Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Walker Percy's Rhetoric of Time, Apocalypse, and the Modern Predicament Part 2

Haddox thinks that Percy uses two strategies to bring his characters to the point of decision. The first "involves embracing a sacramental understanding of the world, in which what had seemed irredeemably dreary appears in its true light as a splendid, gratuitous gift, charged, in Hopinsesque fashion with the glory of God (132)." One does see this often in Percy writings. The idea of experiencing the transcendent in the ordinary. It is pure gift, an act of God's grace. He says that a second strategy is a concern with apocalypse. This is also evident in Percy's writings. Percy often shows that in a major trauma individuals experience God's grace. It seems these two strategies can work against each other.

Percy in his essay, "The Message in the Bottle," develops Kierkegaard's distinction between a "genius" and an "apostle" and applies it to the messenger of the Gospel:

"Faith comes from God, but it also comes by hearing. It is a piece of news and there is a newsbearer. But why should we believe the newsbearer, the apostle? Must the apostle first prove his case to the scientist in the seminar room? No, because, this would mean that God and the apostle must wait in the porter's lodge while the learned upstairs settle the matter. . . .

How then may we recognize the divine authority of the apostle? What, in other words, are the credentials of the newsbearer? The credential of the apostle is simply the gravity of the message: 'I am called by God; do with me what you will, scourge me, persecute me, but my last words are first; I am called by God and I make you eternally responsible for what you do against me.' . . . What if a man receives the commission to bring news across the seas to the castaway and does so in perfect sobriety and with good faith and perseverance to the point of martyrdom? And what if the news the newsbearer bears is the very news the castaway has been waiting for, news of where he came from and who he is and what he must do, and what if the newsbearer brought with the means by which the castaway may do what he must do? Well then, the castaway will, by the grace of God, believe him (146, 147, 149)." Quoted in Haddox, p. 146.

One sees this idea from his essay in much of Percy's fiction writing. Everyday knowledge and the revelation of God is not the same. A person sees his need and he is willing to believe the message. However, it is only by the grace of God he can believe. Belief is a gift of God.

Haddox analyses many of the novels written by Percy. I will concentrate on his analysis of The Lost in the Cosmos. He asserts that in this work, "Percy provides the most concise and in many respects most entertaining summation of his thought" (148). Haddox focuses on "A Space Odyssey." The two different strategies are seen in these two fictional pieces at the end of the work. Haddox notes, "Whereas Percy's protagonists often longed for an apocalypse that either did not come or arrived with a whimper, here the theoretician proposes the real thing-- a nuclear holocaust that leaves only a few survivors and their descendants on the earth--as a test of whether Percy's theories of the self, language, and redemption would still operate in the most extreme conditions imaginable. Predictably, the theories are verified--not even a literal end of the world, as opposed to a metaphorical one, can transfigure recalcitrant human nature" (148).  

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