Hope, and Other Maudlin Projections

by rsbakker

Definition of the Day – Hope: Something that happens to facts when the world refuses to agree.

Nothing makes me feel more maudlin than watching the downtrodden overthrow their oppressors. The only movies that jerk my tear chain are ones where those at the bottom rise up and up until they drown those at the top…

Like what happened in Egypt.

I understand this is depressing website–and I’m frankly amazed that so many of you return so regularly. I’m guessing that I’m no where near so dark and gloomy in person as I must come across here. The fact is, I try to be dire and negative in these posts, even though I know this does nothing to sell to my books–probably scares people away, in fact. The world is a trash-can stuffed with redemptive messages; the least I can do, it seems to me, is scribble a couple memos of warning.

Everybody but everybody thinks they’ve seen through the world-views of others (this is a big theme in all my books, but none more so than Light, Time, and Gravity). My first great ‘philosophical moment’ hit me when I was 14 and I stumbled onto determinism all by my lonesome. It was like being pulled under, realizing that all the world was deceived. Then it was Heidegger in my early twenties, the realization that my deterministic picture of the world was the projection of deep, historically and culturally conditioned assumptions. The world was just as deceived–only the disease had changed.

And now its cognitive science.

At each turn I thought my picture of things explained the pictures of others. The only difference now is that I no longer have any faith whatsoever in philosophy. Absent that faith I’m stranded with the findings of psychology and cognitive neuroscience, findings that more and more seem to suggest that we as a species are thoroughly deluded in a terrifying panoply of ways.

What does it mean to live a life of wilful delusion?

This, I think, is one of the great questions of our future.

I write from the very bottom of the cultural authority gradient–I have no illusions about that. This means the gap between my station and my ambition is about as drastic as artistically possible. Small wonder so many insecurities trickle through my thinking. But I continue my slog of slogs…


Not to be rich–that’s for fucking sure.

Not out of any ‘quality of character’ on my part. There’s no heroism in art, only stubbornness.

Not out of any sense of conviction. Scarcely a day passes where I don’t laugh or cringe at the way my ‘justifications’ perform the same self-aggrandizing function as the ‘rationalizations’ I continually criticize. Odds are, I’m as full of shit as the next guy. Truly.

But I could be right. It really could be the case that literary culture (by stigmatizing hardwired staples of taste like spectacle, melodrama, and convention) polarizes and divides, so robbing (by defining what counts as ‘serious’ counter our innate inclinations) the greater community of critical resources it desperately needs. That it does what pretty much every human institution does: game interpretative ambiguities to better transform its narrow self-interests into a universal humanitarian mission, one that is as flattering as it is false.

That it is a kind of bloated leech, bleeding us for its own good, while pretending to minister to us on our deathbed.

This is my guess. Aside from a genuine iconoclasm, all I have going in my favour is that guesses are all we have when it comes to theorizing things so complicated as culture.

I could be right… So it seems to me that someone has to make this case, even at the ‘risk’ of scorn and penury and obscurity.

If guesses are all we have, this means that some guesses must be worth dying for. When people put their lives (as opposed to their art) on the pass line waiting for the dice to roll… Wow… It makes me weepy and ashamed.

No matter what number comes up, Egypt has made cowards of us all.

I mean, I use italics to press my case!