By Isaac Butler
The news of Philip Seymour Hoffman's death hit twitter and not five minutes later, people were pontificating about the evils of fame culture of what Hoffman's personal demons must've been, about the what and the why and the lesson.
I wish I understood why this particular move infuriates me so, but I've been in a rage about it ever since. Much like the rage caused by similar reactions to the death of David Foster Wallace.
There's something to claiming to love someone and then using their death to reconfirm and broadcast things you already know and already believe to be true.
In our grief we need comfort and there is a kind of comfort to be found in this. The world is unstable and we fall and we fall and we want something to rest on, some knowledge, some understanding. But this particular kind of comfort is also a partcular kind of betrayal, a turning someone we claim to love into a story that tells us what we already know and broadcasts to the world our own ability to interpret and storytell.
The truth is we don't know. Unknowing is hard. It's unsettling and painful. When we learn the truth, it's often underwhelming. David Foster Wallace was severely, life-threateningly depressed. To treat this depression, he used a prescription anti-depressant. In consultation with his doctors, he decided to try different anti-depressants with fewer side effects. These did not work. When he tried to go back on his old anti-depressant, it too no longer worked, an infrequent but documented downside of that particular anti-depressant.
That's not very exciting. There are few think pieces to be written off of that. But it has the benefit of being something that actually happened, in all its homely gracelessness.
With Philip Seymour Hoffman, we know even less. For all we know he was murdered by assassins and the crime scene was staged to look like an overdose while they fled to Costa Rica. What we are likely to learn will be underwhelming for those of us who try to make our living making sense of the world. He had a disease. He had successfully fought it for decades, and then didn't.
I am not an addict, but I know many who are. Addiction often resists sense-making. We may learn that, in Philip Seymour Hoffman's case, there was some inciting incident, some reason, some pain that formed a trail to relapse. We may also learn that his fall of the wagon was seemingly causeless. His death may very well be a hole that we cannot close.
What remains for those of who did not know him, is the work. The work is what remains. What remains is Lancaster Dodd, and Truman Copote. What remains is Andy and Phil Parma. What remains is Brett Freddie Miles and a seemingly countless array of small roles executed with grace. What remains in our memories is Willy Loman, is Austin and Lee on alternating nights, is James Tyrone Junior.
Let's honor the precision of his craft and mysteries of his art, paying tribute to the work in all its staggering variety, beauty, terror, humor and love. The mysteries may remain unsolved for now. It's not our place to solve them anyway.