With But What If We're Wrong, Klosterman takes a break from dishing on pop culture to consider the way we will be remembered in the future, by people who view our present day as the past. I was skeptical when I first heard the concept of the new book and suspected that it would be complex and hard to follow...But even as he’s presenting complex scenarios, like why we don’t know everything about gravity or whether it’s possible our life is just a simulation, he brings the humor and wit prevalent in his writings on pop culture ... Though most of his arguments are well thought out and complete, there are a few that aren’t so clear ... Klosterman’s interviews with experts are a highlight of the book. He talks about how rock music will be remembered with Ryan Adams and asks Kathryn Schulz and Junot Díaz and George Saunders what kind of writers will be recognized in the future. His conversations with Neil deGrasse Tyson and string theorist Brian Greene prove to be fascinating, if creepy, measured discussions of whether life might be a simulation.
Klosterman has a remedy for our condition, at least a partial one. We must 'think about the present as if it were the distant past.' By imaginatively adopting the perspective of futurity, we should strive to look upon our contemporary world as though it were the Victorian era, or the medieval period, or the Bronze Age — suspending the naïve confidence we place in our current version of reality and trying to detect how that version might be deeply and pervasively mistaken ... In his new book he takes on an ambitious spectrum of themes...All admirable. Then why did I find the book so exasperating? For one thing, there’s the prose, which lurches from the slangy to the lumbering to the pompous...Such little lapses of the pen might be forgivable if Klosterman had pursued his book’s premise with more rigor. But his argument tends to be desultory and slapdash. Entire passages defy analysis. Profound questions — what he calls 'the big potatoes'— are treated with intolerable glibness ... But it never left me bored. Reading it is a bit like being at a dinner party where a smart and opinionated guest is squiffily holding forth.
Who knows? Klosterman concludes, ending with the unanswerable questions he started with. He writes with self-deprecating humor in an endearingly informal style that makes his philosophical inquiries easy to read. But what I take away from reading is, so what? Whatever we discover, or never will, we’ll live our daily lives regardless of the big picture, if there is one.
In some ways, Mr. Klosterman’s newest book demonstrates his best and worst traits, all at once. It’s certainly his most wide-reaching accomplishment to date, as he finds himself running a variety of pundits ... Mr. Klosterman, while never less than his usual self-aware self, often appears a little overwhelmed by his latest challenge. There’s an ongoing sense he is grasping here — to the point where he’s essentially writing in circles, spinning his wheels through a continuous loop for nearly 264 well-written pages ... As inquisitive, thoughtful and dryly funny as ever, But What If We’re Wrong? will please fans of the author’s specialty for long-winded anecdotes on the meaning of everything and nothing simultaneously.
...familiar hallmarks make reading [But What If We're Wrong?] like dropping in on an old friend and having an argument over a beer about something that doesn't ultimately matter ... [Klosterman] seems out of his depth in a convoluted section that veers into lit crit. But he turns out to be a surprisingly effective pop-science writer ... One of Klosterman's best qualities as a writer and as a critic has always been his attempt to engage meaningfully with whatever weird shit he's writing about. But What if We're Wrong? isn't a collection of blog posts in print, it's a book that appears to have been edited, something that shouldn't be notable, but is. And that shouldn't surprise anyone who's followed his career. Klosterman's books were always sold in a fun package. But they were never not serious.
He’s not insincere when he advances a number of theories that make good bar fodder — like that rock ’n’ roll will probably cease to exist someday save as some footnote to the Beatles — but as a reader you might find yourself asking your own question: Why should we care? ... It’s a barroom form of Socratic wisdom poured out in a book ... There is nothing authoritative here, and, worse, nothing that is questioningly authoritative. You can ask a good question, one that maybe you can’t answer, and that is a kind of fierce statement because it makes points and splinter-points in the very asking.
Klosterman can’t do that. Or he doesn’t, anyway.