With Walker Percy at the Tupperware Party

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420 pages, 6" x 9"

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With Walker Percy at the Tupperware Party

in Company with Flannery O'Connor, T.S. Eliot, and Others

Montgomery, Marion

Montgomerymakes a retrospective journey with Walker Percy, as Percy comes to an accommodation with the modern world in company with other companionable journeymen. Percy himself enjoyed a large company of pilgrims who prove amenable to his vision of the human condition – in Percy’s words, man is “in a predicament and on the move in a real world of real things, a world which is a sacrament and a mystery,” words celebratively spoken of as “the holiness of the ordinary,” as opposed to what he called the “losangelization” of the popular spirit, a spirit which increasingly takes refuge in enclaves of “selves” in the relapse into tribalism celebrated as our “New Age.”

Percy’s long journey from and then back to the South, his acceptance of what his Uncle Will exhibited as “Southern stoicism,” had a reorientation that proved to be a “fortunate fall” very personal to him, occurring in a world far removed from the Southern Delta culture. As medical intern in the North, he undergoes a “training” that prepared him (in his subtitle to “Physician as Novelist”) “for diagnosing T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land,” which led to his contracting tuberculosis – a devastating arrest which he would later conclude more an act of grace than an accidental misfortune as science might have it.

Recovering, he begins to read and read: Gabriel Marcel, Kierkegaard, St. Thomas Aquinas, Camus and Sartre and Eliot and others. And he begins distinguishing between valid science and scientism as knowing of reality, recognized as limited by the finiteness of the intellectual soul. Percy left the field of medicine to doctor to man in a different way.

Unlike, say, Eliot, whose irony was sardonic and self-lacerating, leading to a nervous breakdown, Percy’s speaks recognition of, and acceptance of, himself as “in a predicament,” requiring of him “a searching and a finding.” It is with a humor suspending radical judgment, then, that he will write Lost in the Cosmos, subtitled The Last Self-Help Book. His starting point: Carl Sagan’s Cosmos, in which Sagan exhibits an intellectual naiveté in Percy’s view. Sagan’s Cosmos is a species of “the standard bull session of high school and college – up to but not past the sophomore year.”

When Percy, recuperating with TB, understands the “holiness of the ordinary,” he discovers that this world “is a sacrament,” and so requires of him through his gifts a deportment to existence itself in celebration of that sacredness.

Thus Percy speaks a manner, not presuming himself the agent of grace through presumption of autonomous intellect, amused and as well regretful that so many about him appear lost in the cosmos. He puts that point to a sympathetic audience, down in Louisiana not far from his comforting “place” in Covington: “Catholic or Protestant, the believing writer is usually unhappy. He feels like Lancelot in search of the Holy Grail who finds himself at the end of his quest at a Tupperware party.” But not really unhappy – rather sympathetically regretful that his usual hosts at that party (his possible audience) have lost recognition of the holiness of things that requires the pilgrim intellectual soul a deportment to things in “a sacrament” of consent, before the “mystery” larger than the pretenses of scientism. The world, that is, is not a desert to be plundered to self-comfort as justified by a positivistic apotheosis of the “Self” as a sovereign autonomy desert-bound. The “making” of sacramental piety, whether as novelist or Delta planter, requires the stewardship of love to things in themselves.

Marion Montgomery is the author of many work on literature, philosophy, and culture, including Making: The Proper Habit of Our Being andRomancing Reality: Homo Viator and the Scandal Called Beauty, both from St. Augustine’s Press.