[percy-l] Part two of 50th anniversary of The Moviegoer - notes from the Symposium

janet cantor janetcantor37 at yahoo.com
Sat Dec 10 13:25:30 EST 2011

Professor Eddie Dupuy got off a great one liner: Celebrity can only arise in a secular society. Hmmm.

More notes on the dung beetle - the symbol comes from the last scene of All Quiet on the Western Front, a movie mentioned in the book.  After his dense presentation, this speaker said that doing this study of the symbolism of the dung beetle in The Moviegoer put him onto the search and kept him from despair for a while.

In pre modern societies the ends of life were given to you by your 
family or community. If your father was a farmer, or a blacksmith, or owned a store, you 
probably would follow in his footsteps. In modern cultures that is not 
as assured. Now you choose your trade, your lifestyle. as the culture 
shifts. The Moviegoer came out in 1961 just about the time our culture was going to undergo lots of radical shifts for good or ill. 

The next two sessions were all about movies. One was so perfect I couldn't take notes. The presenter promised to make a movie out of the whole thing. I hope he keeps his promise. He took the movies named or alluded to in the book and showed which ones Walker meant or may have meant.

Then someone spoke about the way movies were named in the novel. He described a kind of contrapuntal listing of opposites. So if Stagecoach is named,  starring a true blue American hero, John Wayne, of the evil/good black/white easy morality variety, then The Third Man is mentioned, an ambiguous movie with a non hero and darker perspective . The scene  where hero John Wayne shoots a baddie is juxtaposed with an image of a cat slinking around the ankles of Orson Welles in a dark doorway.

If It Happened One Night is named, a screwball comedy, it is followed by a mention of The Oxbow incident, a new kind of western, again dark and sinister.
A simple Fort Dobbs is followed by Dark Waters.
Tarzan is followed by All Quiet on the Western Front.
( We also got some details of these movies that had some similarities to the novel)

With The Oxbow Incident we confront a story where war is more dangerous than the economy. The depression now takes a back seat to World War II. Novels of flight were also popular at this time. On the road kinds of things also influenced the novel.

Before the 1940's we lived in an almost innocent age and our movies reflected that. We had the First World War and the depression, but so far knowledge of communism's horrors was limited. After the Second World War we learned of the capabilities of man's inhumanity to man from the Nazis and their allies and then from Communism's scale of murders by the millions. So now theater had absurdists, because frothy plays or romances wouldn't do after we lost our innocence, and the existentialists came into vogue.
Percy traces this change and recognizes it in the way he places these movies suggesting knowledge of our loss of innocence this way in the book.
So hope vs. cynicism, comedy vs. satire, light vs. dark are placed side by side intentionally as I listed in examples above.

All this came before European cinema's arrival here. The text of The Moviegoer, its style of being in the moment in the story without a neat beginning middle and end matched the stylistics of European movies with  their sensualism and meandering plots.  Percy was aware of this and used it all as subtext, not overtly. 

Before the 1950's 80 to 100 million Americans went to the movies weekly. Reality was in the movies for many American families. Then came television and that changed; people stayed home.
Then foreign movies came to the states, French New Wave, Kurasawa, the moderns. It became fashionable to go to out to the movies again. 

For all of his snarkiness, "it has been said" and mocking asides like that, Binx is actually sympathetic. And in the Epilogue the book proves hopeful.

In the novel Binx is turning 30, the age when Jesus began his ministry. 
The novel ends on St. Charles, a fitting place. It is at the church on 
St. Charles on Loyola's campus where Percy decided to convert to 

I asked what it was that the National Book Award Committee saw in this book that got them to choose it. The answer was that it was 1961 and people were tired of war stories like Catch 22, and the teenage stuff like Franny and Zooey was interesting, but The Moviegoer broke new ground.
If the 50's writers were modernists, then Percy was a post modernist someone suggested. This would mean that he was against the moderns. I liked that because in my Amazon review I said Percy was really an anti existentialist in some ways. 
The National Book Committee recognized that in The Moviegoer, here was something new, a new way of perceiving things.

My tape ends with a presentation by Charles  J. Lowry who also contributes to the Percy Lists on occasion. This was so perfect an essay that I didn't edit one second of it. He spoke of how The Moviegoer influenced him and how it can help us all lead a better life.  (Charles, if you are reading this and want a copy of this tape, let me know.) I could listen to Lowry's essay over and over and I'm sure I will. It was musical, clear and so moving, it almost brings me to tears, especially the part about how Binx teaches us how to love.

I have not gone into the philosophy speakers or the religious ones. I missed most of those sessions anyway because of the ones I chose. And those I attended were a bit over my head.

Conclusion: A self serving comment. I wrote a review of the novel after having read it three times in a row. I said I could come back a year or two later and write a completely different review depending on what I chose to emphasize. Well, I guess I was right about that. But I am not ashamed of my little review. As I said before, it was as if the entire weekend was scripted for me. I kept getting my opinions validated by the analysis of each speaker.
The main sense I got is that the body of the book is the search, where Binx is in limbo, the modern man with his emptiness trying to find meaning. And then Aunt Emily grounds him in reality and tells him to take responsibility. And Lonnie touches Binx and influences him on his road to salvation. Binx must learn to stop being so self centered and care for someone else; that is his earthly life's journey. And he must begin his road to his eternal life.

Some book, huh? Oh, yes, and the first question Percy asked anyone who talked to him about the book is, "Did you laugh?"

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