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

Jim Forest jhforest at gmail.com
Sun Dec 11 13:26:44 EST 2011

Janet, following up on your fascinating collection of notes, I decided to
see if I could find your review of The Moviegoer on the book's Amazon page.
Are you the reviewer you  identifies yourself as "Honey"?

Jim Forest

* * *

A masterpiece, September 25, 2010

By honey "honey" (philadelphia, pa) - See all my reviews

SPOILER ALERT. Do not read this review until after you have finished the
book and considered it for yourself.

If fifteen people read and reviewed The Moviegoer, they could create
fifteen different descriptions of it. If one person read it a year later,
he could write a completely different review of it from the one he wrote
the year before. It all depends on what is emphasized, the southernness,
New Orleans, the story of ancestries, the blacks and whites or the
relationship of the story to Kierkegard. There are so many aspects of the
novel to consider.

This is a funny book, an endearing book. The writing is gasp inducing

This is a book of its time, post Becket, the existentialists, and the
absurdists. It follows a half century of the realization of the great scale
of the horror man is capable of perpetrating on his fellow men. Salinger
has been writing about teenage angst. Yet, while it is so relevant to the
late nineteen fifties, Binx's story finds resonance to this day.

It is funny to read how Binx plots to make his secretary fall in love with
him. The descriptions of movies and their use to him and how he makes a
movie house more real are wonderful. Look on page 216 for a line that gives
the reader pause on the subject of the title.

Binx's elaborate descriptions of the components of his search make up a
good portion of the story. Yet every time he is with Aunt Emily, he either
can't talk about it or it seems to be smaller in importance. And in the
face of Aunt Emily's big rant at him in part five, he understands that he
is finished with his search.

His search, he tells us, is to forestall the everydayness; in his head he
criticizes other people who are satisfied with ordinary lives. All the
while he is thinking and working out the details of his search, he is
carrying out normal activity and conversation, and no one having discourse
with him, knows about his interior life. The only one who knows it all is
his fellow mentally discomfited, Kate. In the end, he will accept
everydayness as he takes care of Kate.

It is a great theme in a lot of literature, the concept of coming home.
Ulysses, The Wizard of Oz, Pippin, the musical, where he realizes he is not
extraordinary and will settle as man, woman, child in an every day
existence, and Candide, who after his upsetting adventures will join with
his love and just make his garden grow. And so it is here. The epilogue may
be one of the most gorgeous things I have ever read. Tender, quiet,
accepting; Kate and Binx will make it, I believe.

The book is described as an existential novel. What kind of existential
protagonist loves his job, loves making money, and goes to great lengths to
protect his clients' accounts? What kind of existential character loves
others, his half brother, Lonnie and Aunt Emily? He even has a kind of love
for minor characters like Mr. Kinsella and the ladies in ticket booths. And
Kate and Binx have a kind of love for each other.

This book doesn't seem to be an existential novel as much as a rebuke to
the existentialists. Walker Percy seems to be saying to them, "Come off it.
Get with the program. It's enough already." Aunt Emily as she scolds Binx
in Part Five represents this.

To discuss this book and leave out Aunt Emily is to forget someone central
to it all. For this reader she is most important of all for Binx. It is his
love of her, he even enjoys it when she scolds him, that keeps him from
going off the deep end. And her brilliantly written big rebuke at the end
is what saves him from himself. One is reminded of the biblical verse that
says now I am become a man and must put away childish things.

One is reminded of another biblical verse when the book is over. And now
abideth faith, hope and charity (love) but the greatest of these is

Lonnie's Faith is pure and perfect. The scenes between Lonnie and Binx are
utterly exquisite. Binx couldn't care less about religion, yet his love of
Lonnie makes him happy and interested as Lonnie describes his faith to him.
And when Lonnie tells Binx he is taking his communion for Binx, that is a
spectacular moment.

Hope? Is there hope for Binx? I think so and I think Walker Percy thinks
so, too.

And, as has already been noted, love runs throughout the novel.

I don't think this is an existential novel. I think it is a Christian
Morality Tale.

* * *

On Sat, Dec 10, 2011 at 7:25 PM, janet cantor <janetcantor37 at yahoo.com>wrote:

> 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 Catholicism.
> 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?"
> --
> An archive of all list discussion is available at
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> sign when addressing email)

*Jim & Nancy Forest*
Kanisstraat 5 / 1811 GJ Alkmaar / The Netherlands

photos of my recent travels in Poland:

Reflections on a visit to Auschwitz:

Three recent books:

*All is Grace*
my revised and expanded biography of Dorothy Day:

*Saint George & the Dragon*
a children's book:

*For the Peace From Above*
a resource book on war, peace and nationalism:

Jim & Nancy web site: www.jimandnancyforest.com
Jim's books: http://www.jimandnancyforest.com/books/
Photo collections: www.flickr.com/photos/jimforest/collections/
In Communion site: www.incommunion.org
Forest-Flier Editorial Services: www.forestflier.com
On Pilgrimage blog: http://jimandnancyonpilgrimage.blogspot.com/
A Tale of Two Kidneys blog: http://ataleof2kidneys.blogspot.com/

* * *
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