"Immersion in the life of the world, a willingness to be inhabited by and to speak for others, including those beyond the realm of the human, these are the practices not just of the bodhisattva but of the writer." --Jane Hirshfield

Saturday, June 13, 2009

David Carradine and James Baldwin

All the lurid coverage of Carradine's death has me wondering why anyone takes that kind of risk -- not just sexual adventurers, but guys who climb challenging mountains or risk death in other ways. What is going on there, is it self-destruction that falls short of direct suicide attempts, is it arrested development/nothing bad can happen to me because I'm young or rich or famous (pick one)? The thing is, for every man who dies of something risky like this, like Chris McCandless (read Jon Krakauer's book Into the Wild), or men who've died on Mt. Everest (Krakauer's Into Thin Air), there are probably thousands who take foolish risks and do not die, who look back and think, Christ, I'm lucky I survived. Is there benefit for the group to having men who are willing to risk their lives without thinking too much about it?

Anyway, at the same time that I've been puzzling this out, I've been reading Another Country, and here is what James Baldwin has to say about his character, Vivaldo, who seeks the thrill of danger by visiting Harlem in the 1950s:

It had been his fancy that danger, there, was more real, more open, than danger was downtown and that he, having chosen to run these dangers, was snatching his manhood from the lukewarm waters of mediocrity and testing it in the fire. He had felt more alive in Harlem, for he had moved in a blaze of rage and self-congratulation and sexual excitement, with danger, like a promise, waiting for him everywhere. And, nevertheless, in spite of all this daring, this running of risks, the misadventures which had actually befallen him had been banal indeed and might have befallen him anywhere. His dangerous, overwhelming lust for life had failed to involve him in anything deeper than perhaps half a dozen extremely casual acquaintanceships in about as many bars. For memories, he had one or two marijuana parties, one or two community debauches, one or two girls whose names he had forgotten, one or two addresses which he had lost....

...He was forced, little by little, against his will, to realize that in running the dangers of Harlem he had not been testing his manhood, or heightening his sense of life. He had merely been taking refuge in the outward adventure in order to avoid the clash and tension of the adventure proceeding inexorably within. Perhaps this was why he sometimes seemed to surprise in the dark faces which watched him a hint of amused and not entirely unkind contempt.... He was just a poor white boy in trouble and it was not in the least original of him to come running to the niggers.

1 comment:

TimeOutofMyMind said...

It's one alternative to drugs and drinking, but not always a healthy one, though I think not every extreme outdoorsman risks life and limb...?