Walker Percy

Walker Percy would have been 100 today. He was a Christian existentialist with a literary sensibility I nonetheless found irresistible when I first read him in the seventies. I’m still amused by his characters’ understated humor and quiet rebellion against what he saw as our lost and fallen condition. He tried to pick a fight with Carl Sagan in Lost in the Cosmos, also more amusing than annoying. His lifelong friendship and correspondence with Shelby Foote is an inspiration. I love the mental picture of young Foote on Faulkner’s porch in Oxford while young Percy waits in the car, too embarrassed to meet his hero. Percy, Foote, & Faulkner

“You can’t make a living writing articles for The Journal of Philosophy and Phenomenological Research. The thought crossed my mind: Why not do what French philosophers often do and Americans almost never — novelize philosophy, incarnate ideas in a person and a place, which latter is, after all, a noble Southern tradition in fiction.” It’s not as easy as he makes it sound. He didn’t have many rivals, doesn’t have many successors. Richard Ford is kind of a secular Percy. I’m searching for others.

“Search” is Percy’s big theme. His heroes search for God and make fun of people like me, who search for godless happiness, purpose, and meaning. But the search is the thing, whatever its quarry. “The search is what anyone would undertake if he were not sunk in the everydayness of his own life. To become aware of the possibility of the search is to be onto something. Not to be onto something is to be in despair.”

It was such a surprise and delight to stumble across and rent the “teahouse” Percy and Foote built near “Lost Cove” in Sewanee, Tennessee in the thirties, twenty years ago. When I wrote of it later I heard from Percy’s grandson, who was searching for it. Really.

6 am/5:34, 73/78/64, 7:54

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