Sunday, 6 July 2014

The Moviegoer by Walker Percy

The epigraph to the novel is taken from Kierkegaard's The Sickness Unto Death
… the specific character of despair is precisely this: it is unaware of being despair.

This observation from Henri Bergson might also be apt:
The application of the cinematographical method therefore leads to a perpetual recommencement, during which the mind, never able to satisfy itself and never finding where to rest, persuades itself, no doubt, that it imitates by its instability the very movement of the real. 
(from Creative Evolution)

Binx Bolling is the star of this novel (pub. 1961, won National Book Award) and therefore the narrator. He has his own way of grasping the real which involves the movie certifying the area.

She refers to a phenomenon of moviegoing which I have called certification. Nowadays when a person lives somewhere, in a neighborhood, the place is not certified for him. More than likely he will live there sadly and the emptiness which is inside him will expand until it evacuates the entire neighborhood. But if he sees a movie which shows his very neighborhood, it becomes possible for him to live, for a time at least, as a person who is Somewhere and not Anywhere.

The movie in the book is Panic in the Streets with Richard Widmark and the neighbourhood of the theater is shown in the movie. It was filmed in New Orleans. So if it happened that he was in the village of Cong and he watched the movie The Quiet Man with John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara which was shot in Cong and its surrounds then Cong would be certified for him. ‘Begod you could get yourself certified after that’.

His various ways of repossessing the reality from which he is alienated are amusing and yet wistful. Our of coincidence and synchronicity he fashions a fate. Or would that be ‘syntopicity’? His Aunt really his Grand-Aunt Emily is the moral centre of the novel and her home is in the elite section of the city. This is the ‘area’ which represents the duties of privilege and giving something back and Binx can’t stand living there. It’s a ‘location vocation’ thing. No he must reside in good middle class Gentilly, ply his stocks and bonds and develop his inherent knack of making money. His Uncle by marriage Jules has set him up in an office there. To keep up his own sense of worth he tells us, his readers, that he is a seeker but yet he wakes early with a firm intention of amending his stock in American Motors. We notice here the double author irony which is deftly wrought. There’s a lot of that.

This is a complex novel that is saved from its existentalist influences by having a sense of humour. It is beautifully written and at 185 pages has a compression that aspires to poetry. Writing this little note I found myself being drawn back into it and finding new corners. What is the nature of Binx’s relationship to Kate his quasi sister though no blood relation having being raised with her from childhood after his father died? Is there a kink in it? He seems to have spent years in the up country house depending on the kindness of relatives. Yes’m.

My purpose here is incitement to read and I never like saying too much that would rob the reader of their personal meeting with a work of art. It’s an American classic which seems not to have crossed the Atlantic. I cannot recall ever having seen a first or second hand copy of it. Get sand in it.


Amateur Reader (Tom) said...

I enjoyed this post a lot. I mentioned it on Twitter, for all of the good that does anyone.

You can go to New Orleans and stand in the spot, more or less, where Binx sees William Holden. So that space is now validated not by seeing the celebrity, but by being in a book in which etc.

New Orleans is a strange place.

ombhurbhuva said...

Thankee. I noticed an uptick in views but you’re my only ‘gentleman caller’. I’ll be looking for more by him, any recommendations?

Amateur Reader (Tom) said...

I've only read the one book. I know some big Percy fans, but I don't think any of them think he ever topped The Moviegoer.