Adam's Reviews > Lost in the Cosmos: The Last Self-Help Book

Lost in the Cosmos by Walker Percy
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's review
Mar 08, 2009

really liked it
bookshelves: philosophy, non-fiction
Recommended for: Artists, Writers, Wanderers, Thinkers, People with Time to Kill

Um, well, that was quite a trip.

I can't remember who or where I came across this book though I do recall it being mentioned in another book at one point. This is again a read that I began a while before but never had a chance to devote much attention to until now.

'Lost in the Cosmos is not so much a book as it is a series of hypothetical questions that Percy poses in order to make the reader question, well, I'm not sure exactly what. I'm inclined to say it offers the reader a look at one's own self but at the same time, it sort of propes humanity as a whole. Perhaps as a student of both Psychology (the individual) and Sociology (the collective) this is why I enjoyed it so much.

While some of the book was simply over my head, meaning I didn't feel like devoting the time to truly understanding what he was getting at, Percy does bring up the wildly interesting notion of Transendence, and subsequently, Re-entry.

I'm sure that this topic alone could, if not has, elicited a number of graduate thesis papers. Even so, I can't really imagine one every becoming 'bored' with this sort of notion. It's almost like one of those small revelations that once you are aware of, you never stop noticing. Almost like gravity.

Is transendence really an issue? Is that even really a question? If so, could this simple, goofy concept have any implication for not only the way I live my life but the way that I should, if I am to be satisfied?

I fear looking to deeply into this book as it might bring about a personal transendence that not even Percy himself would know how to come out of. So, in the meantime, I'll just stay in my low altitude orbit, skipping in and out of the atmosphere's surface every few days.
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Quotes Adam Liked

Walker Percy
“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

Walker Percy
“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

Walker Percy
“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

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