"I GOT THE PIECE of Moammar Gadhafi’s house when we were shooting there for Parts Unknown. We had a sort of friendly militia with us, and we bumped into a less friendly militia. Before we had to leave in a hurry, I got a nice chunk. The bronzed deer head Marco Pierre White gave me after I was hunting with him in rural England. As a young cook, I worshipped White—never in a million years did I think I’d be hanging out, drinking beer and shooting animals with him. I grew up being a huge fan of Hunter Thompson and Ralph Steadman, who did that piece on the wall for me. The duck press was just an extravagant, pure object of desire. When I see these used in a restaurant, I practically weep. It’s like watching Joe DiMaggio playing his last game. The metal Montagnard bracelet is from Vietnam. Indigenous people in the mountains used to make them and give them to the CIA officers and Special Forces who were there prior to the war. The thicker bracelet was given to me by an African king while I was fulfilling my Heart of Darkness fantasy in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It likely goes back hundreds of years. The watch is my dad’s old Rolex. He died with it on his nightstand. He passed away before he got to see me do anything significant, but he loved me just the same. The pile of passports—all of them filled up—are a record of everywhere I’ve been. All my life I read about people doing interesting things in interesting faraway places, and I dreamed of going to those places and having those sorts of things happen to me. Underneath that is Raw Power, my desert island disc, and then the works of Michel de Montaigne—all wisdom and knowledge found here. Last, a drawing by my daughter of me and her. It’s a pretty good rendering, though a little flattering.”
He read “In Search of Lost Time” alongside two academic guidebooks, full of notations in French, and a dictionary. He said that no other novel gave him as much appreciation for his time in prison. “Of course, we are memory artists as well…,” he wrote of prisoners in his journal, in the entry on “Time Regained.” “Everyone inside tries to make their time go by as quickly as possible and live entirely in the past,” he said. “But to kill your days is essentially to shorten your own life.” In prison, time was both an enemy and a resource, and Genis said that Proust convinced him that the only way to exist outside of it, however briefly, was to become a writer himself… Later, when he came across a character in a Murakami novel who says that one really has to be in jail to read Proust, Genis said that he laughed louder than he had in ten years.
Murakami might be on to something. The people I know of who’ve read a stupendous amount of books in a certain period of time have lived in a kind of sparse, prison-like existence. When the depression hit, Joseph Campbell moved to a shack outside of Woodstock, New York, and read nine hours a day for five years. When I was 20, I spent 6 months in Cambridge, England living in a room the size of a broom closet, and that’s when I read Shakespeare, Dickens, Dostoevsky, Joyce, etc. (At one point, Genis’s father tells him to readUlysses in prison, because “he wouldn’t have the willpower to get through it once he became a free man.”) My friend was in the Peace Corps for two years in Africa, and he said all there was to do at night was smoke weed and read. He read a couple hundred books.
Maybe that’s what college should be: two years where your rent is paid and you do nothing but read…
Isn’t it striking that the most-typical and most-maligned genres of Instagram imagery happen to correspond to the primary genres of Western secular art? All that #foodporn is still-life; all those #selfies, self-portraits. All those vacation vistas are #landscape; art-historically speaking, #beachday pics evoke the hoariest cliché of middle-class leisure iconography… Technology has so democratized image-making that it has put the artistic power once mainly associated with aristocrats—to stylize your image and project yourself to an audience as desirable—into everyone’s hands.