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Livy At Washington

Nec vitia nostra nec remedia pati possumus…

If history is one big abortion,
Then we’ve been done in by the specialists,
Whose confidence dims imagination.
The kids are good; the folks are not at home:
Orgasms vie with evolutionists—
And both will consume the same gay freedom
Whereby cool electrons slake the frisson
Of immanent democracy. So make
Mine a concrete, balloted passion—
The kind you get with a penny gumball,
What you might taste in a five-star beefsteak.
But form matters little to the hungry soul
When microphones crackle, truth to tell,
What prompts a heaven in humanity’s hell.

Murmuration

Seen while returning from the funeral of an old friend.

All I Ever Had

A Timely Passage from A Tale of Two Cities

Far and wide lay a ruined country, yielding nothing but desolation. Every green leaf, every blade of grass and blade of grain, was as shrivelled and poor as the miserable people. Everything was bowed down, dejected, oppressed, and broken. Habitations, fences, domesticated animals, men, women, children, and the soil that bore them—all worn out. Monseigneur (often a most worthy individual gentleman) was a national blessing, gave a chivalrous tone to things, was a polite example of luxurious and shining life, and a great deal more to equal purpose; nevertheless, Monseigneur as a class had, somehow or other, brought things to this. Strange that Creation, designed expressly for Monseigneur, should be so soon wrung dry and squeezed out! There must be something short-sighted in the eternal arrangements, surely! Thus it was, however; and the last drop of blood having been extracted from the flints, and the last screw of the rack having been turned so often that its purchase crumbled, and it now turned and turned with nothing to bite, Monseigneur began to run away from a phenomenon so low and unaccountable. But, this was not the change on the village, and on many a village like it. For scores of years gone by, Monseigneur had squeezed it and wrung it, and had seldom graced it with his presence except for the pleasures of the chase—now, found in hunting the people; now, found in hunting the beasts, for whose preservation Monseigneur made edifying spaces of barbarous and barren wilderness. No. The change consisted in the appearance of strange faces of low caste, rather than in the disappearance of the high caste, chiselled, and otherwise beautified and beautifying features of Monseigneur.

Novum Organum

In other publishing news, friends of Korrektiv Kerry Lea Perkins have teamed up with semiotician (and Percy correspondent) Ken Kettner and published a new book by Percy, Symbol and Existence: A Study in Meaning: Explorations of Human Nature:

SYMBOL AND EXISTENCE will prove fascinating to Walker Percy scholars and fans who wish to decipher Percy’s authentic philosophical stance. Percy, an existentialist Catholic at his core, was also a scientist seeking an objective paradigm to portray his views. SYMBOL AND EXISTENCE demonstrates that Percy was quite methodical and logical in his thought and provides an entirely new perspective on his scholarship. Much of this book is unique and has never been published before; however, some sections were revised and published as isolated journal articles or book chapters, never presented as the unified whole that Percy intended. The orderly unity of Percy’s work has not previously been accessible to scholars and fans.

SYMBOL AND EXISTENCE’s systematic presentation and its new material offer fresh insight and a more accurate view of Percy’s ideas. His early philosophical writings were often revised and significantly modified by outside editorial intent to conform to prevailing intellectual currents of the time. Readers of some published articles with corresponding passages in SYMBOL AND EXISTENCE will be surprised to discover major changes in meaning from Percy’s initial writing due to editorial intrusion and loss of context upon their removal from SYMBOL AND EXISTENCE.

As the only known systematic representation of Percy’s general working theory, SYMBOL AND EXISTENCE gives an important framework for his diverse intellectual background–philosophy and psychology, medicine and anthropology, semiotics and zoology–creating a coherent view of Percy’s “radical anthropology.”

SYMBOL AND EXISTENCE will prove fascinating to Walker Percy scholars and fans who wish to decipher Percy’s authentic philosophical stance. Percy, an existentialist Catholic at his core, was also a scientist seeking an objective paradigm to portray his views. SYMBOL AND EXISTENCE demonstrates that Percy was quite methodical and logical in his thought and provides an entirely new perspective on his scholarship. Much of this book is unique and has never been published before; however, some sections were revised and published as isolated journal articles or book chapters, never presented as the unified whole that Percy intended. The orderly unity of Percy’s work has not previously been accessible to scholars and fan

Jessica Hooten Wilson tackles Flannery O’Connor

Dr. Hooten Wilson, leading a rousing reading of The Screwtape Letters

The University of Dallas’ Louise Cowan Scholar in Residence Dr. Jessica Hooten Wilson, who once dined with the Korrektiv Kollektiv on a particularly memorable night in New Orleans, and who has since become something of a shining star in the firmament of American Catholic letters, is THIS VERY EVENING giving a little talk on her latest project: preparing Flannery O’Connor’s unfinished novel Why Do the Heathen Rage? for publication. Holy crow, as they say.

Korrektiv in the New York Times

I once heard a rumor that suffering gives authority.

Go ahead and call it an attempted comeback. Here’s where we’ve got to get back to if we’re going to get back at all: Friend of Korrektiv Bishop Daniel Flores (pictured above) telling the Times that he follows “The Korrektiv blog, which is by a number of different writers who look up to Walker Percy, whom I also like.” The good bishop used to be a blogger himself, though it seems he’s deeper into Twitter these days. Led there, no doubt, by the sensus fidelium. I liked this line: “Know what you must in conscience vigorously oppose in the agendas of whomever it is you decide to vote for; know these things at least as well, if not better, than you know what you can support.”

A Book Was Written

And there is a Walker Percy connection, believe it or not

The Poetry of Black Boy

I’m reading Black Boy by Richard Wright and enjoying the poetry of these passages:

Each event spoke with a cryptic tongue. And the moments of living slowly revealed their coded meanings. There was the wonder I felt when I first saw a brace of mountain-like, spotted, black-and-white horses clopping down a dusty road through clouds of powdered clay.

There was the delight I caught in seeing long straight rows of red and green vegetables stretching away in the sun to the bright horizon.

There was the faint, cool kiss of sensuality when dew came on to my cheeks and shins as I ran down the wet, green garden paths in the early morning.

There was the vague sense of the infinite as I looked down upon the yellow, dreaming waters of the Mississippi River from the verdant bluffs of Natchez.

There were the echoes of nostalgia I heard in the crying strings of wild geese winging south against a bleak, autumn sky.

There was the tantalising melancholy in the tingling scent of burning hickory wood.

There was the teasing and impossible desire to imitate the petty pride of sparrows wallowing and flouncing in the red dust of country roads.

There was the yearning for identification loosed in me by the sight of a solitary ant carrying a burden upon a mysterious journey.

There was the disdain that filled me as I tortured a delicate, blue-pink crawfish that huddled fearfully in the mudsill of a rusty tin can.

There was the aching glory in masses of clouds burning gold and purple from an invisible sun.

There was the liquid alarm I saw in the blood-red glare of the sun’s afterglow mirrored in the squared panes of whitewashed frame houses.

There was the languor I felt when I heard green leaves rustling with a rainlike sound.

There was the incomprehensible secret embodied in a whitish toadstool hiding in the dark shade of a rotting log.

There was the experience of feeling death without dying that came from watching a chicken leap about blindly after its neck had been snapped by a quick twist of my father’s wrist.

There was the great joke that I felt God had played on cats and dogs by making them lap their milk and water with their tongues.

There was the thirst I had when I watched clear, sweet juice trickle from sugar cane being crushed.

There was the hot panic that welled up in my throat and swept through my blood when I first saw the lazy, limp coils of a blue-skinned snake sleeping in the sun.

There was the speechless astonishment of seeing a hog stabbed through the heart, dipped into boiling water, scraped, split open, gutted, and strung up gaping and bloody.

There was the love I had for the mute regality of tall, moss-clad oaks.

There was the hint of cosmic cruelty that I felt when I saw the curved timbers of a wooden shack that had been warped in the summer sun.

There was the saliva that formed in my mouth whenever I smelt clay dust potted with fresh rain.

There was the cloudy notion of hunger when I breathed the odour of new-cut, bleeding grass.

And there was the quiet terror that suffused my senses when vast hazes of gold washed earthward from star-heavy skies on silent nights…

The days and hours began to speak now with a clearer tongue. Each experience had a sharp meaning of its own.

There was the breathlessly anxious fun of chasing and catching flitting fireflies on drowsy summer nights.

There was the drenching hospitality in the pervading smell of sweet magnolias.

There was the aura of limitless freedom distilled from the rolling sweep of tall green grass swaying and glinting in the wind and sun.

There was the feeling of impersonal plenty when I saw a boll of cotton whose cup had split over and straggled its white fleece towards the earth.

There was the pitying chuckle that bubbled in my throat when I watched a fat duck waddle across the back yard.

There was the suspense I felt when I heard the taut, sharp song of a yellow-black bee hovering nervously but patiently above a white rose.

There was the drugged, sleepy feeling that came from sipping glasses of milk, drinking them slowly so that they would last a long time, and drinking enough for the first time in my life.

There was the bitter amusement of going into town with Granny and watching the baffled stares of white folks who saw an old white woman leading two undeniably Negro boys in and out of stores on Capitol Street.

There was the slow, fresh, saliva-stimulating smell of cooking cotton seeds.There was the excitement of fishing in muddy country creeks with my grandpa on cloudy days.

There was the fear and awe I felt when Grandpa took me to a sawmill to watch the giant, whirring, steel blades whine and scream as they bit into wet, green logs.

There was the puckery taste that almost made me cry when I ate my first half-ripe persimmon.There was the greedy joy in the tangy taste of wild hickory nuts.

There was the dry, hot, summer morning when I scratched my bare arms on briers while picking blackberries and came home with my fingers and lips stained black with sweet berry juice.

There was the relish of eating my first fried fish sandwich, nibbling at it slowly and hoping that I would never eat it up.

There was the all-night ache in my stomach after I had climbed a neighbour’s tree and eaten stolen, unripe peaches.

There was the morning when I thought I would fall dead from fear after I had stepped with my bare feet upon a bright little green garden snake.

And there were the long, slow, drowsy days and nights of drizzling rain…

In Memoriam: Paul Zimmer

Paul Zimmer: 1934-2019

I. The Visit

For Paul and Suzanne Zimmer and Cele Wolf

With sunlight pouring through the windows, March
Retreats and winter’s windy shadows shake
The shadows’ fruit from changing light. The lurch
And sway of barren limbs (no leaves to speak
Within the secret ear of spring) now cast
Their shadows through the room. We visit there
And lunch on whiskey’s fire – a sip, a taste,
Enough to warm remembrance with desire.

That afternoon your visit was a gift —
To know that spring came early and put
The bloom of meaning to books and birds.
Our host, the town’s librarian, had laughed
To think that here the dance of drink and thought
Had found a way with words — a way to words.

(For a sampling of Mr. Zimmer’s work, go here.)