[percy-l] [External] Re: LITR - Five Years Later

Plemmons, Gregory gregory.plemmons at Vanderbilt.Edu
Mon Aug 4 14:17:50 EDT 2014

To all,

I’ve enjoyed hearing everyone’s comments and reactions, and even though I read LiTR many years ago, I still did not recall how it ended, yet somehow I knew Tom would end up with Ellen and her sensibility. I agree wholeheartedly with Janet’s comments—the message seems to be get over yourself and care for someone else, lose yourself, and notice the light all around.

On second reading, by the end, I still find myself wondering about Tom—how much still lies buried (at least unearthed) beneath the surface about Doris, his failed marriage, and losing Samantha—how neatly this all seems tied up with Ellen. Of course, it’s human to crave such an ending, but throughout my second reading, I kept wondering about Doris, and the minor character of Alistair and his boyfriend. Alistair (and the homosexuals) seems to get jn Tom’s craw more than most other characters in the novel (did anyone else catch the reference as well in the next to last section to Billy Sol, Lola’s piano accompanist?—“a big old prisspot, but a real good boy”). It’s the only part of LiTR which now seems to me more outdated, than the other cultural references. Last year I read the recent biography of Percy’s uncle, William Alexander Percy (who wrote Lanterns on the Levee, as Janet mentions)—an absorbing look into a very conflicted character from a very different time. I assume as Percy was drafting this novel, the Stonewall uprising was taking place, along with all the rest of the chaos. In a way, Tom almost seems to envy his wife’s relationship with Alistair on some level—which had me wondering, perhaps, about his own insecurity about sexuality. It’s almost as if relations between men and women can belong in some ways to angelism, or bestialism, but never both. Doris and Alistair’s relationship is angelic, at least in the sense it’s presumably asexual, but nevertheless it’s a relationship which may have been more emotionally intimate in some ways than his own marriage, precisely because it’s not complicated by sex. At the extreme opposite, and in the Pit, we have bestialism, and Tom finds himself holed up in the HoJo with three women, until he finally settles on Ellen, with her he seems to have found a happy medium. It’s interesting, though, that the woman he is picks is the nurse (not the cellist, not the secretary) —women (and traditionally nurses) have always been the great humanizers in the field of medicine—the nuturers, the touch of the hand. But cool and clinical at times, when it's called for.

I came across this a few days ago, published last summer, in the Perspectives of Biology and Medicine:


A large online community has recently formed around autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR), a pleasant and poorly understood somatic reaction to specific interpersonal triggers. Its web-based manifestations include a variety of amateur videos designed to elicit the reaction, many of which feature protracted imitations of a clinician’s physical exam. This analysis considers through a literary lens the proximity of this phenomenon to clinical diagnostics, focusing in particular on characterizations of spiritual isolation elaborated in Love in the Ruins (1971), the third novel by physician-writer Walker Percy (1916–1990). Within this speculative framework, the tendency to derive pleasure from clinical milieus, real or constructed, may be interpreted as a quality particular to the postmodern psyche. Viewing web-based clinical role-play in light of Percy’s writing also underscores the possibility that routine diagnostic assessments may have independent therapeutic implications.

We need the human touch more than ever, it seems. The article isn’t available online without a subscription, but I’m glad to forward a PDF to anyone interested.

P.S. For those of you who may not be aware (or for any of you who write and may need some time away), the Percy property at Sewanee has now been made into a Writers Colony and is open for applications:


Gregory Plemmons
gregory.plemmons at vanderbilt.edu

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