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