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Diane

Walker Percy (1916-1990)

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Okay, WOW. Thank you very, very much, Mike. I'm sure I'll revisit that post many times. This is getting more and more fascinating because it does sound so true (repetition, rotation, etc.). Don't worry; I have no plans of abandoning Percy. In fact, I'll have to pick up another book of his soon. This discussion is a great catalyst.

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hurrah for the resurrection of this thread!

i recently read the aforementioned "the life you save may be your own: an american pilgrimage," which chronicles the lives and works and faith of four mid-century american catholic authors: dorothy day, flannery o'connor, thomas merton, and walker percy. i grew to love all of them in the course of reading "the life you save...", and composed a reading list of key books by and/or related to them.

mr. percy, his journey, and his ideas completely absorbed me, so i started with his "the moviegoer." and i have to tell you, i TOILED through that book. i just finished it last week, and i was never gladder to be done with a work of literature. i completely empathize with diane's feelings on the work. unlike her, i already had at least some understanding of percy's ideas about rotation and repetition, but i was still completely lost and disinterested throughout the course of the book. i understand that the man is a genius, and i love other things he's written, but i was stunned to find that i completely failed to connect with anything--ANYTHING--about "the moviegoer."

part of me wonders if it's a generational/historical disconnect; i felt like some of the sentiments as well as the settings were culturally specific to mid-century concerns. half the time, i didn't even know the significance a character's most mundane actions--for example, what the hell is a "cowboy slap," which kate does to her elbow in one scene? i was born in 1979. i have no idea what a cowboy slap, or pretty much any cultural reference in the book, even is. this isn't a weakness of the book, of course, but it's just one of the things that distanced me from it.

the weirdest thing of all was that i couldn't relate or make a personal connection AT ALL with binx, who is supposed to be this disenfranchised, alienated guy on the cusp of adulthood. now, i consider myself a disaffected youth, and in my high school days ACHED at the connection i made characters created by, for example, salinger, who was writing in the same era as percy. which is why i was frustrated that i couldn't really get inside binx's life, or track with his story--it COULD just be that his alienation was so specific to that era in american life, but it doesn't make sense in light of novels from other generations i've also read and understood perfectly.

anyway, i'm rambling. don't get me wrong, i don't think "the moviegoer" was a bad book--i was just so disappointed that i didn't understand, connect with, or otherwise feel like i could participate in the story at all. i suppose it's good that there are others in this boat (dan, diane...), but is there just something wrong with us?? :-)

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kebbie, I kid you not

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There's probably a sense in which all movies or stories take off with a "rotation": the story opens with the character's ordinary world, then comes the "One day..." sequence, when a chasm opens up and they end up on the other side. But you're right, I think I was thinking of the Percy "man on the train" with Eternal Sunshine, too. And with another Jim Carey movie, The Majestic, in which the rotation involves amnesia: not surprisingly, Percy was very big on amnesia, which I think somewhere he called "the perfect rotation".

As for not connecting with The Moviegoer, I wouldn't worry about it. There's about ten-thousand things I'm supposed to have connected with that I haven't, and I never know what's going to do it for me. Sometimes I get something the first time, sometimes when I come back to it later, some things I'm still waiting for the nickle to drop. The generational theory is interesting: I'll think about that one. No doubt the baggage we bring to any work largely determines how it affects us. I think some of my own darker twists must have found (true confessions?) resonance with some of the dysfunctional psyches the good Dr. Percy gave to his protagonists, especially Binx Bolling and Tom More in Love in the Ruins and its sequel. The fact that with all their dysfunctionality, those characters still kept moving forward on their relentless quests has always been rather encouraging and inspiring to me.

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part of me wonders if it's a generational/historical disconnect; i felt like some of the sentiments as well as the settings were culturally specific to mid-century concerns. half the time, i didn't even know the significance a character's most mundane actions--for example, what the hell is a "cowboy slap," which kate does to her elbow in one scene? i was born in 1979. i have no idea what a cowboy slap, or pretty much any cultural reference in the book, even is. this isn't a weakness of the book, of course, but it's just one of the things that distanced me from it.

the weirdest thing of all was that i couldn't relate or make a personal connection AT ALL with binx, who is supposed to be this disenfranchised, alienated guy on the cusp of adulthood. now, i consider myself a disaffected youth, and in my high school days ACHED at the connection i made characters created by, for example, salinger, who was writing in the same era as percy. which is why i was frustrated that i couldn't really get inside binx's life, or track with his story--it COULD just be that his alienation was so specific to that era in american life, but it doesn't make sense in light of novels from other generations i've also read and understood perfectly.

Oooh, oooh, ooh!!! Now we're cooking with gas!!

This is good! I am finding a number of "great works" where the greatness is obvious to me but for which there is no personal connection because the theme almost seems a given of my generation's melieu of ideas and values. (I am only four years kebbie's senior) Specifically the themes of the "purposelessness of everyday life" the "search for meaning" are almost passe'. Certainly, they still ring true, but for a true postmodern, interacting with a work of art that has these ideas at its core, is like reading a text book that's trying to disprove a geocentric universe. Not that it's not true or valuable, but it may have more value when these ideas are not so inherently a part of the insurgent generation's schema. (And I, of course, acknowledge that it's in large part because of these works that we are where we are idealogically.) Here are some other works that have left me cold because they're working toward ideas that I already generally accept:

Akiru - And this isn't just a problem with me and Kuro. I LOVED 7 Samurai, but Akiru felt like a whole lot of moping. At the time it was produced there must have been scads of folks crying out "YES! that's how I feel. Yes, I'd love to chuck it all if my job wasn't fulfilling." But now, we'd chuck our job in a heartbeat if it wasn't fulfilling and we do, perhaps too often.

Waiting for Guffman - Yeah, truth is so hard to pin down there is an absurdity to our exitence. I got it, but it's only scene two, and I gotta feeling, its not going anywhere from here.

That's all can think of for now, except of course for The Moviegoer

There's a quote etched outside the library at Taylor University. Something about "ther are the books of the moment, and the books of all time" could it be that the latter can sometimes not be the former?

Edited by DanBuck

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mike_h

Good stuff! First off regarding:

Though in my case maybe it represents learning a second language, and I still may speak with an accent. (Somebody turn off the metaphor machine!)

This fascinates me, because I have recently begun using this exact language regarding those who understand postmodernism and those who think in postmodern terms. "Primary and secondary language" In our Pre-planning week for our school year, the headmaster of our school, who is a brillaint man, brought up and even educated in modern times spoke extensively about our postmodern students. But this year, more so than in other years, he was speaking about it fluently and not as "the enemy" but just as a new paradigm. In fact, like most people learning a new language he was starting to appreciate the intracies of the new language and some of the failings of the old. I am near fluent in Spanish and I already think that English, in many ways, is a chaotic mess, compared to the simplicity of Spanish.

It's interesting to watch my elders (15-30 years older than me) as they straddle the gap.

In regards to Percy, let it be made clear that I DID in fact think the book great. And I know beyond a shadow of a doubt when the winds have all gone round and and back again, there will be another generaton facing the same issues of malaise Percy does. But this one ain't it. So, it's not surprising to see my postmodern peers having trouble connecting.

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DanBuck wrote:

: Here are some other works that have left me cold because they're working

: toward ideas that I already generally accept:

: Akiru - And this isn't just a problem with me and Kuro. I LOVED 7 Samurai, but

: Akiru felt like a whole lot of moping. At the time it was produced there must have

: been scads of folks crying out "YES! that's how I feel. Yes, I'd love to chuck it all

: if my job wasn't fulfilling." But now, we'd chuck our job in a heartbeat if it wasn't

: fulfilling and we do, perhaps too often.

I think you err by viewing the film in chronological terms, and by using the word "we". My understanding is that there is something distinctly Japanese about the class of "salarymen" and the social obligations put on them. I am reminded of how one critic noted that the real significance of the Japanese film Shall We Dance? (1997) was bound to be missed by most American audiences, because THEY would see an uptight man learning how to be free just like them, whereas the film's ORIGINAL audience saw a man violating certain social codes. In Japan, the film was somewhat transgressive, whereas in the United States, the film is ultimately rather conformist -- which is just one reason among many why I dread the upcoming Richard Gere-Jennifer Lopez remake.

Oh, and it's Ikiru, BTW. smile.gif

Edited by Peter T Chattaway

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I think you err by viewing the film in chronological terms, and by using the word "we". My understanding is that there is something distinctly Japanese about the class of "salarymen" and the social obligations put on them. I am reminded of how one critic noted that the real significance of the Japanese film Shall We Dance? (1997) was bound to be missed by most American audiences, because THEY would see an uptight man learning how to be free just like them, whereas the film's ORIGINAL audience saw a man violating certain social codes. In Japan, the film was somewhat transgressive, whereas in the United States, the film is ultimately rather conformist -- which is just one reason among many why I dread the upcoming Richard Gere-Jennifer Lopez remake.

Are you not agreeing with me? I'm merely looking for why the film does not connect. And you've just restated it has to do with time (but you've added place).

Or am I misreadng you?

Oh, and it's Ikiru, BTW.  smile.gif

I am an adiot.

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DanBuck wrote:

: Are you not agreeing with me? I'm merely looking for why the film does not connect.

I guess we MIGHT be agreeing ... but there seemed a certain, dare I say, tendency towards modernist universalization ("we") and not so much a postmodern recognition that the film was produced within a very specific cultural matrix.

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I see. I merely meant "we" in terms of the three or four 20-somethings on this very thread who claimed they were having toruble indentifying withe the book.

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This is turning out to be a great conversation. It's been a few years since I read The Moviegoer, but I remember conecting very strongly to Binx Bolling. Maybe I'm a fish out of water in my generation, I'm 23, but I empathized completely with the despair of this character. As opposed to, say, Holden Caulfield from A Catcher in the Rye, who is prone to "lash out" against the world in which he lives, I am much more likely to respond as Binx Bolling, "obsessing [with] overly-self-conscious inner turmoil."

You've made some wonderful remarks and observations here, Mike. I had never thought of connecting Percy to Kierkegaard. Thanks.

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this is indeed a great conversation. i'm learning so much!

It's been a few years since I read The Moviegoer, but I remember conecting very strongly to Binx Bolling. Maybe I'm a fish out of water in my generation, I'm 23, but I empathized completely with the despair of this character.

this makes me wonder if these connections may have something to do with our OWN personal development, as well. for example, i remember reading "franny and zooey" by salinger when i was probably 19 or 20, the years during which i was just beginning to figure out that the world, and the faith by which we navigate it, is not so easily halved into black and white as i'd originally imagined. my late teens/early 20s were my season of disenfranchisement, disillusionment, and despair.

where i'm going with this is that i suspect, had i read "the moviegoer" during that season, i would've connected intimately and personally with it. but by now, as dan said, i feel like these ideas about the "purposelessness of everyday life" or the "search for meaning" aren't new to me--they are, in fact, a bit of a "well, duh." a book like the moviegoer has value for me as a starting place, as a cultural and sociological documentation of the origins of postmodern malaise. but i suppose i didn't connect with it personally because it came along at a time in my life when i had already found other literary sources that carried me through that season. when you grow up reading douglas coupland and watching films like "reality bites," you know what it's like to live with malaise without realizing where it originated. "hello, you've reached the winter of our discontent," anyone? smile.gif

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hubba hubba =), a most insightful article: WALKER PERCY'S BIBLE NOTES AND HIS FICTION: GRACIOUS OBSCENITY and below is the first paragraph,,,

IN The Moviegoer (MG), The Last Gentleman (LG), Love in the Ruins (LR), and The Thanatos Syndrome (TS), Walker Percy uses the unlikely images of a dung beetle, bowel movements, the deaths of children, and even genocide to express the sacramental presence of God in the often traumatic mess of human existence. This article will argue that Percy's use of the grotesquely obscene is explained in part by his reading of the Bible and the notes he made in the Bible and certain other related books that he owned. Taking off from a few of those annotations in the Gospel of John, the article explores Percy's literary uses of obscenity as a means of grace.

Click here!

Edited by Jacques

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As with everything else, I seem to be late to the Walker Percy party. I just recently began reading Percy--my first was Love in the Ruins, given me by a professor who I told about my love of Southern literature. I really enjoyed it--besides the weird prescience Percy showed about our current political scene in the United States (as in this passage), I definitely connected to the themes of existential estrangement.

The most recent novel I read was The Moviegoer. These are the thoughts that came to me directly after finishing:

Percy strikes notes similar to Love in the Ruins here—disassociation with the modern world, rootlessness, being cut off from the past, living in a kind of grey fog. The final conversation between Binx and his aunt (in V:1) certainly sets off Binx’s own rootlessness against his aunt’s lionizing of the past. In the end, Binx and Kate find a kind of rootedness in each other—he provides her with courage, and she provides him with purpose—and so represent a kind of third way beyond either Binx’s constant quest or his aunt’s past-oriented view. There is a sense that the age of heroes has passed, that the giants of the past will not come again, and that all we can do is to try to live fully in the world around us. Binx himself finds meaning in the movies—he is a romantic (like the boy on the bus) but a disillusioned one. He doubts that anything more than flashes of meaning can be seen. But his relationship with Kate gives him a place to rest, and enables him to find a more solid meaning that is found in the flickering images on the cinema screen.

Reading over my reactions, however, I'm not sure that I haven't given the final coming-together of Binx and Kate too optimistically/romantically. The notion of romantic love as something that brings salvation seems too pat, too easy in such an author as Percy. Though, perhaps, he means it to be not-uncomplicated, a kind of ad hoc making-do-with? I would welcome any clarifications/corrections/suggestions on this point.

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Peter, thank you for posting this-- you seriously just made my day!

I am a huge Walker Percy fan. I was introduced to his work over a decade ago, in a university class which was specifically focused on his novels-- and even better, was taught by a practicing Catholic English professor! smile.gif In the very postmodern atmosphere of that college, not at all amenable to a formerly agnostic English major who was considering a conversion to Catholicism (sadly, the nihilism which I imbibed there probably contributed to my later falling away from the Catholic faith), the Percy class was a genuine haven for me and a few other students. It was an oasis in which both art and faith were taken seriously. If only there had been more of that sensibility on a mid-1990s college campus which was, otherwise, still largely drunk on the "question everything traditional, and rebel against most of it" ethos of the late '60s.

To this day, I am personally grateful to Dr. Tom Woods for teaching that class. He may have been very much the odd man out in the University of Montevallo's far-left English department, but he was a hero to certain students who were willing to question that particular form of "dogma."

Ryan H., Lancelot is also my favorite of Percy's novels. Many people dislike it, even many of his fans, but I see it as being in the tradition of Flannery O'Connor (with much less humor than her though)-- hope and faith are conspicuous by their absence, until grace breaks in quite unexpectedly, as it often does in real life.

Edited by Christopher Lake

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Ryan H., Lancelot is also my favorite of Percy's novels. Many people dislike it, even many of his fans, but I see it as being in the tradition of Flannery O'Connor (with much less humor than her though)-- hope and faith are conspicuous by their absence, until grace breaks in quite unexpectedly, as it often does in real life.

Glad to see I'm not the only one. I love almost all of Percy's work--THE SECOND COMING and LOST IN THE COSMOS are my other favorites--but none of them hit me quite as hard as LANCELOT. It's certainly his darkest work, but as you point out, it's not without its touch of grace. Many fail to recognize that LANCELOT is really Percival's story, not Lancelot's (a reading which is suggested by the epigraph from Dante).

I've noticed a lot of adoration for LOVE IN THE RUINS here. I was deeply in love with the book for the first two-thirds, but I didn't really like the last third. I have every intention of giving it another try, though.

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Glad to see I'm not the only one. I love almost all of Percy's work--THE SECOND COMING and LOST IN THE COSMOS are my other favorites--but none of them hit me quite as hard as LANCELOT. It's certainly his darkest work, but as you point out, it's not without its touch of grace. Many fail to recognize that LANCELOT is really Percival's story, not Lancelot's (a reading which is suggested by the epigraph from Dante).

I've noticed a lot of adoration for LOVE IN THE RUINS here. I was deeply in love with the book for the first two-thirds, but I didn't really like the last third. I have every intention of giving it another try, though.

Love in the Ruins is probably my third-favorite of Percy's novels, after Lancelot and The Moviegoer. It has been several years since I've read any of his books, but I remember reading LITR and greatly enjoying Percy's humorous (fictionalized, but only to a degree) portraits of some of the goofier aspects of the post-Vatican II Catholic Church in America of that time (hippie priests, wacky theology, etc). However, I can recall almost nothing of the last third of the book, which you mention not liking. I should read the whole thing again soon.

I also really need to give The Last Gentleman another try. In the class that I took, we read all of his novels, and in order, but I was so taken with The Moviegoer that I never gave TLG a fair chance.

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The last third of Ruins didn't leave much impression on me, either--apparently. The best I can recall, it seemed a bit sudden. Still, I'm a fan of the first bit--not so much the post-Vatican II stuff (since I have no experience with Catholic Church culture) as the Southern/political stuff.

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I recently loaned my copy of Lost in the Cosmos to a college student. The first I bought in the self-help section of a bookstore but threw away because I got frustrated by Percy's lack of seriousness. I was haunted a bit by his talk of re-entry so I got another copy, and along the way a friend introduced me to Percy's more conventional fiction.

Lost in the Cosmos is often characterized as a satire, but thinking about the book now and all of its references to Donahue, Carl Sagan, etc, I realize that it has a lot in common with a novel. There's a gossipy dimension to it that's always been a part of the novel genre (the secret character flaws of scientists). I think especially of the multiple points of view which I know Stephen King does so well. The 'thought experiments' are invitations to put oneself into little bits of narrative. I think, then, that Lost in the Cosmos will be remembered for being a work of satirical and experimental fiction. It has too much daily minutiae and pop culture in it to be a typical philosophical or linguistic work. The semiotic primer throws people a bit, but is not unlike the natural history chapters in Moby Dick. If there is one thing that can be said of LiC, it's that it's more like Percy's novels than like his collection of essays, Message in a Bottle. In MiB, Percy tells us that a student can only discover poetry in a science class. In LiC, Percy uses defamiliarization to enable a reader to begin thinking in fiction with the ploy of a humorous self-help book.

"She wished he would notice her concrete, the best-cured concrete in North Carolina". ~Walker Percy, The Second Coming, 222

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