Thursday, August 8, 2013

Soteriology of Walker Percy Part 3

We know that Kierkegaard influenced Percy's writing. We have looked at Kierkegaard's three spheres of existence: asthetics, ethics, and religious. We will now look at how Percy used these ideas in his writings. Smith thinks that "Percy's use of them is key to understanding the soteriology in his writings" (256).

Smith asks the following question: "Did Percy believe that his own novels contain a soteriological message? Was it the job of the novelist to also act as an evangelist?" (256). Percy spoke often of the role of the novel and the novelist. Speaking of the novelist, Percy says the novelist is not an "Answer Man." What does Percy mean by this statement. I think, in some sense, he is saying that the novelist is not an apostle. He has not been authorized to preach the gospel. However, Percy says, "the novelist is entitled to a degree of artifice and cunning, as Joyce said; or the 'indirect method,' as Kierkegaard said; or the comic-bizarre for shock therapy, as Flannery O'Connor did" (256). He sounds like he is speaking of his own method of writing. Percy continues: "I never lose sight of the lowly vocation of the novelist. He is mainly out to give pleasure to a reader--one would hope, aesthetic pleasure. He operates in the aesthetic sphere, not the religious or even the ethical" (256). Percy thinks the role of the novelist is to provide aesthetic pleasure to his readers. Does this mean that the novelist does not have a message he wants to bring forth? Does this mean there are no soteriological intentions in Percy's writings? Smith asks a further question: "And, what should be the outcome of the novelist's use of artifice, indirect method, and shock therapy? An answer to these questions can be found in Percy's stance on the role of the novel" (257).

Percy thinks the novel "plays an important role in the lives of people" (257). Percy writes, "For, if I believe anything, it is that the primary business of literature and art is cognitive, a kind of finding out and knowing and telling. . . . The pleasures of literature, the emotional gratification of reader and writer, follow upon and are secondary to the knowing" (257). How does this statement compare with his earlier statement on the role of the novelist? Smith asks, "Is creating something pleasurable to read the goal, or is it not?" (257). Is Percy contradicting himself or did he change his mind. Smith writes, "Percy probably means that the novelist is limited to the aesthetic sphere for the simple reason that people read fiction primarily for the pleasure of it, and they read systematic writings (e.g., a philosophical or medical essay) in order to increase their knowledge about a particular subject" (257). Percy knew that if the novel wasn't pleasurable, the reader wouldn't read it. I am not completely happy with these answers. There seems to be a difference between novels and non-fiction writing. Non-fiction tells, while, novels show. The role of the novel is to present an experience. Comparing Percy's fiction and non-fiction writings, one notices a major difference between them. In non-fiction, one tells directly. In a novel, the message has two be indirect. I think a reader can see how Percy struggled with keeping these distinct. Percy definitely had a message he wanted to tell. He also was concerned in producing good art.

Percy thought that the novel gave the reader "knowledge of himself as an individual." Percy speaking of the novel says, "This may be the only instrument we have for exploring the great gap in our knowing ourselves and how it stand between ourselves and others" (257). We come to know ourselves vicariously through the actors of the novel. Percy's novels are exploratory. He puts the individual in a predicament and sees how he will get out of it. It is interesting our Percy explores his own voices in his novels. Writing novels was a form of knowing for Percy. It helped him to wrestle with his own demons and to move on. Percy does seem to place "more importance on the cognitive effect the novel has on the reader and writer than he does on the aesthetic effect" (257). This might be true, but Percy is not writing a gospel tract.

Smith concludes this section: "The novelist must understand that he or she is writing in the aesthetic sphere. The novel must be pleasing to read or else nobody will read it. Also, the novelist is not the Answer Man. The novel is not a collection of syllogisms thinly veiled by a weak story. The novelist must be indirect and somewhat cunning. As a pleasing story, though, the novel has the potential to say something to a person as an individual. It is the only instrument that can cause a person to know him or herself. Bringing this back to the issue of soteriology, one cannot know oneself without knowing oneself before God. The ultimate issue involving the novel, then, is its soteriological potential" (258).

Is the soteriological potential really the ultimate issue of the novel? I do not know if I can say it is.

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