Polyamorous Love Song
ISBN 978-1-77166-030-3 (Paperback)
ISBN 978-1-77166-037-2 (E-Book)
“I must continue. It is impossible to continue. I shall continue.”
— Samuel Beckett
It is difficult to start a review when you are confronted with a work that radically cuts through your prior expectations about it. At first, you believe it is going to be a love story, but it then becomes something else: a work of revolutionary struggle, which not only encompasses the field of love but emancipation itself—but emancipation of what? There is beauty inherent in being surrounded by the unknown—when your precipitations and insecurities permeate every aspect of what you had done. Polyamorous Love Song is a pop song, a cinematic work of fiction whose narrative takes you into a void where "up" and "down" disintegrate, where there is no longer space for moral ground to be taken into consideration, where everything seems to have gone topsy-turvy.
There are mixed elements in the novel that bend reality. Let's delve briefly into some theoretical considerations proceeding, as I think they will come in handy for understanding the depth of the subjective psyche that Wren has carefully exposed through the main characters of this novel.
The Real, according to Lacan, shatters all past preconceptions and removes all prior coordinates and notions of who you are. That's why it is terrifying. It is also impossible because it is a traumatic event—Recall Badiou's concept of the Event when he locates it as a new space, which opens up the ground for the emergence of a new master. This new master will dictate and give coherence to the chaos produced by this rapture. But let's be clear—this new space also brings embedded in it an unexpected outcome, far from ideal and unpredictable, but truthful to its core fundamental propositions meant to occur this way. You can see the preamble of this when Bear from the hyper-subversive cell, "Mascot Front," gives the following speech in a meeting:
The Mascot Front have called this meeting because, for the first time, they now wish for others to fight alongside them. The only way against failure, and towards success is solidarity. In the past, the Mascot Front has attempted to do no damage to anyone other than those who were directly attacking them, like the Hippocratic oath: first rule, do no harm. But now the situation has become considerable more dire, and if anyone has chooses to fight alongside us in the future, it is possible, even likely that you might be injured or killed. This is the shift, the possible change in our policy, that we have come together to question and discuss.
They are asking for is a new master, which will end up sublating the derailed superego, actively demanding "You must!" over and over through a spark of light that will give them hope in the form of a sharp, "You can!” And isn't the emergence of a new master the case in every successful revolutionary activity?
Besides this overall feeling embedded in the main protagonists of this novel, it is also important to note that their appearances are non-descriptive; we just know them related to their actions, such as Filmmaker A, who is there to capture the movement of the overall atmosphere within the narrative, and who is desperate to release her full-length film before the age of 30. Wren works within his own private discourse and method, which has been carefully crafted and weaved together with an ease of pace, clarity, and rapid combustion.
There are many explosive moments in this novel, such as the one in which Kangaroo, a member of Mascot Front, is shown delivering a speech in front of a big audience just before chaos ensues. A raid suddenly occurs, and you don't know from which direction the bullets come; in a second, you are immersed in a frenzy—a la the car chase scene in Cuarón's Children of Men where Julianne Moore gets shot—more intense than any that I have thus far read in literature. It is extremely fast-paced and unexpected; empathy and eagerness to intervene converge but cannot, because as the reader, we can only passively observe this unfolding—magnificent.
References presented in this novel are intertwined and come from every direction. From one perspective, Paul—ostensibly the author's alter-ego—is the character who perceives and sets in motion the narrative. Paul is full of doubts and self-defeatism but possesses strong ideals. Perhaps it is the confusion of where is he heading that gives the appearance of passion; he constantly retreats, constantly starts anew without a linearity of action, fragmented but coherent in his intentions. He states:
Like most artists, my work had gone through the three basic stages: an early period of promise and energy, a middle period of strength, panache and consolidation, and finally a long period of semi-decline that appeared to have no beginning or end, in which all signifiers and trademarks of my practice remained firmly in place but any reason or authenticity behind the work felt increasingly scarce. For years I had been searching for strategies to fight this decline strategies that involved no particular inspiration on my part but that instead could be generated through an in-depth analysis of my practice's current shortcomings. Yet I suspected such analysis is getting me nowhere, and what was needed as some sudden, desperate shift, a moment in which, perhaps only briefly, things might derail in order to stop repeating myself. Not surprisingly, in and around such questions, I would often think of Paul, how he had put such struggles aside and instead succumbed to a pure, undiluted engagement with his own creativity. There could be no semi-decline because there was no work, only the purity of ideas he could apparently, indefinitely, turn round and round in his mind, contemplating them from every possible angle yet never committing to any form or path.
Wren introduces some factual, autobiographical information, which he masterfully uses to add coherence to his fiction. But he is again immersed within his own territory. There is a feeling of freshness to his words, which separates him from current literature movements as found within the drug-fueled/explicitly sexual alt-lit scene, institutionalized by authors, such as Tao Lin. Although both authors Wren and Lin use autobiographical information to shape the backbone of their novels, what Lin’s alt-lit delivers is primarily the process of making the novel (it)self the final product, stripped from any symbolic profundity. What you read is what you get—as apolitical and straight as it may be. With Wren, it is a completely different story—you can grasp fine prose and identify with the ongoing struggles. Polyamorous Love Song is a fine dystopic vision of a future already here.
You can see elements of Wren’s cinematic approach when statements such as, “The frightening thing is everyone has their reasons” appear as insights. When a detailed list of Iranian cinema appears unexpectedly in the form of private (factual) correspondence, this offers a break for a new field of knowledge to emerge, which sparks something in Paul that he didn’t know before. The rules of the game are set, as Jean Renoir would say. And what strikes the reader the most is the deepness of the characters, the voyeuristic approach when looking at them: You are not only following them—you identify with them, you hear their intimate thoughts and observe them from above. You know their pasts and futures, their intentions, their secrets, but at the same time, you are as lost as them. Sympathetic flashbacks make their way through the chapters. Sometimes you are in Berlin, wandering through the streets, and it is this translocation of actions between the protagonists that gives an eerie shadow to the whole affair. There is a common feeling of being there but at the same time not being wanted and not fully aware why you are there. Berlin becomes the city-signifier, the place where even a haircut can transform the banal daily routines into something transcendental.
Sex here is used as a political weapon, and it is hypersexual in the sense that it occurs outside of the people who are involved like a specter that haunts them without them fully realizing its implication. It is purely speculative, detached of a higher feeling, of any compromise, but at the same time it bonds the people involved … it encloses them in a short circuit, enchaining them more closely. “If we fuck and you manage to avoid it, that means we can trust you,” Clarie says—the eternal question emerges: What’s after the orgy? Perhaps the end of capitalism through its own annihilation, through sacrifice. And isn’t it the case that a true revolutionary action requires this kind of detachment, this kind of fearlessness in order to achieve its desired purpose? There is no easy route—you have to because you must.
In a world where there is no space for a true emancipatory project anymore, the only possibility for those willing to take the risk to bring this radical cut is through a complete transformation of one’s own persona.
This is speculative fiction—an appropriate name for this genre, which is rarely encountered. It fits Wren’s work nicely for the purposes of relating the novel to a larger context in a time when the prefix “speculative” is being used within many artistic expressions, including philosophy. As readers, we have an obligation to embrace and dissect this approach in order to grasp it as a movement and not an isolated delivery. Wren should be thanked for kindly directing us through these unknown waters.
Manuel Vargas Ricalde
Ricalde is a student at European Graduate School and a translator.