trump is some sort of newfangled Hitler. But Trump is actually much closer to Mussolini or Berlusconi. Why do I know so much more about the Nazis then I do about Mussolini? Is this all just part of my North American brainwashing? It also reminds me of something Kathrin Tiedemann once told me (and I’m not sure if I quite remember it right): that Mussolini managed to either jail or kill every single card-carrying member of the Italian communist party (Gramsci included.) And what we’re living now, in the world, is the long-term results of such historical suppressions.
January 3rd, 2017
I feel a certain world-historical terror but Montreal is calm and bright and relaxed. It is January, so it is quite cold, but some days the sunshine takes the edge off. There is a part of me that thinks: now is not the time for art, now is the time to fight. And another part that knows I’m actually no good at fighting, I’ve never won a competition of any sort, not even a game of chess. And then I wonder if fighting is even the right approach, if it’s too old fashioned and macho, or if my thinking that it’s too old fashioned and macho simply reflects my own cowardice and the fact that I’m so bad at it. And then I wonder if the way to fight requires some extremely long term thinking, to lay the mental groundwork for changes that might very well bear no fruit for many generations to come. Because, it seems to me, what we need now is a completely different way of thinking about what it means to live in the present and work towards the future. A different way of thinking time and accumulation. A present and future with breakthroughs but without linear progress, with commerce but without endless growth, with politics but against winner-take-all. A politics of caring for one another. I remember an indigenous saying I heard once: there is enough for everyone but there’s not enough for everyone’s greed. All of these goals seem so far in the future that I’m not even sure where to begin.
January 4th, 2017
There is that joke in France about World War Two. How everyone now says they were part of the resistance. When of course almost everyone was a collaborator and very few were part of the resistance. I know I’m thinking too much about World War Two. Why does Trump make me think so much about World War Two? The past hundred years have been full of dictators (i.e. Latin America has had more then their fair share), not only the few most famous ones in the thirties and forties. But the U.S. has such an oversized military (and nuclear arsenal) that it feels like it would almost take a world war to stop them. (And what might such a war even look like in a world with nuclear weapons?) I worry my thinking is very lazy here. There is a strange kind of laziness to acute mental panic.
Apparently, on the radio in the U.S. they are now regularly discussing the possibility of Muslim internment camps, making the argument that the World War Two Japanese internment camps weren’t actually so bad and the American Japanese came out the other end relatively unscathed. (I have not heard this with my own ears, only read about it on Facebook.) The concept of a scapegoat is actually so simple: to distract from the real culprit (in this case the super-rich rigging the system in their own favor at the expense of everyone else), you point the finger at a false culprit and use the full force of racist propaganda to enforce the point.
The past thirty or forty years have actually been a relentless war and propaganda war against Muslims (and other brown-skinned people), the most obvious examples being wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay, drone strikes in Yemen and Pakistan, etc. I can still never forget how bad I felt witnessing the so-called Shock and Awe bombing strategy in 2003, the Hollywood-style completely stupid brutality of it. When we bomb it’s war, when they bomb it’s terrorism. As has often been pointed out: in the U.S. media, brown-skinned killers are reported as terrorists while white-skinned killers are reported as mentally unstable loners. I always thought the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq had mainly been about oil, but at times couldn’t help but notice that it was a lot of self-proclaimed Christians who were doing the bombing. And yet I’m ashamed to admit that I know even less about the Muslim world than I do about Mussolini. In the years to come that will definitely have to change.
January 5th, 2017
In my twenties, a novel called Hopeful Monsters by the British author Nicholas Mosley was for some reason very important to me. It is a 600 page book divided into two sections. (And, I just realized, it is also about World War Two.) The first section is entitled WE KNOW THE PROBLEM and, 300 pages later, the second section is entitled BUT WHAT IS THE SOLUTION. I’ve had this sentence in my head for years: we know the problem, but what is the solution. And, of course, I don’t know what the solution is, but what I think I do now know is that the solution has less to do with brilliant ideas and analysis and much more to do with power and political will.
I read over what I’ve written so far and see that perhaps the closest I’ve come to a positive suggestion is this sentence: “A present and future with breakthroughs but without linear progress, with commerce but without endless growth, with politics but against winner-take-all.” I want to follow this sentence somewhere but it won’t seem to let me. I try to think possibility but cannot, feel almost completely blocked. All my life I have been adamantly against U.S. foreign policy and now it’s finally come home to roost. After years of imposing and supporting dictators elsewhere, America now finally has it’s very own. (Well, maybe… we’ll still have to see.)
When I was young, reading about Latin American death squads and their disappeared – the perpetrators having trained at The School of the Americas (known proverbially as the “School of the Assassins”) – felt to me like I was reading a blueprint for suppressing resistance everywhere. These days I often find myself thinking about Operation Condor: six South American military dictatorships meeting in 1976 to concoct a secret plan to eliminate their left-wing opponents. I imagine Trump and Putin working closely together, and wonder how many other dictators they could get to join their coalition. A future of dictators from different countries scratching each other’s backs is a future in which there’s no escape. If you’re a dissident in one country, and you somehow manage to escape, every other country just hands you right back. But so far, of course, things aren’t nearly that bad. These are just dark thoughts spurred on by the trauma of the recent U.S. election. I wonder what kind of activism, what kind of strategy, would be most effective in ensuring such dark thoughts are never fully made real.
January 6th, 2017
When I started this I didn’t realize I would spend seven days mostly exploring my Trump-related fears for the future. I thought I would go back and forth between Trump, my decision to stop travelling, and what I see as some current political possibilities. But every time I sit down to write it is as if Trump steamrolls over everything. I will try harder today. So far I’ve only stopped travelling for a little over two months. In one sense, since I’m often back in Montreal for two or three months between trips, I haven’t noticed much difference. But in another sense, by this point I would usually be preparing to leave again, or at least thinking about it, and I’m not. In Montreal I mainly think, wonder, if there’s anything I could do here to make the art or performance scene better. I think, if I had lived during an earlier time, I might have started a festival, venue or magazine. But these days I’m not sure any of those things would even make a scratch in the situation. There are already so many festivals, venues and magazines, it all feels so oversaturated, that starting more seems to me like it might only be adding to the problem. I often feel that there’s something I should be doing but that I can’t quite see it because I’m too close to the situation. So instead I just keep making my work in the hope that, by doing so, I’m demonstrating (to Canada? to myself?) that other artistic approaches are possible and internationally viable. It definitely doesn’t feel like enough. Even though our problems are clearly global, in some deep sense politics is always local. I look around and ask myself, every day, what can I actually do here.
January 7th, 2017
John Berger died this past week. A quote by him caught my attention on social media: “Hope is not a form of guarantee; it’s a form of energy, and very frequently that energy is strongest in circumstances that are very dark.” It’s a new year and I feel tepid, unfocused, searching for some ground beneath my feet where I might begin to gain some traction (again.) People’s lives under neoliberalism are getting harder and harder and the far right will continue to scoop them up in the process. More and more lives will be destroyed but, so far, most likely not mine. If you’re reading this I believe there is a statistical probability that your life and wellbeing also won’t be that which is most threatened. But I don’t actually know who you are. Maybe I’m making assumptions that are completely inappropriate. Yesterday I was reading an interview with Vijay Prashad where he says that mass movements always begin with confidence building, with activists entering into an oppressive or exploited community and starting to build up the confidence of the people there, build it up towards some future action that still might not happen for a very long time, or might not happen at all, or might happen and be so brutally suppressed that it never happens again. But, nonetheless, you have to start somewhere. You have to start.
January 8th, 2017
Recently I have been spending more time alone than I think I ever have in the past. What I’m writing about here are mainly things I have been thinking about alone. I’m in dialog with many of the things I read but, at the same time, feel this situation doesn’t actually merit the word dialog. As I have written many times before: there are no individual solutions to collective problems. We know the problem, but what is the solution.
Jacob Wren makes literature, collaborative performances and exhibitions. His books include: Families Are Formed Through Copulation, Revenge Fantasies of the Politically Dispossessed, Polyamorous Love Song and Rich and Poor. He is currently working on a book entitled Authenticity is a Feeling: My Life in PME-ART. As co-artistic director of Montreal-based interdisciplinary group PME-ART he has co-created the performances: En français comme en anglais, it's easy to criticize, Individualism Was A Mistake, The DJ Who Gave Too Much Information and their current project Every Song I’ve Ever Written. He is the editor of the fictional publishing house Imperfect Love Press. He travels internationally with alarming frequency and frequently writes about contemporary art.
#1 January 1st - 8th Jacob Wren
#4 January 20th - 30th Alexander Karschnia & Noah Fischer
#5 January 30th - February 6th Ariel Efraim Ashbel
#6 February 6th - 12th Laila Soliman
#9 February 26th - March 5th Gina Moxley
We are deeply saddened by the devastating news that Mark Fisher died on January 13th. He first visited the FFT in 2014 with his lecture „The Privatisation of Stress“ about how neoliberalism deliberately cultivated collective depression. Later in the year he returned with a video-lecture about „Reoccupying the Mainstream" in the frame of the symposium „Sichtungen III“ in which he talks about how to overcome the ideology of capitalist realism and start thinking about a new positive political project: „If we want to combat capitalist realism then we need to be able to articulate, to project an alternative realism.“ We were talking about further collaboration with him last year but it did not work out because Mark wasn’t well. His books „Capitalist Realism“ and „The Ghosts of my Life. Writings on Depression, Hauntology and Lost Future“ will continue to be a very important inspiration for our work.
Podiumsgespräch im Rahmen der Veranstaltung "Die Ästhetik des Widerstands - Zum 100. Geburtstag von Peter Weiss"
A Collective Chronicle of Thoughts and Observations ist ein Projekt im Rahmen des Bündnisses internationaler Produktionshäuser, gefördert von der Beauftragten der Bundesregierung für Kultur und Medien.