[percy-l] moviegoer

Robert_Pauley at oxy.com Robert_Pauley at oxy.com
Tue May 16 21:08:39 EDT 2006

Thanks, David. I can see why you're the professor and I am not.
Unexpectedly you led me to think that maybe I've always felt proprietary
about Percy, seen him more as a personal, satisfying "find" than a
larger artist along the lines of a Dostoevsky. Well, I guess I always
recognized the latter possibility, just avoided thinking about it. I was
enjoying myself so much, I didn't want to start interpreting him as an

Yes -- we have "more ways (than ever) to disguise what we are doing and
call it a search."  And that seems to be the game everybody is playing
these days, or the conceit they are indulging. Percy had this pegged way
back when. I live in LA, where the pursuit of the "transformative"
cause, belief, experience is common, feverish and yet, despite all its
energy, seemingly lacking the important authenticity and humility of
Binx's simple search. The searches are in fact inverted. Perhaps they
could even be called search and anti-search.  

By merely serving as evidence of this contrast, the book could be
valuable to young people today.  

And thanks, Rhonda. I read the essay by Ketner. It was good. I may have
been rash in dismissing all critiques. It was a way of better
understanding the etiology of the "shock of recognition". That's good.
But one feels it or one doesn't. Or can one feel it more fully by
understanding it better? Perhaps. This is all new to me. I have never
approached Percy from a scientific or scholarly angle. I am not a
scholar. And Percy did not lead me to reexamine my life. Rather he
reassured me I wasn't crazy. Or if I was, that I had good company. It
was literature as kinship. Beyond that, he was a splendid writer with a
gift for spotting and speaking the odd and unspoken paradoxes of human

I enjoyed Ketner's thoughts on "vigorous truthful dialogue." I once took
the reliable possibility of such dialogue for granted. But I do not
anymore. This may be the greatest difference from Percy's time to our
own. I believe we are less likely than ever to find places and
opportunities for "VTD." 

Rgards, R.

-----Original Message-----
From: percy-l-bounces at lists.ibiblio.org
[mailto:percy-l-bounces at lists.ibiblio.org] On Behalf Of Beck, David A
Sent: Monday, May 15, 2006 7:59 PM
To: Percy-L: Literary and Philosophical Discussion
Subject: [percy-l] moviegoer

I hope that the "existential salience of Binx's predicament" comes 
across to my students. If not, the whole thing is a wash. But, at the 
same time, Dostoevsky's underground man shares some of the same signs 
of alienation (I don't consider Dostoevsky outdated). On the other 
hand, you bring up a great point: America is a different world from the 
world of TMG. That's why I think students appreciate Dostoevsky (and 
most of mine like C&P) or any "period piece" better than something that 
is somewhat contemporary.
One of my favorite passages in TMG is when Binx has a conversation with 

        "Oh Lord. What's wrong with the goddamn world, Binx?"
        "I am not sure. But something occurred to me this morning. I 
was sitting on the bus--"
        "What do you do with yourself out there in Gentilly?" (39)

To me this passage sums it up: either you get it (the search) or you 
don't. Walter doesn't get it. Many people make statements, platitudes, 
ask questions, but never really want to "search" for an answer. It's 
easy to spit out a question, but quite another to look deeply into our 
own existence, our place in this world. That aspect of the novel is 
probably more real today than it was when Percy wrote the book. We have 
more ways to hide from the search. Or perhaps we have more ways to 
disguise what we are doing and call it a search
(does that make sense?).
  We have more tv channels to distract us, more obligations (taking 
kids here and there--when did sports begin at age five?), more 
technology (he says as he writes this email), etc. For me, the 
challenge is to show students that something "ain't right" with our 
day-to-day existence (or at least it's not right for most of us). So, 
to show students that there is more to life than what is on the 
surface, to encourage them to dig deeper and see the mystery that lies 
beneath our day-to-day existence (to notice the dung
beetle)--that is what I hope this novel can do to them (as it did for 
me). And, of course, I hope to inspire myself to continue the search. 
Like Binx after reflecting on dung beetle, I get home and "forget all 
about it."
  Whew! Sorry for the long email. But the more we correspond, the more 
I see the importance of this book (and am glad that I decided to try it 
again). It is a novel that, according to some of us, changed lives 
(that's why it beat out Catch 22 for the National Book Award--of 
course, there probably is a Heller listserve....)
Thanks for all of the feedback.

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