Every book I have written has been a process as much as it has been an artifact. You know how this goes: the act of writing the thing is also an act of trying to figure out what it's all really about, then focus on that and discard everything that doesn't fit the plan.
With Welcome to the Fold, the one thing that remained consistent through every mutation of the project was a line from Slavoj Žižek, whose work I have only acquainted myself with in the know-thy-enemy sense. "The urge of the moment," he has written, "is the true utopia" — meaning that even if throwing one's self at some impossible project leaves only failure (and dead bodies, and shattered social systems, etc. etc., can't make an omelet, don'tcha know), the fact of doing so is what justifies it. This is revolutionary rhetoric, emphasis on the rhetoric and not so much the revolution, in the sense that Žižek strikes me as being a handy source for justifying most any kind of postmodern (or not-so-postmodern) terror. As philosophy, it's bunk, and I'm constantly amazed that modern philosophical thought seems to be preoccupied with such inhuman grotesqueries. (Memo to self: get around to writing that discussion of Man Against Myth, one of the finest and least pretentious deconstructions of such squalid defenses of evil.)
But it's failed philosophy that drives just as many people, maybe even more so, as successful ones — especially since the failure is not something they choose to feel burdened by. The rush of devoting one's self to a project bigger than one alone is always heady and grand, even — and sometimes especially — if the project is an impossible one.
This was something I found myself preserving through each draft and re-envisioning of the book. Even if the execution of the idea varied, the idea itself remained the same — and doubly so the way people would bind themselves to such an idea, subordinate themselves into it as a way to provide them with power they felt they lacked in their lives. I don't know if I did the best job of doing justice to how that kind of mad devotion would play out, but I knew all the way through that was what was driving all that took place in the book on some level.
What I worry about most is something I found myself asking myself in the voice of a would-be critic: Yeah, but how interesting is that, really? I always fret about the possible differential between what galvanizes me and what an audience will take time out to read about. What's fascinating to you isn't always fascinating to others, especially if you haven't learned how to transmit what is so fascinating about it through your work, and I can't profess I've yet mastered that any better than any other writer.
Madness and obsession in particular, I'm always uneasy about making into subjects, because what seems like the grandest of obsessions to one seems merely goofy to another. But I knew the heart of this story wasn't made of anything less than that, and that I would do myself no service by pretending otherwise. The urge of the moment, at least here, had to be respected, even if I wasn't very good at it.
Other Lives Of The Mind