In Jonathan Franzen’s novel Crossroads, there’s a fascinating character, Perry, who’s a very intelligent, hyper-rational young man. He decides that he can figure out good and evil using the powers or his intellect. Who needs God when you are a rational human being and can understand how everything works on an intellectual level?
Perry follows this idea to its logical conclusion and realizes that there is God. He, Perry, is God. And if he’s God, then by definition everything he does and wants is good. And what does Perry want? He wants to be happy. What’s the easiest way to achieve intense bliss? Of course, it’s drugs.
Perry begins to snort cocaine. Immediately, he gets severely addicted because there’s no limit to his desire for cocaine. Snorting cocaine makes him feel good. Hence, cocaine must be good. Remember, Perry is God. He can’t want anything bad. His desire is the most important thing in the universe, and it must be fed. In a search for an ever-, growing supply of cocaine, Perry descends into complete self-debasement. As he digs out specks of cocaine from a pile of excrement in a public restroom where he accidentally spilled the drug and rubs them on his gums, Perry is still convinced that he is infallible and his desire is the perfect guide to what he needs to do.
The complete loneliness and debasement of this character who is incapable of noticing anything or anybody in the world except for his bottomless pit of desire is a perfect example of where placing a desiring individual at the center of creation leads. This doesn’t mean that everybody who looks to himself for the understanding of good and evil will end up snorting cocaine. Crossroads is a work of literature, and Perry is a metaphor. But the power of art is precisely that one could waste a million words trying to explain why individual desires are a poor substitute for religious morality and fail to deliver the message created by an image of a young man kneeling in a pile of shit and worshipping his own obliteration. You can’t read this scene and not think about living in a society full of Perrys that was being born at the time described in the novel and that has reached full maturity today.
Mind you, I’m retelling just a few pages from a 700-page novel. Perry is only one of the characters, and not even the central one. And there’s already so much to say about this part of the book. People often ask how I determine if something is art or not art. This is how. Art brings out feeling and thought. If there’s something to discuss after reading, it’s art. If there’s nothing to say beyond what’s already said, it isn’t.
I’ll be happy if anybody on here decides to read the novel and then comes here to discuss it. My app shows comments as they appear, irrespective of how old the posts are, so your comments on old posts are never lost.