“Because modern horror is usually this masochistic titillation bullshit, a lot of people in interviews will tell me [The Witch] is not a horror film, it’s a psychological suspense thriller with supernatural elements,” he said, putting on a tone of faux-snobbery. “And I’m like, ‘O.K., that’s cool.’ But then fucking Edgar Allan Poe isn’t horror, either. “What’s important to me about horror stories,” he continued, “is to look at what’s actually horrifying about humanity, instead of shining a flashlight on it and running away giggling.”
I’m interested in how animals are connected to the internet and how we might be able to see the world from an animal’s point of view. There’s something very interesting in someone else’s vantage point, which might have a truth to it. For instance, the tagging of cows for automatic milking machines, so that the cows can choose when to milk themselves. Cows went from being milked twice a day to being milked three to six times a day, which is great for the farm’s productivity and results in happier cows, but it’s also faintly disquieting that the technology makes clear to us the desires of cows – making them visible in ways they weren’t before. So what does one do with that knowledge? One of the unintended consequences of big data and the internet of things is that some things will become visible and compel us to confront them.
There was a lot of inherent cultural relativism in the science fiction I discovered then. It gave me the idea that you could question anything, that it was possible to question anything at all. You could question religion, you could question your own culture’s most basic assumptions. That was just unheard of—where else could I have gotten it? You know, to be thirteen years old and get your brain plugged directly into Philip K. Dick’s brain!
That wasn’t the way science fiction advertised itself, of course. The self-advertisement was: Technology! The world of the future! Educational! Learn about science! It didn’t tell you that it would jack your kid into this weird malcontent urban literary universe and serve as the gateway drug to J. G. Ballard.
And nobody knew. The people at the high school didn’t know, your parents didn’t know. Nobody knew that I had discovered this window into all kinds of alien ways of thinking that wouldn’t have been at all acceptable to the people who ran that little world I lived in.
At some point in everyone’s life, you think like a burglar. It’s when you’re trying to sneak out of the house as a teenager, or you’re trying to sneak downstairs to look at Christmas presents, or you’re doing anything where you’re trying not to get caught, sneaking in, out of, or through a building in any way.
Fun interview about creating one of my favorite albums. Nice bit:
Out of the 13 months we took to make the album, there was six months of partying. Seriously. We would come into the studio, and Marvin would say, “Let’s go play basketball.” And we would play basketball half the day, on studio time. There was no pressure.
“One of the things that any artist is working with is other art. You think about filmmakers, for example, and they all start out as film fans. You have Martin Scorsese as a kid going to double features every day and absorbing all of the world in that way, and then thinking about Quentin Tarantino in the video store,” Scott said. “In the simplest way that you see something or you hear something, and you start thinking, ‘How did they do that? Could I do that? Could I do it better? How would I do it differently?’ All of what we identify as aspects of the creative process, the absorption of influence, the learning and discarding of rules, the workshop discipline of figuring out what works and what doesn’t and how—all of that is criticism.”
Most human effort results in mediocrity, it’s just the tragic fact of the human condition. The question is, though, how mad are you gonna get about that?
Fandom carries with it an inherent curiosity, and I think curiosity is what allows us to be open and optimistic and to allow into our lives experiences that we would otherwise be closed off to. We’re confronted all the time with so many instances and so much information that almost requires a shutting down—almost requires us to become inert… to become frightened. There’s something about fandom’s relationship to curiosity that keeps us moving forward into the world and into the process of discovery, and I think to balance that with the things that feel more frightening and uncertain… It helps me keep optimism as part of the ingredients in my life, and it helps me live in the present. Even if you’re discovering something old for the first time, the process of allowing something new into your life I think speaks to an allowance that’s important.
My creative process begins with: just thinking. I do a lot of thinking, a lot of pondering. I rarely watch films in airplanes; I just sort of sit there, looking at the ceiling. Day dreaming is the equivalent of doodling; it’s mental doodling.
“They see me workout. They see me train. They see the effort I put in. But I’m always Dad to them. If I try to show them how to make a move, they are like, ‘Dad, seriously?’ [Like] I don’t know what I’m talking about. I’m just Dad. It’s awesome.”
This is one of the best interviews I’ve read in recent months. I could feel my brain stretching and warping throughout. Thanks to @mattthomas for recommending it. Some good morsels, unapologetically out of context:
My modus operandi in general: to try to be as precise and informed as possible while also taking metaphors seriously as paths to insight.
Since mortals cannot read (or write) very many books, I think an author should thank the reader for choosing your book by not wasting their time.
The history of media theory from McLuhan to Kittler was always also an implicit theory of gender. What if the philosophy of technology focused on birth as much as death? What if we appreciated container technologies as much as power technologies, or labor on life as much as work on things? What if we took domestication not as lost vigor but as the site of the hardest and greatest work? The book doesn’t answer these questions at length, but suggests they are essential to any future philosophy of media.
It would take a lot of thought to detail my research techniques but they include the following imperatives: write early in the morning, cultivate memory, reread core books, take detailed reading notes, work on several projects at once, maintain a thick archive, rotate crops, take a weekly Sabbath, go to bed at the same time, exercise so hard you can’t think during it, talk to different kinds of people including the very young and very old, take words and their histories seriously (i.e., read dictionaries), step outside of the empire of the English language regularly, look for vocabulary from other fields, love the basic, keep your antennae tuned, and seek out contexts of understanding quickly (i.e., use guides, encyclopedias, and Wikipedia without guilt). As to tools, the body is the writer’s essential tool, and I have not quite resolved the question of how to write and read and have a body at the same time.
His new book sounds great.
When we talk about the 1970s for instance, they think about ABBA as one of the icons of the decade. They don’t know that ABBA at the time was considered to be extremely bad taste – vulgar and completely unfashionable. ABBA was still wearing platform shoes when everyone else had already moved on. What I mean to say is that it’s not always the best versions of the past that live on.
I’m kind of exhausted with food talk these days, so I almost skipped this interview. Glad I didn’t. It’s a great change of pace.
Farm products are not food; they are the raw materials for food. Turning plants and animals into something edible is just as difficult, just as laborious as farming itself. Very few of our calories come from raw, unprocessed food. And if those calories are from fruits and vegetables, then it’s only because centuries of breeding has made them less chewy, more tasty, and easier to digest. Cooking, which is one part of processing, went hand in hand with becoming human. Human food is processed food. And there are good reasons for this. Overall, processed foods are easier to eat and digest, more nutritious, tastier, safer, and longer lasting. The idea that any change made in the raw material is detrimental is just flat wrong. […] That we can talk about “A cake made from scratch” when the butter, sugar, and flour that go into it are are highly processed shows how we have lost awareness of the energy that formerly went into food preparation.
I also think if you’ve got writer’s block, you don’t have writer’s block. You have reporter’s block. You only are having trouble writing because you don’t actually yet know what you’re trying to say, and that usually means you don’t have enough information. That’s the signal to walk away from the keyboard, think about what it is that you don’t really know yet, and go do that reporting.
My father was really, really the author of my particular personality. He gave me a million different pieces of advice, but one that comes up all the time is: Anything that can be fixed with money isn’t worth crying over.
Good stuff here. I appreciate the range and pace. It’s a little bit obnoxious, too, but better that than boring.
TYLER COWEN: It’s like Beach Boys music. Sounds optimistic on the surface but it’s deeply sad and melancholy.
PETER THIEL: I remember a professor once told me back in the ’80s that writing a book was more dangerous than having a child because you could always disown a child if it turned out badly.
PETER THIEL: I think often the smarter people are more prone to trendy, fashionable thinking because they can pick up on things, they can pick up on cues more easily, and so they’re even more trapped by it than people of average ability.
At first I was stirring it in a cup and then pouring the slurry into the AeroPress. Later on I learned that I could stir it right in the AeroPress.
I love that in the early, prototyping days even the inventor didn’t know how to use his invention.
Do you ever think that the qualities that make you great are actually problems?
Oh, yeah. But the things that make a person average are also problems. The things that make someone not good at anything at all are a problem. If you want to be the greatest of all-time at something, there’s going to be a negative side to that.
You know, I suck so much more than I’ve thought that I should at forty-six. I hate not knowing what I should be doing. I don’t mind not being where I’m going, but I hate not knowing where I should be going.
Do you have any Starsky & Hutch memories?
I remember writing that there was a robbery, and a car jumped the curb and went through the window of a car dealership. And then they shot it. I said, “Wow, this is crazy. I write this stuff, and they go and do it.” So then, of course, the ambition increased.
On research and not being tooooo organized:
I’ve never had anything resembling a secretary or a research assistant. I don’t want those. Each time I type, it gives me another shot at it, another look at it. As for research, I can’t begin to tell you the things I discovered while I was looking for something else. A research assistant couldn’t have done that. Not being a trained historian, I had botherations that led to good things. For instance, I didn’t take careful notes while reading. Then I’d get to something and I’d say, By golly, there’s something John Rawlins said at that time that’s real important. Where did I see it? Then I would remember that it was in a book with a red cover, close to the middle of the book, on the right-hand side and one third from the top of the page. So I’d spend an hour combing through all my red-bound books. I’d find it eventually, but I’d also find a great many other things in the course of the search.
“I have to take my share of responsibility for promoting skepticism about things that I didn’t understand as well as I might have,” he says. “What I would say NOW is that skepticism should be directed at things that are actually untrue rather than things that are difficult to measure.”