Monday, July 25, 2011
I've always imagined what it must have been like inside the Elvis Presley compound the last ninety days of the star's life. Surely everyone -- not only those closest to him -- knew the wheels were about to come off the gravy train. Why didn't someone do something? Why didn't someone try to help him? Perhaps the issue isn't that no one could do anything, but rather, no one wanted to do anything. Surely the issue of drug dependency was the proverbial "elephant in the room," which explains why it was ignored. By way of explanation, I turn to Montaigne's Apology for Raimond Sebond and his discussion of the relationship between the whale and the sea gudgeon:
It is said that the whale never goes abroad without being preceded by a small fish resembling the sea-gudgeon, which is for that reason called the Guide. The whale follows it, allowing itself to be turned and led as easily as a vessel is turned by its rudder; and in return for this service, whilst every other thing, whether animal or vessel, that enters the awful chasm of this monster's mouth is forthwith engulfed and lost, this little fish retires into in all security, and sleeps there. During its sleep the whale never stirs, but as soon as it issues forth, starts and follows it unceasingly; and if by chance the guide goes astray, the whale will go wandering about hither and thither, often knocking itself against the rocks, like ship without a rudder. (Montaigne, Essays, 1927)
The relationship between the guide fish and the whale is analogous to modern celebrity and the institutional apparatus that supports her (the handlers, the agents and secretaries, publicists, the bodyguards and their wives and children, the hangers-on, the sycophants, and so on). The trick is not to mistake the whale for the artist, for in fact the artist is the small guide fish leading the whale around, while the massive whale represents all those whose livelihoods depend upon the artist. The whale's dependency explains why it does nothing but allow the guide fish to do as it wants, even pursue a deadly course. Of course, once the guide fish goes astray, the whale is lost, but the whale is all too aware of its dependency, and therefore does nothing, hoping to stave off the inevitable.