[percy-l] Love in the Ruins 'slow read' -- chapter 2 -- "July First"

Karl M. Terrell kterrell at stokeswagner.com
Sun Jul 6 23:36:18 EDT 2014

Hello everyone.  I am picking up the baton on the slow read, with these opening comments on chapter 2.

Disclaimers: One, I am not an academic - just someone who has for many years loved Percy's prose, his ideas and observations on the human condition.  Two, while I have read close to everything he's written, most of my reading was done quite a few years ago (I recently re-read The Moviegoer, though).  And three, it's been 20 or more years since I last read LITR .... and, on this go-round, I haven't read past chapter 2 yet.  I am reading this 'as we go,' and almost as if reading it for the first time.

I welcome any insights my few observations and questions might generate, from amateurs like me, and from those who've really studied Percy.

I like the comment someone made recently, not to 'make a campsite' of LITR, but to think of it as a trail.  I thought about that a few times while reading this chapter, as I found myself trying to keep a handle on the main plot-line - turning back a few pages every so often, looking for plot-line clues maybe I might've missed - and just generally wondering where the story is going.

In the end, I guess, plot/story line was not really Percy's forte; not what he was about.  Agree?  Disagree?  In any event, what carries me along is the wonderful writing and his observations, the vivid characters, and the descriptions of his world (real world Louisiana, set in an imagined future).

I also found myself wondering: how reliable is our narrator?  I noted, for example, at least two passages where the characters More interacts with don't see the vines (Ruby the bartender at p. 88 and Max at p. 115 ["What was that about the vines?"] - Farrar, Straus, 1991 printing).  In other words, how much of what is presented in the story, as told to us by More, is (so to speak) actually happening?  At one or two points I felt a tinge of annoyance thinking about this, but by the end of the chapter I found myself enjoying the tension created by this uncertainty - Is he really being shot at by a sniper?  Is a Bantu uprising, or worse, really in the works?  See, end of subchapter 12, the conversation with Victor: "Now everything's got to go and everybody loses." / I rise unsteadily.  "Everybody?" / ... "Not you, Doc.  All you got to do is move in with your mama.  She'll do for you."

Speaking of Victor, the opening scene in subchapter 13 - where Victor assists our addled hero through the door of the Little Napoleon, encountering Leroy Ledbetter - is a brilliant exposition of the subtleties of racial mores and customs in the Jim Crow world.

So, what's the larger goal or idea of this novel, beyond the spinning of a yarn?  I'm aware of the Kierkegaard influence, so I googled that, and came across an interview Percy gave in 1974 - "Walker Percy Talks about Kierkegaard" (Journal of Religion).  My knowledge of Kierkegaard is very limited (covered in a few philosophy courses taken many years ago), and so I bring this up only to invite comment from those more knowledgeable in this connection.  My limited understanding is of K's role as the father of existentialism, and of his radical emphasis on the individual, distinct from and in reaction to the more systematic (right word?) approach to philosophy by Hegel.  The search for the true self seems to be Percy's point of connection with K.  Except, Percy said the following in the interview about LITR:

He explains an idea from reading K, concerning the seemingly disconnected ideas of the comic and the religious.  Of LITR, he states: "In this novel, I was less interested in a search, in progressing from one category to the other, than I was in the exercise of the comic and the religious."

Not sure I fully understand this concept, and would be interested in any thoughts one might have.  I get the comic end of things, but what is Percy really referring to when he terms More as a Bad Catholic? (Fourth disclaimer: I'm not a Catholic, and in fact count myself as agnostic - I believe my interest in Percy nonetheless stems from his emphasis on the search for meaning at the individual level, rather than at the church/man-made level ... and, I like the skewering of the Englishman wife-Doris runs off with, who dabbles in Oriental mysticism.  In the interview on K, he talks in the same vein about the communal hippies of the late 60s, early 70s).



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