MUSINGS ON THE VISCISSITUDES OF HOPE


SISYPHUS

At the end of a week that was filled with a variety of seemingly unending tasks, I found myself falling into a state of significant pessismism about being able to successfuly master those obligations.

My thoughts then turned to the idea of hope. With some irony, I then recalled how modern thought has fallaciously come to reify the ideas of the “ego,” the “self” and “identity” into real, concrete objects. Further, I contemplated, we may well have deceptively done the same thing with the idea of hope.

The following considerations may serve to illustrate some, though certainly not all, of the complications attending the idea of “hope.” For example, the meaning of hope is not exhausted by the distinction between hope as a conscious aspect of emotion associated with our actions (realistic hope) and as magical hope. Further, there are all kinds of mixtures between realistic hope and magical hope.

Hope (and probably also faith) cannot be fully described and its role in the individual not fully understood without at the time describing its relation to acceptance (of reality, of the world, of one’s own situation, of others). The strength (or depletion) of the influence of hope cannot be fully described without at the same time accccounting for the presence or absence, and quality, of disappointment during times of frustrated hope.

It can be claimed that hope is always hope for improvement of one’s own, someone else’s or mankind’s condition. Thus, it becomes particularly vital as an emotional influence that can provide nourishment to the pursuit of our goals. However, the more certain one needs to be that hope will not be disappointed, the more one is functioning in the realm of the idea of hope in which there is reward for effort, participating at some point (either less or more extreme) of magical hope.

At the extreme point of magical hope are those reformers, revolutionaries and prophets who are convinced that ultimately they will succeed, that their paths alone are the right ones and that only those paths can lead to ultimate salvation.

A polar position is pessimism, a view that nothing can be done to relieve man’s painful state in this world. Even the position of pessimism can take different forms. For example, ideological and contemporary political conservatives feed the masses a magical, fantastic sense of hope, in which they themselves do not actually believe.

Another, surely more preferable form of pessimism, is perhaps best represented by Camus’ Sisyphus. In this case, the fact is accepted that we cannot know and yet we still have to make the effort. This is acceptance of reality, of man’s finite situation, without abandoning effort despite being unable to rely upon hope as a resource. It is a position where the effort is still maintained, but because we want to make it, even if it will turn out to have been in vain. This is very difficult and courageous, because it calls for giving up all hope for reward.

Finally, to complicate matters further in the attempt to clearly specify the meaning of hope, the issue of degree of certainty inevitably becomes involved. For example, if I could not expect with some degree of certainty that by taking the subway or bus I will arrive at a certain chosen destination (or goal), I well might give up the effort altogether. In others words: the attempt to specificy the meaning of hope is even further complicated by the need to clarify the many relationships between hope and expectations.

From a comprehensive perspective, the entire effort to define the meaning of “hope” appears to resonate with a hybrid tone combining aspects of the theory of relativity with dialectical social constructivism.

Tony Kushner: Honored as Fellow, The American Academy of Arts and Sciences

ANGELS IN AMERICA

On April 26, 2005, Tony Kushner, playwright and director, was named a Fellow of The American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Born in Manhattan in 1956, Tony Kushner grew up in Lake Charles, Louisiana where his family moved after inheriting a lumber business. He earned a bachelors degree from Columbia University and did postgraduate work at New York University.

In the early 1980s, he founded a theater group and began writing and producing plays. In the early 1990s, he scored an outstanding achievement with his epic Broadway production, “Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes.” The stage production earned Kushner a Pulitzer Prize, two Tony Awards, two Drama Desk Awards, the Evening Standard Award, two Olivier Award Nominations, the New York Critics Circle Award, the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Award and the LAMBDA Liberty Award for Drama.

The groundbreaking drama focused upon three households in turmoil: a gay couple, one of whom had AIDS; a Morman man coming to terms with his sexuality; and the vitriolic lawyer Roy Cohn, a historical figure who died of AIDS in 1986, denying his gay sexual identity all the way to his deathbed.

Kushner has also written “A Bright Room Called Day and Slavs!” (from material not used in Angels in America), as well as several adaptations including Goethe’s “Stella,” Brecht’s “The Good Person of Setzuan,” Corneille’s “The Illusion,” and S. Ansky’s “The Dybbuk.”

His works have been produced at The Mark Taper Forum, The New York Shakespeare Festival, The New York Theater Workshop, The Hartford Stage Company, The Berkeley Repertory Theater and The Los Angeles Theater Center, as well as in theaters in over 30 countries throughout the world.

He was the recipient of a 1990 Whiting Foundation Writers Award, as well as playwriting and directing fellowships from The New York Foundation for the Arts, The New York State Council on the Arts and The National Endowment for the Arts. Mr. Kushner is currently a faculty member of New York University’s Dramatic Writing program.

The HBO motion picture adaptation of “Angels in America,” brilliantly produced by Mike Nichols, won a stunning number of Golden Globe and Academy Awards.

Historical Note on Mike Nichols: The Compass Players (1955-1959) was an experimental/improv theater group founded in an old storefront-type building just off The University of Chicago campus. During that short period of time, it’s theatrical alumni included, among many others, Mike Nichols, Elaine May, Alan Alda, Alan Arkin, Ed Asner, Barbara Harris, Valerie Harper, Shelley Berman and Paul Mazursky.

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