Tuesday, April 22, 2014

A brief blog post for last week :)

There is no word for it.  Maybe it never happened before and so there is not yet a word for it.  What is the word for a state which is not life and not death, a death in life?"
"I don't know."
"I wonder if it ever happened in history before?"
"I don't know."  Where is the word, the girl in the greenhouse would say, and look around." (126 The Second Coming)

If I could pinpoint one thing this semester has taught me, it is the power of words.  No character culminates this more than Allie, I think, particularly in the way she questions everything.  If there is a thing that has no word to describe it, can it exist?  If there is no found word or naming, is there the essence of that thing at all?  That's why I love this particular passage of questioning, happening right after Will's questioning of the secret is only revealed with death and dying.  If there is no word for something, perhaps it is not a thing at all.  It's leaving me asking the questions I had after the thesis defense board: How tied to true life is language, particularly naming?

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Allison

     Allison is the most relatable Percy character that we have read thus far. She is possibly the most relatable character we have read all semester. There are bits of her that are very abnormal, most people probably have not been “buzzed” and even fewer people probably walk around saying, “no buzzin cousin” or any other rhymes, but there are many parts of her that are incredibly relatable. For starters, Allison is definitely the most likable character that Percy has created, and there is something about her likability that makes her more human, more realistic. This is seen through the majority of the first half, but the first lines of part two are what really show us how real Allison is and how much we can identify with her. “She could do anything if nobody watched her. But the moment a pair of eyes focused on her, she was a beetle stuck on a pin, arms and legs beating the air.” Then she continues on the say, “So it had been in school. Alone at her desk, solve any problem, answer any question. But let the teacher look over her shoulder or, horror of horrors, stand her up before the class: she shriveled and curled up like paper under burning glass” (233). Now, there are probably many people who do not relate to these passages, but I definitely do. Because of how relatable she is, and just because of how utterly lost she is the majority of the time, Allison is one of my favorite Percy characters. There is something about her that is incredibly sweet and innocent.    

Monday, April 14, 2014

The Second Chance at Love

        In Walker Percy's The Second Coming, Will Barret has a second chance at love through his relationship with Allison. Will was married to a kind woman called Marion. The marriage was basic but unfulfilling for Will. Percy never mentions a sex life between the two and when Marion became confined to a wheelchair, their relationship became the type where one is taken care of and the other is not. Will gave Marion his attention and care, but she did not give him the type of attention he needed. Everyone knew Marion as a wonderful and kind woman, which she was, but as people offer Will their condolences for her death, he seems absent and out of touch, as if her passing was an event to be expected and that he never really processed it. He is by no means happy about her death, but at the same time he does not experience true sorrow because their relationship was not enriching for him. Yes, he loved her, but the type of love was a passionless but committed love.

            When Will meets Allison for the second time after falling out of the cave shaft, their relationship blossoms immediately. They are two halves of a whole. She picks him up when he falls down from seizures and he interprets her unique way to using language. They can experience true love because they each fulfill something in the other, despite the difference in their age. They are genuinely attracted to each other and when they lay next to each other, Allison naturally clings to him. Allison experiences love for the first time with Will and he has a second chance at love with her, which luckily, he chooses to pursue. For Will, this is the first time that he experiences love that is fulfilling for his soul. Allison can take care of him despite his disease, and he can take care of her despite her memory problems. They complete each other through their wholesome relationship. Will also experiences God through her because she signifies a "gift" from a "giver." So through this second chance at love, Will finally experiences God in his life.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The girl who forgets and the girl who can't remember.

     So the title is a self-confession, I have a very bad short term memory and great tuning-things-out skills (one of the reasons this blog is soooooo late). In a way I can relate to Allie, although I've never undergone shock therapy (not intentionally anyways), I can connect to her character.  Allie finds herself in the middle of an adventure and perfectly free. She reminds of a character in a story I wrote when I was in high school, my character found herself on the street with no real memory of who she was or where she was all she had was a note left to her by herself. Allie is pretty much in the same position, through her memory loss she finds freedom and choice.
    The first place one sees her power of choice is while she is shopping at the army surplus store. Then she follows her own vague direction to her aunt's ruined homestead and finds the greenhouse. While reading about Allie's discoveries and progressions you see that she is very aware of a search, she is looking for 'it'. This search may have be what drove her insane in the first place, but now she is free to search for it. There reason she flunked at life was because she realized her material life had to be connected to something more. Humans had to have some deeper purpose than just living and dying. We journey on a quest with Allie which brings us across Will Barrett.
    Will Barrett is also a character on the search for 'it'. His quest is a little different though, will is on the quest because he remembers the event which awakened him to the quest, much like Percy's character Binx. They both encountered near death experiences which lead the on the search. Will is driven by memory and his quest is free like Allie's. He is tangled and weighed down, much like Binx, both men try to break from the everydayness and search for it. Where Allie is hopefully that 'it' exists, Will is more skeptical thinking everything happens for biological reasons.
   Yet the two come together and need each other. Allie needs Will to help her communicate and remember language. Will needs Allie to teach him freedom and meaning through words. Will falls and Allie hoists. They make a perfect match, plus who wouldn't want a slightly loony lover who says things like, "The arrangement is the derangement, when the arrangement is arranged then you what the ensuement is?".

"Bloard" and The Continuous Wit of Percy

Coming back from Passion Play rehearsal and blogging rather late, I apologize in advance for what this blog may be.  However, I am truly enjoying The Second Coming; first, for the wit and humor (finally, a light hearted novel!  I don't even know what to do with myself!) and second, because I am finally able to really see the "Percyisms" within it, as the connections between this novel and both The Moviegoer and Lancelot are much more obvious.  It's full of excited underlining and commentary in the margins "Look!  Here there be Jews!" "Hey, it's a literary reference other than Robinson Crusoe, kinda out of your element, Percy", etc.

One of my favorite sections of this work was the second conversation happening between Allie and Will, around page 108.  Allie's phrasing of things, with every word carefully thought out, especially the combinations of words to form a unique word, such as "bloard" meaning "board and bored, meeting of her father's board which was boring because it bored into you" (111).  These constant moments of hilarious wit make the book such a pleasure to read, while applying the questions of semantics we've been discussing in class.  How much of language do we actually take for granted, along with the actual being of anything?  Allie certainly doesn't take language for granted in any way, shape or form.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The Greenhouse Effect... I'm so sorry.

Although I have so much to say about Will and his “search”, my blog is going to focus on Allison. She is so intriguing because she’s like Percy’s little fictional isolation experiment. While I was reading it, I was literally laughing at the irony that the mental illness patient finds better therapy in an abandoned greenhouse than in rehab. I think what Percy is trying to achieve with Allison is to make his readers understand that learning about one’s “self” (or in Allison’s case returning to one’s “self”) cannot be accomplished through science (diagnosis and prescription) alone, but through a return to nature and self-reliance. Emerson, anyone? Sorry for the pun, but that’s literally what she does! She regains her self and relearns communication on her own in that greenhouse so that she can eventually return to society. Is Percy saying that we should start sending clinically depressed people into the woods to live off the land instead of to a mental institution? I don’t know; but of all of Percy’s characters, Allison seems to be the only one who figures out how to successfully cope in the world: by basically starting over.


Also, the parts where she writes letters to herself before she lost her memory reminded me of Lost in the Cosmos when he talks about seeing your wallet as if you were another person looking at your (someone else’s) wallet. Allison has the opportunity to do that AND to communicate with herself, which just makes my head spin!

Either Way, it is Not Good

     This week I am in the same boat as Hunter. Mobile Passion Play has consumed my life. So, like Hunter, this blog will be quite brief. When I was reading The Second Coming, there was one line towards the beginning that I found particularly interesting, “Are we afraid quiet afternoons will be interrupted by gunfire? Or do we hope they will?” This is a very interesting question. If the answer to this question is the latter, then what does that say about humanity, “community”, or any type of human connections that people have? I would argue that a lot of people today hope that their afternoons will be interrupted by gunfire. Some people may not recognize this, but we have become so disconnected that for some even tragedy for can be a type of entertainment. They may not be happy that someone was hurt, but they are happy that they saw something that was “just like the movies” something exciting and out of the realm of everyday life. I am not talking specifically of a gunman running rampant through a city, in fact, to say that anyone enjoys that is pushing the line. However, how often are people entertained by misfortune? There are many people today that we dub “drama queens” because they blossom in unhappy, unfortunate environments, relationships, and situations. Are these not the same things? It is still people who are finding pleasure through others misfortune. It may be a lot milder than murder, but this is almost as bad as hoping that gunfire will disturb your afternoon. An interesting question to be asked is that, if this is the case with most people, then who is really to blame? Is it the society that a person was raised in? or is based solely on the careful thoughts and choices of the individual alone?     

Madness! Madness! Madness!

Because of the Mobile Passion Play that I am indentured - er, happy to participate in, this blog will be kept brief. I would merely like to mention the influence of Fyodor Dostoevsky in The Second Coming. We have discussed in previous classes how Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov leaked into Percy's fiction. Lancelot, in particular, featured strong allusions between the lead character and Ivan Karamazov, and distinct echoes of The Grand Inquisitor scene were made clear through the narrative style. The biggest similarity that I've noticed between The Second Coming and Karamazov is the fallacy of the insanity argument. Dostoevsky was very suspicious of the notion of insanity, suggesting in his writings that most cases of insanity are spiritual in nature, not mental. Ivan, for example is driven mad in the end of the novel not because of some genetic neurosis but because his own spiritual vacuity finally collapses in on itself and he can no longer bear his divided consciousness. Will is a little better off in that he recognizes the vacuity in himself and in everyone else, yet his actions make him look like a madman to everyone else. His questions, his erratic behavior, his ultimate decision to seek God and find the apocalypse - all of these appear to be the actions of a madman, yet his determination to absolve the tension in his soul may be the first rational set of decisions in his life. Through it all, whether he succeeds at his ultimate objective or fails, he may just free himself of the madness of complacency that has seemingly gripped everyone else in his life.

Perhaps it could be said that all madness is relative, but some breeds of madness are worse than others. Which is better: to recognize the vacuity of one's life and take drastic, even violent measures to change it, or to continue in one's own rut and refuse to recognize the sickness for what it is? Think of it this way: If Christ is indeed the wounded surgeon, how can He heal you if you can't begin to tell Him what ails you? Dostoevsky and Kierkegaard understood this, Percy does as well.

Monday, April 7, 2014

The Ignorant Armies that Clash by Night

Out of all the Percy novels we have read thus far, I find The Second Coming most interesting. Allison's struggle to articulate, to find meaning in words, brings back the question asked in class last week: what can restore language? Can it get so far gone that it loses its meaning, so that words like Jesus and grace spiral out into nothingness? If so, if it has already, is there anything one can do?
I think Allison is searching for that answer; maybe we will find it with her.
I can't tell exactly the nature of Will's search yet. I like the contrast of the two situations; one who cannot remember a thing about herself or the world, the other who keeps seeing more and more in everything they do. Neither seem like actual mental illnesses (if there is such a thing). They just can't handle the world around them and more importantly their self. The focus seems to be spiraling in on understanding just that. Is their response working in the direction that Dover Beach suggested, where they should be true to one another? As Will's father says, "You'd be better off if you were one of them...The ignorant armies that clash by night." That isn't really true, though. Maybe it means you wouldn't have tried to kill yourself and your son--but it also takes away the possibility of the search. It seems that a crucial part of Percy's search is having the questioner and the responder. It's like the Grand Inquisitor... As long as there is someone to target your questions to, to seek answers with, even the most miserable man is doing better than the everyday ignorant man.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Percy's use of culture/pop culture in Lancelot


            One of the interesting aspects of Percy’s stories that I have found is his use of pop culture. A few instances that can be found in Lancelot would be the girl that was singing Me and Bobby McGee outside Lancelot’s cell, when Lancelot talks about what he thought about “falling in love,” and when Lancelot was referring to why everyone was interested in the news when he first Margot.

            Two questions that rise from the uses of pop culture are: why? And how are they used? I believe the purpose for this use is to: A) to help create the setting of the place that the author is placing the characters, and B) to either describe an event or to foreshadow an event that will take place in the following chapters.

The case for A can be seen when Lancelot talks about why everyone had been keen to watch the news during the time he met Margot, and when the girl was singing Me and Bobby McGee. The song was written by Kris Kristofferson and Fred Foster, but originally performed by Roger Miller, to which his version was released in 1969. Another version of that was popular was Janis Joplin’s version which was released in 1971. What we have by those two points his a time period of where Lancelot is at in the present. When he talks about meeting Margot, he references another assassination that might take place. Given what we know about the estimated present year, we can figure out that he was talking about John F. Kennedy’s assassination (November 22, 1962), Martin Luther King, Jr. assassination (April 4, 1968), and Robert F. Kennedy’s assassination (June 5, 1968). This gives us a relative time period that the setting is in and helps us to think about where America was out during this period.

The case for B would be the girl singing Me and Bobby McGee. This could be placed here as a way to foreshadow an immediate event, Lancelot about to start talking about how he lost Margot, or an event that will come to past in the following chapters. If you knew the song, then we can see some correlation between it and the story. If the reader was to continue past what the girl was singing, they would sing, “Feeling good was easy Lord, when Bobby sang the blues/ Feeling good was good enough for me/ Good enough for me and Bobby McGee.” In the story, Lancelot comments about how he was at peace with Margot and how, as with the singer of the song hints at, was going through motions with his girl. Earlier in the song, we have, “I took my harpoon out of my dirty red bandana/ And was blowin’ sad while Bobby sang the blues/ With them windshield whispers slappin’ time/ And Bobby clappin’ hands we finally/ Sang up every song that the driver knew.” This could be a heads up to the reader for to take notice of the sad tale that Lancelot is going to tell, with Bobby/Margot “clappin’” and singing the blues. Later on in the song, the singer talks about letting go of Bobby and thinking about her every once in a while. Again, this could be a foreshadowing of what Lancelot is/had done with Margot.

We can see how Percy strategically utilizes these different sources from the culture/pop culture to help him set up the setting of the story, and foreshadow the events that will take place farther in the story.

Monday, March 24, 2014

The Senior Undergraduate - English Major

Self's Relation to World: Transcending, with intact elements.

Self's Relation to Other Selves: To his fellow students and peers, an elite status as a veteran student with aspirations for a doctorate in his chosen field, making him part of the aesthetic pantheon known as "academia". To his family and non-academic friends, a intellectual disconnect in both acquired knowledge of the humanities and conventional wisdom regarding the more practical aspects of life. Fully aware of the absurdities present in both the transcendent and immanent spheres of life, he maintains a healthy if not ironic sense of humor about his circumstances.

Identity of Self: A high degree of correspondence between self's habitual mode of existence as transcending self and actual here-and-now life, e.g., being able to gain a sense of the numinous and the beautiful in human nature while simultaneously having to work with bureaucracies and sociologists to secure a fruitful career path for himself.

Motion of Self vis-a-vis World: In the process of transitioning from one mode of routine (undergraduate studies in his private, liberal arts university in a city with people he has become familiar with) to a slightly different and subtly more difficult one (doctoral studies in a public, research focused environment in unfamiliar territory in living conditions that he must afford for himself without direct aid from his parents). Practice of Christianity, regular fellowship with good friends, and general mood of self-effacement soften his reentry.

Placement (Mood) of Self: Excited for new beginnings in graduate school and the completion of his former studies, yet hesitant to see how exactly things will pan out for him. Feels like a man caught in the tunnel between the airport terminal and the plane that will soon depart - did he leave any luggage or items in the terminal? Does he actually have a seat saved for him on the plane and is actually going where he wants to go? Will they serve peanuts and scotch on the plane and if so, how much will it cost?

Existential-Semiotic Self-Profile : The Biology/English student

Self's Relation the World: Uncertain, feels out of place with the world as a general being but gains understanding from frequent travels and the love of travel. He appreciates nature and animals more than other humans; he also has a passion to preserve the world at all costs.

Self's Relation to Other Selves: He depends on mutual loyalty with those he considers part of his pack (i.e. family, closest friends, lovers). Values friendship greatly, even to the point where those who betray him will always have malice aimed their way. He opens up once he gets to know someone well enough.

Identity of Self: Highly-organized in method of existence; seeks to utilize time in the most efficient manner possible. In a constant state of observation, he only takes action when the situation demands it. He always thinks before he leaps and trusts his instinct more than anything else. His spiritual life if considered Christian by nature but he has liberal tendencies and an open mind. Other's opinions outside of his pack matter not to him.

Movement of Self vis-a-vis World: A wanderer and traveler by nature, he doesn't mind picking up his roots and changing locations if need be, as long as he has contact with his pack or is relatively close to one of his pack members. Home is where he can be with those close to him. If the situation calls for it, he will wander off alone for the sake of reflection and meditating upon the self. The world is too big to stay in one place forever and he cannot expand his understanding of the world by rooting himself in one spot. Sometimes the most tranquil place is being where he can be alone for a while.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Relationships

     This week I was fortunate enough to watch the movie Silver Linings Playbook for the first time. Prior to this, I had never read the book and I was not entirely sure what it was about, all I knew was that it was supposedly wonderful. It was. Right after I experienced the wonderful movie, I went home and picked up the Moviegoer again. While reading, I noticed some striking similarities between Silver Linings Playbook and the Moviegoer. Both of these stories feature some very dysfunctional people who eventually get into dysfunctional relationships. However, although this sounds like something entirely negative, it is not. Both of these stories are incredibly real and more relatable than most romances that are so popular. Of course, a lot of people do not suffer with any kind of mental illness, nor have many experienced great, shocking trauma like these characters. These characters are real, the have problems just like the audience. It does not matter how extreme the problems of the characters are, it is just significant that they have problems that real people have too. Both of these authors use this. How dysfunctional the characters are is what makes the stories beautiful. Yes, there are times when we all cringe, turn our heads, and try and pretend that we did not just read/see something that awkward; but there is a beauty too these stories that redeem them. All of us are a tad bit dysfunctional, or maybe just quirky, in our own ways. The fact that these characters really do not try and hide their dysfunctional selves, and find common ground with each other in regard to their flaws is very different than most “love stories.” However, it is so much more like real life than the perfect love stories that are so popular. This is a much better way to show romance. This is how it happens in everyday, honest life. 

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

I am on the Train.

When reading the first section of "Man on a Train", the illustration of the man watching the scenes he knows so well, yet knows not at all was incredibly familiar to me.  As a person who spent at least 20 hours on the interstate over spring break, I well know this feeling of seeing, yet not seeing.  A friend of mine and I joke that we "Know every exit down the entirety of Interstate 10".  However, when reading this I realized:  I am, essentially, the illustration of the man on the train.  Riding in a car, watching things pass in a blur, acting like I know them when in fact, I don't know them at all.  Even when riding in a car, I am quite often guilty of what Binx in The Moviegoer despises about cars, that one loses one's individuality when in them and is no longer viewed as a person, but as a thing.  I just watch the objects around me through my perspective of them as nothing more than that: objects to be observed, to be known, to be recognized, and then forgotten, for I never actually knew them at all.

"What if the Bomb should not fall?"  This thought too hit home.  Lately, it's been incredibly apparent that our society, especially the Christian society, is very focused towards the end days.  However, what will we do if the Bomb doesn't fall in the next 10 years?  What if the world doesn't end quite yet?  What if we continue running along a path that is blurred from our speed of racing towards the finish, rather than taking the time to stop, get out of the car or train, and understand the things around us?  I don't know what this would look like, or if it's even possible to come fully out of an area of alienation, but it would be interesting to see this done maybe on a small scale, in the little things.

A Point on Evolution

This is something simple that we at a Baptist university all know when considering evolution and a figurative creation account. I wanted to point it out and ask for some discussion: What about death?

Percy, in section fifteen (p 160), states that evolution is fact and that it doesn't conflict with a biblical stance. Let me throw forward the typical argument: death was introduced after the Fall (Romans 5:12). Therefore, Darwin's theory of evolution could not be synthesized with creation if death came AFTER sin--humans would have necessarily died in achieving "humanness." Creationists also argue that Cro-Magnon, Rhodesian, and Neanderthal are simply either inbred with diseases or types of apes misclassified as humans.

Now, before I rally the Bible-beaters or irritate any evolutionists, let me brainstorm a radical inversion of the evolutionary scheme. What if--now is the time to throw bones--Darwin's theory is simply played in reverse. Let's not use the term "devolution," but rather something different--because devolution is illogical or ill-defined based on the evolutionary structure (always adapting to new things). Though I don't like the connotation, let's use "fragmented," and you'll see where I am going with this.

But really, let's play Darwin's vinyl in reverse. Biblical scholars agree that animals were created in "kinds." Most will agree that micro-evolution is possible, while macro is not. That's apparent. Look at the breeds of dogs we've produced ourselves. Look at the capacity of the Ark, even.

But why is there a Cro-Magnon? Why a Rhodesian? Why a Neanderthal?

What if the answer is this: Adam and Eve were created in kind, as well. They were genetically woven for the production of many types of human offspring, and maybe each had langauge. What if Neanderthal, Rhodesian, and Cro-Magnon would have been produced in the Garden not with repetitive death, but with life. With reproduction. They would have fragmented genetically. Just like two cats made all cats, so two humans made all types of humans. What if homo sapiens is the last remaining genetic code of Adam and Eve--the last children?

Do you find this probable? Maybe I shouldn't. But I believe in Nephilim (Gen. 6:4).

The Malaise and Noughtness of Social Media

I am finally just posting on this. That probably makes me a bad student, but then again there has always been something about Social Media that creates such malaise that it is unbearable. I read through statuses, glance at posts, and I am utterly filling and emptying my mind with noughtness. We are self-conscious and unable to define ourselves, resorting to a numerous amount of outlets as sources of identity. We can name an apple, know it's properties, taste, feel--but when it comes to our own selves, even our own words make chameleons of our nature. We cannot define ourselves. We spend hours trying to make some sort of significance out of our quotidian tasks, thinking maybe it will kill the malaise.
I have become quite consumed with malaise. It happens. I go in and out of it. I think there is a cure for it. The times I'm truly happy, when I have eschewed malaise, I am not so self conscious and I and more conscious of God and his purpose. Perhaps this isn't the answer Percy wanted. Maybe it's too easy, too Sunday Schooled and Baptist-y, but it is not at all an easy posture to maintain. There are thousand things pointing back to the self, drawing us inward, attempting for us to solve our own question when there is no answer. I think there has to be that struggle. There is community in that struggle, i.e. the arts: poetry, visual art, music. There comes a time though, as Percy outlines, that man has to re-enter.
Chapter 14 about reentry really resonated with me. I clicked with a lot of what Percy said, however the predicament of how the self after transcending has such a problem living in the ordinary world. Whether its after a good book, a movie, toiling over writing a poem or a paper--seeing into the world and almost being posited out above the world, the reentry comes with a crash. Semiotics won't do. There are no words to relate or to fix things... other methods may temporarily help, but they are ultimately snares. He and Kierkegaard are right: "the self can only become itself if it does so transparently before God." Getting there, though, is the hard part. It is the search. And Social Media postpones it. 

Do the Evolution

For those of you reading this post who have never tried Brawndo, “The Thirst Mutilator”, or how much the greeter at Costco loves you, allow me to introduce y’all to a little movie called Idiocracy (2006). The film is a vulgar satire of modern society and technology, the conceit being that in the next few centuries or less our society is going to degrade at such a devastating rate we will eventually be worse off than cavemen. This will occur through a devastating ascension of commercialism, anti-intellectualism, and widespread lackluster breeding to the point that intelligent, well raised children will be completely outweighed by those raised in poor living and social conditions. People will become so lazy and self entitled over the decades, abusing technology while simultaneously enabling it to become autonomous and submitting themselves to it wholesale, that all forms of the humanities and rationality will be buried under endless mounds of uncollected waste, pollution, and combination McDonalds/tenements. This is the age of the sloth.

For those of you reading this post who never seen Don Giovanni or don’t know how to find “the good parts” of Ulysses, allow me to introduce you all to the 18th chapter of a book called Lost in the Cosmos (1983). In this chapter, Walker Percy wrestles with the notion that today’s society is simultaneously the most sexualized and violent that human history has ever known and tries to understand the correlation. He theorizes that, because the autonomous self has almost completely divorced itself from all forms of spirituality, become bored with all facets of modern life and naturally seeks excitement in recreation, sex has become the central venue of excitement and is henceforth woven into every form of media and culture that we have. Unfortunately, in the process we have deflowered the ways in which we understand and think about sex and in doing so have begun to become bored with sexual liaisons and ingenuity as we have with work and the church. Ultimately sex will be bled dry of all of its inherent mystery and (ironically) pleasure, leaving war and violence as the only means for which man may find enjoyment and distraction. This is the age of the demoniac.

Question: Why is the latter option more terrifying?
(a)    Lost in the Cosmos is an existential social satire written by a genius, so of course it’s better.
(b)   Idiocracy, written by the same man who created King of the Hill, is unjustly deified by armchair historians who find intelligent discussion in Fox News and self satisfaction in watching the world burn.
(c)    Idiocracy’s future relies on the concurrent ascension and dumbing down of technology, which has not always been exclusive to mankind and by its very nature has an expiration date. Sex and violence, however, has been with man since the days of Cain and Abel, and even when all of the billboards have fallen and the skyscrapers have collapsed from neglect, the last man & woman on the earth will only really have that basic choice left: procreate (pleasure has long since been bred out of man’s psyche by this point) or kill (torture has also lost its pleasure). 

(CHECK ONE)

"on a fine Wednesday afternoon-"

hmmm... in comparing The Moviegoer with Lost in the Cosmos I see a continuing pattern of the search for the self that might even go beyond "to know thy self." With the quizzes there are a lot of questions that are meant to reveal motives.  Then the next half of Lost in the Cosmos seems to be an existential spaceship ride into the abyss.

When you look through LitC you can almost see some character profiles of Moviegoer characters such as on page 122...

"Why do people often feel bad in good environments and good in bad environments"... all the way to "The paradox comes to pass because the impoverishments and enrichments of a self in a world are not necessarily the same as the impoverishments and enrichments of an organism in an environment" ...Binx can be seen here.  Not to mention Binx's flakey love affairs... where he is in it for a second but then miserable the next seems to be in contingency with the old "Oh happy happy love!!" mentality.

I also liked the idea of language being that which assists in the identity of the self... we are able to identity our self by identifying other things. In a sense, because of language, our identity can be defined by it's relation to the language we use to describe another thing or another self....


I don't know, I'm pretty lost in the cosmos right now.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Awareness of the Self

      In Percy's Lost in the Cosmos, the self is undoubtedly the concept that is the most frequently discussed, with sexuality close behind. Despite an entire book dealing with the self, the reader is ultimately responsible for coming up with his own definition of what the self is. He is constantly aware of the self and sometimes finds the necessity of masking the self when he is around others. The self is a personal and seemingly private part of the human existence; humans get touchy about the self and often find themselves at a loss for words when it comes to dealing with the self. Once a person becomes aware of the self (at whatever age psychologists or sociologists claim) he can never be unaware of the self again. In a similar fashion, once a child sees his shadow, he is aware of his shadow for the rest of his existence. What is the self? There is no single answer for this. As a species, humans are the most self conscious on the planet; some may claim this is because they are the only ones capable of recognizing the self and that even higher order animals have limited social awareness. No matter how one may perceive the self, there will always be some type of angst with the self, with much of this said angst being sexual. Many people do not like the self because it is not how they want it to be and they feel like they cannot change the self despite any efforts they may make. Is Percy merely highlighting a struggle that the reader has dealt with for his entire life? Is his book actually supposed to help the reader with the self? Or is this book ironically one of the self-help books that Percy mocks within his own self-help book? Despite the book mocking self-help books, it talks about semiotics enough to at least make the reader aware of the function of language, which can help the reader to better understand his relation with the self. Language ultimately is the key to understanding the self and where one stands in the cosmos. The human experience is greatly enriched by language and through it humans can learn to accept the self as an essential part of them. The more the reader becomes aware of the self, the more he is able to work on his relationship with the self.
 

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Strange

Walker Percy is unraveling my mind. Every word pulls a fold from my brain and unrolls it into a single length of pink tissue--and nothing more than that--and severs each piece he chooses from the next, divides it, a ruler to measure myself.

Am I naming a thing there? An emotion? What is it?

I have gorged my mind. I am drunken. And I am not sure why any of this works the way it does.

Is there a better way to say any of that? If I speak about it, do I speak anything at all? Or is naming, poetry, sign-giving, symbol-making--conveying the emotion we feel toward it--the only thing that matters? Is that what we are doing, naming our emotions? Our perceptions? Or is speaking about it also sign-giving? What...what is it?

Even p 104: "A devaluation has occurred."

Is that necessary? Is it the unavoidable outcome of modern man? Fallen man? All man? Adam? Redeemed man?

I'm willing to talk on here about this. Comment me. I'm up for a while.

The Search or Death.

      Moviegoer has captured my attention much more the second time I've had to read than the first. I have been laughing while fighting off a sense of depression while reading it. The need for God is so strong in Percy's characters, I never noticed that before. The idea of a quest or search for truth, something bigger themselves compels them. 
     The main character Binx, he's aware of the search, his need for something. Binx on the surface seems totally satisfied in the status quo. "I am a model tenant and a model citizen and take pleasure in doing all that is expected of me...It is my pleasure to carry out the duties of a citizen and to receive in return a receipt or a neat styrene card with one's name on it certifying...one's right to exist". Binx is perfectly happy to be whatever society tells him to be, yet this is unsatisfying to him. Deep down inside Binx is missing something. He is made aware of the possibility of a search, he awoke with a taste of war. Why would Percy use war to make the possibility known? War is chaotic war doesn't stay contained within categories. 
   When a man is on the ground battling his enemy he doesn't think "What would society tell me to do?" His instincts, training, and desperation for survival is what fuels him; but his morality drives his decisions. War isn't a perfectly timed and coordinated dance, its ugly and hellish. One has to fight to live. Things don't make sense. Some things happen that are unexplainable in war, horrible things and wonderful things. You encounter a need in war, there has to be a bigger purpose for slaying others, a solider needs a reason to fight. There has to be a good and a bad. For that to exist there has to be someone or something that originally determined good and bad, there must be a universal good and a universal bad. Why would men go to war if it was just about survival, it would be called survival. There wouldn't be any problems with war if good and bad didn't exist, no one would argue against it or for it, it would just be survival of the fittest. War makes one aware of the possibility of a search, there has to be something missing. 
   Binx struggles with this he is a man who relies on science and rejects religion, but he knows there is a search. "The search is what anyone would undertake if he were not sunk in the everydayness of his own life". This phrase seemed platonic to me, making me think of a prisoner tied inside the cave. "To become aware of the possibility of the search is to be onto something. Not to be on to something is to be in despair". If Binx really believed what Science taught was true, there would be no search. Everything would be a close-circuit, man would be who he is strictly because of genetics. War makes one question the thoughts. The search has begun. Honestly I believe Binx's search is to find out if God exists or not. If a God exists, is it the God Christianity has taught him to believe in? Binx says the 98% of Americans believe in God and 2% are atheists or agnostic. " Have 98% of Americans found what I seek or are the so sunk in everydayness that not even the possibility of a search has occurred to them?" 
   Percy reflects the struggle an average human has to deal with it, does God exist? Binx's struggle is one that every person faces in the wake of Postmodernism. Is God dead? Is there meaning behind anything? Are we really different from the animals? There is a possibility of the search, which means a search is possible. If a search is possible, then its possible God does exist. If God exists then there is meaning in life. Otherwise is as Binx thinks, "For some time now the impression has been growing upon me that everyone is dead".  

Characters, Depths, and Dysfunction, Oh My!



  “People often ask me what is wrong with the world and ask what I do in Gentilly, and I always try to give an answer.  The former is an interesting question.  I have noticed, however, that no one really wants to listen to the answer.” (39)

I should think it nearly impossible to read the Moviegoer without having a pen to underline my favorite lines.  Percy’s wit makes this book so, so good to read.  The thought process of Binx, and the seemingly random moments of depth in his thoughts are remarkable.  I think Percy draws the layers of depth of human awareness and thought throughout his characters, as the reader watches Binx himself teeter on the edge of a different level of knowledge and depth of existence.  

Percy doesn’t draw the line between the intellectual, the evil, and the commonplace folk as clearly as O’Connor does, but still draws the same bounds of being within his work, disguising them under normal conversation and social boundaries.  The differences in the views and depth of Kate, Binx, Walter, and the rest are clear from their very first appearance.  Like so much of O'Connor, their appearance is that of a functional family with a few issues, however, the darker tones quickly show.  Again, the only real peace found within characters is the peace that comes with ignorance. It’s really fascinating to watch, and to see the differences of the characters thoughts, interests, and views on life.

Binx & Kate

            I like to note the juxtaposition of the Binx and Kate. Binx does not really make attempts to change his lifestyle or his ideals yet seems to make little changes that will end up benefitting his life in some way, all of which are attempts to be with his lovely secretary and her kidney-shaped cushion, whereas Kate seems to be making more conscious choices in changing her life and/or ideals yet she cannot settle on one set of changes. Binx even states that she ends up trapping herself in a notion and finds a way to get out, only to repeat the pattern.

Kate believes that Binx is the worse one off, him being “colder” than her (83). I want to agree with her but, unfortunately, I cannot explain why. One can see that Kate is getting worse psychologically, but Binx is the one that, although well adjusted financially and mentally, somewhat, cannot see the mundane that his life seems to be, only feeling at true peace/rest when he indulges his pleasures, like going to the movies and reading periodicals.
Obviously, with it only being half-way through the book, anything can change. Things can get better or worse; either way, it will be interesting to see how the dynamic of the two will change.

The Sign of the Four

I'll admit that, because it's been about two years since I last read The Moviegoer and it didn't really leave an impression, I went into this week having no idea what to expect from Walker Percy. Whatever it was I thought I might find in his writings (Catholic existentialism, Southern Gothic sensibilities, etc) I certainly didn't expect to see the echoes of Structuralism, and yet there it is, plain as day, in his epic self-help satire Lost in the Cosmos. For the uninitiated, Structuralism is an early 1900's theory of linguistics which suggests that all of human culture can be understood in the terms of the relationships that people form concerning themselves, the world, and abstract concepts. According to Simon Blackburn, it deals with the notion that "phenomena of human life are not intelligible except through their interrelations. These relations constitute a structure, and behind local variations in the surface phenomena there are constant laws of abstract culture". In other words, when reading a novel or studying a people group, it's not the individuals themselves that are significant to the Structuralist but in the interactions that they share; instead of the bricks in the wall it is the fidelity and quality of the mortar which matters most.

Percy makes no bones about his (perhaps begrudging?) respect for this theory, as pages 85-126 of LitC deal expressly with the science of semiotics, which is directly related to and a consequence of Structuralism. He name-checks two of Structuralism's greatest proponents: Ferdinand de Saussure and Claude Levi-Strauss. He argues that any given conversation between two people (B & D) involves the use of a signifier and a referent (A & C). The referent would be the element or concept that is being referred to (water, violence) and the signifier would be the word or gesture used to express said element (simile & metaphor, mimed gunshot, the word itself) The signifier is the sign, the origin of this theory, and when you put all of these together you have two combined tryadic events which serves to constitute the basis for all human interaction with the world (but not himself). It's almost like Plato's theory of the forms reincarnated, where you have an original "perfect" form and a temporal reference to the form. What's really crazy about semiotics is how every time you try to disprove it or lessen its significance, it only becomes increasingly more apparent just how vital signs and referents are to our very existence. Everything we do, say, and think requires signs and words, lending credence to the Sapir-Worf Hypothesis that language precedes thought and the spiritual notion that God's gift to Adam was not intelligence but language. Fortunately, Percy stays on topic by using this summary of semiotics to loop back to the absurdity self perception, but even after this informative mini lecture I can't help but feel like he's laughing at me, as if this whole section was some great ironic joke tinged with equal parts sarcasm and sincerity. Come to think of it, that's a pretty supple summary of the tone of the entire book, so I think I'll just leave it on that note.

(Check One)

     If I were to actually try and “(check one)” at the end of all of the quizzes that Walker Percy wrote in Lost in the Cosmos, then I would be pondering my response for a long time. Eventually I would have to forfeit, because all of the questions cannot be answered by just one of the responses that he offers. Every answer can be applied to the question in a different way. Take a look at the fashion question for example, the writer asks, “What does the saleslady mean when she fits a costumer with an article of clothing and says: ‘It’s you’?” (Percy 24) Then he lists all of the possible meanings behind the sales lady’s statement. Earlier on there is the question about the design of the different kind of tables which reads, “Why was not a single table designed as such rather than being a non-table doing duty as a table?” Just as like the other question, all of the possible responses could be right to anyone. It would be just as good to choose one at random. After these questions are asked, Percy always immediately answers it, completely disregarding the answers that he posed as possible responses. Why even ask the reader to please “(check one)”? Percy is proving a point here. Every possible response is right; they really should all be wrapped up into one. This is because Percy knows that help cannot be found in the answering of some silly response someone has to a quiz. These questions were very funny, because the reader starts to see exactly what Percy is doing. There are non-satirical self-help books that had questions very similar to these in them, but the response to those questions supposedly mean something significant about the person answering. Percy captures how vague these things can be. The answers can generally apply to basically anyone.   

Binx's Horror

 In Percy’s Moviegoer  Binx takes his cousin Kate to the movies. The movie happens to be a movie that was filmed in the same neighborhood that the theater they were sitting in was located. Kate looked at him in amazement. As they walk out of the movie theater she says to Binx, “Now it’s certified” (63). Kate was speaking about a term that Binx had coined himself. Binx, with his strange and interesting philosophies about life, coined this term to describe how a person feels about their neighborhood.  A person wants to feel like they live somewhere not just anywhere. Binx theorizes that after one sees a movie that was filmed in his own neighborhood, he feels like he lives somewhere and he finds satisfaction in it. 

I think this is rather absurd. What if someone lives in a neighborhood that has never been filmed? Is there any hope for his happiness? The only solution to this problem would be found in moving to a city where a movie has been filmed.

Interestingly, Percy jumps from his explanation of “certification” to Kate’s hopeless aspect and “nightmare” way of living. In Binx’s eyes she morphs into whatever role she must to get by. Percy uses the word “transmogrification” which means, “to change or alter greatly and often with grotesque or humorous effect” (Merriam-Webster). Still the reader is left to wonder if she really changes as much as Binx says. Her character in the book seems affected but it does not make her changes that apparent. The reader only sees what is explained by the narrator, Binx. Since we see everything that Binx sees is it safe to say that the story we know is informed by his personal bias? Though she seems to be a character that is very unsure of herself (practically in a mid-life crisis) she does not seem to change in a grotesque way. These slight changes in her personhood have a bad effect on Binx. He notices every change of shade and every nuance in her.


The chapter is closed with Binx statement, “In her long nightmare, this our old friendship now itself falls victim to the grisly transmogrification by which she unfailingly turns everything she touches to horror” (63). It seems that Binx himself assigns a certain amount of grotesque on her and the nuances and different sides he sees in her terrifies him. 

Experience Greater than the Mundane

        In Walker Percy's The Moviegoer, Binx Bolling is a man who travels to different areas to view movies; he does this in order to experience something greater than everyday life. This is his function as a moviegoer. Through Binx, Percy is showing the reader the need to experience something beyond the quotidian. Binx makes the effort to see different films and through his effort, he is able to experience something that is only available through viewing the interaction of others. He is able to partially live within these viewing experiences because they give him something to talk about and they allow him to escape the malaise of everyday life. Percy makes Binx do this to show the reader that they have the ability to transcend the experience of the mundane in order to experience something worthwhile in his life. Binx struggles through dealing with his social life because cannot easily relate to other people. "For some time now the impression has been growing upon me that everyone is dead. It happens when I speak to people. In the middle of a sentence it will come over me: yes, beyond a doubt this is death. There is little to do but groan and make an excuse and slip away as quickly as one can" (Percy, 100). Binx feels this struggle with others because he is struggling with his own existence. He is almost thirty and he has no idea what he wants to do with his life. Percy is portraying a struggle that every man and woman go through as some point in his or her life. Through Binx, Percy is having the reader ponder his own existence and question what he does to escape the malaise of the mundane experience.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Context : Food For Thought


The Byzantine Christ



The Byzantine Christ on Parker's back.

Eye to Eye With O'Connor

           Flannery O'Connor uses many themes that traverse the grounds of her many stories, whether it be racism, deformity, or displacement. But one of the largest themes that is present throughout many of her works is the theme of eyes. Particularly when the reader is given details about the eyes of a character, or when characters gaze into the eyes of other characters. The eyes are powerful, and sometimes the eyes are referred to as windows to the soul. Does this hold true in O'Connor's literature though?

            In Revelation, Mrs. Turpin is held prisoner in the eyes of an ugly girl named Mary Grace. That name itself is full of O'Connor irony, because grace is nowhere to be found in her at all. Her eyes look "peculiar" to Mrs. Turpin though. "Her eyes were fixed like two drills on Mrs. Turpin. This time there was no mistaking that there was something urgent behind them" (O'Connor, 642). O'Connor makes these eyes seem like weapons that a predator would use to hold prey captive. And while humans can communicate through using their eyes, Mary Grace is using them as weapons. Earlier, the girl's eyes "seemed lit all of a sudden with a peculiar light, an unnatural light like night road signs give" (637).  Mary Grace has eyes that have something unnatural about them, something that is bent and contorted. What type of people possess eyes that look unnatural? This girl possesses eyes that have a darkness stuck inside of them, because her eyes change after she attacks Mrs. Turpin and is given an injection. "They seemed a much lighter blue than before, as if a door that had been tightly closed behind them was now open to admit light and air" (645). Her eyes had doors in them before that were closed. Is this the work of a demon, or is it madness? The text leads the reader to believe that she is clinically insane, but either way, her eyes are the keys to gazing upon her soul, as Mrs. Turpin learns the hard way.


            Eyes are also very important in Parker's Back. Parker is described as "the hollow-eyed creature" (666), which implies there is nothing behind his eyes, or a lack of substance there. The eyes of the Byzantine Christ pierce Parker's soul as he gazes upon the tattoo design. "Parker returned to the picture--the haloed head of a flat stern Byzantine Christ with all-demanding eyes" (667). This Christ is intense and soul-piercing; Parker has futile hopes that this will please his wife. This tattoo forever connects him with God though and disgusts his wife. In the opening paragraph her eyes are described as, "grey and sharp like the points of two ice picks'' (655). There is no kindness to be found in her eyes, only meanness. The artist saves the eyes of the tattoo for last, because they are the most important part for this particular tattoo; when he finishes the tattoo Parker is hesitant to look at it, but he does. "The eyes in the reflected face continued to look at him--still, straight, all-demanding, enclosed in silence" (670). The eyes consume Parker and in the end he is by himself crying on a tree. Eyes are a powerful tool in O'Connor's stories, and they play an important part in how the reader and characters view the other characters. One of the reasons that the peacock was O'Connor's favorite animal may have been because there are so many eyes on its tail. She also uses the sun as a fiery eye in many of her stories.