Chuck Klosterman is a pop culture evil genius. I first stumbled upon his zany writings in an Albuquerque airport, and I was instantly hooked on his analysis of the feedback loop between our lives and the lives of the people on our TV screens and on our iPods. I got to meet him as a sophomore at Davidson when he came through for a book tour; he signed my book and politely laughed at my jokes about the Celtics. (Funnily enough, his most recent novel featured a main character who studied at Davidson, though it’s not a huge plot point at all.) In reality, though, what I wanted to ask him was this:
- Really great pancakes
“Mr. Klosterman, I have a scenario for you. Let’s say you are trapped in a room. This room is about twenty by twenty feet square and is entirely unadorned except to feature a table, set with fine cutlery. Every mealtime, with astonishing regularity, there appear on this table the most amazingly delicious pancakes, entirely beyond your imagination. These pancakes are the paragon of fluffiness, the perfect saturation of butter and syrup and whatever other ingredients make up the pancake that is your ideal pancake. Every time you eat the pancakes it is like being in heaven; nothing could taste better. You never grow tired of the pancakes, though you are also not pathologically afflicted or addicted; you merely enjoy them to an extreme degree. Would you rather die now, or live in this condition for the rest of your natural lifespan?”
Fans of Mr. Klosterman will quickly notice what I’m doing here. Throughout his books Klosterman sprinkles these sorts of conceptual questions, called “hypotheticals.” These hypotheticals, while almost uniformly absurd, have a curious ability to draw out the hypocrisies in modern life, bring one to a moral standstill, or divide a room.
And I absolutely love the hypothetical. I wrote a semi-regularly (emphasis on the semi-) bastardization, called “Hayden’s Hypotheticals,” in my college lit mag. I love the way they require actual thought, require you to consider situations beyond the banalities of real life which actually have great bearing on the quotidian. For example, the pancake quandary (which is my own) is meant to bring out certain questions, including:
- what is hedonism, and when is it acceptable?
- how is the pancake room and its state of bliss (which is regular, if not eternal or constant) different from heaven?
- could you find meaning in a life that is devoid of social interaction?
- what would that meaning be?
In any case, Mr. Klosterman made my life last year by releasing an entire set of hypotheticals, “HYPERtheticals: 50 Questions For Insane Conversations.” While plenty of people have posted individual questions and answers, as far as I can tell no one has gone through and systematically answered every single one of the “hypertheticals.”
Time to boldly go where none has gone before.