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

Karl M. Terrell kterrell at stokeswagner.com
Mon Jul 7 15:21:19 EDT 2014

This is, I think, a satisfying explanation.  It's also what Percy followed in his own life, isn't it?

After his recovery from tuberculosis, he turned his back on medicine as a career and, in your words, 'got off the stage and got quiet and grabbed a wife and lived a life of quiet joys or whatever came his way' .... For him, it was a life of study and writing, in Covington, La., which I understand he liked because it was "not a place."  I've read also, people in Covington would ask him what he did for a living, and when he said, "I'm a writer," no one could accept just that as an answer, and I'm guessing too many questions were asked that he didn't really want to explain.  Eventually, he took to responding - "I don't do anything."  Most, he reported, were quite content with that answer.

I saw a great, short documentary (linked below) about a fellow who did the same thing, in his own way .... Dr. John Kitchins - now known as Slomo - a successful neurologist/psychiatrist in San Diego, originally from N.C., who made a lot of money, lived in what he called a mansion, an owner of expensive sports cars, an exotic animal farm, etc., etc.

He met, one day, a 90 year old man who appeared healthy and satisfied, and asked him how he had achieved this.  The reply: "Do what you want."

For the next 20 years, though, Dr. Kitchins continued to live "miserably," he said, in what he called "the rational world."  At the end of each day, driving home in his 12-cylinder BMW, he would ask himself how much he had advanced himself that day spiritually and how much he had advanced himself financially.  Increasingly, he was advancing only on the latter front.

Taking the lesson from the old man to "do what you want," he gave up his practice and his possessions - save for a small apartment - and today, Slomo as he now calls himself, spends most of his waking hours roller-blading on the boardwalk in San Diego, balancing with arms outstretched and one leg in the air behind him, which he likens it to flying (and provides something of a neurological explanation for this).  He spends his days flying ... which, in dreams, is interpreted usually as signifying happiness.

If you've seen him there, or if you watch the video, your first thought will be that he is crazy.  He seems, instead, to have made a satisfactory adjustment to the comic and the religious (or spiritual, for Slomo speak of it in the latter way, not in any kind of 'church' way).



From: Percy-L [mailto:percy-l-bounces at lists.ibiblio.org] On Behalf Of Lauren Stacy Berdy
Sent: Monday, July 07, 2014 12:31 PM
To: Percy-L@
Subject: Re: [percy-l] Love in the Ruins 'slow read' -- chapter 2 -- "July First"


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."

Explainer's are part of the comedy, Dr. Percy knew this so well.

We are all being part of the broad comedy routine we call living.

The comedy comes into the sweep of his thought thru the door our our own lives.
here goes.........

as I understand from reading a selective reading ( very) of Kierkegaard and a long pull of  the good doctors diagnosis for all of us.

The comedy is ourselves..........we ( us) are both actors and our own best audience. The doers and observers of our own actions and decisions.We lack a standpoint to view ourselves. To be fully revealed and fully known. We become the audience for our own tragic existence. WE ARE UNABLE TO GET OFF THE STAGE.
DR. Percy is the ironist who is bringing the play  to our attention thru Dr. More. He is not judging he is if you will the "producer"/Play write of this play his "novel"

so it is hilarious that we don't get off the stage and get quiet and "grab a wife and live a life" of quiet joys or whatever comes our way.
Dr. More does just that at the end.
(The other (Ellen) will help him revel himself to himself)

Frankly, for me everything else in the book is helping us to tell  our story. Our human story.

I think the trick here is to see the humor of ourselves and to pony up a bit by examining our own everyday lives as we move thru space and time.("on this spinning cinder")
After all he was a excellent diagnostician wasn't he?

Thank you very much for this excellent dialogue.

Lauren Stacy Berdy

 On 7/6/2014 11:36 PM, Karl M. Terrell wrote:

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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