[percy-l] Re-reading "Love in the Ruins"
honeyjbc at gmail.com
Wed Apr 1 12:04:19 EDT 2020
Here I am again, the non scholar, America loving, non pessimist.
I love this novel, too. And we all wonder what Percy would have to say now.
But if you do a crossword puzzle and the clue is "to be human" and the
answer is a three letter word, the answer is "err".
And I always liked what William Buckley said after listening to a liberal
on Firing Line go on and on about all that is wrong with America.
Buckley leaned back in his chair and said quietly, "I like to ask the
question, how are we doing, compared to everyone else?"
May I suggest a reading of the new history book of America, Wilfred
McClay's Land of Hope?
On Wed, Apr 1, 2020, 11:31 AM Jim Forest <jhforest at gmail.com> wrote:
> Hemmed in by the corona quarantine, I’ve just finished re-reading Walker
> Percy’s apocalyptic comedy, *Love in the Ruins*. It’s one of the books I
> return to every few years and find even better each time. The story, set in
> the near future, is more timely, and more prophetic, than it was when the
> book was first published half-a-century ago.
> The novel’s narrator is Dr. Tom More, descendant of St. Thomas More, who
> is both a physician and a patient at a mental hospital. The reader finds
> him in a state of ruin following the death from cancer of his daughter
> Samantha and the collapse of his marriage, his wife having run off with an
> English new-age guru. As we quickly discover, More has become an alcoholic
> who has fallen in love with three beautiful women half his age, his
> assistant Ellen, a no-nonsense Presbyterian, Moira, a cellist, and Lola, on
> the staff of the Masters-and-Johnson-style Love Clinic. More describes
> himself as a “bad Catholic” who still believes in God, Jesus and the
> Catholic Church, but whose chief devotions are to alcohol and sex, with God
> in last place.
> The story is set in the imaginary town of Paradise, Louisiana, whose
> divisions mirror the splintered state of the “good old USA” — liberals
> (Leftpapas) fighting it out with conservatives (Knotheads) while black
> guerrillas (Bantus) wage war with whites of both camps. Meanwhile hippie
> drop-outs seek refuge in the swamps. Burned-out cars rust in parking lots.
> Suburban developments lie abandoned while the affluent seek refuge in gated
> communities. Conservatives suffer from chronic rage and constipation.
> Liberals suffer from chronic rage and sexual impotence. Each side is
> convinced of the irredeemability of the other side. Psychologists and
> proctologists are working full-time.
> The Catholic Church has also disintegrated. The Roman Catholic Church has
> been hijacked by the Knothead right and renamed the American Catholic
> Church, now headquartered in Cicero, Illinois. Its logo is an image of a
> suburban house surrounded by a white picket fence. Its calendar includes
> Property Rights Sunday. The American flag is raised at the consecration of
> the Host. There is also the Dutch Catholic Church, which believes is social
> relevance but not in God. The actual Catholic Church is a battered remnant
> of itself, reduced to holding masses in abandoned service stations.
> Walker Percy, a physician turned philosopher turned novelist, has a theme
> that in various ways reverberates in all his books but most notably in *Love
> in the Ruins* — the “mind-body” problem, the soul divorced from the body
> resulting in what More/Percy calls the angelism/bestialism of the divided
> self. More/Percy is at war with a purely materialist understanding of who
> we are. Physician/philosopher Percy is convinced that human beings are more
> than chemistry.
> Percy blames the philosopher Descartes for converting our self perception
> of ourselves into a ghost inhabiting a machine. Before Descartes, human
> reason was seen as an indication that we are made in the image of God.
> Mind, soul, and body were linked. We humans lived and moved and had our
> being in a reality that had God at its all-connecting center. After
> Descartes the world and the cosmos became sourceless, purposeless and
> meaningless with humanity a temporary accident on an accidental planet. We
> became adrift of ourselves.
> To heal the divided self, Dr. Tom More has come up a handy little device,
> an Ontological Lapsometer, which he believes can cure humanity’s core
> problem. With the Lapsometer, he can measure the electro-chemical activity
> of key areas of the brain to reveal the mental health of the person being
> tested and, by the application of heavy sodium ions, can correct, at least
> temporarily, the mental-spiritual imbalances of his patients and even
> himself. When More bombards areas of his own brain with the proper ions,
> his indigestion clears up, his feelings of terror vanish and he goes
> merrily about his work of saving humanity.
> The devil himself takes an active interest in More’s Lapsometer and plays
> a key role in the novel. He appears suddenly at More’s office, announcing,
> “Art Immelman is the name. Funding is my game.” There is a smell of
> brimstone in the air. Immelman assures More that he can get government
> grants and even arrange a Nobel prize for More. All More needs to do is
> sign over the invention’s control and rights to Immelman.
> Unrepented racism is one of the novel’s major topics. Percy/More sees
> slavery as having doomed the American experiment to failure:
> *The poor U.S.A.! Even now, late as it is, nobody can really believe that
> it didn’t work after all. The U.S.A. didn’t work! Is it even possible that
> from the beginning it never did work? that the thing always had a flaw in
> it, a place where it would shear, and that all this time we were not really
> different from Ecuador and Bosnia-Herzegovina, just richer. …. What a bad
> joke: God saying, here it is, the new Eden, and it is yours because you’re
> the apple of my eye, because you the lordly Westerners, the fierce
> Caucasian-Gentile-Visigoths, believed in me and in the outlandish Jewish
> Event, even though you were nowhere near it and had to hear the news of it
> from strangers. But you believed it and so I gave it all to you, gave you
> Israel and Greece and science and art and the lordship of the earth, and
> finally even gave you the new world that I blessed for you. And all you had
> to do was pass one little test, which was surely child’s play because you
> had already passed the big one. One little test: here’s a helpless man in
> Africa, and all you have to do is not violate him. That’s all. One little
> test: you flunk! …*
> * * *
> 1 April 2020
> * * *
> Hemmed in
> *Writing Straight With Crooked Lines: A Memoir *
> is now in print
> Order page on the Orbis Books site:
> Amazon US:
> Amazon UK:
> *books in print: *www.jimandnancyforest.com/books/
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> *photos: *www.flickr.com/photos/jimforest/albums/
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