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Lost in the Cosmos: The Last Self-Help Book Lost in the Cosmos: The Last Self-Help Book by Walker Percy
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Lost in the Cosmos Quotes (showing 1-30 of 55)
“The difference between a non-suicide and an ex-suicide leaving the house for work, at eight o'clock on an ordinary morning:

The non-suicide is a little traveling suck of care, sucking care with him from the past and being sucked toward care in the future. His breath is high in his chest.

The ex-suicide opens his front door, sits down on the steps, and laughs. Since he has the option of being dead, he has nothing to lose by being alive. It is good to be alive. He goes to work because he doesn't have to.”
Walker Percy, Lost in the Cosmos: The Last Self-Help Book
“The peculiar predicament of the present-day self surely came to pass as a consequence of the disappointment of the high expectations of the self as it entered the age of science and technology. Dazzled by the overwhelming credentials of science, the beauty and elegance of the scientific method, the triumph of modern medicine over physical ailments, and the technological transformation of the very world itself, the self finds itself in the end disappointed by the failure of science and technique in those very sectors of life which had been its main source of ordinary satisfaction in past ages.

As John Cheever said, the main emotion of the adult Northeastern American who has had all the advantages of wealth, education, and culture is disappointment.

Work is disappointing. In spite of all the talk about making work more creative and self-fulfilling, most people hate their jobs, and with good reason. Most work in modern technological societies is intolerably dull and repetitive.

Marriage and family life are disappointing. Even among defenders of traditional family values, e.g., Christians and Jews, a certain dreariness must be inferred, if only from the average time of TV viewing. Dreary as TV is, it is evidently not as dreary as Mom talking to Dad or the kids talking to either.

School is disappointing. If science is exciting and art is exhilarating, the schools and universities have achieved the not inconsiderable feat of rendering both dull. As every scientist and poet knows, one discovers both vocations in spite of, not because of, school. It takes years to recover from the stupor of being taught Shakespeare in English Lit and Wheatstone's bridge in Physics.

Politics is disappointing. Most young people turn their backs on politics, not because of the lack of excitement of politics as it is practiced, but because of the shallowness, venality, and image-making as these are perceived through the media--one of the technology's greatest achievements.

The churches are disappointing, even for most believers. If Christ brings us new life, it is all the more remarkable that the church, the bearer of this good news, should be among the most dispirited institutions of the age. The alternatives to the institutional churches are even more grossly disappointing, from TV evangelists with their blown-dry hairdos to California cults led by prosperous gurus ignored in India but embraced in La Jolla.

Social life is disappointing. The very franticness of attempts to reestablish community and festival, by partying, by groups, by club, by touristy Mardi Gras, is the best evidence of the loss of true community and festival and of the loneliness of self, stranded as it is as an unspeakable consciousness in a world from which it perceives itself as somehow estranged, stranded even within its own body, with which it sees no clear connection.

But there remains the one unquestioned benefit of science: the longer and healthier life made possible by modern medicine, the shorter work-hours made possible by technology, hence what is perceived as the one certain reward of dreary life of home and the marketplace: recreation.

Recreation and good physical health appear to be the only ambivalent benefits of the technological revolution.”
Walker Percy, Lost in the Cosmos: The Last Self-Help Book
“It's one thing to develop a nostalgia for home while you're boozing with Yankee writers in Martha's Vineyard or being chased by the bulls in Pamplona. It's something else to go home and visit with the folks in Reed's drugstore on the square and actually listen to them. The reason you can't go home again is not because the down-home folks are mad at you--they're not, don't flatter yourself, they couldn't care less--but because once you're in orbit and you return to Reed's drugstore on the square, you can stand no more than fifteen minutes of the conversation before you head for the woods, head for the liquor store, or head back to Martha's Vineyard, where at least you can put a tolerable and saving distance between you and home. Home may be where the heart is but it's no place to spend Wednesday afternoon.”
Walker Percy, Lost in the Cosmos: The Last Self-Help Book
“You live in a deranged age - more deranged than usual, because despite great scientific and technological advances, man has not the faintest idea of who he is or what he is doing.”
Walker Percy, Lost in the Cosmos: The Last Self-Help Book
“If poets often commit suicide, it is not because their poems are bad but because they are good. Whoever heard of a bad poet committing suicide? The reader is only a little better off. The exhilaration of a good poem lasts twenty minutes, an hour at most.

Unlike the scientist, the artist has reentry problems that are frequent and catastrophic.”
Walker Percy, Lost in the Cosmos: The Last Self-Help Book
“One of the peculiar ironies of being a human self in the Cosmos: A stranger approaching you in the street will in a second's glance see you whole, size you up, place you in a way in which you cannot and never will, even though you have spent a lifetime with yourself, live in the Century of the Self, and therefore ought to know yourself best of all.”
Walker Percy, Lost in the Cosmos: The Last Self-Help Book
“For me, certain signifiers fit you, and not others. For me, all signifiers fit me, one as well as another. I am rascal, hero, craven, brave, treacherous, loyal, at once the secret hero and asshole of the Cosmos.”
Walker Percy, Lost in the Cosmos: The Last Self-Help Book
“Home may be where the heart is but it's no place to spend Wednesday afternoon.”
Walker Percy, Lost in the Cosmos: The Last Self-Help Book
“It is possible, however, that the artist is both thin-skinned and prophetic and, like the canary lowered into the mine shaft to test the air, has caught a whiff of something lethal.”
Walker Percy, Lost in the Cosmos: The Last Self-Help Book
Thought Experiment: Imagine that you are Johnny Carson and find yourself caught in an intolerable one-on-one conversation at a cocktail party from which there is no escape. Which of the two following events would you prefer to take place: (1) That the other person become more and more witty and charming, the music more beautiful, the scene transformed to a villa at Capri on the loveliest night of the year, while you find yourself more and more at a loss; or (2) that you are still in Beverly Hills and the chandeliers begin to rattle, a 7.5 Richter earthquake takes place, and presently you find yourself and the other person alive and well, and talking under a mound of rubble.
If your choice is (2), explain why it is possible for a true conversation to take place under the conditions of (2) but not (1).”
Walker Percy, Lost in the Cosmos: The Last Self-Help Book
“Why is it that the look of another person looking at you is different from everything else in the Cosmos? That is to say, looking at lions or tigers or Saturn or the Ring Nebula or at an owl or at another person from the side is one thing, but finding yourself looking in the eyes of another person looking at you is something else. And why is it that one can look at a lion or a planet or an owl or at someone's finger as long as one pleases, but looking into the eyes of another person is, if prolonged past a second, a perilous affair?”
Walker Percy, Lost in the Cosmos: The Last Self-Help Book
“Why do people often feel bad in good environments and good in bad environments? Why did Mother Teresa think that affluent Westerners often seemed poorer than the Calcutta poor, the poorest of the poor? The paradox comes to pass because the impoverishments and enrichments of a self in a world are not necessarily the same as the impoverishments and enrichments of an organism in an environment.”
Walker Percy, Lost in the Cosmos: The Last Self-Help Book
tags: self
“Lost in the Cosmos: The Last Self-Help Book

or

How you can survive in the Cosmos about which you know more and more while knowing less and less about yourself, this despite 10,000 self-help books, 100,000 psychotherapists, and 100 million fundamentalist Christians

or

Why is it that of all the billions and billions of strange objects in the Cosmos - novas, quasars, pulsars, black holes - you are beyond doubt the strangest

or

Why is it possible to learn more in ten minutes about the Crab Nebula in Taurus, which is 6,000 light-years away, than you presently know about yourself, even though you've been stuck with yourself all your life”
Walker Percy, Lost in the Cosmos: The Last Self-Help Book
“...the self in the twentieth century is a voracious nought which expands like the feeding vacuole of an amoeba seeking to nourish and inform its own nothingness by ingesting new objects in the world but, like a vacuole, only succeeds in emptying them out.”
Walker Percy, Lost in the Cosmos: The Last Self-Help Book
“The Self since the time of Descartes has been stranded, split off from everything else in the Cosmos, a mind which professes to understand bodies and galaxies but is by the very act of understanding marooned in the Cosmos, with which is has no connection. It therefore needs to exercise every option in order to reassure itself that it is not a ghost but is rather a self among other selves. One such option is a sexual encounter. Another is war. The pleasure of a sexual encounter derives not only from physical gratification but also from the demonstration to oneself that, despite one's own ghostliness, one is, for the moment at least, a sexual being. Amazing! Indeed, the most amazing of all the creatures in the Cosmos: a ghost with an erection! Yet not really amazing, for only if the abstracted ghost has an erection can it, like Jove spying Europa on the beach, enter the human condition.”
Walker Percy, Lost in the Cosmos: The Last Self-Help Book
“School is disappointing. If science is exciting and art is exhilarating, the schools and universities have achieved the not inconsiderable feat of rendering both dull. As every scientist and poet knows, one discovers both vocations in spite of, not because of school. It takes years to recover from the stupor of being taught Shakespeare in English Lit and Wheatstone's bridge in Physics.”
Walker Percy, Lost in the Cosmos: The Last Self-Help Book
“Being uneducated is no guarantee against being obnoxious.”
Walker Percy, Lost in the Cosmos: The Last Self-Help Book
“the origin of consciousness is the initiation of the sign-user into the world of signs by a sign-giver.”
Walker Percy, Lost in the Cosmos: The Last Self-Help Book
“Imagine you are a member of a tour visiting Greece. The group goes to the Parthenon. It is a bore. Few people even bother to look — it looked better in the brochure. So people take half a look, mostly take pictures, remark on serious erosion by acid rain. You are puzzled. Why should one of the glories and fonts of Western civilization, viewed under pleasant conditions — good weather, good hotel room, good food, good guide — be a bore?

Now imagine under what set of circumstances a viewing of the Parthenon would not be a bore. For example, you are a NATO colonel defending Greece against a Soviet assault. You are in a bunker in downtown Athens, binoculars propped up on sandbags. It is dawn. A medium-range missile attack is under way. Half a million Greeks are dead. Two missiles bracket the Parthenon. The next will surely be a hit. Between columns of smoke, a ray of golden light catches the portico.

Are you bored? Can you see the Parthenon?

Explain.”
Walker Percy, Lost in the Cosmos: The Last Self-Help Book
“Polarities of the 'authentic' vs. the 'inauthentic' are easily discernible in recreational modes. The criteria of authenticity are not necessarily objective but rather have to do with the rules by which the self allows or disallows its own experience.”
Walker Percy, Lost in the Cosmos: The Last Self-Help Book
“It, the self, is in fact the only alien in the entire Cosmos.

The modern objective consciousness will go to any length to prove that it is not unique in the Cosmos, and by this very effort establishes its own uniqueness. Name another entity in the Cosmos which tries to prove it is not unique.

The earth-self seeks to understand the Cosmos overtly according to scientific principles while covertly exempting itself from the same understanding. The end of this enterprise is that the self understands the mechanism of the Cosmos but by the same motion places itself outside the Cosmos, an alien, a ghost, outside a vast machinery to which it is denied entry.”
Walker Percy, Lost in the Cosmos: The Last Self-Help Book
“The self has no sign of itself... For me, certain signifiers fit you, and not others. For me, all signifiers fit me, one as well as another. I am rascal, hero, craven, brave, treacherous, loyal, at once the secret hero and asshole of the Cosmos.”
Walker Percy, Lost in the Cosmos: The Last Self-Help Book
“The non-suicide is a little traveling suck of care, sucking care with him from the past and being sucked toward care in the future. His breath is high in his chest.
The ex-suicide opens his front door, sits down on the steps, and laughs. Since he has the option of being dead, he has nothing to lose by being alive. It is good to be alive. He goes to work because he doesn't have to.”
Walker Percy, Lost in the Cosmos: The Last Self-Help Book
“What Descartes did not know: no such isolated individual as he described can be conscious.”
Walker Percy, Lost in the Cosmos: The Last Self-Help Book
“Much of current speculation about the nature of ETIs--what level of technology have you achieved?, etc.--is misguided. The first question an earthling should ask of an ETI is not: What is the level of your science? but rather: Did it also happen to you? Do you have a self? If so, how do you handle it? Did you suffer a catastrophe.”
Walker Percy, Lost in the Cosmos: The Last Self-Help Book
“...the self can be as desperately stranded in the transcendence of theory as in the immanence of consumption.”
Walker Percy, Lost in the Cosmos: The Last Self-Help Book
“Why do people often feel bad in good environments and good in bad environments? Why did Mother Teresta think that affluent Westerners often seemed poorer than the Calcutta poor, the poorest of the poor?
The paradox comes to pass because the impoverishments and enrichments of a self in a world are not necessarily the same as the impoverishments and enrichments of an organism in an environment.
The organism is needy or not needy accordingly as needs are satisfied or not satisfied by its environment.
The self in a world is rich or poor accordingly as it succeeds in identifying its otherwise unspeakable self, e.g., mythically, by identifying itself with a world-sign, such as a totem; religiously, by identifying itself as a creature of God...In a post-religious age, the only recourses of the self are self as transcendent and self as immanent.
The impoverishment of the immanent self derives from a perceived loss of sovereignty to "them," the transcending scientists and experts of society. As a consequence, the self sees its only recourse as an endless round of work, diversion, and consumption of goods and services. Failing this and having some inkling of its plight, it sees no way out because it has come to see itself as an organism in an environment and so can't understand why it feels so bad in the best of all possible environments--say, a good family and a good home in a good neighborhood in East Orange on a fine Wednesday afternoon--and so finds itself secretly relishing bad news, assassinations, plane crashes, and the misfortunes of neighbors, and even comes secretly to hope for catastrophe, earthquake, hurricane, wars, apocalypse--anything to break out of the iron grip of immanence.”
Walker Percy, Lost in the Cosmos: The Last Self-Help Book
“But the expectation of the self, to be informed in its nothingness--if only I can get out of this old place and into the right new place, I can become a new person--places a heavy burden on travel.”
Walker Percy, Lost in the Cosmos: The Last Self-Help Book
“The earth-self observing the Cosmos and trying to understand the Cosmos by scientific principles from which its self is excluded is, beyond doubt, the strangest phenomenon in all of the Cosmos, far stranger than the Ring Nebula in Lyra.
It, the self, is in fact the only alien in the entire Cosmos.”
Walker Percy, Lost in the Cosmos: The Last Self-Help Book
“My own conviction is that semiotics provides an escape from the solipsist prison by its stress on the social origins of language--you have to point to an apple and name it for me before I know there is such a thing--and the existence of a world of apples outside ourselves.”
Walker Percy, Lost in the Cosmos: The Last Self-Help Book

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