Everything else

The World Is Bound With Secret Knots

An interview with David Hildebrand Wilson.

You have this appreciation for these curious things, and that appreciation could’ve been expressed in many mediums that are more convenient. You could’ve been a writer or a photographer or just stuck to filmmaking. But instead it’s expressed through this very inventive academic writing, and this questioning of what authority a museum has, and why—

Why a museum?

Yeah, or did it feel like you had no choice?

I don’t know that I could say that it felt like I had no choice, but when that choice presented itself, it was an enormous relief. Because I’d always been looking for that, but it took decades to find it. I had begun in natural sciences in college, but then I went on and did filmmaking, and so I was torn between these two worlds—the world of natural science and the just amazing wonders, the kind of incomprehensible wonders, of all of that; and then [the world of] display and putting things into the world and being able to have an impact on people with what you put into the world. I knew I really loved that as well. So I really, really struggled with that [dichotomy] for decades, and I tried all kinds of things and could never really find anything that felt right until one day it dawned on me, like being run over by a freight train, that what I wanted to do was have a museum.

Do you ever feel like there is nothing left out there that could excite you, or that there is a shortage of things worth marveling at?

[Laughs] Completely the opposite. I have never even had that thought. That thought has never formulated in my mind. [Laughs some more]

That’s very reassuring! I mean, I am a generally negative person, and I have to have a lot of energy to get my head to a place where I can keep an eye out for something that might be beautiful or might spark my curiosity. I have no doubt that there are amazing things in the world, but often my pessimism makes me doubt that I am capable of appreciating them. This sense of wonder that you possess: Do you have to nurture it? Do you have to actively wrap your brain around it? How do you keep from feeling jaded?

[Very long pause] I’m up in the courtyard, and all the doves are out and looking at me, and it’s great. They’re not usually…they’re all down low. We’re not open today, and so I think during opening days they usually fly up high ’cause they get scared, but now they’re all down towards the bottom, and it’s just great. I love the doves. [Pause] I think that everything in life comes down to, essentially, self and not self. In other words, understanding your existence or all of existence as atomized individuals versus seeing the whole—understanding your place, as an organism, in the whole great chain of being.

In my experience, singularity and isolation and jadedness are all parts of the same thing—they’re all reflections of being limited by an understanding of yourself as separate and isolated from things around you. The more [you experience] a more permeable relation to other people and other things, the more naturally that sense of wonder comes. I think if you allow it, it can happen naturally over time.

In a lot of ways, the age of [your readers] is one of the hardest times in a person’s life. I mean, they keep ramping up the difficulty in life as much as you can stand it, whoever has their hand on the dials. But [the period between the ages of] 14 and, depending on the person, 19 or 21 or something is excruciatingly difficult, primarily because of those issues—self, and having to establish a sense of self.

And feeling isolated in some way or another.

Oh, self and self-isolation are kind of synonymous. But I think you have to go through it. I don’t think there’s any way around it. And it’s hard.

Well, that’s the comforting thing. I just try to remember that everyone over the age of 20…I mean, it seems so impossible, but so many people have done it.

And most of those people have survived it.

I don’t know if I’ll leave this in, but I mean, for a while I was able to find my way around all of those general feelings, to keep myself busy, and then this fall, it just totally—

Went really hard.

Yeah. It was so strangely surprising. Like, I was always able to come home and read and watch movies and keep myself distracted, and suddenly it wasn’t enough. Then kind of two things happened. One, I started listening to Fiona Apple.


And then another was that I read the Weschler book, and I know you have ambivalence towards it, but—

Yeah, but I mean, don’t let that affect you.

Just finding out the whole story of what inspired what you’re doing, and the way that it all came together for you, and the sensibility that you bring to what you do, was extremely heartening, and…I don’t know, if not for those two things, I don’t know what would’ve happened. But thank you for what you’re doing.

Oh yeah, sure. It’s our job. But I think one of the best things you can do, is just, as much as possible, to give yourself over to those activities that, in the long run, are aimed at really and truly a greater good. In more than just a knowable, physical, superficial way. But that’s the most powerful way of doing it, to just work. Are you getting enough material to write anything?

Yes, thank you.

OK, and in case you’re writing it and you need something else, just call again. ♦


1 2 3


  • jenaimarley November 22nd, 2012 3:19 PM


  • noqa November 22nd, 2012 3:37 PM

    This i beautiful.

  • cascadia November 22nd, 2012 3:57 PM

    this is exactly what i need right now, thank you

  • Ben November 22nd, 2012 4:17 PM

    yeah it’s weird how people separate nature from artificial because man-made things are created with matter from nature we are not creating things from nothing and we are animals and animals are nature so it being made by us doesn’t really make it un-natural. this is a really beautiful piece thank you.

  • karastarr32 November 22nd, 2012 4:47 PM

    New hero.

  • cassiethetiger November 22nd, 2012 5:00 PM

    Oh, this was so interesting and intriguing, I’d never heard of him before.

    (And he sounds so lovely and so helpful and urrrrrgh as a wannabe journo he sounds like the perfect interviewee!)

    And I fall a little more in love with Tavi every time I read something she’s written.

  • kcreads November 22nd, 2012 5:28 PM

    “Everything in life comes down to, essentially, self and not self.” This piece was stunningly beautiful and truthful. Thanks, Tavi.

  • shelley November 22nd, 2012 5:53 PM

    This is so perfect.

  • litchick November 22nd, 2012 7:08 PM

    This interview is great- I found it intriguing as well as inspiring.

  • Anna F. November 22nd, 2012 7:23 PM

    “At first it feels like being transported to another world, until you see what a loving representation it is of the wonders of our own.” is a really lovely line and I haven’t even gotten to the interview yet.

  • vanessaishere November 22nd, 2012 9:18 PM

    this is such a wonderful interview… you have great questions, and Wilson’s answers are so inspiring and truthful. i’d really like to visit the museum.

  • Terra November 22nd, 2012 9:26 PM

    “We’re certainly, absolutely, profoundly part of the great glittering chain of being. I mean, look at birds’ nests—are they artificilia or are they naturalia? A bird makes this gorgeous nest, and that’s considered a natural artifact—so why is that different for humans?”

    This is perfect?

  • Ladymia69 November 22nd, 2012 9:27 PM

    Tavi, I found it very comforting to find out that you, as such an incredibly vital and prismatic person, has difficulty with encroaching pessimism and negativity. I think you deal with it beautifully. As a creative and sensitive girl who, at 33, is still trying to figure out how to live with this, it helps to see other women thriving despite it. Cheers.

    And thanks for a wonderfully thought-provoking interview. Keep up the outstanding work. I eat it up every day.

    • Tavi November 23rd, 2012 11:39 AM

      Yeah, it’s strange how little those feelings have to do with your actual circumstances, with reality, etc. Thanks for this comment!

  • tellyawhat November 22nd, 2012 9:35 PM

    I love the MJT. The perfect mix of wonder, joy and humor. What a sweet interview!

    Tavi– you should read The Stream of Life by Clarice Lispector.

  • caro nation November 22nd, 2012 11:15 PM

    Tavi, this is going to sound sort of….. condescending? which doesn’t make sense since I’m younger than you are, but you’ve become such a beautiful writer. You do a lot of stuff really well, but when I read something you’ve written, its like I can see and hear you saying it, like all the components of your public persona/oeuvre work in perfect harmony so the reader feels completely locked inside your mindset while reading. It’s kinda awesome. Like, watching you interview these brilliant, idiosyncratic people, you seem totally at home. You and your interviewees all have a vision that doesn’t come across in a succinct description but is so enthralling when it’s read/watched/heard/experienced. On your blog, the way you can catalog things; I use the phrase “aesthetically cataloging” to describe what I do to people now, it’s so perfect.


  • baratully November 23rd, 2012 2:20 AM

    “[Do you ever feel like ... there is a shortage of things worth marveling at?] Completely the opposite. I have never even had that thought. That thought has never formulated in my mind.”
    new hero! i think it’s ridiculous when people AREN’T in awe of the universe. there’s just so much to be fascinated by and to learn about. our world is wondrous.

  • zhajean November 23rd, 2012 3:15 AM

    this is very insightful.

    oh I love Rookie :)


  • Julia November 23rd, 2012 4:06 AM

    This guy is my new hero! It was so, so weird how much this spoke me. ♥

  • emine November 23rd, 2012 3:19 PM


  • enthusiastictruckdriver November 23rd, 2012 4:02 PM

    Tavi, reading about your experiences as a teenager is probably the most comforting thing ever. I mean, a huge part of the crappy side of teenagerhood is that feeling of isolation you described—of course, I’m aware that I’m not the only teenager in the world who feels these things, but It’s hard to remember that when I’m caught up in all these confusing and strange feelings that I didn’t even know existed. And then suddenly I read something you wrote, and it sounds like something I’m currently experiencing, and it feels like I’m not entirely alone in this. I don’t mean this in a “Celebrities take out their trash too!” kind of way, but it’s so wonderful to realize that—apart from being inspired by your successes and joys—I can also find solace in the documentation of your journey through teenagerhood. Thank you so much for this!

  • dandelions November 23rd, 2012 5:23 PM

    “… here just kind of came to me an opening of my mind and my understanding. It was inexplicable, but it gave a level of meaning to my understanding of life that I had never had previously.”

    This is beautiful, when I read this I felt so strange, so magical, I don’t know… those words are like that perfect moments you need to feel great, to understand that there is more over there, inside us..

  • boyfights November 24th, 2012 9:18 AM

    Never heard of this place before, it sounds incredible. Thank you again, Rookie!


  • Kasey November 24th, 2012 5:05 PM

    I was walking through the subway when I was in NYC this week, and I saw this quote on the wall along the lines of “The unnatural — that too, is natural.” and it fit right into this piece. love it. (:

  • chloegrey November 25th, 2012 2:32 PM

    I’m so glad I now know of one more person in the world who has so much wisdom and magical thinking and everything i can’t even describe why this is like a kindred-spirit article to me…
    But I have always loved strange and ordinary objects and the ponders they make us ponder, and I REALLY want to visit this museum now, and maybe start a museum or take care of one someday. I love love love museums. And this sort of reminded me of P.T. Barnum’s American Museum from back in the day, and also of the Museum of Innocence – here’s a link if that works: http://www.nytimes.com/slideshow/2012/04/30/arts/design/20120430PAMUK.html?ref=orhanpamuk

  • chloegrey November 25th, 2012 2:34 PM

    oh and also – I really like how all these interviews are less like questions popping off one after the other, and more like a conversation. It sounds, Tavi, like you really want to learn about the interview-ee’s thoughts and life experience, etc., and I think that makes a huge difference!

  • Hedwig November 26th, 2012 9:26 AM


  • cancercowboy November 26th, 2012 3:11 PM

    quite a philosophical conversation. he’s a smart man. ironically, for me these moments of sensing the continuum of being, the interconnectivity, interdependence, wholeness of it, are also the moments when the fragility of it all becomes (sometimes painfully) obvious.

  • amelia November 26th, 2012 6:40 PM

    This is my favorite museum in Los Angeles. Thank you for your gift to the world Mr David Hildebrand Wilson, sincerely. I go to your rooftop garden in my mind when I can’t sleep, and your microscopic butterfly scale paintings are the stuff my dreams are made from.

    Much Obliged, sir,
    and thank you Tavi for this fantastic interview


  • Cutesycreator aka Monica January 26th, 2013 3:34 PM

    Everything here so perfect and amazing ♥ (and I really, really like that quote about even “unnatural” things being natural – I had never thought about things that way, and now I am enlightened, so yay!)