'Oh. Is there any way of reaching you there?' 'No, I'll be gone tomorrow. I'm trying to get south before it freezes around here.'
'Well, we'll contact you through your lawyer then.' At the door he adjusts his hat and glasses and jacket. He says goodbye, turns and moves down the corridor with a tense springiness, like a skier or a cat - or like the Sundance Kid - and vanishes around a corner.
Then the corridor becomes just another hotel corridor again.
Phaedrus stood in the hotel corridor for a long time without thinking about where he was. After a while he turned back, went into the room and closed the door.
He looked at the empty couch where Redford had been sitting. It seemed like some of his presence was still there but you couldn't talk to it any more.
He felt like pouring himself a drink . . . but there wasn't any . . . He should call Room Service.
But he didn't really want a drink. Not enough to go to all that trouble. He didn't know what he wanted.
A wave of anticlimax hit. All the tension and energy that had been built up for this meeting suddenly had nowhere to go. He felt like going out and running down the corridors. Maybe a long walk through the streets again until the tension wore off... but his legs already ached from the long walk getting here.
He went to the balcony door. On the other side of the glass was the same fantastic night skyline.
It looked more stale now.
The trouble with paying high prices for places with a view like this was that the first time it's wonderful but it gets more and more static until you hardly notice it's there. The boat was better, where the view keeps changing all the time.
He could see from the blurring of the skyline lights that rain had started. The balcony wasn't wet, however. The wind must be blowing the rain away from this side of the building.
When he cracked open the door a howling rush of cold air poured through. He opened the crack wide enough to pass through, then stepped out onto the balcony and closed the door again.
What a wild wind there was out here. Vertical wind. Crazy. The whole night skyline was blurring and clearing with squalls of rain. He could only see distant parts of the park from the way the lights stopped at its edges.
Disconnected. All this seemed to be happening to somebody else. There was excitement of a kind; tension, confusion; but no real emotional involvement. He felt like some galvanometer that had been zapped and now the needle was jammed stuck, unable to register.
Culture shock. He guessed that's what it was. This schizy feeling was culture shock. You enter another world where all the values are so different and switched around and upside-down you can't possibly adapt to them — and culture shock hits.
He was really on top of the world now, he supposed . . . at the opposite end of some kind of incredible social spectrum from where he had been twenty years ago, bouncing through South Chicago in that hard-sprung police truck on the way to the insane asylum.
Was it any better now?
He honestly didn't know. He remembered two things about that crazy ride: the first was that cop who grinned at him all the way, meaning 'We're going to fix you good, boy' - as if the cop really enjoyed it. The second was the crazy understanding that he was in two worlds at the same time, and in one world he was at the rock bottom of the whole human heap and in the other world he was at the absolute top. How could you make any sense out of that? What could you do? The cop didn't matter, but what about this last?
Now here it was all upside-down again. Now he was at some kind of top of that first world, but where was he in the second? At the bottom? He couldn't say. He had the feeling that if he sold the film rights big things were going to happen in that first world, but he was going to take a long slide to somewhere in the second. He'd expected that feeling might go away tonight, but it didn't.
There was a 'something wrong - something wrong -something wrong' feeling like a buzzer in the back of his mind. It wasn't just his imagination. It was real. It was a primary perception of negative quality. First you sense the high or low quality, then you find reasons for it, not the other way around. Here he was, sensing it.
The New Yorker critic George Steiner had warned Phaedrus. 'At least you don't have to worry about a film,' he'd said. The book seemed too intellectual for anyone to try it. Then he'd told Steiner his book was already under option to 20th Century-Fox. Steiner's eyes widened and then turned away.
'What's the matter with that?' Phaedrus had asked.
'You're going to be very sorry,' Steiner had said.
Later a Manhattan film attorney had said, 'Look, if you love your book my advice is don't sell it to Hollywood.'
'What are you talking about?'
The attorney looked at him sharply. 'I know what I'm talking about. Year after year I get people in here who don't understand films and I tell them just what I told you. They don't believe me. Then they come back. They want to sue. I tell them, "Look! I told you! You signed your rights away. Now you're going to have to live with it!"
'So I'm telling you now,' the attorney said, 'if you love your book don't sell it to Hollywood.'
What he was talking about was artistic control. In a stage play there's a tradition that nobody changes the playwright's lines without his permission, but in films it's almost standard to completely trash an author's work without even bothering to mention it to him. After all, he sold it, didn't he?
Tonight Phaedrus had hoped to get a contradiction of all this from Redford, but it was just the opposite. Redford had confirmed it. He agreed with Steiner and the attorney.
created all the excitement, not the deal itself. He'd told Redford, 'You've got it,' but nothing was settled until the contract was signed. There was still a price to settle on and that meant there was still room to back off.
He felt a real sense of let-down. Maybe it was just normal anticlimax, maybe Redford was just tired from his flight in but whatever he was really thinking about, Phaedrus didn't think he'd heard it tonight, or at least not all of it, or even very much of it. It was always exciting to see a famous person like that up close but when he subtracted that excitement he saw that Redford was just following a standard format.
The whole thing had a lack of freshness about it. Redford had a reputation for honest dealing but he operated in the middle of an industry with the opposite reputation. No one was expected to say what they really thought. 'Deals' are supposed to follow a format. Redford's honesty wasn't triumphing over this format or even arguing with it.
There was no sense of sharing. It was more like selling a house, where the prospective owners don't feel any obligation to tell you what color they are going to paint it or how they are going to arrange the furniture. That's the Hollywood format. Redford gave the feeling he'd been through so many of these bargaining sessions it was a kind of ritual for him. He'd done it a dozen times before, at least. He was just operating out of old patterns.
That's probably why he seemed surprised when Phaedrus said, 'You've got it.' He was flapped because the format wasn't followed. Phaedrus was supposed to do all his bargaining at this point. This was where he could get all his concessions, and here he was now, giving it all away: a big mistake in terms of a real-estate type of legal 'adversary' format where each side tries all the tactics they can think of to get the best 'deal' out of the other side. Redford was here to get rather than give, and when he was suddenly given so much more than he expected without any effort on his part it seemed
to throw him off balance for a second. That's how it seemed anyway.
That comment about visiting the sets, 'but not every day,' also spelled it out. Phasdrus would never be a co-creator, just a visiting VIP. And that bit of film jargon about 'romancing' was the real key. 'Romancing' is part of the format. The producer or screen-writer or director or whoever's getting the thing started begins by 'romancing' the author. They tell him how much money he's going to get, they get his signature on an option, and then they go and 'romance' the financial people by telling them what a great book they're going to get. Once they get both the book and the money, the romance is over. Both the money-man and the author get locked out as much as possible and the 'creative people' go ahead and make a film. They'd change what Phsedrus had written, add whatever stuff they thought would make it work better, sell it, and go on to something else, leaving him with some money that would soon disappear, and a lot of bad memories that wouldn't.
Phaedrus began to shiver, but still he didn't go in. That room on the other side of the door was like some glassed-in cage. Outside here the rain seemed to have died and the lights were so intense now they made the clouds in the sky seem like some sort of ceiling. He preferred it out here in the cold.
He looked over the city and then down at the little bugs of cars way down on the street below. It was a lot easier to get there from here than to here from there. Maybe that's why so many jump. It's easier that way.
Crazy! He backed off from the concrete railing. What puts thoughts like that in a person's head?
'Culture shock.' That's what it was. The 'gods.' He'd been watching them for years. The 'gods' were the static culture patterns. They never quit. After trying all these years to kill him with failure, now they were pretending they'd given up. Now they were going to try the other way, to get him with success.
* * *
It wasn't the crazy wind or the rain-blurred light along the sky across the park that was making him feel so strange. What caused the culture shock were these two crazy different cultural evaluations of himself -two different realities of himself - sitting side by side. One was that he was in some kind of high voltage celebrity world like Redford. The other was that he was at ground-level like Rigel and Lila and just about everybody else. As long as he stayed within just one of those two cultural definitions he could live with it. But when he tried to hang on to both wires simultaneously, that's when the shock hit.
'If you get too famous you will go straight to hell,' a Japanese Zen master had warned a group Phaedrus was in. It had sounded like one of those Zen 'truths' that don't make any sense. Now it was making sense.
He wasn't talking about anything Dante would have identified. Dante's Christian hell is an after-life of eternal torment, but Zen hell is this world right here and now, in which you see life around you but can't participate in it. You're forever a stranger from your own life because there's something in your life that holds you back. You see others bathing in the life all around them while you have to drink it through a straw, never getting enough.
You would think that fame and fortune would bring a sense of closeness to other people, but quite the opposite happens. You split into two people, who they think you are and who you really are, and that produces the Zen hell.
It's like a hall of mirrors at a carnival where some mirrors distort you one way and some distort you another. Already he'd seen three completely different mirror reflections this week: from Rigel, who reflected an image of some kind of moral degenerate; from Lila who reflected a tedious old nerd; and now Redford who was probably going to cast him into some sort of heroic image.
Each person you come to is a different mirror. And since you're just another person like them maybe you're just another mirror too, and there's no way of ever knowing whether your own view of yourself is just another distortion. Maybe all you ever see is reflections. Maybe mirrors are all you ever get. First the mirrors of your parents, then friends and teachers, then bosses and officials, priests and ministers and maybe writers and painters too. That's their job too, holding up mirrors.
But what controls all these mirrors is the culture: the Giant, the gods; and if you run afoul of the culture it will start throwing up reflections that try to destroy you, or it will withdraw the mirrors and try to destroy you that way. Phaedrus could see how this celebrity could get to be like some sort of narcosis of mirrors where you have to have more and more supportive reflections just to stay satisfied. The mirrors take over your life and soon you don't know who you are. Then the culture controls you and when it takes away your mirrors and the public forgets you the withdrawal symptoms start to appear. And there you are, in the Zen hell of celebrity . . . Hemingway with the top of his head blown off, and Presley, full of prescription drugs. The endless dreary exploitation of Marilyn Monroe. Or any of dozens of others. It seemed like it was the celebrity, the mirrors of the 'gods,' that did it.
A subject-object metaphysics presumes that all these mirrors are subjective and therefore unreal and unimportant, but that presumption, like so many others, seems to deliberately ignore the obvious.
It ignores the phenomenon of someone like Redford walking down the street and observing that people, in his own words, 'goon out' when they see him. His manager said it's almost impossible for him to attend public meetings because when people see he's there they all turn around and watch him.
Phaedrus remembered that he himself had started to 'goon out' when Redford came to the door. All that Charlie Chaplin stuff with the coat. What is this 'goon-out' phenomenon? It was no subjective illusion. It's a very real primary reality, an empirical perception.
It seems to have biological roots, like hunger or fear or greed. Is it similar to stage fright? There seems to be a loss of real-time awareness. A fixed image of the famous person, like the Sundance Kid, seems to overwhelm the Dynamic real-time person who exists in the moment of confrontation. That's why Phaedrus had so much trouble getting started.
But there is much more than that.
This whole business of celebrity also had something perceptibly degenerate about it. Vulgar and degenerate and enormously fascinating and at times obsessive, very much in the same way that sex seemed to be vulgar and degenerate at some times, and enormously fascinating and obsessive.
Sex and celebrity. Before Phaedrus got his boat and cleared out of Minnesota he remembered ladies at parties coming over to rub up against him. A teenage girl squealing in ecstasy at one of his lectures. A woman broadcasting executive grabbing his arm at lunch and saying, 'I must have you. I mean you.' You'd think he was a sandwich or something. For forty years he'd wondered what it took, that he was so obviously lacking, that made women look at you twice. Was celebrity it? Was that all? He thought there was more to it than that.
There's a parallel there, he thought. There's something slightly obscene about the whole celebrity feeling. It's that same feeling you get from sex magazines on the newsstands. There's something troubling about seeing those magazines there. And yet if you thought no one would notice you might want to take a look in those magazines. One part of you wants to get rid of the magazines; one part wants to look at them. There's a conflict of two patterns of quality, social patterns and biological patterns.
In celebrity it's the same - except that the conflict is between social and intellectual patterns!
Celebrity is to social patterns as sex is to biological patterns. Now he was getting it. This celebrity is Dynamic Quality within a static social level of evolution. It looks and feels like pure Dynamic Quality for a while, but it isn't. Sexual desire is the Dynamic Quality that primitive bioIogical patterns once used to organize themselves. Celebrity is the Dynamic Quality that primitive social patterns once used to organize themselves. That gives celebrity a new importance.
None of this celebrity has any meaning in a subject-object universe. But in a value-structured universe, celebrity comes roaring to the front of reality as a huge fundamental parameter. It becomes an organizing force of the whole social level of evolution. Without this celebrity force, advanced complex human societies might be impossible. Even simple ones.
Funny how a question can just sit there and then suddenly, at a time you least expect it, the answer starts to unfold.
Celebrity was the culture force. That was it. It seemed like it, anyway.
It was crazy. People going over Niagara Falls in a barrel and killing themselves just for the celebrity of it. Assassins murdering for it. Maybe the real reason nations declared war was to increase their celebrity status. You could organize an anthropology around it.
Sure, of course. When you look back into the very first writings in the history of the Western world, the cuneiform writings on the mud tablets of Babylon, what are they about? Why, they're about celebrity: I, Hammurabi, am the big wheel here. I have this many horses and this many concubines and this many slaves and this many oxen, and I am one of the greatest of the greatest kings there ever was, and you better believe it. That's what writing was invented for. When you read the Rig Veda, the oldest religious literature of the Hindus, what are they talking about? 'The heavens and earth themselves have not grown equal to half of me: Have I not drunk the soma juice? I in my grandeur have surpassed the heavens and all this spacious earth: Have I not drunk the soma juice?' This is interpreted as devotion to God, but the celebrity is obvious. Phffidrus remembered now that it had bothered him a little that in the Odyssey, Homer seemed at times to be equating Quality and celebrity. Perhaps in Homer's time, when evolution had not yet transcended the social level into the intellectual, the two were the same.
The Pyramids were celebrity devices. All the statues, the palaces, the robes and jewels of social authority: those are just celebrity devices. The feathers of the Indian headdress. Children being told they would be struck blind if they ever accidentally looked at the emperor. All the Sirs and Lords and Reverends and Doctors of European address, those are celebrity symbols. All the badges and trophies, all the blue ribbons, all the promotions up the business ladder, all the elections to 'high office,' all the compliments and flattery of tea parties and cocktail parties are celebrity enhancements. All the feuding and battling for prestige among academics and scientists. All the offense at 'insults.' All the 'face' of the Orient. Celebrity. Celebrity.
Even a policeman's uniform is a kind of celebrity device so that you will do what he says without questioning him. Without celebrity nobody would take orders from anybody and there would be no way you could get the society to work.
. . . High school. High school was really the place for celebrity. That's what had those jocks out playing football every afternoon. That's what the pom-pom girls were all about. It was the celebrity. They were all swimming up the celebrity stream. And Phaedrus hadn't even known it was there. Or he knew it was there but he didn't understand how significant it was. That's what made him such a nerd, maybe. That's what separated him from that eager-eyed, beautifully dressed, smiley-talky crowd.
At the university he remembered the celebrity force was still there, especially in the fraternities and student
activity groups. But it was weaker. In fact you can measure the quality of a university by comparing the relative strengths of the celebrity patterns and the intellectual patterns. You never got rid of the celebrities, even at the best universities, but there the intellectuals could ignore them and be in a class by themselves.
Anyway there it was: another whole field Phaedrus would never have time to study - the anthropology of celebrity.
Some of it had been done: anthropologists study tribal patterns carefully to see who kowtows to whom. But that was nothing, compared to what could be done.
Money and celebrity are fame and fortune, traditionally paired, as twin forces in the Dynamic generation of social value. Both fame and fortune are huge Dynamic parameters that give society its shape and meaning. We have whole departments of universities, in fact, whole colleges, devoted to the study of economics, that is fortune, but what do we have that is similarly devoted to the study of fame? What exactly is the mechanism by which the culture controls the shapes of the mirrors that produce all these different images of celebrity? Would analysis of that mirror-changing force enable the resolution of ethnic conflicts? Phaedrus didn't know. Why is it you can be a great guy in, say, Germany, and then walk across the border into France and suddenly find you have become a very bad guy without having done anything? What changes the mirrors?
Politics, maybe, but politics mixes celebrity with static legal patterns and isn't a pure study of celebrity. In fact, the way political science is taught now, celebrity is made to look incidental to politics. But go to any political gathering and see what's making it run. Watch the candidates jockey for celebrity. They know what's making it run.
On and on the ideas went.
But it was an assertion of the Metaphysics of Quality that there exists a reality beyond all these social mirrors.
That he had explored. In fact there are two levels of reality beyond these mirrors: an intellectual reality and beyond that, a Dynamic reality.
And the Metaphysics of Quality says that movement upward from the social mirrors of celebrity is a moral movement from a lower form of evolution to a higher one. People should go that way if they can.
And now Phedrus began to see how all this brought him full circle with what had started all this thinking about celebrity: the film about his book. Films are social media; his book was largely intellectual. That was the center of the problem. Maybe that's why Redford was so closed. He had reservations about that too. Sure, it's possible to use film for primarily intellectual purposes, to make a documentary, but Redford wasn't here to make a documentary, or anything close to it.
As Sam Goldwyn said, 'If you got a message send a telegram.' Don't make a movie out of it. Pictures aren't intellectual media. Pictures are pictures. The movie business belonged to the celebrity people and they wouldn't begin to know how to portray an intellectual book like his. And even if they did, the public wouldn't buy it, probably, and that would be the end of their money.
Phaedrus still didn't want to commit himself yet. He would just have to think about it for a while and let things settle down and then see what he wanted to do.
But what he saw at this point was a social pattern of values, a film, devouring an intellectual pattern of values, his book. It would be a lower form of life feeding upon a higher form of life. As such it would be immoral. And that's exactly how it felt: immoral.
That's what had produced all these something-wrong, something-wrong, something-wrong feelings. The mirrors were trying to take over the truth. They think that because they pay you money, which is a social form of gratification, they are entitled to do as they please with the intellectual truth of a book. Uh-uh.
Those gods. They'll pull anything.
It was really getting cold out here.
Phaedrus went to the big glass sliding door, pulled it open and with a wooshhhhh of inrushing wind went inside.