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Foreign Idiot

March 10, 2011 | by

Geoffrey Rush as Aksentii Poprishchin. Photograph by Stephanie Berger.

On a recent Saturday afternoon, the British psychoanalyst and writer Adam Phillips delivered a talk at the Brooklyn Academy of Music titled “Acting Madness.” The event was being held in conjunction with BAM’s spring season, which features three plays about madness: David Holman’s adaptation of Gogol’s “Diary of a Madman”; Macbeth; and King Lear. In a row with plenty of other seats, a young man with a wispy beard and glasses took the place directly next to mine. He was wearing, I noticed at once, a Paris Review T-shirt. My mind leaped as though a starter pistol had been fired. It was all so obvious: The Paris Review had sent this person to check up on me.

In his essay “First Hates,” from On Kissing, Tickling and Being Bored, Phillips usefully glosses paranoia as the refusal to be left out. That is, much worse than the fear that everyone is talking about you is the fear that no one is talking about you. As the gentleman in question and I waited in silence, I performed a little Phillips-inspired self-analysis. Either The Paris Review had sent this man here to stalk me, and he was announcing his intentions with his T-shirt, or he was a Phillips enthusiast and also a reader of The Paris Review—even my paranoiac fantasy had to concede this as a likely demographic crossover. Embarrassed, I meditated, very briefly, on my own unimportance. The Paris Review would survive with or without my post. This unimportance was a fact I was going to have to live with, because living without it—believing that this man had donned an official T-shirt in order to more conspicuously surveil my blogging—was crazy.

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