[percy-l] animals, order, symbol, self-consciousness, and The Fall of Man

Karey L. Perkins karey at charter.net
Thu Dec 12 21:27:27 EST 2002


I've read your treatise, and thank you for the ideas, yet I still very much
disagree -- i.e.: you and Percy both begin from separate unproven
assumptions -- yours that man is a [higher order] animal, Percy that man is
different.  However, Percy makes the stronger argument by showing how
language is qualitatively different from the animals.  And you say this
difference with the animals is merely a quantitative difference, but not
qualititative....but I don't think it's convincingly proven any more than
you say Percy's is...actually I find Percy is more convincing.  I'll have to
go back through and read again for a point by point discussion of that;
however it's late at the moment and I'm tired, but to discuss a couple of
other points...

The "need for order" explanation is accurate and on target, but too
simplistic and can't stand on it's own to explain man's difference from the
animals -- i.e.: yes we have a need for order (clearly discussed in the
other paper I referred you to -- the "Death of Reality"), but it's not only
that -- otherwise we'd just be high level computers.  We need REASONS and
purpose.   Do you ever wonder why you're here?  Or the purpose of an event
or how it affected you and those around you and the world?  I believe this
wondering who we are, why we are, is intimately and indissolubly tied up
with the need for order out of chaos.  Making this order out of chaos is
more than just putting things into their appropriate categories, or knowing
what sensory experience will occur to us next -- it's anticipating what
sensory experience will occur to us on the basis of a world view, paradigm,
pattern that we've worked that gives the world overall meaning and purpose.

I've heard in psychoanalysis that we need a "story" for the events that
happen to us.  In other words, when we meet someone, fall in love, get
married,  psychologically we need a "story" for why and how that happened or
it feels incomplete and unresolved.  This is also true for less fortuitous
occurrences as well, such as death of a loved one or divorce -- we
emotionally and spiritually resolve that experience when we place it in a
story context that we have developed that chooses to focus on certain of the
sense experiences part of that that contributed to a meaning and purpose for
that happening.  In other words, there's order out of chaos, yes, but an
integral part of that order is the finding out of "WHY" it happened -- the
attibution of meaning and purpose to that happening (in fact, that's why we
create the order in the first place).

This idea of man's need for knowledge differentiating him from the animals
is also the Genesis story the fall of man -- this view of man is explained
in Genesis.   The animals are still in the "Garden of Eden;" man however was
expelled.  Man ate of the Tree of KNOWLEDGE of Good and Evil.  i.e.: He now
not only acts in the world, experiences the world, and categorizes (sets
order -- mentally and physically) to the world, but he wonders and thinks
about these actions -- are they good?  are they evil?  He stands over and
above his existence and examines it as well as himself...  Percy talks about
this much, and man's "self-consciousness" of himself -- standing over and
above himself and watching himself.  This self-consciousness is part of The

Percy really does a terrific job of this in Lost in the Cosmos, I think,
with the C1, C2, and C3 language analogy, as well as with the people in the
desert examining the Indian ceremony, and most of the rest of the book.  And
he deals with it some also in Signposts and Message as well his other

I think you could make an argument that some humans live their animals side
more than their human side -- Flannery O'Connor does that in Wise Blood with
the gorilla.  That's her point entirely.   Then you could have something
like a quantitative scale, but animals can only get so high up (never make
it to symbol) something like Joseph's post about animal "play" being a
precursor to symbolic language -- humans however can sink pretty low, and
many writers have said (and I think) that contemporary postmodern society
encourages man to live out the animal side rather than the spiritual side
(again, the loss of religion, etc.)  (I think you got my thesis
misinterpreted when you said I meant to say the 20th century is more
spiritual -- I think the opposite.)

 It's a difficult and dense subject I think, and is almost like the
free-will/determinism debate -- that is, the same evidence proves both sides
so it remains unresolved to this day.   But, in the end, does Percy fail or
does he succeed in his argument?   I think Percy does as good a job as any,
using language.

I would love to hear more thoughts on this!


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