Oh little Ludwig you are driving me mad. I'm about 190 pages into a biography on Ludwig Wittgenstein. I must admit, I find little Ludwig a real pain in the ass. Over the years, I have read many biographies and autobiographies. It's a great way to meet people, to re-experience history, I've been inspired to see the world with new eyes, I've found great material for my plays; usually reading about other people's lives fires my imagination. It's a way of 'putting on a new mask,' illuminating new thoughts, new ideas.
I have an unwritten rule (all my rules are unwritten, the first rule: MAKE NO RULES!) that if I start a book, I finish a book. I know there have been exceptions, but I usually stick to this rule (sometimes I buy a book and never crack it open, maybe I'll get to them before 'the Big Sleep' comes) and it usually pays off in ways I'm not sure I can pin down.
Some of the inspiring (and not so inspiring) characters I've met over the years: Vladimir Nabokov (his 'Speak Memory' is one of the best autobiographies ever written), Jean Genet (maybe the coolest, most inspring character I can think of: an orphan, a thief, a homosexual, the ultimate outsider, he wrote his first novel in prison on scraps of toilet paper; a guard destroyed it, Genet wrote it again and smuggled it out of prison - remarkable!) William Blake, Sonny Liston, Dean Martin, Bing Crosby, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Muhammad Ali, Christopher Marlowe, William Shakespeare, Vince Lombardi, Elvis Presley, Robert Oppenheimer, Kurt Godel, John Boorman, Luis Bunuel, Andy Warhol, Jerry Lee Lewis, Crazy Horse, Black Elk, General George Armstrong Custer, Francis Bacon, Joseph Cornell, Yukio Mishima. ETC.
Then there are the characters that I absolutely loath (it's a short list, I think it's important not to judge others, no one can walk in another man's shoes, and each of us has some redeeming qualities, right!?!) Stalin (an absolute murderous brute - the black hole of humanity) Richard Nixon (an incredibly flawed dude, who had an an uncanny ability to draw energy from hate and envy), Howard Hughes (he trusted no one, he was convinced he could buy any man in the world) and now Ludwig Wittgenstein. Ludwig is a complex character, on the one hand he was convinced he was a genius, on the other he totally loathed himself (he may have been a homosexual, which totally freaked him out). Every other page, little Ludwig is considering suicide. Suicide seems to have been a family hobby!
Wittgenstein was considered by some to be a genius, one of the key logicians and philospher's of the 20th century. He was a mad and maddening dude. I'm compelled to plow forward (there are interesting insights on nearly every page), and at the same time I'm repelled by Ludwig's super-inflated ego, and finely tuned self-loathing.
I think there are two essential tools in the Human Survival Kit (remember no one gets out alive): humility, and a great sense of humour. Come on people, let's try to keep the yucks coming!
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