I watched our friends' wary, intelligent faces droop at our tale. Their shock was a mere shadow of our own, resembling more the goodwilled imitation of that emotion, and for this reason it was a temptation to exaggerate, to throw a rope of superlatives across the abyss that divided experience from its representation by anecdote.
Leonard Cohen can give you "Leonard Cohen" - the self-deprecating wit, the slow, considered speech, the perfectly-honed anecdote - Tom Waits is far more comfortable giving a journalist "Tom Waits" the character, whose conversation is really a series of strange tales, learned or ad-libbed.
I tell this anecdote with tongue in cheek at the start of my book William Burroughs and the Secret of Fascination, but my academic involvement with Burroughs was entirely due to my tutor at Oxford, Peter Conrad. I was discussing with him the idea of staying on to do graduate work and when I tossed the name of Burroughs into the conversation - well, he let it fall loudly onto the floor, and proceeded to cross himself as if warding off an evil spirit. Since I was very ambivalent about an academic career in any case, that decided it for... Read more »
A famous anecdote concerning Cuvier involves the tale of his visitation from the devil—only it was not the devil but one of his students dressed up with horns on his head and shoes shaped like cloven hooves. This frightening apparition burst into Cuvier's bedroom when he was fast asleep and claimed: 'Wake up thou man of catastrophes. I am the Devil. I have come to devour you!' Cuvier studied the apparition carefully and critically said, 'I doubt whether you can. You have horns and hooves. You eat only plants.
He sits in his car at traffic lights on his way out sometimes and tries to estimate how many times he has sat here, waiting at these traffic lights on his way somewhere without you, hoping to meet someone with the capacity to consign you to an anecdote, to be eventually confused with others
Anecdote: The East End seemed to be in the grip of yet another economic crisis. ... By the winter of 1933, an army of the unemployed gathered daily outside the dock gates, desperate for a day or 2 paid work. .... There was no cushion, no disaster fund, no stashed savings, no government handouts no syrup that could sweeten the bitter pill of poverty.
Men grind and grind in the mill of a truism, and nothing comes out but what was put in. But the moment they desert the tradition for a spontaneous thought, then poetry, wit, hope, virtue, learning, anecdote, and all flock to their aid.
From a purely tourist standpoint, Oxford is overpowering, being so replete with architecture and history and anecdote that the visitor's mind feels dribbling and helpless, as with an over-large mouthful of nougat.