In case you missed it (I almost did), “On Smarm” is an important essay.
Speaking of the Believer, do you remember that Philip Seymour Hoffman interview? I will miss him. That seems strange though, even impossible, because that Philip Seymour Hoffman, the one I know, exists in images projecting from themselves. And those will go on sparkling, like prisms in post-loop pulse ad infinitum.
So I cannot actually miss Philip Seymour Hoffman, because the Philip Seymour Hoffman I know will continue to exist. In fact, he will be hard to kill. If I had met the actual Philip Seymour Hoffman, I would still miss a roll of images and sensations, facial expressions lodged in memory (a word that precedes words, a concept which, if it had no name, would affect us no less), perhaps the feeling of a body in space, skin, a roll of tin foil left to dry in the rain, a private film. What we miss when we miss, I think, is really the part of ourselves that will no longer be there pretending to be the person we experience, the part that, for us, is the person we miss. We have to unlearn that part of ourselves, and that part is painful. As Walser says, “The same blurry distances and colors as back then shine across it now, and the same sun. The castle still stands too, but it’s empty.” But then Walser didn’t say that. He said something in German.
Lauren Berlant might say I learned Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death but that does not mean I have unlearned his life. All the more so, since I never knew Philip Seymour Hoffman as an actual, living, breathing human animal. I knew him as an imitation of one. I met Lauren Berlant last night. I did not tell her my name. She did not ask. I felt barely there. I asked her a dumb question about the difference between work and labor. She referred me to the work of Kathi Weeks. I told her labor seemed wrapped up in Marxism. “What does that mean to you,” she asked. I didn’t know, or couldn’t say. She asked me “What do you do?” I told her I am a writer, or that I write, and that I work in childcare, part time. I told her I pay myself to write with the misery I incur as a result of not working full time. Maybe this is why I do not feel that writing is work. It feels like I am getting away with something when it turns into money. It feels like magic, or at least alchemy. And when it doesn’t, it feels like fun or something less than fun and more than work, being maybe, a proof of existence, a selfie of the mind.
I found an old photograph of myself the other day. It was a slide. It is. It brought me back to a time when I had less control over my selves. It was around that time I felt I could definitely die in a quest for the space between living and dying. I knew a guy who had overdosed his first time, because he didn’t know heroin and pills together make worm’s meat of you. Shortly after my friend found him, I threw my phone in the trash and went to rehab. I put the picture on my window sill so the sun can shine thru me when it finally kills the clouds. The root of “missing” is “to change.”
Meeting people implies missing them. We don’t actually “meet” people. We “come near to” them, and are forever unable to deny the physical yesness of this other being. Even if we put part of them inside us, or part of us in them, words even, we are always outside, rubbing up at best, just missing them. A lot of people would disagree with this. A lot of people would say you only miss the ones you love. But this ignores other kinds of missing. I miss everyone I have ever met.
Getting back to the physical impossibility of missing Philip Seymour Hoffman. As Berlant says it’s the unlearning of things we have to walk around with, and talk with, in order to convince ourselves that the story of we is consistent with this new idea we are trying to incorporate in our various selves. We must modify our speech, our face, our beliefs, before we can modify ourselves. And when that is done, we are just a breath of air in a word or three, a name. And what is that but a picture of a picture, taken before it even was.
Marcus says “Names should be hundreds of pages long. Or perhaps a person’s name is overstated? A little bit wordy? Perhaps a two word name is too much. Maybe I haven’t earned it yet. I don’t know. I find my personal name uncanny and disturbing and wildly inaccurate.”
I’ve always felt more like Gregor Samsa than Ishmael, but that’s just me.