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This review is from: Lost in the Cosmos: The Last Self-Help Book (Paperback)
Walker Percy is very much a modern-day Pascal, in that he is wrapped up in the project of waking up modern man from his numb, jaded, over-entertained stupor into realizing what a predicament he is in. It's an existentialist concern, in the Christian-existentialist sense of Kierkegaard, especially insofar as both Percy and the Melancholy Dane are obsessed with the problem of subjectivity, and our awareness of it, and the paltry ways we try, unsuccessfully, to transcend it.
So, this is NOT really a humor/satire book, per se, although the dust jacket's description tries to bill it as such (perhaps to expand the market appeal? Feh!). Early on, though, there is a send-up of the Phil Donahue show that is just *hilarious*. Most of the book is a series of (fairly involved) rhetorical questions, about such things as who in a hypothetical situation you would identify with the most, and why. The way the questions are counterposed, one could accuse Percy of making his points backhandedly via strawman-demolition, but that would be beside the point. Percy's overall aim is to get at the background of all our operating assumptions, and the ways in which we judge and evaluate others in relation to self, and what that says about what kind of thing man is.
In the middle of the book is a digression on semiotics, the theory of signs. One of Percy's central ideas here is that man's cardinal innovation over other animals is his use of signs and not just signals. The "sign" usage is essentially triangular, involving subject, object, and the intersubjective sign, whereas an animal "signal" is two-dimensional, such as "danger, run away." All of our thought and communication is predicated on that sign-based three-dimensional framework. The self constantly has to situate oneself with respect to other selves and in the intersubjective framework that marks our communicative network.
The main human predicament is that that intersubjective framework is essentially unstable due to our confusion about ourselves, and our desire to cover up our insecurities. No solution to this problem is forced upon the reader, although some suggestion of one is implied. The humanist and religious outlooks are both presented, fairly, I think, and the reader is left to evaluate the human condition as portrayed.
The book ends with a couple of arresting sci-fi scenarios, that for thought-provocation, I haven't seen since the likes of Arthur C. Clarke's _Childhood's End._ This is a no-holds-barred look at ourselves that is rewarding as it is unflinchingly realistic, and I highly recommend it.
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Initial post: Jun 6, 2010 10:50:06 AM PDT
T. W. Morrison says:
This book is a treasure, and, too bad I lack the talent the and the ability to compose a fitting review of a work so on the mark with its insight on our times. Read and learn. Please.
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