In praise of Percy

The literary society at Columbia’s medical school is named for Walker Percy. He graduated from Columbia, promptly contracted TB from Bellevue and subsequently dedicated his life to healing the soul through literature.

I read The Moviegoer a decade or so ago and it didn’t really strike me one way or the other. However, when Lost in the Cosmos was discussed on a writing podcast (I can’t remember which one or I’d plug it) I picked it up. Well, after three months of inching my way through this dense, horrifying, inspiring, and quizzical tome, I must confess that I’ve been converted to his greatness.

In no way can I do the book justice, but here’s my take:

1. Our experience of the world is determined by symbols

2. We have a symbol for everything except ourselves

3. That isolation from ever understanding who we are is a dangerous tension that will likely destroy mankind

4. While mankind has traditionally immersed itself in erotic engagement with the sublime (God, forbidden sexuality, mystery), in an answer-filled, on-demand world there is no mystery left, no communion with the essence of the Cosmos; instead we turn to sex, alcohol, consumerism, rampant narcissism

5. There is no exit

Damn, I wish he’d been alive for Facebook.

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