Hart House Review Winter Supplement 2015

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[, a talk with]

JACOB WREN makes literature, performances, and exhibitions.
His books include Unrehearsed Beauty (Coach House, 1998),
Revenge Fantasies of the Politically Dispossessed (Pedlar Press,
2010), and Polyamorous Love Song (BookThug, 2014; a Globe
& Mail
Best Book of 2014). Jacob is also a director of Montréal-
based interdisciplinary group PME ART and frequently writes
about contemporary art.

HHR       […] And I think it’s interesting how you don’t say that you
write, but that you make literature; you don’t perform, you make
performances. You use that word, ‘make’, for everything. I wonder
what that says about differences between what you try to express in
your projects on stage, page, and elsewhere

WREN       Something that excites me is attempting to move very
fluidly through many artistic communities and different art forms, to try
and go from visual art to literature to music to dance to theatre and to
not see a lot of differences between those activities, and to try to think
about art in a larger sense. Something that bothers me about art is that
the communities are very narrow and that, for example, a literary
community only reads literature and has its favorite writers, but knows
nothing about visual art or dance, or often, not so much about the
world. I’m fighting against that kind of narrowness. I would like an
openness where you try and find connections between things that are
very different.

At the same time, it’s true that when I’m writing, I’m writing; it’s an
activity with an energy and force of its own, its own logic. And I have
my idiosyncratic habits within writing that are different than how we
make performances. But they both have to do with a structured
improvisation, like we’re building some structure as we go, and we
have to give ourselves as much freedom as possible around it. Which is
what I do when I’m writing – I have ideas about what it’s going to be,
but I try to give myself freedom in my writing of it to surprise myself,
and to experience the rush of freedom that happens, which for me is a
kind of ‘pure’ writing.

HHR    So, you don’t get an idea and think, ‘I’m going to act this out
in one certain medium.’ It either comes naturally when you’re already
in a medium, or it comes and then flows into one medium or another.

WREN       In a way what you’re saying is true. […] So many times in
the process, I’ve thrown everything out and restarted, both in writing
and performance. You’re in the situation and see that another path is
more exciting to you at that moment. But there are things I do in my
books that I would never do on stage. The kind of ‘rule’ for our stage
work is that we’re in a room with the audience and we acknowledge
that, we don’t do anything that contradicts that situation. No pretend-
ing we’re somewhere else, no pretending we’re someone else. We are
ourselves, dealing with the situation of the performance. While, for me,
the reading space is more like a dreamspace. More things can happen.
We could only talk about the kind of things that happen in the books.

HHR       For example, New Filmmaking.

WREN       [New Filmmaking, as described in Polyamorous Love Song :
“For example, if Filmmaker A was planning a scene in which two close friends
go skydiving, she would instead convince one of her closest 
friends to go sky-
diving with her. At first she thinks of such activities 
only as extended preparation
for the eventual shoot but, over time, the
idea of making the film is gradually
replaced by this new idea of living 
it out instead. […] Within an ever-expanding
milieu, ‘filmmaking’
becomes slang for scripting your life as if it were a movie,
and then, 
throughout the process of such scripting, enacting quite naturally and
casually each of the scenes you write. The avant-garde of this movement is to
be found in those who choose to forgo the writing process altogeth
er, simply
living the film in real time, little by little,
invisibly weaving it into their now
considerably more compelling and im
mediate daily routines.” ]

HHR       Do you think New Filmmaking is something people should
actually do? And if so, how should they go about it?

WREN       I would be very flattered […] but I don’t know if people
should. New filmmaking is a way of doing things that you feel you’re
not allowed to do, and, for sure, I feel that people should do things that
they think they’re not allowed to do. Within ethical boundaries, maybe
–– but they need to formulate for themselves what those boundaries are.
I mean, if someone were to assassinate me and call it new filmmaking ––
actually, I’d be flattered by that as well.

I wonder so much about what a book can do. The guy who shot Ron-
ald Reagan had been reading Catcher In The Rye, Salman Rushdie
went into hiding for the Satanic Verses. I wonder, can a book break
through the boundary of literature? This is what New Filmmaking is
about –– can filmmaking break through the boundaries of art and
become life? So much of ‘left thinking’ is based on this premise –– like,
‘if only people knew that war was bad’. They think, ‘I’m going to write
a book that will show people that the thing is bad, and they’ll stop it’.
But the 21st century has been proof that you can know something is
bad and do it anyway. That maybe, there’s always this double conscio-
usness where you know the thing is bad but, either you segment it,
or one part of you knows it’s bad but the other part does it anyway,
or there may even be pleasure in doing the bad thing. Or in denying
that it’s bad and still doing it. So, probably the reason Polyamorous
Love Song
is written the way it is – with constantly shifting points of
view, moving in and out of polemic – is that it’s a reaction to this
reality we now know, that an enlightenment value of telling people
what’s wrong changes nothing. And what does change something?

Of course my fantasy is that people will do the things I write. But, so
far, it hasn’t happened. I don’t know if it would be good if it did, but
fantasies aren’t about what’s good.  Fantasies are fantasies.

HHR       So how does this time, the early 21st century, affect you as
a writer, as a very political artist? 
Fourteen years and counting of people
not caring what is wrong.

WREN       I have a counterposition against the way things are being
done in the mainstream, both in politics and in art. I envision a
different politics and a different art. Often I combine those two things
in a way that is not entirely fair, because I’m an artist and I see
everything through the lens of art. But someone like Naomi Klein
can be mainstream and have a counterposition. Radicals don’t think
she’s radical enough, but it’s important to have her voice in the main-
stream. At the same time, I think that in mainstream artistic culture,
there can be a kind of experimental tokenism –– so, you know, there’s
Miranda July or David Lynch, and then there’s everyone else who is
normal. You can have one or two people who are weird. It’s possible
that that may be my fate. I will cross that bridge when I come to it. 

HHR       You saw a bit of ‘mainstream’ in the success around Poly-
amorous Love Song ––

WREN       I’ll be very curious if it lasts. It could just be a moment.
[…] My next book will be completely different. All my books are
completely different.

HHR       We can hope it doesn’t put you back ‘out’ –– it’s sad how
often that 
happens. Like, ‘We like you, but you’re not allowed to
experiment now that 
we’ve decided who you are’. 

WREN       I’ve been fighting that very hard my whole life. When-
ever I’ve done something people like, every time I try to reinvent the
wheel. Every time I try to challenge myself as much as possible.

HHR       How does one go to ‘war with oneself in one’s work?

WREN       Something I’ve realized in my lifetime of writing is that
very often, things that I want to cut in my writing are the best parts,
and the reason I want to cut them is because they make me feel bad.
They hit some part of me that’s vulnerable or fragile or confused, or
some pain or discomfort or question, a very violent question within
me. And often the parts I want to keep are parts where I’m showing
off, trying to show how good I am. So, very often, I end up keeping
the parts I want to cut and cutting the parts I want to keep.

And, it’s a little bit about, in art – when you hit territory that’s unco-
mfortable for you – having the confidence to keep exploring it. But
that can turn very self-indulgent. Definitely, what I don’t want is to
create melodrama around the ways I’m fucked up. But I want to find
the anti-spectacular vulnerability that actually has reality to it.

[…] As everyone knows, I love music. All I do is try to find new music
to listen to. And I’m so critical of literature and performance, but in
comparison, I’m so uncritical about music. For example, I think a show-
off Kanye West beat is amazing. He makes this incredible beat and he’s
so arrogant about it. I don’t have that kind of criticality around it. Also,
like, I delete hiphop tracks from my iTunes when I find them too sexist
or homophobic, and then I wonder, what is that? I want the beats and
the flow, but I don’t want any messages I don’t agree with? I find that
very paradoxical and confusing. But it’s the music of our time. I hope
my writing has the energy of rock, and the energy of hiphop, but how
could it? It’s a desire. A lot of making art is having desires that are im-
possible, and that you can’t possibly fulfill, but getting as far as you can
in that direction.


JACOB WREN makes literature, performances, and exhibitions.
His books include Unrehearsed Beauty (Coach House, 1998),
Revenge Fantasies of the Politically Dispossessed (Pedlar Press,
2010), and Polyamorous Love Song (BookThug, 2014; a Globe
& Mail
Best Book of 2014). Jacob is also a director of Montréal-
based interdisciplinary group PME ART and frequently writes
about contemporary art.

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Hart House Review Winter Supplement 2015