Mr. Hoffman’s Early Exit

Yet another celeb has checked out early. This time it is Phillip Seymor Hoffman, who won accolades for his portrayal of Truman Capote. Here is Hoffan in character

It is sad and my heart goes out to his family, friends and fans. Hoffman’s story is his own. But there is a common theme as well. Folks can get swept up in the affairs of the mind which weakens their connection to what is around them. Actors are particularly vulnerable as they “take on” new identities that can overwhelm their own. So it was (I think) with Heath Ledger, who passed on far too young not long after playing a psychotic  “Joker” in a Batman movie, Dark Knight. Here is Ledger in character (again, rather haunting, I think)

The dangers of “getting swept up” has been the theme of many 20th century stories including Bates’ “Love for Lydia” and Durrell’s much longer “Alexandria Quartet“.  There was a rather provocative film about it as well – that takes us into the peculiar world of Robert E. Howard. Howard created the Conan the Barbarian comic series. The film is called “The Whole Wide World” and I recommend it.

As Clark points out, we inherited this problem from the romantic imagination. The romantics were obsessed with getting swept up in one thing or another. Like Mary Shelley with her Frankenstein. BTW, those who were still under the spell of the enlightenment back then (like Voltaire) were dismayed and even disgusted. To them, romanticism seemed very much like the type of excess that they had rebelled against – losing reason to  emotion and attendant superstitions. A repulsive religion of the self was replacing the religion of the all powerful church.

But like it or not, we are children of the romantic rebellion as much as we are of the enlightenment. And we see more clearly that human nature is as much emotional as it is rational — if not more so. The emotions are the elephant and our reason merely sits on top, seeing where it wants to go but not fully able to realize its vision.

For this reason, the “getting swept up” theme brings out a deep tension in our modern world. We are urged on to get “engaged” in what we do. To take things to an “insanely great” level. Or as Blake put it we act as if “the road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom”. And yet, this is also perilously close to getting swept away from reality. We can lose the bonds of kinship to what is observable in favor of basking in the seductive warmth of our desires. Ego and pleasure trump happiness and meaning.

Having said that, I think that Blake was right. If we are driven forward, it is by our zeal, not by our prudence. And because Blake was right, we need a new and stronger set of principles that support our bonds of friendship in community. To let loose “the better angels of our nature” as Lincoln so beautifully put it. BTW, this was the great dream of Dickens. The engine that lit his creative impulses was to tell the stories of the endless struggles between the cruel and the passionate.

And we can conjure up a vision of renewed community, but we are not there yet.

FOLLOW – Hoffman was a smart guy when it came to creating things. He understood the challenge involved – and this interview, he brings this out pretty well. There is an odd barrier that we need to break through before we can create.

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