David Foster Wallace and Lost in the Cosmos (Goodreads Notes)

Lost in the Cosmos: The Last Self-Help BookLost in the Cosmos: The Last Self-Help Book by Walker Percy
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It was fascinating to read this at the same time as David Lipsky’s book-length interview with David Foster Wallace (Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself). Wallace and Percy have a set of overlapping interests (the modern self, desire, TV/celebrity, addiction etc.), along with a certain “smartest-guy-in-the-room” perspective and commitment to ideas (and, to be fair, both were likely the smartest guys in most rooms). The difference that comes across (and it may be partly due to the different formats of the books) is that Wallace really counts himself among the “lost” (Wallace had, if I remember correctly, a well annotated self-help library) while Percy keeps a certain ironic distance (it feels like Kierkegaard is the only self-help he needs). Which is to say, while I share many of Percy’s commitments, I feel a greater kinship with Wallace’s bewilderment and discomfort (and this may just be the result of age, format, and my own moral and intellectual weakness).

The stuff on “re-entry” is great, and it often reads like a set of Kierkegaard-ian parables (some stronger than others). Another way to look at the book is as a sort of modern wisdom literature – a collection that proceeds by juxtaposition, aphorism and parable, leaving the reader to do the work of discerning the appropriate connections and coming to the truth (the very opposite of most self-help literature with its tendency towards prefabricated steps to success).

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