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Walker Percy (1916-1990)

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#41 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 07 January 2010 - 06:51 PM

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p4DEswJYrsg

Link to the thread on 'Walker Percy and The Boss'.

#42 Ryan H.

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Posted 09 January 2010 - 12:33 AM

[url="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p4DEswJYrsg"]http://www.youtube.c...h?v=p4DEswJYrsg[/url]

Link to the thread on 'Walker Percy and The Boss'.

I'll definitely be giving that a look. I'm a huge fan. I was hooked on Percy as soon as I read LANCELOT (which is still my favorite of his novels).

#43 NBooth

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Posted 04 February 2010 - 02:23 PM

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.

#44 Christopher Lake

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Posted 04 February 2010 - 05:39 PM

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! Posted Image 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, 04 February 2010 - 05:46 PM.


#45 Ryan H.

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Posted 05 February 2010 - 12:09 AM

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.

#46 Christopher Lake

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Posted 06 February 2010 - 02:41 AM

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.

#47 NBooth

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Posted 06 February 2010 - 09:34 AM

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.

#48 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 15 February 2010 - 01:07 PM

Via Rod Dreher:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=seyC-l47MWI

#49 Fred K

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Posted 28 February 2010 - 08:59 PM

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

#50 NBooth

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Posted 21 March 2010 - 02:13 PM

From the C-Span vaults:

The San Andreas Fault in the Modern Mind

[via Andrew Sullivan. I would embed, but that's not an option for this video.]

Edited by NBooth, 21 March 2010 - 02:14 PM.


#51 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 08 April 2010 - 09:40 PM

Rod Dreher links to the movie's website and tells us: "By the way, I heard the other day from Win Riley, the New Orleans documentarian who's working on a film about Percy. I've learned that he's short of funds to finish the movie. If you're a Percy admirer and can help, by all means follow the link in this item and contact Win."

#52 NBooth

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Posted 24 August 2011 - 07:42 AM

Living Out the Day: The Moviegoer turns Fifty

Unnoticed in the shadow of Catch-22′s wings, another book is marking its golden anniversary this year, one that also felt and still feels terribly important to me. I don’t remember how I learned that Catch-22 — along with another favorite book of mine, Richard Yates’ Revolutionary Road — had lost its bid for the 1962 National Book Award to a slim volume by a man with the strange name of Walker Percy. Literary awards obviously don’t constitute the last word on merit, but I was curious to read the book judged superior to touchstones of my young reading life. I didn’t get around to The Moviegoer for two years after finishing Catch-22, but when I did, I knew that insofar as book awards have a power of ratification, the National Book Award committee had done its job in 1962. Still, when it comes to great literature, laurels like the NBA are paltry acknowledgments of a book’s real power; I found this to be especially true of Percy’s book. Catch-22 had been important to me as a student of literature, and Revolutionary Road had been important to my early development as a writer. But The Moviegoer was important to me as a human being. Like few other books I’ve ever read, it changed me.



#53 Ryan H.

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Posted 24 August 2011 - 07:46 AM

I suppose I need to re-read THE MOVIEGOER. By the time I got to it, I'd already read through quite a few other Percy works, and it didn't rock my world. But given that it is, according to conventional wisdom, far and away Percy's best novel, I'm probably missing something.

#54 NBooth

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Posted 01 November 2011 - 10:24 PM

FWIW, The Second Coming is currently $2.99 on Amazon Kindle (in the US, anyway).

#55 NBooth

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Posted 29 February 2012 - 08:01 PM

The Millions has a write-up of The Moviegoer for its series Post-40 Bloomers:

The Moviegoer narrates a few days in the life of Binx Bolling, a disaffected young New Orleans man on the eve of his 30th birthday and on the brink of growing up. Describing it in a few words is an empty exercise — this is a novel of nuance and inference, about unarticulated feelings, the fear of malaise, and the life force that simply will not be denied. Percy was thinking hard about Kierkegaard, especially his postulation in Either/Or that “Boredom is the root of all evil… The gods were bored; therefore they created human beings.” His exploration of the fault lines between alienation and engagement in The Moviegoer is both strange and exhilarating, with moments of stunning beauty. Percy sets his readers up to refute the assumptions he’s handed them: Bolling is a self-identified outsider yet he’s very much in the world, and while he goes to the movies to escape, at the same time they bring him to life. There is a moment at a drive-in when Binx is watching a Western — sitting on the warm hood of a car in the company of a new girlfriend and his beloved, disabled half-brother Lonnie — that made me feel as alive as any words on a page ever have[....]



#56 M. Leary

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Posted 01 March 2012 - 09:37 AM

FWIW, The Second Coming is currently $2.99 on Amazon Kindle (in the US, anyway).


Nuts! Missed this post. Thanks for the heads up though.

#57 Darryl A. Armstrong

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Posted 07 November 2012 - 06:02 PM

A fascinating read on the story behind how Percy's The Moviegoer won the National Book Award in 1962 from Slate:

Of all the principals [Percy] behaved with the greatest aplomb. After accepting the award he returned home to Covington, La., across Lake Pontchartrain from New Orleans, and resumed work on his next novel, The Last Gentleman. In a letter of thanks to Stafford he acquitted Knopf of any neglect and, marveling at the fortuitousness of his situation, reflected on how unlikely the ultimate source of his gratitude was. “If I understand it correctly,” Percy wrote, “had it not been for Mr. Liebling (and his recent interest in Louisiana) The Moviegoer might never, would never have been considered. To think then, that if it hadn’t been for old Earl, etc. For the first time, I feel kindly toward the Longs.”



#58 Nick Olson

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Posted 07 March 2013 - 11:13 AM

Alan Jacobs has a must-read post up at Books and Culture:

"Percy and Sagan in the Cosmos"

One fun bit among many:

We are not encouraged to think about how the structures of mediation work because that would cause us to question them and our relation to them. That is, we might start reflecting on the semiotic construction of the self, and begin to see the formation of our selves as problematic, none of which is good for business. American media culture, Percy believed, involves a lunatic oscillation between absolute indulgence of the self (Donahue) and absolute evasion of it (Sagan). Looked at in one way—in any number of ways—Phil Donahue and Carl Sagan have very little in common; looked at in Percy's way, they serve an almost identical function as guides who gently distract us from attention to how we're being formed and how we might be formed differently. Percy's task, therefore, is to bring the self with all its contradictions into proper focus, to subject it to the harsh light of truth.

But he knows that we do not wish to experience this, so he follows Kierkegaard's model of ironic and comical "indirect communication." Percy is to us what Virgil was to Dante, but cannot fulfill that role straightforwardly because of our hostility to anyone who claims moral authority. But maybe a sardonic, foul-mouthed, bourbon-drinking Catholic Virgil is the one we both need and deserve.


And a wonderful conclusion:

Lost in the Cosmos is the most peculiar book of Percy's career, and in my judgment his finest achievement. I read it when it first appeared, and if you had asked me at the time whether I expected the book to be relevant in 30 years, I probably would have said no. It seemed so topical, so of its moment; and how long could that moment last? But re-reading it in preparation for this essay I saw how little it matters that many people today will know nothing or nearly nothing about Phil Donahue or Carl Sagan. Their immediate heirs are with us every day when we turn on the TV. And Walker Percy's social vision remains as acute and discomfiting today as it was in 1983. That says a great deal for him as a writer and cultural critic; but it also, I believe, teaches us that our culture is, in its bones, changing less quickly than we have accustomed ourselves to believe. It's the same old Cosmos, declaring the same old Glory, and we're just as prone to getting lost in it as we ever were.



#59 Josh Hamm

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Posted 08 March 2014 - 01:56 PM

This may be suited to a different thread, but it's rooted in Walker Percy, so hopefully it's alright if I post it here. There's an interesting reflection in The Atlantic about how the author self identified too much Binx Bolling from The Moviegoer.

 

But what stuck out to me were these two paragraphs:

 

 


Re-reading is essentially a childish act. Kids are serial re-readers. Kids want to return again and again to the world they find in a particular book, to try it on for size, to imagine themselves there, to take a few laps around their alternative world before returning home. Part of the fun is knowing you can make the trip anytime, as many times as you want, and always come back safe.

 

One of the clichés of literature is that one really can’t read the same book twice. The idea is that with each re-reading, the reader brings new experiences, new insights, new emotional depth to the book, thus transforming it. But this credits readers with too much power and books with too little. Certain books have a way of stripping us of the emotional and intellectual armature that is commonly called maturity. One of my friends, for example, once told me that she never has been able to read Winnie the Pooh to her kids without crying. 

 

 

 

I agree that re-reading is a childish act, but I view that as one of its best features, whereas the author seems paint it with broad, disapproving strokes. There's a hint of admonition. I can't help but be reminded of Chesterton here, in one of my favourite passages from Orthodoxy:

 

Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, "Do it again"; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, "Do it again" to the sun; and every evening, "Do it again" to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.

 



#60 Darryl A. Armstrong

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Posted 10 March 2014 - 04:07 PM

 

This may be suited to a different thread, but it's rooted in Walker Percy, so hopefully it's alright if I post it here. There's an interesting reflection in The Atlantic about how the author self identified too much Binx Bolling from The Moviegoer.

 

Besides the author's criticism of the act of re-reading, this bit struck me. After over a decade of re-reading, "Now, I’m not quite as attracted to Binx’s wit, to his charm, to his antic detachment. Now when I read The Moviegoer, I mostly notice the psychic danger just beneath the surface."

 

Methinks it's a good thing he has re-read the book so much, that he now perceives this.







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