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

kathena1 kathena1 at aol.com
Sat Dec 10 10:40:13 EST 2011

Hi Janet - 


Thanks so much for this great rendition of what happened - as well as your
earlier description of the conference!  Question:  Do you have any info on
the speaker's names and titles of the essays, or if they are presented or
published elsewhere?  Just curious.





Karey L. Perkins, M.A.T., Ph.D.

Writer and editor, Andrew Young School of Policy Studies

Master's candidate, Department of Philosophy

Georgia State University, Atlanta, GA 30303




From: percy-l-bounces at lists.ibiblio.org
[mailto:percy-l-bounces at lists.ibiblio.org] On Behalf Of janet cantor
Sent: Saturday, December 10, 2011 10:01 AM
To: percy-l at lists.ibiblio.org
Subject: [percy-l] part one - Loyola symposium for the 50th anniversary of
publication of The Moviegoer


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
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
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

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
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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