I read by candlelight. Keeping me company during those days was Walker Percy. I had picked his second book—The Last Gentleman—off my shelf after I recalled its strange depiction of hurricanes as philosophically rich events that visit mass existential relief upon entire populations crushed under modern malaise. For Percy, the transformative power of a hurricane lies not just in the immediate excitement, the break in routine it brings, but more so in a storm’s capacity to limit the range of human choice, its ability to deliver a whole city from the chaotic realm of the Possible back the unquestioning mode of the Necessary.
It’s funny, but I’ve never liked Percy’s fiction, but I deeply get, or think I do, the existential malaise that fascinated him, and its paradoxical qualities. It fascinates me too, the whole question of managing re-entry into the world of the ordinary after experiencing release from ourselves. For example, what did Faulkner do five minutes after he wrote the last lines of “Absalom, Absalom”? That sort of thing.
I think much of Percy’s philosophical outlook is summed up in those Devo lines:
Freedom of choice
Is what you got
Freedom from choice
Is what you want