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

Jim Forest jhforest at gmail.com
Mon Dec 12 04:26:50 EST 2011

The tip-off was your comments on existentialism in both the conference
report and your Amazon posting.


On Mon, Dec 12, 2011 at 6:39 AM, janet cantor <janetcantor37 at yahoo.com>wrote:

> Yes. I also once pot it on the Percy Lists.
> How did you guess I was Honey?
> 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
> gorgeous.
> 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
> charity.
> 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<http://mc/compose?to=janetcantor37@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?"
> --
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> --
> *Jim & Nancy Forest*
> Kanisstraat 5 / 1811 GJ Alkmaar / The Netherlands
> photos of my recent travels in Poland:
> http://www.flickr.com/photos/jimforest/collections/72157628050528457/
> Reflections on a visit to Auschwitz:
> http://www.jimandnancyforest.com/2011/11/28/auschwitz/
> Three recent books:
> *All is Grace*
> my revised and expanded biography of Dorothy Day:
> http://www.jimandnancyforest.com/2006/03/24/all-is-grace/
> *Saint George & the Dragon*
> a children's book:
> http://www.jimandnancyforest.com/2011/04/04/saint-george-and-the-dragon/
> *For the Peace From Above*
> a resource book on war, peace and nationalism:
> http://www.jimandnancyforest.com/2011/09/08/for-the-peace-from-above-an-orthodox-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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