Somerset Maugham ended his book The Razor’s Edge with an epigram taken from the Katha Upanishad: “The sharp edge of a razor is difficult to pass over, thus the wise say the path to salvation is hard”.
Those few words are a clean distillation of his story of a fighter pilot returning from the horrors of WWI. The flyer decides not to resume the mode of his previous existence. Instead, he will seek transcendence while his old friends and acquaintances tootle on in neutral.
Perhaps the pilot was cruelly fortunate to have had the devil hold his face over the abyss. The line between good and bad is not always so clearly drawn. It can prove hauntingly easy to start down a dark path when everything is gray.
Even a somewhat voluntary encounter with the grim reaper can provide new perspective. Stuck in a storm far at sea, or frozen and hungry on a ledge high up on the side of a big mountain, or lost with a young family camping in the wilderness will have been an extra-ethical experience. The burn from the searingly intense ontological lens does not soon fade.
Back in a modern urban embrace of course, the mundane resurfaces and temptations and distractions reconvene. Still, the lesson in values won’t easily be forgotten. Only at one’s peril will it be drugged or drowned into submission.
Bill Murray was in the second Hollywood take on the Maugham novel and the thought of him choosing that role makes one realize what a positive important purpose celebrities can serve. Why not Ghostbusters $Umpteen$?
At the pinnacle of popular culture with nowhere left to go, some few see what the pilot saw and return determined to tell us about it. As Iris Murdock wrote: “There’s a truthfulness to great art… pornography is at one end of the scale and great art at the other…”