Why is it that one can look at a lion or a planet or an owl or at someone’s finger as long as one pleases, but looking into the eyes of another person is, if prolonged past a second, a perilous affair?
Walker Percy (May 28, 1916 – May 10, 1990) was an American Southern author whose interests included philosophy and semiotics.
Why is there such a gap between nonspeaking animals and speaking man, when there is no other such gap in nature?
Is it possible that a theory of man is nothing more nor less than a theory of the speaking creatures?
- Further sourcing to chapters here and in further sections would be helpful.
- Hatred strikes me as one of the few signs of life remaining in the world. This is another thing about the world which is upsidedown: all the friendly and likable people seem dead to me; only the haters seem alive. (2.9).
- I had discovered that a person does not have to be this or be that or be anything, not even oneself. One is free. (2.12).
- She refers to a phenomenon of moviegoing which I have called certification. Nowadays when a person lives somewhere, in a neighborhood, the place is not certified for him. More than likely he will live there sadly and the emptiness which is inside him will expand until it evacuates the entire neighborhood. But if he sees a movie which shows his very neighborhood, it becomes possible for him to live, for a time at least, as a person who is Somewhere and not Anywhere. (1.7).
- I have discovered that most people have no one to talk to, no one, that is, who really wants to listen. When it does at last dawn on a man that you really want to hear about his business, the look that comes over his face is something to see.
- A repetition is the re-enactment of past experience toward the end of isolating the time segment which has lapsed in order that it, the lapsed time, can be savored of itself and without the usual adulteration of events that clog time like peanuts in brittle.
- The enduring is something which must be accounted for. One cannot simply shrug it off.
- She can only believe I am serious in her own fashion of being serious: as an antic sort of seriousness, which is not seriousness at all but despair masquerading as seriousness.
- As for hobbies, people with stimulating hobbies suffer from the most noxious of despairs since they are tranquilized in their despair.
- Oh the crap that lies lurking in the English soul. Somewhere it, the English soul, received an injection of romanticism which nearly killed it.
- A good rotation. A rotation I define as the experiencing of the new beyond the expectation of the experiencing of the new.
- Christians talk about the horror of sin, but they have overlooked something. They keep talking as if everyone were a great sinner, when the truth is that nowadays one is hardly up to it. There is very little sin in the depths of the malaise. The highest moment of a malaisian's life can be the moment when he manages to sin like a proper human (Look at us, Binx — my vagabond friends as good as cried out to me — we're sinning! We're succeeding! We're human after all!).
- Not a single thing do I remember from the first trip but this: the sense of the place, the savor of the genie-soul of the place which every place has or else is not a place...there it is as big as life, the genie-soul of the place which, wherever you go, you must meet and master first thing or be met and mastered. (4.3).
- My aunt is convinced I have a "flair for research." This is not true. If I had a flair for research, I would be doing research. Actually I'm not very smart. My grades were average. My mother and my aunt think I am smart because I am quiet and absent-minded–and because my father and grandfather were smart. They think I was meant to do research because I am not fit to do anything else–I am a genius whom ordinary professions can't satisfy.
- For some time now the impression has been growing upon me that everyone is dead. It happens when I speak to people. In the middle of a sentence it will come over me: yes, beyond a doubt this is death. There is little to do but groan and make an excuse and slip away as quickly as one can.
- To tell the absolute truth, I’ve always been slightly embarrassed by Walter’s company. Whenever I’m with him, I feel the stretch of the old tightrope, the necessity of living up to the friendship of friendships, of cultivating an intimacy beyond words. The fact is that we have little to say to each other. There is only this thick sympathetic silence between us. We are comrades, true, but somewhat embarrassed comrades. It is probably my fault. For years now I have had no friends. I spend my entire time working, making money, going to movies and seeking the company of women.
- Today is my thirtieth birthday and I sit on the ocean wave in the schoolyard and wait for Kate and think of nothing. Now in the thirty-first year of my dark pilgrimage on this earth and knowing less than I ever knew before, having learned only to recognize merde when I see it, having inherited no more from my father than a good nose for merde, for every species of shit that flies - my only talent - smelling merde from every quarter, living in fact in the very century of merde, the great shithouse of scientific humanism where needs are satisfied, everyone becomes an anyone, a warm and creative person, and prospers like a dung beetle, and one hundred percent of people are humanists and ninety-eight percent believe in God, and men are dead, dead, dead; and the malaise has settled like a fall-out and what people really fear is not that the bomb will fall but that the bomb will not fall - on this my thirtieth birthday, I know nothing and there is nothing to do but fall prey to desire.
- The search is what anyone would undertake if he were not sunk in the everydayness of his own life.
- To become aware of the possibility of the search is to be onto something. Not to be onto something is to be in despair. The movies are onto the search, but they screw it up. The search always ends in despair. They like to show a fellow coming to himself in a strange place-but what does he do? He takes up with the local librarian, sets about proving to the local children what a nice fellow he is, and settles down with a vengeance. In two weeks time he is so sunk in everydayness that he might just as well be dead.
- What a man can be the next minute bears no relation to what he is or what he was the minute before.
- He was a young man of pleasant appearance. Of medium height and exceedingly pale, he was nevertheless strongly built and quick and easy in his ways. Save for his deafness in one ear, his physical health was perfect. Handsome as he was, he was given to long silences. So girls didn't know what to make of him. But men liked him. After a while they saw that he was easy and meant no harm. He was the sort whom classmates remember fondly; they liked to grab him around the neck with an elbow and cuff him around. Good-looking and amiable as he was, however, he did not strike one as remarkable. People usually told him the same joke two or three times.
- Once again he began to feel bad in the best of environments. And he noticed that other people did too. So bad did they feel, in fact, that it took the worst of news to cheer them up. On the finest mornings he noticed that people in the subway looked awful until they opened their newspapers and read of some airliner crashing and killing all hundred and seven passengers. Where there had been misery in their happiness, now as they shook their heads dolefully at the tragedy they became happy in their misery.
- Christ should leave us. He is too much with us and I don't like his friends. We have no hope of recovering Christ until Christ leaves us. There is after all something worse than being God-forsaken. It is when God overstays his welcome and take up with the wrong people.
- It was no more nor less than true. You do things by doing things, not by not doing them. No more crazy upsidedownness, he resolved. Good was better than bad. Good environments are better than bad environments.
- He could tell that the other expected him to be surprised, but it was not in him to be surprised because it was no more surprising to him when things did not fall out as they were supposed to than when they did.
- Where does one start with a theory of man if the theory of man as an organism in an environment doesn't work and all the attributes of man which were accepted in the old modern age are now called into question: his soul, mind, freedom, will, Godlikeness?
There is only one place to start: the place where man's singularity is there for all to see and cannot be called into question, even in a new age in which everything else is in dispute.
That singularity is language...
- Why is there such a gap between nonspeaking animals and speaking man, when there is no other such gap in nature?
Is it possible that a theory of man is nothing more nor less than a theory of the speaking creatures?
- You can get all A's and still flunk life.
- The lives of other people seemed even more farcical than his own. It astonished him that as farcical as most people's live were, they generally gave no sign of it. Why was it that it was he not they who had decided to shoot himself? How did they manage to deceive themselves and even appear to live normally, work as usual, play golf, tell jokes, argue politics? Was he crazy or was it rather the case that other people went to any length to disguise from themselves the fact that their lives were farcical? He couldn't decide.
- Peace is only better than war if peace is not hell too. War being hell makes sense.
- You don't ever really learn anything you didn't know when you were thirteen.
- What struck him was not sadness or remorse or pity but the wonder of it. How can it be? How can it happen that one day you are young, you marry, and then another day you come to yourself and your life has passed like a dream? They looked at teach other curiously and wondered how they could have missed each other, lived in the same house all those years and passed in the hall like ghosts.
- He thought he was a good poet but he was not. He thought books could tell him how to live but they couldn't. He was a serious but dazed reader. He read Dante and Shakespeare and Nietzsche and Freud. He read modern poetry and books on psychiatry. He had taken a degree in English, couldn't, decided to farm, bought a goat farm, managed a Confederate museum in a cave on his property, wrote poetry, went broke, became a golf pro.
- In all honesty it was easier to believe it in cool Long Island for its very outrageousness where nobody believed anything very seriously than in hot Carolina where everybody was a Christian and found unbelief unbelievable.
- Why it is that of all the billions and billions of strange objects in the Cosmos — novas, quasars, pulsars, black holes — you are beyond doubt the strangest?
- Why is it that one can look at a lion or a planet or an owl or at someone’s finger as long as one pleases, but looking into the eyes of another person is, if prolonged past a second, a perilous affair?
- There is no fashion so absurd, even grotesque, that it cannot be adopted, given two things: the authority of the fashion-setter (Dior, Jackie Onassis) and the vacuity or noughtness of the consumer.