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An Abundance of Shit
Can someone teach me a card trick? Just email back with instructions
I think Sally Rooney is right—I know too much about her. There was a point at which, sure, I did want to know everything about her. Where did she come from? What’s the vibe of her part of Ireland? What did her parents do growing up? Did she go to Trinity? Ah, yes, she did—what did she study? Did she have any jobs before she was a novelist? And if so, were they sufficiently middle class?
All of these things, and much more—way too much more—you can find out through some rudimentary Googling. The press cycle for a new release, whether it be a book, a TV show, a movie, an album, demands excavation. There must be a profile of the creator, but also a behind-the-scenes accounting of the work’s production. It’s not enough that we simply get Succession season three; the HBO comms team, in conjunction with the Succession beat reporters at every culture outlet, will shovel us the intimate details of Jesse Armstrong’s life, and descriptions of the varied relationships and interactions between cast members who don’t even crack the intro credits.
The point is: there’s no mystique anymore. You can’t just read this goddamn Sally Rooney novel without having read all the extracurricular throat-clearing; don’t even think about talking about the Anthony Bourdain documentary if you didn’t read about the A.I. voice stuff. Nothing stands alone, because everything is supposed to inform the other things. And it’s my fault, too—the target demo for this stuff is probably a big fat dartboard with my face on it. Because if I’m stuck inside during a hurricane, who knows what I’ll get up to…
The titans of media coverage know we’re just searching for the tea leaves that foreshadow the eventual shape of someone’s art, nuggets of information that explain or illuminate, somehow, beyond what the text has already provided us. There’s watching a movie and consuming criticism—but then there’s watching The Other Two and spending hours reading something like, “Behind The Other Two’s Turbulent COVID-19 Production Nightmare.” This can’t be intellectually fulfilling. And yet.
At a certain point, we all continually regress into our worst habits (I am becoming more Bill Simmons with each passing day), so I will bring up Matt Damon again. He will often, in interviews, talk about coming up as an actor in the 90’s, alongside people like Edward Norton, Jude Law, Matthew McConaughey and the like. And what sticks with me is his description of some quaint, bygone notion of unknowability—that if he had it his way, all the details of his personal life would be unavailable to an audience, and all they would know is “Matt Damon is playing a new character.” Because, according to him and by all available evidence, that type of fame is gone.
The type of fame that persists is a crime—an excess of interiority. A common refrain is that “fame is abuse”, and perhaps at no point in time has that been more true. If you want to produce something for the world, it seems you must give up your personal life in return. And if you want to consume something the world has given you, you must also rabidly consume everything around it. Even if you don’t want to.
Imagine a world in which, say, the lady who makes the Great Jones pans sells her little pans—but that’s it. I don’t know what her name is. Or, perhaps, a universe in which I watch Children of Men and marvel at the camera wizardry, but that’s all I get—I’m not privy to how they manufactured the car so that the camera could swivel around for 10 uncut minutes. Or maybe—try this on for size—this newsletter comes out once a week, but you have no idea what my name is. Or that I exist.
What if I didn’t have an identity? What if, like, I could just be a nameless face wandering the streets? Which streets, you ask? Maybe Edinburgh. Or Tehran, or Hanoi. There’s nothing remarkable about me, so that when you walk by you go, “Oh, an Indian guy.” And that’s it.
And maybe I sell my little wares on the side of the road. I make tea in the morning and in the afternoon. I could read for a while, undisturbed. Like, I’m in a little cottage by the sea. I could fish for sustenance. And again, I don’t have a name in this scenario. I don’t have any form of identification. There’s literally no way you could meet me and get in contact with me ever again.
And then you go home and you say, “Wow, this artisan loaf of bread I bought from that Indian guy is incredible. What an outstanding crumb structure. But the crust feels crunchy and light at the same time. Time to go on the internet and find out about his upbringing.” But no—you can’t. I’m a ghost, remember? You cannot find me. I do not exist for anyone else. Complete erasure.
That would be tight.
(20 vaguely arts-adjacent people poke their head up from meerkat holes) Oh damn, is this about the mortifying ordeal of being perceived? Is this about being perceived? Omg, not me being perceived! It’s the mortifying ordeal of being perceived for me…
Yeah, I agree with Nabeel. I’ve been saying it for years: the perfect way to live is to have aesthetically and sensually rich experiences, a thriving and intellectually sound interior monologue, and meaningful relationships with your peers, and never post a single thing about any of it. In this regard, I have failed many times. But I’m trying! We’re all trying. We’re trying… it’s hard. It’s hard sometimes. But we’re trying. Nevertheless I tried…
Idk. What do you guys think? Drop some heat in the comments… engage with this with intellectual rigor please.