On Tuesday (Nov. 1) I flew back to Winnipeg from Victoria, through Edmonton and Saskatoon. I had a window seat. The middle seat was vacant. A passenger who got on in Edmonton took the aisle seat.
Last week a couple of Mormon missionaries wanted to talk to me on the street. What is it about me that suggests I am waiting to be proselytized?
I had packed Christopher Lasch’s book The Minimal Self and I was reading it in short sections. It make psychocultural arguments using Freudian concepts, so it was heavy going. Somewhere near Saskatoon my new seat-mate asked what I was reading. He mentioned the subtitle “Psychic Survival in Troubled Times”. Lasch used the word as a synonym for mental or psychological. I said that it was a book about culture and psychology. He asked if I was a psychologist. I said I wasn’t, and that I was reading it for information and interest.
Then he asked if I was aware of the energy in the world in the last two millenia. Now, he had embarked in Alberta and energy is a major industrial, economic and academic preoccupation for Albertans, but Albertans tend to look for ways to extract energy from fossil fuels, which is what makes Alberta wealthy, strong and free. I asked the polite and logical question – was he talking about any particular kind of energy. He replied that he was talking about cosmic energy. I said I thought those ideas were interesting, but I would rather not talk about about them. He asked if we had to change planes in Saskatoon. I said I was pretty sure we would get on the same plane again for the last leg to Winnipeg.
When he saw the word “psychic”, he thought he had encountered a fellow traveler on the road to enlightenment. He evidently thought it was a book about paranormal or mystical powers, as that seems to have become the common usage of the word “psychic”.I thought telling him that the book was about psychology might have set him straight, but New Age believers regard parapsychology as a valid alternative psychology.
Lasch is best known for his 1979 book The Culture of Narcissism, regarded as one of the more incisive and influential works of cultural criticism of the last couple of decades. I have seen several references to it in my reading in the last year. Recently AL Daily linked to an essay called The Overpraised American by Christina Rosen which revisits Lasch from a libertarian perspective. Scott McLemee, writing for Inside Higher Ed, notes that Lasch was a left-wing radical, not a conservative. The Culture of Narcissism is still popular – there are several copies in the Winnipeg Library system, but there are holds on it (and some copies are out of circulation while books are being moved out of storage into the newly rebuilt main branch downtown). I decided to read The Minimal Self first.