[percy-l] part one - Loyola symposium for the 50th anniversary of publication of The Moviegoer

janet cantor janetcantor37 at yahoo.com
Sat Dec 10 10:01:08 EST 2011

I am going to do this in two parts because I have a lot to tell you.
I will paraphrase my favorite insights and comments from speakers. There will be no attribution because when I edited my tapes down I did not make a record of  which scholar said what. I have the list of the speakers if anyone wants them.

"If you've read the novel as many times as I have and you still find yourself waiting eagerly for the next phrase or sentence, you have a classic..."
That is how my tape opens and I just love that.

The next section I hope I am getting right. 
Satire attacks one thing in order to affirm another.It ridicules the inhuman in order to affirm the human. It is always launched in the mode of hope. Percy's satire did not spare his own Christian world view. He situates an alienated protagonist within a ubiquitous  complacent Protestant culture. Percy's six novels satirize materialistic and political coalitions in the reactionary South. 
Just as Kierkegard wrote in two forms, the religious works published under his real name and the philosophical works published under pseudonyms, Percy wrote in both of these modes in his novels. He used the philosophical, aesthetic mode subversively through irony and deception. In the Moviegoer the majority of the novel functions in the aesthetic manner and the epilogue moves into the religious and edifying. Read the paragraph on page 237 that begins As for my search...

>From another speaker...
Percy believed that the old South of his Uncle Will was informed by stoicism. The New South which Percy mocks has a nominal Christianity which took satisfaction in the dissolution of its values. The coherence of the stoic values found in the former South has been exchanged for the new South  of thriving businesses and Churches.
Percy maps with deadly satire the broader landscapes of fractured community in America and its metaphysical incoherence through comments about the golf community in the Second Coming and much of The Last Gentleman. As the South pursued material prosperity, the region began to compromise its distinctiveness.
A cranky novelist reflects on the Church and sees a devaluation of language and cheapening of the very vocabulary of salvation which dumbs down Southern Christianity.

The lecturer who compared the Rabbit books of John Updike to Binx's story talked about Grace in both author's works. At the end of the Mpviegoer there is a scene where Binx sees a black man exiting a church on Ash Wednesday and he wonders if the man thinks he has come up in the world or does he feel G-d's presence there or maybe it's both...Page 235. "Or is he here for both reasons: through some dim dazzling trick of grace, coming here for the one and receiving the other as G-d's own importunate bonus?" By ending the novel this way, Percy sets up the epilogue perfectly where the influence of Lonnie will set Binx on his journey toward his salvation.

The author's biographer, Jay Tolson gave the Keynote speech. He was funny and moving. He spoke of reading the novel on Kindle this time and he was trying to decide if it was a repetition or a rotation.
He told us Percy's father's suicide did not affect him in the way you'd expect it to. He didn't feel responsible or guilty. He felt angry and was determined to make sure it didn't happen to him. Percy asserted that converting to Catholicism saved his life. He also had the good fortune of getting married and having a wonderful family late in his life to compensate for the complicated family he had early in his life.

Another speaker said of Kate that we don't think of her as a spiritual quester, yet late in the novel when Kate sees the very ill Lonnie, she says, "He's dying Binx. It breaks my heart." For the first time she becomes less self absorbed; she is thinking of someone else. One evidence that Binx is changing is that whereas before Binx always called his siblings the Smiths, in the Epilogue he calls them his brothers and sisters for the first time.

One speaker got a laugh when he said, "As someone who teaches the Moviegoer to colleges students whose favorite TV channel is not Turner Classic Movies..." and then he went on to tell of the difficulties of trying to tell what is evoked by inserting real people  like William Holden, John Wayne and Gregory Peck into the novel. If they don't know who these people are and haven't seen their movies, how does the modern reader understand their iconic presence?

There was a spectacular essay given on the dung beetle. I will try to do it justice in just a few sentences here.
As Binx tells us, he was lying injured, expecting to die, and he sees a dung beetle scratching under leaves. He decides if he ever gets out of this he will begin a search. The idea of a search is the opposite of despair, we learn from the Kierkegard quote and from the sense Binx gives us throughout the novel.
This dung beetle becomes a major symbol in the novel. 
A dung beetle gets his nourishment by eating excrement which he finds by smelling. He eats death for his sustenance. After this presentation a commenter said the dung beetle is a symbol of resurrection because that was an emergence out of the dung.
 Binx is proud of his MG which he bought to avoid the malaise, but when he is riding home with Sharon, his secretary, Binx describes his MG as a symbol of despair because the everydayness of lots of people riding home, tired and bored, makes it that. He calls his car his beetle, a reference to the dung beetle?
On page 206 there is  a strange passage - "There I see her plain, see plain for the first time since I lay wounded in a ditch and watched an Oriental finch scratching around in the leaves..." He is seeing Kate in a new light.
But it wasn't a finch that he saw scratching around in the leaves; it was a dung beetle. Why did Walker do this? The speaker said between a beetle and a bird is a butterfly and perhaps Walker confused the images intentionally. A bird eats insects to live and fly. The reference to the beetle is there again but changed as Binx is changed and Kate is changing in his eyes.
And in a key sentence in the novel, the longest run on sentence of the novel on page 228, Binx says, "Now in the thirty-first year of my dark pilgrimage..." and he combines dung, dung beetles, smelling, malaise and settles the novel into the post modern age, and we come full circle.
I don't know about you who are reading this now, but all of this escaped me and I think it's brilliant.

I will stop here and give you  part two a bit later.
Janet Cantor

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