This take interests me, mainly the part about the artist as a "shamble" after the work's been done. It reminds me of ideas about memes using us to spread themselves around. Genes have told me they do the same. (But did I tell Them I was buying their line?) In Michael Pollan's terrific book, The Botany of Desire, tulips, apples, potatoes, and cannabis have all manipulated us to get what They want. Like the devil whose greatest trick was convincing us He doesn't exist, these things - including the works of Art in this Gaddis case - use us, making us think we're the ones in charge. It's a deeply amusing turn for me: the Artist as Host for the Art itself, leaving us as "dregs" and in "a shambles."
And still, I want to shake the hand of Cannabis.
I saw Douglas Rushkoff give a talk in LA on his tour for Nothing Sacred: The Truth About Judaism, and bought a copy and lined up to have him sign it afterward. When I got up to him I spewed that I'd just talked to Robert Anton Wilson, who was mildly disappointed that Rushkoff seemed to have problems with his friend RAW's disbelief in anything, as captured in an interview Rushkoff did for the Maybe Logic documentary. I told Rushkoff - a long line behind me - that RAW said one can feel strongly about something but still be agnostic, and that he wished Doug would read his book The New Inquisition. I could tell Rushkoff thought I was a weirdo, talking too fast and too intensely about something sort of personal along a quasi-arcane minor tiff between me and him and RAW, and this had nothing to do with his energetic talk about Judaism, and he didn't really respond to what I said, but smiled and signed his name, writing on the title page, "To Michael: Enter Chapel Perilous..." just above the subtitle "The Truth About Judaism." Was this his little joke? I think so. Maybe. By his body language I think he was glad to be rid of me. To this day, it's the only Rushkoff book I own that I still haven't read. I've thumbed through it, yea, but read? Well then, why did I buy the new hardcover for $22 (or whatever it was)? I guess I just wanted to be in Rushkoff's presence, give him my insider info about what RAW said to me about him. I felt foolish. Meeting admired writers can do this to us.
This topic turns out to be more popular (as I infer from googling) than I'd thought. An idea I see over and over in articles about this: we readers have spent a lot of time in our solitary inwardness "with" the writer and created a detailed image of what the writer "is really like," but this is usually revealed as an illusion. I like what George Saunders told Margo Rabb:
A work of art is something produced by a person, but is not that person - it is of her, but is not her. It's a reach, really - the artist is trying to inhabit, temporarily, a more compact, distilled, efficient, wittier, more true-seeing, precise version of herself - one that can't replicate in so-called "real" life, no matter how hard she tries. That's why she writes: to try and briefly be more than she truly is. (2)
I've been on the other end, in a way: as a rock guitarist. When I'm playing it's sort of another version of "me" that I've spent a lot of time cultivating through long hours of practice. Admirers seem to approach that other "me" when I'm back to my "ordinary reality" and what they say often seems to apply to someone else: someone better than I feel I "really" am. But they have sweet intentions, so I try to sort of smile and play along, "Thanks, man. That makes me feel really good. Rawk on!" All the while I know Steve Vai and a thousand other guys can play circles around me...
Concomitant with this, I've been trying to get used to the idea that our default mode is as essentialists, much as it pains Korzybski. Cognitive psychologist Bruce Hood's experiments show that we want and need "Distributive existence over time and with others." (3) By being in the presence of an admired figure we hope, on some odd level, to share in the artist's essence. What a thrill to put on a sweater once owned by George Clooney! Or to hold Einstein's writing pen. Or to decline when asked if we want to try on a hat once worn by Hitler. Perhaps this best explains getting the book signed and a brief exchange of pleasantries with some admired writer: we want to distribute ourselves into the admired writer's psychological domain, at least for a few seconds. (Others want to increase the value of the book for eBay sales, I know...)
In our celebrity kulch, this desire to make contact with quasi-mythic figures seems loudly and abundantly clear; I'm perhaps no different than any other fan who goes nuts over spotting a Kardashian in Beverly Hills. But there aren't many celebrities I'd bother if I were in the room with them. I just don't care all that much about the people who entertain me on screens. It's some of the musical and authorial Beings that have the potential to get me going and make an ass of myself. I was working in a library in ritzy Palos Verdes Estates and there was a summer live music concert in the park outside: families bring picnic baskets and blankets, that sort of thing. And I turn around and Joe Montana is at the counter, asking, "Is there a back way out of here?" He had been trying to enjoy the concert, but people were pestering him for autographs and photos. I never said, "Wow! You're the greatest quarterback ever!" I thought it. Then I dutifully walked him through the library and out the back door into a quiet dark evening and he said thanks. It was weird.
It's cheery to read about a fan having a good experience meeting their favorite writer, as for example Jean-Luc Bouchard when meeting Kazuo Ishiguro. (4) The takeaway for me, here: say you loved the one book that got panned the most, or neglected. I told Robert Anton Wilson I loved Right Where You Are Sitting Now (which I do, but it's not my favorite), and he seemed delighted, saying similar things to me about that that Ishiguro said to Bouchard. RAW once quoted Confucius in another interview about bad reviews: it's as if the critic is saying something nasty about one's children, and Confucius said that we naturally love what grows up in our own homes.
I went to a talk and book signing by Erik Davis, in Berkeley, after his book Visionary State came out. I thought he was my age, so I said something to the effect about him being more accomplished and I was slacking. With what I took to be a slight annoyance, he told me he was seven years younger than I thought, then resumed his banter with photographer Michael Rauner. Not exactly the stellar level of repartee I was hoping for. Later I realized I'd had my own version of that bit where comedian Chris Farley gets to interview Paul McCartney and all he can think to say is, "Remember...when you were in the Beatles?" (Okay, I wasn't that bad.)
Now that I've thought about it, the next time I meet a favorite author I'm going to psych myself up by assuming they'll be unpleasant no matter what I say, and if/when they are not a drag, it's a win-win. Or probably: just a win for me. He's still that great Erik Davis when I read his books, the one I invented without knowing it, and damn that "real-world" exchange I had with him. It...was a mere anomaly. Dude's the coolest! Yes...
Speaking of Robert Anton Wilson, I spent the better part of an afternoon with him at his condo in Capitola/Live Oak/Santa Cruz and he was far beyond sweet and brilliant and kind and hilarious and understanding; I got lucky. My favorite living author (along with Pynchon, but good luck with him!) talked to me like a longtime friend. It was beyond my wildest imagination.
David Foster Wallace had an interesting take on all this. I don't subscribe to his ideas here, but I think they're very interesting:
When I read Woody Allen's comic essays (which I love and greatly admire), I can't help but hear him in my head, but I think it adds to my experience. And maybe because he's always trying to get laffs. If I read something by him that was sad, it would be jarring. When I listen to Pound and Joyce read their work, it's like some alien broadcast: I didn't think they would sound so static-y. No, but seriously: their voices sound so overly "for" that newfangled microphone thing, knowing it's going out to the masses...I still don't hear their voices when I read them. DFW's ideas seem almost Asperger-ish to me. Take it further into, say, Roland Barthes's idea of ecriture blanche, or "white writing," in which any text requires nothing from the Reader: all terms are transparent and obvious. (Okay, now DFW's ideas seem far more sane than that.) Still...I mean, reading Burroughs and Philip K. Dick is weird and thrilling, but knowing about their lives (and especially hearing Burroughs's voice!) makes their texts even better. To me, that is...
Recently I read an amusing article by a critic who was assigned to review a book by an academic: Abstract Bodies: Sixties Sculpture in the Expanded Field of Gender, by David J. Getsy. Critic Jarrett Earnest is so appalled by the academicese and preciousness of the writing he wants to write a hatchet job review; he can't stand this asshole academic. But before he does his hatchet job, he feels compelled to find Getsy and see what sort of person this writer is face-to-face. He tracks down Getsy. He finds he likes Getsy and in talking to him he understands where he's coming from. Earnest ends up writing a good review of Getsy's book. I'm sure this sort of thing has happened before, but this is the first instance I can think of. (5)
Furthermore on Robert Anton Wilson, when I talked with him he told me he was in a German film called 23, in which he plays himself, because the famous German hacker Karl Koch admired Illuminatus! so much, and as a hacker he was named "Hagbard." RAW said he'd love to see the film, but it wasn't playing in Unistat. I told him I'd seen it a couple months earlier in Hollywood. He seemed a tad miffed. I don't know if he ever got a chance to see it. In the film, Koch/Hagbard attends a lecture by RAW near Hannover and then gets his autograph before RAW is whisked away in a car. Koch said he read the 805 page Illuminatus! "Eighty times." Who knows who really burned Karl Koch to death with gasoline in an isolated wooded spot? The KGB and CIA had their reasons. It was ruled a suicide, but not many of Koch's friends buy it. I will link to a YouTube copy of the film 23 below and hope the reader who clicks on it doesn't get a busted link. (7)
1.) hat tip to Roman Tviskin for this quote, found on his dormant blog, Zuihitsu Bits
2.) Fallen Idols, Margo Rabb, NYT, July 2013
3.) see about 3/4 down in my blog about hoarding HERE
4.) What It's Like To Meet Your Favorite Author, Bouchard, Buzzfeed Books, March, 2015
5.) Abstract Bodies: Sixties Sculpture in the Expanded Field of Gender, reviewed by Jarrett Earnest, Brooklyn Rail, Feb, 2016
6.) found in Conversations With David Foster Wallace, p.166
7.) YouTube copy of 23, accessed 31 March, 2016. RAW is seen around 13:42 to 14:15. I saw a print with English subtitles at the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood soon after it came out. See the actor August Diehl playing hacker Karl Koch/Hagbard pick up a girl at a party and bring her back to his room and tell her his own computer is called "FUCKUP" (from the novel) and how important Illuminatus! is, starting around 9:42