Polyamorous Love Song: a Short Synopsis
Polyamorous Love Song is a novel Jacob Wren has been working on for many years now. It is a book of many different narrative through-lines. For example: 1) A mysterious group, known as The Mascot Front, who wear furry mascot costumes at all times and are fighting a revolutionary war for their right to wear furry mascot costumes at all times. 2) A movement known as the ‘New Filmmaking’ in which, instead of shooting and editing a film, one simply does all of the things that would have been in the film, but in real life. This movement has many adherents. Its founder is known only as Filmmaker A. 3) A group of ‘New Filmmakers’, calling themselves The Centre for Productive Compromise, who devise increasingly strange sexual scenarios with complete strangers. They invent a drug that allows them to intuit the cell phone number of anyone they see, allowing phone calls to be the first stage of their spontaneous, yet somehow carefully scripted, seductions. 4) A secret society that concocts a sexually transmitted virus that infects only those on the political right. They stage large-scale orgies, creating unexpected intimacies and connections between individuals who are otherwise savagely opposed to each other. 5) A radical leftist who catches this virus, forcing her to question the depth of her considerable leftist credentials. 6) A German barber in New York who, out of scorn for the stupidity of his American clients, gives them avant-garde haircuts, unintentionally achieving acclaim among the bohemian set who consider his haircuts to be strange works of art. And yet each of these stories is only the beginning.
Filmmaker A kept thinking about her film, about the cast who weren’t even here for the screening, so rough in front of her camera and so generous with their time and ideas, some of whom she might, for whatever reason, never see again, and about Close Up, and the fact that Kiarostami was denied entry to the U.S. and somehow, in her mind, these three or four facts became intertwined. She knew soon it would be time for her to make a new film but how could she make fiction as her country was throttling towards fascism. And she knew it wasn’t a matter of making documentaries, of shining a light on the problems, of showing people what was really happening. People didn’t care what was happening. Even when they knew, it seemed too disconnected from their daily lives. She was too ambitions to give up on art and devote herself to full time activism.
That morning she had a meeting with a distributor. He had been in the business much longer than her. She couldn’t tell if he was in his late sixties or mid-seventies but, if you didn’t look too closely, he could have easily passed for fifty. “I liked your film, it’s refreshing,” he began, probably just to break the ice or have something to say.
She hated that word–refreshing–always felt it was a backhanded compliment, playing off the incredible staleness of everything else on the market.
It was a breakfast meeting. He had ordered a cappuccino and she was drinking a double espresso black. They were both looking at the menu when suddenly she had one of those moments when everything on offer sickened her. All of the wealth and unacknowledged sense of luxurious entitlement summed up in line after line of overstuffed, overpriced choice. What did this food mean? How could she eat these things when bombs were being dropped on children in Iraq? Every ingredient listed and tastefully described felt like poison. She could almost taste them and they tasted like ashes. She’d had a similar sensation a few times before, mainly in supermarkets, walking slowly along the aisle and for every can, box and item that surrounded her she could feel there was someone in the world who was going without. That the wealth all flowed in one direction: from the natural resources and labour of the poor countries into the shopping malls and supermarkets of the rich. She would look at her empty shopping cart and it would feel like a crime to place even a single item into it. At the same time she found such reactions absurd, a bit too much, over the top. Of course it was only a supermarket, only a rather average menu in an upscale New York brunch restaurant. But her thoughts were no less disturbing in light of their absurdity. She put the menu down.
“Maybe I’ll just stick to coffee for now.”
“I know you’re most likely on a budget. You know that quip from Goddard: movies aren’t a good way to make money, they’re a good way to spend money. He was really onto something there. But breakfast is of course on me.”
“No, really, it’s all right. Just coffee is fine.”
“Trying to prove your artistic credentials by starving yourself?” He was openly laughing at her now. He thought she was pretentious. Maybe he had already thought she was pretentious, from watching her film, and her refusal of breakfast only confirmed his first impression. He continued: “All right, I’m absolutely famished, but I’ll just stick to coffee as well. I hate to eat alone. What’s more, I really hate to eat alone with someone watching me. Makes me incredibly self conscious.” He looked straight at her with a big shit eating grin. “Come on, meet me half way here. Order something small. It’s my treat and my pleasure.”
She opened the menu again. She had this feeling that whatever she did next would determine how the rest of their meeting would go. Maybe even whether or not he would choose to distribute her film. She felt her own youth and inexperience as she tried to decide what to do, then smiled slyly.
“All right, have it your way. I also hate to watch a man eat alone.”
The waiter was already approaching. She looked up at him.
“I’ll have number eighteen. And another one of these.” She lifted her cup a few inches off its saucer, at the same time keeping an eye on the distributor as he scanned to see what she had picked, the most expensive thing on there. If she was going to feel sick, be disgusted, she wanted to feel sick and disgusted in style.
“I’ll have the same.” He said.
Near the end of the meeting, as they were finishing their third coffees, and her spell of consumerist disgust was now long behind her, a spell she now thought of as a panic attack triggered by the stress of having to try to sell her film to this man, the distributor started to say some things that genuinely interested her. “People say movies are escapist, just entertainment, but I think that’s only an alibi, a way of hiding from ourselves just how effective what we do actually is. When something is in a movie, and especially when something is in a particularly successful film, its language, its grammar, is added into the grammar of possible reality. The banal fact that sharks are terrifying was cemented into our cultural imagination after Jaws. We have no idea how much power we have and absolutely no idea how to use it. It’s like we invent peoples dreams.”
And suddenly she realized what it was that infuriated her so much about the Kiarostami incident. They hadn’t turned him away because he was important, because he was influential, because some people listened to what he said or because he was a great filmmaker. They had turned him away only because of the colour of his skin. It was like the ultimate insult. In a split second all of his work, all of his influence, was washed away, suddenly meant nothing. That was how stupid this administration was, they had silenced him almost by accident. And she felt in that moment that this government would eventually fail, that in the long run they would not win, and began to wonder again about the content of her next film.
The distributor was still speaking but she had drifted off. She pulled herself back into the room and listened. “Every film is also a documentary, because when you watch a film from fifty years ago, the costumes, the haircuts, the ways of walking and talking, the cars and buildings, all give a glimpse back into that time. Like in your film: the mix of political apathy and rage your characters have when they’re watching the bombings, the shock and awe footage, on stolen cable. The way they’re talking about it, like when the lesbian with the dreadlocks says: ‘What does it mean to live in a world where, even if you’ve lived your entire life as an avowed pacifist, all you can think about is strangling the president with your bare hands.” I think fifty years from now that way of speaking, that way of thinking, will seem utterly of our time. That shock of transition.”
“You think so much will have changed?”
“Of course things are going to change. Maybe not in fifty, maybe in a hundred years. But things are changing already. Pacifists want to strangle people for Gods sake.”
“Pacifists have always wanted to strangle people. If you didn’t want to strangle someone there would be no point in calling yourself a pacifist. That’s why you make the decision in the first place, to give some ideological counterweight against your natural urge for violence.”
“I don’t think that’s why people become pacifists. I think it’s more of a strategy. Because if you stick to the road of pacifism then, whatever happens, you can always claim the true moral high ground. And on moral high ground you might hit an impasse, but you will never face an absolute dead end. You can always say, on questions of strategy at least, we were right, we were pure. It keeps the battle open indefinitely. If the enemy is wrong and you are right then there will always be someone new to take up the mantle.”
“I heard that in Tibet now the younger monks want to take up arms.”
“That’s what I said before. Things are changing.”
She thought about this. She couldn’t tell if things were changing and if they were, she felt they were only changing for the worse. Was the world becoming a more violent place as she sat here digesting Eggs Benedict and being entertained by the theories of an older, more successful crank? The world had always been violent. But there is ‘always’, there is history, and then there is one’s own immediate lifetime. Maybe for the first time in her life she was witnessing, she was about to witness, a real increase in the bloodshed of the world. She didn’t know. Predicting the future was a suckers game. Anything might happen.
After brunch Filmmaker A wandered aimlessly for hours. There were films she had planned to see at the festival but she no longer felt like it. It was in those years that her habit of wandering, those long walks without beginning or end, began in earnest. The empty hours of thinking, questioning and reflection. Every artistic idea she had ever made use of had been thrown into her head during the space and melancholy freedom of those long wanderings. There were so many people she could be meeting, so many connections to be made at the festival, that it felt like a wasted opportunity to spend her time just wandering. But, at the same time, this feeling of intense wastefulness made the wandering all that much more delicious.
She thought about what the distributor had said, how things in a film can become reality. And how he must have meant, in some sense, that reality is society, reality is whatever we all agreed it is. This didn’t relate to some core scientific idea of reality, to the fact that a chair was solid and you could sit on it, but to something more general and ever-changing. She liked the idea that films could be important, could change the world, though she didn’t quite believe it. She suspected the things films were allowed to bring into reality were only things already there, things that reinforced the status quo. Sharks were already threatening and Jaws simply increased and solidified this general preconception. But if it was possible to bolster the status quo then it must also be possible to undermine it. If reality was malleable than it must be malleable in many different directions.
Jacob Wren is a writer and maker of eccentric performances. His books include: Unrehearsed Beauty, Families Are Formed Through Copulation and Revenge Fantasies of the Politically Dispossessed. These books have been published in French translation by Le Quartanier. As co-artistic director of Montreal-based interdisciplinary group PME-ART he has co-created: En français comme en anglais, it’s easy to criticize (1998), Unrehearsed Beauty / Le génie des autres (2002), La famille se crée en copulant (2005) and the ongoing HOSPITALITÉ / HOSPITALITY series which includes Individualism Was A Mistake (2008) and The DJ Who Gave Too Much Information (2011). He has also collaborated with Nadia Ross and her company STO Union. Together they co-wrote and co-directed Recent Experiences (2000) and Revolutions in Therapy (2004). International projects include: a stage adaptation of the 1954 Wolfgang Koeppen novel Der Tod in Rom (Sophiensaele, Berlin, 2007), An Anthology of Optimism (with Pieter De Buysser / Campo, Ghent, 2008) and No Double Life For The Wicked (with Tori Kudo / Tokyo, 2012.) He travels internationally with alarming frequency and frequently writes about contemporary art.