Searching

Excellent advice for the Philosopher-Slob of New Orleans, Ignatius J. Reilly, and for us all:

Get out of that womb-house for at least an hour a day. Take a walk, Ignatius. Look at the trees and birds. Realize that life is surging all around you. The [heart] valve closes because it thinks it is living in a dead organism. Open your heart, Ignatius, and you will open your valve. A Confederacy of Dunces

But Ignatius does not want to open his heart or raise his spirit.

“I refuse to “look up.” Optimism nauseates me. It is perverse. Since man’s fall, his proper position in the universe has been one of misery.”

A sad case, which ended in author John Kennedy Toole’s suicide just before his literary debut, and despite Walker Percy’s enthusiastic patronage.

Percy was also given to bouts of sadness, but he calmed them with irony and bourbon and went on to inspire the likes of Walter Isaacson.

When I was growing up in New Orleans, my friend Thomas and I used to go fishing across Lake Pontchartrain. We’d stop for lunch at his uncle’s house on the Bogue Falaya, a lazy river teeming with turtles. I was baffled about what “Uncle Walker” did for a living, since he always seemed to be at home, sipping bourbon. He was a kindly gentleman, whose placid face seemed to know despair but whose eyes nevertheless often smiled. His daughter said he was a writer. One summer I read Walker Percy’s “The Moviegoer,” and it dawned on me that writing was something you could do for a living, just like being a doctor or a fisherman. The novel’s wry philosophical depth opened my eyes to what Percy called “the search,” poking around for clues about why we are here. At the end of that summer, I tried to get him to expound on the religious themes in the book, but he fended me off. “There are two types of people who come out of Louisiana,” he said. “Preachers and storytellers.” It was better to be a storyteller.

Percy inspired me too, not with his theology– definitely not– but with his wonderful stories, and a style of detached observation that was humane, sympathetic, funny, and indeed searching.

Searchers are implicit optimists, by my definition: they’re on the trail of something, they’re curious and hopeful. They may have met despair but they’ve chosen not to act and live in it. Like Sisyphus. Unlike poor Ignatius and his creator.

Also inspiring: Percy’s lifelong friendship with Shelby Foote.

And their teahouse.

percyfootesewaneeteahouse

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