[percy-l] moviegoer

RHONDA MCDONNELL rhonda_mcdonnell at msn.com
Wed May 17 22:12:34 EDT 2006


I imagine Percy would be far more pleased by your identification with and 
understanding of his work than with loads of "scholars" papers. I think what 
he was after was the personal shock of recognition that you describe. I'm 
reminded of his essay "The Man on the Train" -- he writes that the man on 
the train who feels alienated but is reading a novel about an alienated man 
is rescued from that alienation. In other words, that shock of recognition 
creates a sort of community. Suddenly, instead of feeling as though he is 
spinning, adrift in the distractions of everyday life, he is onto something. 
And that makes all the difference. It seems to me that that is the 
experience you describe. and for that man on the train, or you, or me, it is 
by its nature an intensely personal experience. For me, the scholarship came 
much later. I first read Percy (MG) in my first grad school class, but I 
waited until my dissertation to tackle him. And even then, I was swimming 
out of my depth most of the time. How do you communicate that ineffable 

. . . what people really fear is not that the bomb will fall but that the 
bomb will not fall . . .
                               --Walker Percy

>From: <Robert_Pauley at oxy.com>
>Reply-To: "Percy-L: Literary and Philosophical Discussion" 
><percy-l at lists.ibiblio.org>
>To: <percy-l at lists.ibiblio.org>
>Subject: Re: [percy-l] moviegoer
>Date: Tue, 16 May 2006 18:08:39 -0700
>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.
>An archive of all list discussion is available at
>Visit the Walker Percy Project at http://www.ibiblio.org/wpercy
>An archive of all list discussion is available at 
>Visit the Walker Percy Project at http://www.ibiblio.org/wpercy

Express yourself instantly with MSN Messenger! Download today - it's FREE! 

More information about the Percy-L mailing list