Friday, January 16, 2009

Chaplin: A Life



I reviewed this psycho-biography for the current issue of The Internet Review of Books. I found it an intriguing "window" for a voyeuristic peek into the life of a icon.
Nevertheless, I’m certainly willing to take Weissman’s word for Chaplin’s mastery, and by extension, I have no reason to believe his explanation of the psychological impetus for Chaplin’s work is anything less than the best Weissman’s science—if psychiatry be a science of objective measurements—can construct.
This became more interesting today when I read, first, a review of the film The Pervert's Guide to Cinema (Directed by Sophie Fiennes; narrated by Slavoj Zizek.) which generally dissects Hitchcock but also apparently mentions Chaplin; and, in the same issue of the New York Times, columnist David Brooks suggests the the current financial crises is rooted in fundamentalist belief in reason.
In this new body of thought, you get a very different picture of human nature. Reason is not like a rider atop a horse. Instead, each person’s mind contains a panoply of instincts, strategies, intuitions, emotions, memories and habits, which vie for supremacy. An irregular, idiosyncratic and largely unconscious process determines which of these internal players gets to control behavior at any instant. Context — which stimulus triggers which response — matters a lot.
I suppose that's almost irrelevant to Chaplin: A Life, except that I tend to feel that Dr. Weissman's specialty approaches too rationally those "instincts ... emotions ... memories" that made up the Little Tramp, and me and you.
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