Wednesday, September 17, 2008

benefit of the doubt

Chip's post about a DFW signing reminded me of something I did that was stupid w/r/t book signings. (CHIP: THANKS FOR REMINDING ME I AM STUPID)

I went to a Dave Eggers book signing a while back when Dave Eggers lived near me (and when Dave Eggers lived near Chip, for that matter; now none of us live there in that place, not one): right after AHWOSG came out.

I was in a line to get my copy of the book signed, and the further I moved up the line, the stupider I felt, because he was (/is) sort of like my age, and I felt at the time that if I had written so personal a book, I would feel weird that people wanted me to sign it? And I kept moving up the line and feeling increasingly awkward, like in Zeno's paradox about the arrow never reaching its target because it keeps getting stupider?

And then there was just one person in front of me and that person went to get her book signed, but her book was not AHWOSG; it was Camus' The Myth of Sisyphus.

Which I think her strategy was: He will see I am whimsical yet deep and therefore sleep with me.

And he signed her copy of Myth of Sisyphus without commenting on it, and then it was my turn, and whim took over (or maybe antiwhim, as I was trying to cancel out the previously established whim), and when Eggers looked up at me, instead of just telling him my name, I instead asked Eggers to forge Camus' signature on my copy of AHWOSG (since the only signed DFW book I have is Everything and More, I'll just add that what I was going for is f–1(f(x)) = x where x = attempted whimsy). And Eggers (again, without any comment) wrote:

Oh the horror.
~ Albert Camus

..and I thought, "That's not Camus, that's Conrad," and I walked away feeling stupider and stupider.

But: To my knowledge, he did not sleep with the whimsical and deep girl!

Because after this signing, we all got on a bus and went to see a gallery in lower Manhattan that was displaying paintings by elephants. Because, and this almost doesn't seem like it could have actually happened, apparently during this period in Thailand's history, all of the elephants were being captured and loaded up on methamphetamine and put to work in the circus or as black market laborers. And so these two Russian expats, Vitaly Komar and Alexander Melamid, were rescuing the elephants and having them paint things (like literally they held the paint brushes with their trunks) and then they (the Russians) were selling the paintings and then the money from the sale would go to house and feed the elephants. Which, that plan doesn't seem scalable, but it really was a real thing (unless it's not) -- there were actual paintings in the gallery; there were peanut shells littering the floor. And I did not see that girl there.

And anyway: now it's seven years later and I just did a Google book search; this is from The Plague:
Among the heaps of corpses, the clanging bells of ambulances, the warnings of what goes by the name of fate, among unremitting waves of fear and agonized revolt, the horror that such things could be, always a great voice had been ringing in the ears of these forlorn panicked people, a voice calling them back to the land of their desire, a homeland.

At the elephant painting exhibition, Eggers was taking questions ("How long does it take an elephant to paint something?" "Is this real?" "Really?" "Really is it real, though?") and someone asked how many paintings an elephant could do in one day if it was still on Elephant Meth.

This is funny! But also cynical! (RECALL: This was about eight months before we were attacked, and everyone in New York was nice to everyone else for a while.) Eggers said, "I'm not going to answer that."

I don't know the context of that Camus passage, but here is what I'm going to do: I'm going to give Eggers the benefit of the doubt.

In fact, I'm going to try to give everyone the benefit of the doubt, even though (it is said) we ultimately have no control and even though (to paraphrase) everything in life entropies toward irrationality; Zadie Smith said recently on DFW (and let's just state it outright: the only reason I'm thinking about any of this (= cynism vs. sincerity) at all and not just spending my day reading, like, Gawker is because of DFW) Zadie Smith summarized at least one aspect of his aesthetic thusly: If we must say something, let's at least only say true things.

I am agreeing for the foreseeable future. Let's see how long it lasts.

the horror
Dave Eggers forges Albert Camus' signature because why not?
Originally uploaded by mrbikferd

(though now that I think about it maybe I shouldn't start this plan until
after November 4.)

Update, 9/24: Roger Ebert on board with giving people the benefit of the doubt. Alex Balk has the money quote.


mr_subjunctive said...

I'd do it the other way around: only true things until Nov. 4. 'Cause after, we may need fiction more than ever.

Also you should post your story about getting DFW to sign the copy of Infinite Jest you and Josh gave me. 'Cause I want to post the story, but I don't remember it well enough. Something about following him on a high-speed car chase?

Also I like this thing of you posting content to your blog. Do more of that.

Patrick M~ said...

The only highspeed part I recall is that we were highspeeding to get there because we were late -- it was like at a bookstore in Waukegan or some strange place, and we left our apartment (in Evanston) around the time it was supposed to start.

I may have the chronology jumbled, but I think we were being visited by friends from college (R~ and W~), and the previous night J~ and I had tried to introduce them to sushi, and R~ was so repulsed by the concept of "sushi" that he didn't eat anything but some salad and on the way back to the car from the sushi place he went in a Dunkin Donuts and bought a 12 (or 13?)-pack and just worked his way through it for the rest of the weekend. And then we stayed up late drinking, and then the next day I was trying to get them all organized so we could go to this bookstore, and R~ was still passed out on the bed, and so W~ put R~'s half eaten box of donuts in front of an oscillating fan and tried to blow the aroma of donuts onto R~ so he would wake up, like in cartoons. Which even though that didn't work, is why W~ is a genius, but anyway we were late.

But then we got organized and piled into J~'s Blazer: me, J~, W~, R~ and R~'s box of donuts and drove out to this bookstore. This is the highspeed chase part. And then we finally arrived at the bookstore, and there was nobody there except us and like two employees and DFW who had packed up his stuff and was leaving. But we asked him if he would sign a copy of the book, and he agreed, and then he had to wait for us as we bought a copy of the book and then gave it to him, none of us knowing what was an appropriate thing to say during this time, and he either wrote or said aloud something like "Now the intrinsic value of this book has increased twelvefold"; the only thing I recall with near-certainty is that on the title page he crossed out his name as printed and signed his name underneath (which I just checked is also what he did on my copy of E&M). And then we all said thanks and kind of looked around, and then we all left and we got in our car and he got in his car, and it was one of those things where you're talking to a co-worker in the elevator at the end of the day and then the doors open and you say, "Well, see you tomorrow," and then you walk out of the elevator together and cross the lobby together and then exit through the same door and turn the same direction and walk together down the block and as you approach the subway station you're like, please don't also let him go down to the same platform as I am because it's unclear if I'm supposed to start the conversation up again or just somehow pretend I don't see my co-worker walking next to me. And subsequent to our getting in our cars, we pulled out of the parking lot and made our way to the expressway which was frozen with non-moving cars and J~'s Blazer and DFW's car were adjacent to each other for a good ten minutes with neither of us moving measurably forward and no one in our car knew where to look.

Certainly not to the box of donuts!

Whose aroma was negligible at best.

And now 407 years later, I live in Chicago again, and that sushi place (Shiroi Hana on Clark) is still there, and so is the Dunkin Donuts although now it also has a Baskin Robbins component to it which I don't recall.

Oh wait, and then we found buried treasure!


mr_subjunctive said...

Well now see that's why I needed you to do it. 'Cause in my mind, you and J~ and nobody else were chasing him down the freeway, trying to get his attention and make him pull over so he could sign the book, weaving in and out of traffic like a maniac, and then finally you got his attention and he pulled over and you explained the situation and then he signed the book.

Seriously that was my recollection, though it didn't seem all that plausible really.

Thanks for doing that, though. It was good. I've read it a lot.

Patrick M~ said...

I think you're thinking of the time I subpoena'd William T Vollman.

mr_subjunctive said...

Ah yes. I bet that's it.