David Foster Wallace said, look at this bullshit, and it’s kind of surprising, when you think of it, how richly rewarded he was for saying it. Look at this shit, look at your shit, look at my shit, and even though he was no different or better than anyone else, a certain segment of the population bowed to him and described him in superlatives. It seems like elevation was uncomfortable for him, even knowing he worked hard and deserved it.
I’m guessing that for DFW, interviews must have been hell. You spend years writing, eviscerating yourself onto pages, then they put a microphone in front of you and ask you to say something.
The whole practice of interviewing writers, and especially painters, and more especially musicians, may come under the heading of “unclear on the concept.” Yes, these people have something to say. In their book, painting, or performance, they said it. What more does the world want? Plenty, as it turns out.
One of the things a creative person is supposed to explain is, how he or she got to be so special. People want to be special, too. So the artist spills the beans… “Well, I practice every day…” and they’re like, “No, really, tell us the secret. So the artist says, “Okay, I smoke a lot of reefer…” and they’re like, “No, really, tell us the secret.” And so on.
Even when some obliging fellow like Baltasar Gracian writes it all down, spells it all out, step by step – here’s exactly what you must do to achieve success – they pick and find fault. They don’t listen, because they don’t really want to know.
Then again, some do, and wisdom is out there for them to find. Any advice book, any how-to-live system, has nuggets of gold in it. There are things that, if you do them, your life will change. Myths and folklore embody the stories of what happened in the past, when real or imaginary people acted on various tenets of their how-to-live systems.
One thing about the Sixties, the cultural not the calendrical Sixties, was that we got a fresh supply of myths and stories to supplement or supplant the ones we grew up with. Our stockpile of Disneyfied European fairy tales was shoved aside to make way for an influx of stories from the sages of the East, a vast territory encompassing myriad traditions and thousands of, to us, fresh narratives.
A story that resonated with me was about a monk who lived on a hill, and one day a delegation of village elders hiked up there and handed over a baby they said he had caused, and would now be responsible for. The monk knew he hadn’t fathered a child, but he was like, “Oh, okay.” He took care of the little boy for seven years. One day, a delegation of village elders climbed the hill and told the monk that the boy’s mother had admitted her lie, and they would take the child back. And the monk was like, “Oh, okay.”
Non-attachment, versus the ten thousand things. Sigh.