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HERE is a book that is bound to fail - bound to fail, that is,
if its author is right. Colin Feltham insists that, over time,
everything that we hold dear will deteriorate, perish, and
disappear. He can hardly suppose that his book is an exception to
that rule. Feltham's central argument is that everything and
everyone ultimately fails, because of entropy, the law that all
that is and all who are finally wear out.
Feltham turns to a wide range of philosophers to explore
different facets of this unpalatable truth. Unsurprisingly, we hear
a good deal from Schopenhauer, who, as Bertie Wooster gathered from
Jeeves, says little to cheer us up. "We begin in the madness of
carnal desire and the transport of voluptuousness," Schopenhauer
says, "and we end in the dissolution of all our parts and the musty
stench of corpses."
Feltham acknowledges that this is a bleak account of human
experience, but he sees no reason to contest it. He is convinced
that "human beings have a serious chronic unaddressed failure at
their core". Religion, in his view, does not help. He thinks that
it will probably fade away in a few hundred years, but, meanwhile,
it is "a deadly fault in human affairs".
Feltham's opinion that religion only compounds our misery does
not allow him to explore at any depth how the great faiths have
responded to failure. He does not discuss, for example, how
Christianity embraces and affirms failure - above all, in the story
of the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth. (There are, of course,
mutants of Christianity that - losing the plot entirely - claim
that the life of faith should be a success story.)
This book offers little advice on how to deal with failure. The
best that we can do, the author suggests, is to each take up
whatever "kluge" serves us best. Your reviewer had to look up what
a "kluge" is. It is, he learns, "a software or hardware
configuration that, while inelegant, inefficient, clumsy, or
patched together, succeeds in solving a specific problem or
performing a particular task".
Feltham concludes his inevitably depressing book by voicing the
hope that what he has written will not do any actual harm, and that
perhaps he will be proved wrong.
The Revd Dr John Pridmore is a former Rector of Hackney in