[Editor's note: David Erik Nelson writes a monthly column for The Ann Arbor Chronicle called "In it for the Money."Instead of his regular column, this month we’re publishing a piece Nelson wrote based on an interview he conducted with Noam Chomsky a few weeks ago, when Chomsky visited Ann Arbor. The piece includes long chunks of transcript, interspersed with commentary from Nelson. It begins with Nelson, whose thoughts are presented in italics throughout.]
I’m interviewing Noam Chomsky in the bar of the Campus Inn a block from the University of Michigan campus in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The bar is dim and entirely abandoned at 10 a.m. on a Friday morning. Because I’m highly distractible, I can’t help but periodically marvel at the symmetry of this: I only ended up interviewing Noam Chomsky at all because I’d Tweeted a link to a joke about Heisenberg, Gödel, and Chomsky walking into a bar , and Dave Askins (editor of this fine publication) had responded by noting that Chomsky would be speaking at the University of Michigan a week or so later, and essentially dared me to interview him.
I’d agreed, on the assumption that it would be impossible to land an interview with the man almost universally regarded as America’s foremost public intellectual. I was wrong – and Chomsky chose the bar as our quiet little nook! It was almost too good to be true: Noam Chomsky walks into a bar and … and …
And lemme tell you, there is more than a little pressure inherent in being the straight man in a classic joke set-up, even if the set-up is only in your head – which is germane, since from Chomsky’s perspective, it’s the conversation in your head that is most essential to the nature of language.