In this morning’s newsletter I mentioned Will di Novi’s argument in The Paris Review that Walker Percy’s The Moviegoer offers solace in this current sad state of America–“its bankrupt cities, its abandoned factories, and its intractable wars,” as di Novi puts it.
For di Novi, Percy’s main character, Binx, reminds us that the accumulation of stuff does satisfy:
Binx is unrelenting in his skepticism toward his ‘century of merde, the great shithouse of scientific humanism where needs are satisfied [and] everyone becomes an anyone.’ This contrast isn’t simply a matter of historical perspective; it’s a reflection of Percy’s profound dismay at the emotional and spiritual strictures of life in a global supply chain.
Um, sorry? Binx’s “unrelenting…skepticism toward…’the great shithouse of scientific humanism’” is “a reflection of Percy’s profound dismay at the emotional and spiritual strictures of life in a global supply chain”? One of these things is not like the other.
As I noted this morning:
There’s no doubt that Percy’s novel warns against the false fix of consumerism. Becoming wealthier, attaining more leisure, will not satisfy. But, of course, Percy went on to write against much more than that. He saw that the progressive techno-scientific preoccupation with “treating” evil is also an attack on the “dignity of the individual.” It too is a false fix that ignores the spiritual nature of man.
Di Novi concludes that the lesson of The Moviegoer is that “alienation and despair…persist in times of plenty and paucity alike” and that “language and humor” can “still these tremors and give them meaning.” But: “The malaise will endure, he [Percy] warns us. The search will continue.”
Well, yes and no. Language and humor can “still” despair temporarily. But if by the “search will continue” di Novi means that the search is the destination—and I know a number of folks who espouse this sort of false “openness”—I think Percy would say that that’s not searching. I think he’d say that that person has reached a destination that is just as set and as firmly held as a Bible in the hands of an old-school fundamentalist (not to disparage fundamentalists, of course).