Friday 27 September 2013

Review of Lost in the Cosmos - by Walker Percy


Walker Percy. Lost in the Cosmos: the last self-help book. 1983.

I read this book because Peter Kreeft said it was one of his absolute favourite modern books. Initially, I was bowled-over by it - because it is very clever, very skilful, contains a very large number of brilliant insights and predictions...


But, it leaves a nasty taste - indeed, the more often I re-read it the less I like it; to the point that I have come to dislike it. Indeed, I would go so far as to say that the book does the opposite of what it was (presumably) intended to do.

I take it that Lost in the Cosmos was supposed to be a work of Roman Catholic Apologetics - written from a very modern, ironic, hard-nosed kind of perspective - and therefore, presumably, the more impressive when it finally homes-in on Christianity. (That is certainly how Kreeft reads it.)

However, the book is extremely reductive in the way that it so neatly seems to encapsulate people and situations in memorable (indeed hard-to-forget) vignettes of a few deft words (in a manner reminiscent - and this is significant - of Kurt Vonnegut).

These vignettes and character sketches work by putting Christianity onto a level with a range of other 'options' - they are often extremely sordid, disgusting and use foul language - so, in sum, they induce feelings such as alienation, meaninglessness, despair and the rest of it; in exactly the same manner as mainstream modern novels tend to.

I came away with the sense (fortunately temporary) that all possible life alternatives had in this book been pre-described, judged and found wanting.

The problem may be that the book is not what it purports to be, I mean that the book was actually wickedly-motivated (whether overtly or covertly); or that the pose of having written this 'objectively' leads inevitably to the negativity of its effect - since the implicit stance which purports to regard as options and evaluate the whole of human history and future and all religions (including Christianity) is simply a fake and non-existent position; therefore anything (supposedly) written from this f.&n.-e. position will necessarily end-up being bad in some way.

Which this book is - at least, it is bad for me



Anonymous said...

Looking at his site, Kreeft also thinks highly of Flannery O'Connor. I read "Wise Blood" as a kid and thought it was extremely cynical and nihilistic. I don't think philosophers can be trusted with this stuff.

J. B. said...

I have only dipped into Lost in the Cosmos, flipping through it and reading sections here and there (perhaps one third of the whole)--but based on my impression, I agree with you.

For me it's even simpler than you put it. A book with that much foul language and sordid sexuality simply cannot be a good book for me. I am skeptical that it can be a good book for anyone, but I do know that I am unusually sensitive to these things, so I'm willing to consider it. But I could never recommend it, and it shakes some of my confidence in Peter Kreeft that he does.

Luqman said...

One of the side effects of awakening into the difference between right and wrong is the sad realization that many men you hold in high esteem arent quite there, or only superficially appear to be so.

Adam G. said...

I can't comment on Walker Percy--though many people whose opinion I respect have praised him--but Flannery O'Connor is by no means cynical and nihilistic.

Literature appropriate to a reality that could only be fixed by the deity suffering death by torture need not always be irenic.

Donald said...

Let's not be so harsh on Peter Kreeft. HIS work is all really solid.

I mean I follow this guy online who thinks Mormonism is THE premiere Christian group, if I judged a man based on a few flaws ;)