Books That Make Us Human: The Moviegoer

Father Maguire opened the Modern Irish Literature class by declaring,”Literature can illuminate what Philosophy and Theology cannot; fiction communicates through suggestion the knowledge of the world and human experience.”

By evoking the “perennially present moment” of human nature, (that is, a moment of humanity relating to the fabric of human reality and supposing  the unchanging nature of humanity,) literature gives rise to that event in the mind, heart and soul of the reader.

The true action of a work of art takes place in the receiver of the art.

Father Maguire articulates  and develops – so clearly and beautifully! – a concept of literature that I have felt but not quite been able to express.

Stories can touch people where tomes and essays cannot: not merely a vehicle to  “teach and delight” as Sir Philip Sidney  promotes in his “Defense of Posey“, but a means of communicating experience. Tales, even the those of pure fiction, contain a reality.

As Father Maguire says, “They are only convincing if addressing the nature of humanity.” Stories have a value in of themselves.

This statement can be applied to all forms of art, but it is particularly important in literature. Myths, tales, poetry and other species of story that are most likely have not happened in actuality, tend to say some of the most real things about us. The deal with that Perennially Present Moment”.

The reality of fiction is experienced by the reader. Even when presented at the most extreme or ridiculous it must hold at its heart some element of the human struggle. To quote Father again, “Hyperbole is the language of madmen, poets, and saints. Only hyperbole truly communicates the intensity of the Moment.”

With all these ideas already percolating in my mind, I stumbled on blog challenge issued by a former professor of mine at “The Imaginative Conservative“. It is a challenge to list ten books that “Make Us Human“.

As intriguing a challenge as this cannot go unanswered. Although, I will differ slightly from the format offered: I deal with one book at a time, and I will concentrate on works of fiction rather than essays or political works. Because, in my view, novels, poetry, short stories all communicate some part of what it means to be a human. Not only to be made in the image and likeness of God, but all the confusion and fights and triumphs and beauty that such creatures experience.

Book Ten:

The Moviegoer

By Walker Percy

Walker Percy, in his acceptance speech for the National Book Award that he won for “The Moviegoer”, states that he set out to write a story about a man, but discovered that he was writing “in the tradition of Dante and all the great tales”, the story of  pilgrimage. But then, he concluded, isn’t that ultimate story of Man?

The Moviegoer is – at first glance – one of the saddest books I have ever read. Not because it deals with horrific tragedy or great depths of sorrow, but because it is the story of mediocrity. Even the style of writing evokes the casual apathy of modern man. Everything is the day-to-day, meaningless motions of continuing existence.

The protagonist is unveiled in the simplest and most poignant of ways: a man who lives only to go to the movies. The sentence structure is bland and action is  . . . apathetic.

But Binx, the  . . . . main character who is decidedly not a hero, knows that there is something more. He once was knocked to the ground by an exploding shell when he served in the war, and in that moment of shock and near-death he conceived of the “quest”.

He is not entirely sure what he is questing for, or how to go about it. But he does set out to begin.

A cursory internet search tells me that this books is often called a “story of existential despair”. It style, language, and theme is certainly a post-modern novel that is concerned with existential questions. (It is beautifully poetic and heartbreaking.)

But I will disagree that is a novel if despair. Apathy and mediocrity, certainly. But not quite despair.

I say this partly because despair is too drastic a step for this apathetic modern man. And partly because Binx has encounters with despair, and moves on in his search.

The Moviegoer sees despair, and rejects it. There is more to life than that.

The Moviegoer is the story of a man, trying to find out if there is any meaning in being human.

As story it can be hard to read, simply because it hurts to see anyone in this position. But it also makes the reader prepare for a pilgrimage, a

It is not so much the story of a quest or pilgrimage, but of the search for the courage and direction with which to start a quest of pilgrimage. It is man in the middle of a dark wood learning to look around.

3 thoughts on “Books That Make Us Human: The Moviegoer

  1. Isn’t the human person a beautiful mystery!! The reality of the present moment is that God works through us, is with us, and is in us, and . (Sound familiar?) All you students, don’t miss the trees walking through the forest!

  2. Pingback: Mel’s Meme: The Seeds of Society « Egotist's Club

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