(I’ll do this periodically.)
Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert. Though I haven’t followed the comic in years — there’s something to be said for the notion that laughing about the poisonous office environment just opiates the pain needed to escape said poisonous office environment — I was recently compelled to catch up on Adams’ blog. The resonances with my own thoughts were striking. He’s even spent some of the last year writing about the primacy of elusive human skills over more learnable technical ones, a new favorite topic of mine. This isn’t so much of a surprise, since I obsessively read and re-read Adams’ prose books The Dilbert Principle The Dilbert Future as a kid. A lot of his intellectual sensibility rubbed off on me.
Nick Denton, CEO of Gawker Media. Ben McGrath’s profile of Denton in the New Yorker piqued my interest to do some research on the guy. Denton’s narrative, at least as McGrath and others have reconstructed it, is an old one: ambitious, well-educated young guy pursues high-minded goals, gets burnt out on society’s non-response, then strikes a “Fuck it, I'll just give ‘em what they want” pose and makes it big. Despite my interest in Denton the man, I have so very, very little in the topics Gawker Media’s blogs covers: gadgets, science fiction, celebrity gossip. Thing is, I suspect Denton isn’t interested in that stuff either! But like Adams — and, I guess, me — he’s into observing human behavior. It’s just that they’ve both been willing and able to act on and cash in on what they’ve learned.
Jean-Luc Godard, feisty French New Wave filmmaker. I just interviewed film critic David Sterritt on The Marketplace of Ideas. Though we didn’t talk about Godard, I picked up Sterritt’s books on him. I’ve been paying especially close attention to his compilation of Godard interviews, since this filmmaker’s art seems to reside as much in the craft of his persona as in the craft of his cinema. I actually haven’t seen very many of Godard’s films, and those I have leave me cold as often as they excite me, but with a dude like Godard, I’m pretty sure liking everything he does isn’t the point. He doesn’t like everything he does. And sure, he’s given to self-contradictory grand pronouncements, but he seems to have lived his life and career in the only honest way — uncompartmentalized and inseparably.
Werner Herzog, director of everything from Even Dwarfs Started Small to Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans. Steel yourself to see his name in these lists pretty damned often. Like Godard, to discuss his life, his work, and his self is to discuss essentially the same thing. I just checked Paul Cronin’s Herzog on Herzog, from which I posted a bunch of excerpts last year, out of the library again. Given how many of Herzog’s good suggestions I ignore on a daily basis, the book is a self-flagellation tool for me. If I were true to the Herzogian game, I’d get a job as a night watchman at an insane asylum, learn five more languages, and teach myself to pick locks. Instead I just think about paying my credit card. I suck.
Steve Jobs, Apple co-founder and CEO. I often bring Jobs up as an example of the right business guy to emulate. Some friends balk at this, claiming he’s so unusual that he’s not a good example of anything. But that’s the point! The point is to be that unusual. Would that the world had more LSD-dropping, Ashram-going, aesthetics-obsessed, across-three-disabled-spaces-parking visionaries. I’m also very much on board with his concept of taste: “trying to expose yourself to the best things humans have done and then trying to bring those things into what you are doing.'' Though I hadn’t thought about Jobs in a while, this early-eighties photo of him at home with tea, turntable, and Tiffany Lamp brought back to mind everything I admire about the man. (It's now my desktop background, an ever-present reminder of all I have failed to accomplish.) Strangely, I’ve never read any books about him. I’ll begin to change that by picking up one of the unread Robert X. Cringely volumes on my shelf.