Saturday, November 10, 2007

All-Star Weekend

Jacopo Bassano's Last Supper

I'm sure we've all had that fantasy about meeting people you admire, and of course the reality is closer to all those YouTube videos of hysterical girls waiting outside Equus to get Daniel Radcliffe's autograph. Or, if you're like me, you're not into screaming and making a fool of yourself, so you see that famous person in a shop, peer at them sideways, wish there was some nice and interesting way to talk to them...but then you shrug and walk away, imagining all the things you might have said to the person, and knowing they were all pretty useless, because the poor person is probably sick of being approached.

So then there's the Dinner Party Fantasy, where you imagine the famous people you might invite to a dinner party. What would make for good conversation? Who would you really like to talk to? Not just because they're cute, or because you have a crush on them or think they're a good writer/actor/movie director/etc. But because you feel there must be a lot of amazing things in their heads, and you'd love to interact with them a little, share stories and so on.

I was trying to imagine this dinner party and I came up with a bunch of names. There began to be enough people there that I knew there would be no way I could really talk to any of them, so I decided it would be a weekend retreat (well, week-long would be better, but these are busy people). I started with live people, and worked my way into dead people...and of course, fictional characters weren't far behind. I did notice that the mean age of the people was surprisingly high, and I tried to think why. All I could think of was that I had chosen people who I've admired for awhile, who had accomplished a lot and who had a lot of life-experience - so if you're thinking I'm ageist, maybe you could suggest someone.

I couldn't possibly think who might sit next to who at meals. Come to think of it, not all these people would necessarily get along; but that's okay, let's assume they would.

In no particular order:

Tom Stoppard, because his brain works in the most amazing loops, he's had an interesting life, and because he's interested in all kinds of odd things;
Ursula LeGuin because I love her books, she's a wise person, and because she grew up in old California, which I'd like to ask her about;
Terry Gilliam, because he's just weird and wonderful, and I'd love to talk to him;
Brian Eno, because he's intelligent and, I suspect, witty and ascerbic, and I like his artworks (as well as his music), and the way he collaborates with other people;
Lori Anderson: what can I say? The woman is bloody brilliant, and I'd be her roommate any day. Dang! I'd give anything to talk to her;
Stewart Brand, founder of the Whole Earth Catalog, starting god of the WELL (early internet community), co-founder of the Long Now Foundation... he has seen and done so many interesting things I can't begin to imagine what I'd talk about with him, only that he must make for great conversation;
Jan Švankmajer, because, well, few people really get to make a name and a living making utterly bizarre and fascinating works;
Neil Gaiman, because he writes great stuff, is prolific and intelligent, appears to be extremely kind, and likes the same stuff I do (and he's a nice dad);
Tim Burton, who makes some of the weirdest (in a good way) movies and has the best eye I've seen for oddness and style, though I'm not certain about his conversation skills;
Diana Wynne Jones, who writes insightful books with an unparalleled ability to create plots that defy the ruts that so many fantasy stories fall into, and who I would think would be the same to talk to;
Youssou N'Dour, who just fascinates me, I don't know why;
John Crowley, whose Little, Big made an inexplicable and everlasting impression on me when I read it, twenty-five years ago, and who seems able to think in both macro- and micro-vision at once;
and Faith Ringgold, who makes such amazing stories with her quilts.

Now, here's some dead people:
Joseph Cornell: I don't know much about the man, but his boxes had a lifelong effect on me - and were the beginnings of a fascination with boxes and an eventual interest in Wunderkammern;
Jane Austen, because good Lord! Have you ever seen anyone better able to dissect people with absolute sweetness and deadly precision?;
James Thurber, because he was very silly in a very smart way (except when he was serious);
Thorne Smith and Dashiel Hammett, for their dazzling wit;
Claudette Colbert, because she can talk faster than anyone I've ever seen;
Ibn Ismail Ibn al-Razzaz Al-Jazari, because aside from being the product of a brilliant and lost civilization, he was incredibly brilliant himself - and left us some really beautiful documentation of it;
Sir Henry Bessemer, because he was a wonderful raconteur and a fabulous engineer who was not only willing to take risks, but bull-headed enough to make others at least try his inventions.
H.G. Wells, who might have been a weirdo in his own time, but wouldn't you love to be able to pick his brains?;
and Edith Wharton, to stir things up a little.

Here are some fictional people who I think would do well in the mix, or at least who I'd like to get to know better:
Tenar, from Tehanu and the other (later) Earthsea books, because she is insightful and wise and very strong in all the right ways;
Scheherazade - of course! Not only because she tells great stories but because she's smart and interesting, too;
Hobbes, as in "Calvin and" - but in his non-stuffed form, of course, because I've had a crush on him ever since he appeared in print;

Hopey and Maggie, from Locas, because they were a big part of my life for a long time, and I always wished they were real (especially back when they fixed rockets for a living);
Mina Harker, because even if she ends up being a kind of a prude, she's still pretty cool.
Harlequin and Columbine, a fascinating and quixotic couple guaranteed to spice up any gathering.

I suspect there are actually many, many more good house parties out there, but I'm still writing NaNoWriMo and couldn't possibly spend more time thinking about it. Any further suggestions?

(PS. for an interesting Google-Earth style look at the last supper, check this out)


D said...

Many of those you mention. I'd have Bowie up there, I think, though mainly authors. Paul Auster, Don DeLillo, Iain Banks and Jeff Noon. Possibly Susanna Clarke. Jenny Holzer for certain, oddly the only artist I can think of.

So many admirable that I'm not too sure I'd enjoy talking to over dinner. William Gibson.

The dead are too many, maybe Milton, Mary Shelley, Poe and Wordsworth...where to begin?

Fictional. Almost full cast from Winter's Tale by Mark Helprin: Isaac Penn, Beverly Penn, Virginia and Mrs Gamely of Lake of the Coheeries and Peter Lake. Possibly the horse as well.

Nice subject, nice choices from you.

Heather McDougal said...

Oh, yes, yes indeed! Winter's Tale is one of my favorite books. I also like Pearly Soames and his color lust - the golden room and so on...And we have a Cloud Bank, where I live: too bad you can't skate on the Pacific Ocean, I might've found out where it went.

Widgett Walls said...

Fictional people: Hagbard Celine and Jubal Harshaw. In fact, I'd love to play poker with those two. Perhaps after dinner.

Strange and interesting dinners do happen. Since you mention the Excellent Mr. Gaiman, the strangest dinner I've ever had the pleasure to partake of was with him, his assistant, and Raven, the WCW (at the time) wrestler.

spacedlaw said...

When I like a writer's books I often have that thing about wanting to invite them over for dinner (A thing I got from my mother, I think).

I would therefore add dramatist
Peter Barnes to your list (the dear man is dead, alas), cartoon character Corto Maltese and/or his author Hugo Pratt (dead as well), Ray Bradbury, the actor Alan Rickman (for his political views and lovely voice), Pablo Neruda, Alejandro Jodorowsky (because he seems such a mad man) and my favourite French statesman, Richelieu.
But too many of many are waiting in line - my heart is bigger than my living room - and i don't like dinner parties too big because I really want to enjoy my guests.

Not sure what the subject might be.
I'd be tempted to try precolumbian civilizations and baroque music...

Ed Lamb said...

Graham Greene and Ernest Hemmingway to share drinks and insights on the damnable humanness of humans with Oscar Wilde. Plus, I know Gaiman would like to meet these guys, too.