The Tragedy of Philip Seymour Hoffman

Richard Grenell should study literature. A classic tragedy is one where a very rich, famous, smart, or talented person is brought low by inherent flaws—flaws which are known in advance to the spectators. The very essence of the tragedy is that the audience knows in advance that the hero is doomed while the hero himself is either unaware of this fact or (worse) thinks he can escape this preconstructed fate. Thus all actions are tinged with the foreknowledge of …well…tragedy. This literary mechanism is even called “tragic irony.”

Now, it’s kind of cynical to view Hoffman’s death as a tragedy in this way. If you thought Hoffman’s overdose was inevitable, that his cause was hopeless, then you would probably feel that way about all addicts. But the truth is, people escape addiction everyday. Most of us think of tragedy differently today. Today we think of tragedies as bad endings that didn’t have to be that way. The idea they could be avoided but weren’t is the tragedy.

What Grenell is saying is the former idea. And, I think it’s worth pointing out that Grenell’s interpretation of Hoffman’s death is the original notion of tragedy to a very fine degree. Sophocles could  not have crafted a better contemporary tragedy. Grenell may be heartless enough he isn’t saddened by Hoffman’s death. But “being sad” is a child’s response to tragedy. A real tragedy should cause anger on one level and force submission to the sublime awesomeness of an unfeeling and somewhat mechanical universe on another.