I’ve just finished Ben Lerner’s metafictional novel 10:04, and I recommend you buy it. Not just because, if you buy through that link I just offered, I’ll get a ridiculously small commission that will pay for about one tenth of one mile of gas on a 24mpg car, but because it has made me think a great deal about a number of themes in my own life: the character of our relationships, our material connections to other people near and far, the character and value (and non-value) of art, the possibility of an individual and a shared future, the overlap between the past and the present (and the future), the ways that arriving futures can affect the nature of the history leading up to them (a history that fails to achieve realization can vanish like Michael J. Fox’s hand in Back to the Future – for which this book is named), and the redemptive possibilities within life and history.
Most of us do not spend large parts of our lives on boats, but in cars. We cannot, thus, easily generate the kinds of metaphors that must have come naturally to writers from the late 19th and especially early 20th centuries, who would have traveled by boat primarily, and for whom boat and water metaphors would have been the most natural for communicating concepts of motion-against-stability. Today, I suppose, we do not attempt to say anything about motion as it is experienced in cars, or attempt to capture, in a text, the sense of the rushing past of the world on a highway — if anything, we simply show it on film.
We are better acquainted with MacIntyre’s “secondary virtues” than we are with virtues proper; they have become the staple of our shared life, because they make a shared life between heterogeneous moral communities possible. They do not, however, tell us what we should aim at in pursuing a worthy life, only how we should bend our purposes.
I expect to get back to the question of intention vs. impact soon, as I have two posts left before that series is completed. In the meantime, I have several posts that are nearly finished, and which I’ll release first — including this one, which is relevant to those intention-vs-impact entries.
A follow-up to yesterday’s post: a bit from the New York Times’ David Brooks.