A transition from an author’s book to his conversation, is too often like an entrance into a large city, after a distant prospect. Remotely, we see nothing but spires of temples and turrets of palaces, and imagine it the residence of splendour, grandeur and magnificence; but, when we have passed the gates, we find it perplexed with narrow passages, disgraced with despicable cottages, embarrassed with obstructions, and clouded with smoke.
— Samuel Johnson, “The difference between an author’s writings and his conversation“
As the old saying goes, never follow your heroes on social media, unless you’re one of those weirdos with a clay-foot fetish. In his book Eric Hoffer: The Longshoreman Philosopher, Tom Bethell wrote:
After 1965, Hoffer became a public figure. Before 1934, he is a mystery figure. Will more information about Hoffer’s background turn up? That’s doubtful. There are signs that he was more than merely forgetful about his early years. In fact, I believe he was deliberately secretive. When pressed for more detail by journalists he would say he was confused or couldn’t remember much of anything. About later events in his life he had an excellent memory. Were there things he didn’t want us to know? One possibility that comes to mind is that he was an illegal immigrant to this country. But, again, I have no positive evidence. Did he really teach himself botany, chemistry, and Hebrew on skid row in Los Angeles? One can’t help wondering.
I don’t wonder. Honestly, I don’t care. His thoughts are interesting enough, floating free in the noosphere. I don’t need them to be anchored in biography to make them insightful or relevant. In fact, I wish more authors and thinkers today would learn to cultivate an aura of mysterious reticence. Or, at the very least, to seek treatment for their cerebral bulimia.