Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Living as an Ex-Suicide

Walker Percy, writing in 1980, penned the following words:
The fact is that, by virtue of its peculiar relationship to the world, to others, and to its own organism, the autonomous self in a modern technological society is possessed. It is possessed by the spirit of the erotic and the secret love of violence. The peculiar predicament of the present-day self surely came to pass as a consequence of the disappointment of the high expectations of the self as it entered the age of science and technology. Dazzled by the overwhelming credentials of science, the beauty and elegance of the scientific method, the triumph of modern medicine over physical ailments, and the technological transformation of the very world itself, the self finds itself in the end disappointed by the failure of science and technique in those very sectors of life which had been its main source of ordinary satisfaction in past ages. As John Cheever said, the main emotion of the adult Northeastern American who has had all the advantages of wealth, education, and culture is disappointment.
Some very prescient thoughts from Walker Percy in his book Lost in the Cosmos. A Roman Catholic writer, Percy not only wrote novels, but he also wrote this book - billed as a sort of farcical self-help book where he attempts to force his readers to consider themselves and their own lostness for just one moment. I love this book. I share one more paragraph which is not related, but which I have found very insightful, nevertheless.

As a minor introductory note, I have noticed that for Percy, entertaining the thought of suicide is quite important. In The Moviegoer, it is only in realizing the possibility of suicide that Kate is set free from her bondage. His book The Second Coming opens with a man who realizes how farcical the world is and hence decides to kill himself only to find liberation in the notion that suicide is always there, hovering in the background. In the paragraph (also from Lost in the Cosmos), when Percy uses the term "ex-suicide," he means someone who, like Kate, stepped to the abyss, saw the possibility, and decided life was worth living after all. Enough introduction; here is what Percy says:
The consequences of entertainable suicide? Lying on the beach, you are free for the first time in your life to pick up a coquina and look at it. You are even free to go home and, like the man from Chicago, dance with your wife. The difference between a non-suicide and an ex-suicide leaving the house for work, at eight o’clock on an ordinary morning: The non-suicide is a little traveling suck of care, sucking care with him from the past and being sucked toward care in the future. His breath is high in his chest. The ex-suicide opens his front door, sits down on the steps, and laughs. Since he has the option of being dead, he has nothing to lose by being alive. It is good to be alive. He goes to work because he doesn’t have to.
As one more rejoinder, lets consider the close proximity of what Percy says here and what the Apostle Paul says in Romans 6 about being dead to sin and now being alive to Christ.

1 comment:

  1. I have read everything by Walker Percy and know that I will have to read it all again-- he is prophetic and profound. I think he is not read because of his use of non-Pc descriptors. I want yell, "It's fiction, it's dialogue... You have to use the real-time language."


Before posting please read our Comment Policy here.

Think hard about this: the world is watching!