“The meaning of this word is vague and unsatisfying. Fate has a past but no history, a future but no present. It is nonnegotiable but a constant negotiation. It may be foreordained by a divine authority, or improvised blindly by a brute force. Either way, fate cannot be controlled, modified, thwarted, or bribed. It is as absolute as death and taxes, and frequently as unpleasant. Everyone, whether bumblers or saints, is subject to it, and everyone protests in vain. It snatches free will from the best of intentions and hands it over to an autonomous and immutable spiritual bureaucracy.

“My dissatisfaction continued until I chanced upon ...

“ ... a different conception of fate that opened up the word’s possibilities, endowing it with depth, flexibility, and human agency. ‘Whatever limits us,’ wrote Ralph Waldo Emerson in 1860, ‘we call fate.’ Though never one to downplay the ineluctable force of determinism, Emerson was trying to snatch the word out from its metaphysical muddle and redefine it to be existentially useful. If fate is what limits us, it needn’t be blind and without appeal. We can think of limit, not chance or luck, as fate’s true synonym. Unlike blind chance, a limit may be identified, challenged, and overcome. This makes your past fate subject to retrospection, your present fate to conscious deliberation and intervention, and your future fate to better instincts and change. Or to quote Emerson again: ‘[L]imitation [has] its limits.’ Reconceived in this way, fate comes into actionable focus.”

Joshua Ferris as quoted in the Oxford American Writer's Thesaurus.


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