Some Random Thoughts, Largely Unrelated, Based on Previous Discussions and Readings

Karey L. Perkins karey at
Thu Sep 12 10:44:34 EDT 2002


I am interested in the Symposium -- can you tell me how I can find out more
about it?  How long is it?  What are the events?  Contact info?


----- Original Message -----
From: Steve Dye
To: Percy-L: Literary and Philosophical Discussion
Sent: Thursday, September 12, 2002 10:19 AM
Subject: [percy-l] Re: Some Random Thoughts, Largely Unrelated, Based on
Previous Discussions and Readings

FYI - the annual Percy Symposium will be held in Covington, LA on October 5.
I can give out the phone number, address, etc. If anyone needs info, you can
get it from the St. Tammany Parish Library in Covington.
----- Original Message -----
From: "Karey L. Perkins" <karey at>
To: "Percy-L: Literary and Philosophical Discussion"
<percy-l at>
Sent: Monday, July 01, 2002 1:52 PM
Subject: [percy-l] Some Random Thoughts, Largely Unrelated, Based on
Previous Discussions and Readings

> Our listserv seems to have been quiet, philosophically that is, ever since
> our discussion of the Catholic priests -- too controversial?
> At any rate, in an effort to spark some more conversation, I wanted to
> some thoughts.  As I continue on with my reading of Percy (again, his
> philosophy is slower going than the fiction, but I'm making some
> many observations related to previous comments we've made come to mind.
> Here are some of them, not necessarily related to each other, but pick and
> choose as you will:
> **1) Regarding Nikki's question a few weeks ago related to our discussion
> "consciousness", and I don't remember it exactly, but something to the
> effect of, "Why bother with this conversation at all?" or rather, "What is
> the importance of this conversation?" that received only one or two
> I wasn't sure if it was intended as a rhetorical point (i.e.: this
> conversation is unimportant), or if it was intended didactically (i.e.:
> here's something you should be thinking about first before you ramble on
> about this topic), or if it was intended as face-value question (i.e.:
> literally, why is this conversation important?)....but, I'll
> take it as the latter, and offer my observations:
> I think the topic and conversation, that is, Percy's idea of consciousness
> as it relates to language and "who" or "what" man is, as well
> as a materialistic or dualistic or monistic view of man, is extremely
> important.  I think it is at the root of Percy's fiction, and that his
> "Theory of Man" drives all of his fiction.  To decipher what that is is to
> unravel the DNA code of what he was saying, you could say.  Percy seemed
> write from a "plan," mapping out the plot and the book based on what he
> wanted to say philosophically, and sticking to that, unlike other authors
> like Flannery O'Connor, who may have had some kind of plan in the
> but ended up letting the book write itself.
> Percy differentiated man from the animals (as a scientist, he understood
> world - and items in the world - in terms of classification (finding
> similarities) and differentiation) based on his capacity for language --
> symbol-mongering ability is an indication of consciousness, in Percy's
> Symbol mongering ability, a triadic event, is also what creates a "world"
> opposed to "environment" of merely behaviorist physical organisms relating
> in a stimulus-response dyadic mode.  A world has "magic" and "myth."  This
> is mostly from Message in the Bottle, but I found it interesting that
> uses these words, as he was a scientist, but especially as it relates to a
> conversation with a physical-materialistic friend of mine, who believes
> physical world is all there is -- when the body dies, consciousness
ends --
> then, upon further questioning, proceeded to describe "consciousness" as
> some kind of "magic" (same word as Percy) that arose as the physical world
> (and man) evolved.
> Another point: what man is, as would be described in a "Theory of Man" not
> only drives Percy's fiction and all of his interests, but it determines
> purpose and meaning for living, and therefore, all our actions and
> in how we live our lives.
> By the way, I mentioned the article on autism as it provided a scientific
> view of the mind, rather than just philosophical, and how language related
> to that, which relates to Percy's theories.  That notwithstanding, I was
> interested to hear Wade's account of his illness, which seemed to me
> eerily similar to Percy's themes -- esp. in Thanatos Syndrome. Something's
> "wrong with the water"... or more accurately, in today's (postmodern)
> our means of sustenance, our world, is from anonymous sources -- our
> community is one created and provided by strangers, who provide us food
> water, who create and build our homes and businesses, and we share all of
> that with other strangers.  Great stuff for a novel -- but more true than
> Percy realized?
> **2)  If Percy is a "monist" as he seems to be -- did he ever identify
> himself as such?  If not, why not?
> **3)  Percy and gender:  Percy, like most good writers, was a product of
> culture:  a well-to-do, aristocratic Southern white male living in the
> latter half of the twentieth century (or rather, most of it, as he was
> and raised in the early half, just wrote in the latter half) -- but his
> comments/views/themes/ideas rise above his demographics (and especially so
> for Percy as his concern was what it means to be human) to say something
> importance to everyone.  I think specifically here, as an example, of
> Ellison's Invisible Man, which was about a black Southern male, and while
> a white female (not Southern), I could not identify with many of the
> SPECIFICS of his experience, because Ellison's work was true and good, it
> speaks on many levels of many truths about life, society, culture, what it
> means to be human (which is why it is a classic).
> All that is to say is that Percy's portrayal of women changes through the
> years, indicating that he was affected by his times -- and he had the
> attitude and view towards women that indicates his demographics.   In "The
> Moviegoer" his female characters are flatter -- Kate is more
> but Sharon is stereotyped and seen from a preppy Southern white male
> viewpoint (to stereotype about preppy Southern white men, that is).  While
> she is true to type, she is an object.  This is right after the fifties --
> decade where many intelligent women suffered from role restrictions (not
> just professional but cultural and social) and a decade which brought the
> inevitable sexual revolution of the sixties (it WAS a revolt, in fact).
> Remember, many intelligent female writers went crazy and killed themselves
> during this decade as they tried to stifle their intelligence and
> to conform socially.  "The Last Gentleman" doesn't improve much on female
> roles (and I don't really like any of the women in LG, though I liked Kate
> in MG).  Women still are primarily just "objects" of the protagonists'
> emotional and sexual desire.  The same in "Love in the Ruins," where we
> three women who are objects of his desire -- but otherwise, largely
> insignificant and unimportant - remaining on the periphery
> (marginalized?).
> However, ironically, at the end of Percy's books,
> his protagonists find their resolution and "salvation" --
> on earth, that is, and perhaps only temporary -- in the arms and home of a
> "good" woman.  A "good" woman, for Percy, is practical, grounded,
> traditional, and sexually and morally conservative.  In addition, these
> "good" women "call" Percy's heroes on their faults (chastise them)...they
> don't let them get away with anything.  This is something of a motherly
> quality, so I'm wondering if any critics have written anything about a
> madonna (mother)-whore complex or theme in Percy's writing.
> Women are occasionally the carriers of the "fugue state" even more than
> men, if they are not "good" as defined previously.  Kate in MG, and
> in SC.  Perhaps Anna in Lancelot. I think this is when Percy is most
> successful in his portrayal of women.  I think his other "type" of the
> woman that his protagonists end up with is influenced so significantly by
> his culture that it has less universal truth than other things he has to
> say.
> The Second Coming is the only book (that I noticed) in which he writes at
> least part of it from a female point of view.  This is his second to last
> book, and women are becoming more rounded, more realistic, and less
> objectified in Percy's writing, as the society in general in which Percy
> lives and writes becomes more liberated for women.  What surprised
> me is that he wrote her (Allison's) point of view so well.
> I've chosen not to do the dissertation on Percy's female characters -- not
> only because there's already a book out (which I've not yet read) about
> topic that probably says it better, but because I don't think that's the
> most important thing he has to say.
> But I do have a question for the listserv -- how many of us are women?  I
> think female Percy fans are greatly the minority -- he appeals more to
> it has been my experience, despite the fact that he says something to
> everyone.
> **4) Percy's theology:  It seems that Percy writes from a Christian
> existentialist viewpoint.  Most of his books seem to be about
> all of our illusions about ourselves -- our habits, lifestyles, goals,
> we think are meaningful -- and deconstructing our "false" or temporary
> reasons for living or being in the world, which, I take it, is anything
> except God.   While he doesn't mention God or Christ too much (God
> occasionally pops up, like Tom More "eating Christ" in LR, and Will
> searching for a sign of God in SC), the books are focusing on that place
> right before we find God -- before the leap -- when we realize what we ARE
> living for doesn't really work, isn't really what it's all about.
> That's all well and good.  I agree with him whole-heartedly.  But where
> struggling is that, after presenting to us this nice Christian
> existentialist viewpoint, Percy has each of his characters end up with
> some "good woman" in an idyllic type Garden of Eden -- whether a cabin in
> Virginia (Lancelot) or a greenhouse community/business in NC (SC).  His
> endings are more individual/couple in his first books (our hero with his
> woman secluded from the world), and end in a more communal Garden of
> Eden/"utopia" in later works (our hero and his woman creating the
> that helps others).  The only exception to this pattern is the Last
> Gentleman.
> Is this a contradiction in Percy's message?  I'm not arguing that his
> protagonists should all end up as a prophet/hermit in the desert, alone
> God, a voice crying out in the wilderness, having flung off the trappings
> the world, but it seems that Percy could be saying the purpose in life,
> road to bliss and sanity, is in settling down with a good woman in a
> leafy enclave and living a moral life.  Where's God?
> **5) Percy's reading and the Internet:  For an Internet project listing
> books Percy has read, I would suggest beginning by flipping through each
> page of Message in the Bottle, and his other non-fiction too, but
> especially MB.   He lists dozens of people he's read -- by no means
> a complete listing but a good place to start.
> **6) Books:  I can find "Thief of Pierce" on the Internet, but can't find
> Ken Ketner's "His Glassy Essence" which was recommended earlier.
> Any ideas on how to get a hold of a copy?
> Just some thoughts.
> Karey
> Karey L. Perkins
> Professor of General Education
> DeVry University
> 2555 Northwinds Parkway
> Alpharetta, GA  30004
> 770-521-4900  Ext. 3527
> --
> An archive of all list discussion is available at
> Visit the Walker Percy Project at <>.

An archive of all list discussion is available at
Visit the Walker Percy Project at <>.
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