Walker Percy, the acclaimed novelist, wrote a book called “Lost in the cosmos: The last self-help book” in which he ruthlessly and hilariously unmasks our growing preoccupation with ourselves. These are some of the alternative titles he suggests for the book:
- Why it is that of all the billions and billions of strange objects in the Cosmos – novas, quasars, pulsars, black holes – you are beyond doubt the strangest
- 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
How is it possible for the man who designed Voyager 19, which arrived at Titania, a satellite of Uranus, three seconds off schedule and a hundred yards off course after a flight of six years, to be one of the most screwed-up creatures in California – or the Cosmos
- 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
Percy is not merely having fun – though he is highly entertaining about a very serious subject. He is trained as a medical doctor, and it shows. He talked of his novels as being "diagnostic." He diagnoses the deepest ailment of modern man, "the normal denizen of the Western world who, I think it is fair to say, doesn't know who he is, what he believes, or what he is doing.”
Walker Percy is a Christian, but he does not preach – not even in this mock self-help book. He distinguishes between art and morality: "art is making; morality is doing…. This is not to say that art, fiction, is not moral in the most radical sense — if it is made right. But if you write a novel with the goal of trying to make somebody do right, you're writing a tract — which may be an admirable enterprise, but it is not literature."
Maybe we need more of this. Not just answers – especially easy answers.