Monday, July 29, 2013

Walker Percy's Use of Satire

L. Lamar Nisly, "Percy's Edgy Satiric Fiction," in Wingless Chickens, Bayou Catholics, & Pilgrim Wayfarers. Macon, Ga.: Mercer University Press, 2011: 159-186.

A major characteristic of Percy's writing was the use of satire or indirect communication. Nisly notes, "Percy's novels are, at times, wacky and over-the-top and potentially offensive--engaging in a broad satiric comedy" (159). In addition, his use of satire is because of "the stance from which Percy is writing is also from the edge, since his plaintive . . . canary cries point out all sorts of areas in need of correction that he observes from his stance on the margins" (159). Percy has to use indirect communication because the reader's defenses are up. We can choose to not hear the truth.

Nisly points out that Percy's purpose for using satire "is to bring about change, to point out the failings he sees around him in the hopes that they will be rectified" (159). It is easy to mis-interpret what he is doing. One often read in reviews of Percy's work that he is expressing anger at the reader or society. Nisly however, notes, "Percy says, the novelist is 'life-affirming,' but 'before life can be affirmed for the novelist or, his readers, death-in-life must be named.' Showing this 'death-in-life' is, Percy argues, 'a thousand times more life-affirming than all the life-affirming self-help books about me being okay and you being okay and everybody being okay when in fact everybody is not okay, but more likely in deep trouble' (159)." Once can note two points in Percy's books: a diagnosis of what is wrong and clues pointing to recovery. Nisly writes, "As he points out the myriad problems around him, Percy hopes to jolt his wayfaring audience from its malaise and toward a meaningful search" (159). Percy can accomplish this task only through indirect communication.

Another reason for indirect communication and the use of satire was because Percy "sees religious language as 'bankrupt' and 'worn out' in our culture, he recognizes that he cannot speak directly about the spiritual concerns that motivate his writing" (159). This bothers Percy because he wanted the reader to know what he was getting at. He would have preferred to have been more direct. He is, however, more effective when he is using indirect communication. Nisly states, "Percy's satiric approach . . . is his effort to engage indirectly his readers' spiritual malaise" (160). Nisly thinks that Percy, "like O'Connor . . . is distressed about the disbelief he sees around him, but he generally invokes the spiritual concern more obliquely through his dire criticisms of societal wrongs" (160). Percy uses satire to point out something is wrong. He even wrote futuristic, apocalyptic novels to point possible future outcomes to what is wrong now.

Nisly notes that there were four "broad targets for his satire" : Southern stoicism, scientism, "societal ills," and his "criticism of the church failings" (160).

We will look at these four targets in part two of this topic.

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