Nov 19, 2006

To have and to miss the thing
Incomplete thoughts on philosophy on the weekend

* Rabbi, the disciples said, what shall we say when we see the Messaiah inside the city gate? When you see the Messiah inside the city gate, said the Rabbi, ask him, When are you coming?

* The world is not comprehensible, but it is embraceable: through the embracing of one of its beings. - Martin Buber

The problem with the Tom Waits interviews is that they all again write the same arc - from drunken Billy Joel to German-Opera inspired experimentalist to crazy country man who was saved from himself by his wife. Meanwhile, Waits spends the whole interview trying not to replay that loop again and he spins out miles of American hysterical realism and American magic realism which the interviewers cut and splice into one example or another of the story that was already being told.

I don't know. I want to hear more about the moles.

I don't know, I want to hear less about an artist as an example of some repeated demigod of a trope and more about those tactile particulars.

There are only a few ways interviewees can avoid being turned into an arc, it seems. They can pull the joker, ala Bob Dylan (Dylan: Hey look, I consider Hank Williams, Captain Marvel, Marlon Brando, The Tennessee Stud, Clark Kent, Walter Cronkite and J. Carrol Neish all influences. Now what is it - please - what is it exactly you people want to know?) and the Beatles, they can go along with it, or they can hide, like Pynchon ("Here is the man walking down a street.") and Cormac McCarthy ("He lives on a hill overlooking the city.").

The problem, of course, is that all three options fit into a pre-arranged story line. The three ways of avoiding making the interviewers' point all make that point.

Maybe what's so fascinating about the story lines we recreate and replay is that we're telling ourselves the story of us while, conviently, never talking about us, all the while talking about the artist at hand while, weirdly, not talking about the artist.

When William Randolph Hearst builds a castle we make a movie about him burning his childhood sled and then we take the castle and keep it open for public tours which work excellently to make the place more mysterious and more inaccessable by making it bustlingly public. When McCarthy moves out into the middle of nowhere Texas we make a movie about looking for him even though we know that talking to a crazy guy in the park in El Paso is not a great way to find someone.

The psychic asks the kids who are looking for McCarthy, Why are you looking for this man? They don't really know. And they don't know what they're going to do if they find him. "If we find him we should offer to leave him alone if he'll just wave," they say to each other. They might tell them they were looking for him, like the Gethsemane scene when the soldiers seeking Jesus ask him where Jesus has gone. "So he asked them again, 'Whom do you seek?' And they said, 'Jesus of Nazareth.' And Jesus said, 'I already told you that I am Jesus.'"

Looking for him makes him more lost. Which reminds of what we're looking for, which reminds us that there is something out there - and here we're looking for the thing - that could be found.

All the Waits interviews make the point "This is Tom Waits," and at that precise point they miss it. The person who seems to get this is the crazy guy in the park when he says people know him all over the world.

"Animals too could read my mind and see my face and read my mind and play back what I know.... If I ever see (McCarthy) I'll ask him for his autograph. Hey people ask me for my autograph and stuff. I'm not a rock star or a movie star."
"But people know who you are."
"Yeah exactly. That's right yeah, yeah... most of the world has known me at one time or another."

And the kids too, know him at one time when they stand there with the video camera. They've known him and lost him all at once. He says "you've got a famous person on your camera," and they say, "yeah we're looking for him."