Walker Percy: What else is there?


  1. What else is there? scepticism? freedom?

    I used to like Walker Percy a lot about ten years ago or so – I remember trying to find Message in a Bottle, but it was before Amazon so I couldn’t – but I have to say I never managed to finish anything by him.

  2. Rufus McCain says

    Well, if you liked Walker Percy a lot but never finished anything, maybe you should pick him up again. I’d recommend grabbing aholt of Lost in the Cosmos and The Moviegoer and reading them all the way to the end. And then continue on from there. Be sceptical of your scepticism. Exercise your freedom.

  3. almostgotit says

    Oh, what a gimme!

    Anne Lamott (except, perhaps, her latest)
    Marilynn Robinson
    Madeleine L’Engel
    Elizabeth A. Johnson
    Malcolm Gladwell (yes, Malcolm Gladwell!)
    Leif Enger
    Harper Lee
    C.S. Lewis

    I think the best Percy book to start with, BTW, is The Second Coming. The others might be too weird, otherwise.

  4. Rufus McCain says

    AGI: This is another one of those linking titles. The question isn’t “what else is there to read besides Walker Percy?” Rather it refers to Percy’s question: What else is there besides the Catholic Church as the answer to the weirdness and wonder of life.

  5. almostgotit says

    Oh, the common language that divides…

  6. I didn’t finish him because I got bored – I felt that if I got to the end of the book I might learn to live, but in the end it wasn’t a good enough read.

    No, it may be logically possible to be sceptical of scepticism, but it doesn’t make common sense.

    If there is a creator, can’t we join forces and overthrow him?

  7. Rufus McCain says

    Common sense is exactly what it does make. In practical terms pure skepticism is a dead end, just as pure freedom is a dead end. Without some anchor that is weightier than your flimsy self you will drift along into inevitable oblivion.

  8. I occasionally experience myself as a cluster of flowing currents. I prefer this to the idea of a solid self, the identity to which so many attach so much significance. These currents, like the themes of one’s life, flow along during the waking hours, and at their best, they require no reconciling, no harmonizing. They are ‘off’ and may be out of place, but at least they are always in motion, in time, in place, in the form of all kinds of strange combinations moving about, not necessarily foward, sometimes against each other, contrapuntally yet without one central theme. A form of freedom, I’d like to think, even if I am far from being totally convinced that it is. That skepticism too is one of the themes I particularly want to hold on to. With so many dissonances in my life I have learned actually to prefer being not quite right and out of place.

    The divine Edward Said.

  9. Afraid I must agree with Anon here… our inner skeptics/sceptics are part of our God-given mind (as in, “to love God with all my heart, soul and mind”) and therefore in one way or other, the mind must be won over along with all the rest in any conversion experience.

    The Catholic view of things is that faith is a gift rather than purely an act of human will, is it not? That some of us are simply given less of it, have more trouble finding it, or occasionally misplace it altogether would make some sense then, wouldn’t it?

    Peace then, Anon, and perhaps anon…

  10. Almostgotit.com says

    I didn’t mean to be “anonymous” myself in last comment!

    I am: Elizabeth at Almostgotit.com!

  11. Rufus McCain says

    Anona-Liz: One of the anonymouses said it didn’t make common sense to be sceptical of one’s scepticism. All I’m saying is that from a practical standpoint it does in fact make sense, even common sense. We are limited creatures, I think we can all agree on that. I would further argue that because we are limited creatures, we all end up putting our faith in something or someone; we inevitably bow to something or someone. If you’re going to claim scepticism as your overriding principle, then first of all I’d say you’re fooling yourself. In the end, your scepticism will falter and you will end up worshiping an idol of some sort. But secondly, I would say, well, in the spirit of scepticism, extend it to your own flimsy fallacy-ridden self and your panoply of good and bad motives. Aim your scepticism back at itself and open yourself to the possibility of news from across the sea (to borrow Percy’s image from The Message in the Bottle). It doesn’t mean you can remove your doubts by an act of the will, but you can drop your pretense of scepticism as a fortress against the free gift that is being extended to you at every moment of your pathetic little existence. (N.B. That last part was just a little joke.)

  12. Rufus McCain says

    The paragraph from Edward Said is quite lovely. Mystical even. I might even accuse you of playing the mystic card on Percy, which is fine, but then we’re talking about something other than how to live one’s life. I.e. it’s one thing to say, as Said does, that I “sometimes experience myself as a cluster of flowing currents” — in a mystical sense that exhibits a sort of humility towards unfathomable reality. It’s something else again to make that the hallmark of one’s existence, which is really just an exotic way of cashing in one’s chips.

  13. Pathetic little existence, perhaps. But I remember seeing an interview with Richard Dawkins in which the interviewer said, you’re rich, your handsome, you have a lovely family – could it be you just don’t need God as much as some do?

    I’m not an atheist, I’m an agnostic, and can’t see how anybody else isn’t. But as far as Catholicism goes, no, I don’t believe in a narcissistic, angry God, or a socially conservative, authoritarian church.

    Yes, I agree we’re limited creatures, and so we depend upon other people, in intimate relationships, in relationships with our neighbours, the community, etc. And if people desert us, then perhaps we find solace in books, in art, even in some sort of God – but not the Catholic church! Try the Episcopalians – not many of them actually believe in it.

    No, I agree it’s a bit mystical, I just like Said’s style, his melancholy sensibility, and his face.

  14. Almostgotit says

    Any Christian who is *not* in large part also an agnostic is not the sort I’d like much to hang out with, anyway.

    While some folks may be so personally successful that they no longer “need God,” for my own part I find God much less appealing when abandoned by the rest of the world, not more so. (e.g. “God is present in the firmament…” or NOT!)

    Being skeptical is stupid for its own sake, of course it is. As is being skeptical of everything except one’s own skepticism. This is as silly as being a completely non-agnostic Christian, IMHO.

    At the same time, though, being aware of one’s own pathetic existence *as* pathetic does not necessarily lead to an acceptance of the God thing, or of any other thing either for that matter. Sometimes being pathetic just makes one pathetically unable to believe or accept anything at all.

    I know Percy says there is no such thing as believing in nothing… that one either believes in SOMEthing, or else one will believe in ANYthing.

    I do not find this to be true, however. Nor am I necessarily any more pathetic nor more fallible than the late Dr. Percy.

    And finally, re Episcopalians: actually yes… an awful lot of them *do* “believe it.” 85%, according to a very recent professional poll taken at the particularly-agnostic nest of them that I’m affiliated with myself at the moment. I am actually a fairly poor representative sample…

  15. If you don’t like the idea of scepticism, then let’s just say I’m neither a true believer or a firm atheist. I went through a stage of reading Chesterton, C.S. Lewis, and managed to finish them (I think Percy is wise but I don’t like his novels), and spent several years semi-religious, but more God/Jesus as metaphor, and as therefore a greater believer in the institutions than in anything else. I began to dislike the frame of mind, the quietism (and certainly the potential lack of freedom), perhaps it is, involved. Nowawadays I am more likely to believe from time to time, but not in the baggage that goes with it: if there is a creator, I simply don’t want to know. And if I were to go to church it would probably be unitarian. Perhaps I will bow out of your nice site, as it’s interestinging but I don’t want to go back there. Thanks, it’s an interesting site.

  16. Rufus McCain says


    No, don’t go! We’ve grown fond of you around here. And we’re grateful to you for bothering to comment from time to time. There’s no requirement that you agree with us. At all. On the other hand I don’t blame you if you’re sick of us and feel ready to move on. Be assured, however, that you’re completely welcome to drop in anytime.

    I agree with Almostgotit that our essential condition as human beings is an agnostic one, and I hope that is demonstrated by the overriding spirit of Korrektiv. We’re all fumbling in the dark, more or less. For me the focal point is not on knowledge or metaphor or theory or explanation except insofar as these are tied to a real person and a real point in history and real, tangible experiences in my own life that are tangibly tied to that person and those historical events. That’s what attracted me to the Catholic Church and why I stick with it despite some of its obvious failures and fiascos. With its magnificently developed emphasis on sacrament and incarnation, the Church penetrates my being like nothing else I’ve encountered and brings me closer to the reality of Christ which is where, I have an inkling, God entered history and connected with humanity in the most profound way. The only reason I joined the Catholic Church and stick with it is because I want to be plugged into that. I confess that I have only the the slightest inkling and the sketchiest of clues as to what it’s all about; but for me that’s enough. So … maybe we’re not really that different.

  17. How do you know there aren’t lots of us?

    I’m still logging in, though may not have a lot of time to read all articles thoroughly, and may not have a lot to contribute. Thanks for the site.

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