The Moviegoer at Fifty March 26, 2011Posted by Mark Folse in Toulouse Street.
Tags: Tennesee, The Moviegoer, Walker Percy
More telegraphic notes from the Tennessee Williams Festival. I’ve brought the laptop today but I don’t have much time between panels so these are almost in the form of notes. -mf
It was interesting that a work of fiction that seems to fall into the category of books from a strongly male perspective (think of Richard Ford as another example), a group a friend and I have decided needs a name and it rhymes with “chic lit”, was represented by four women, the moderator and panelists. While Shelia Bosworth, Valerie Martin, Chris Wiltz and moderator Mary McCoy from the Walker Percy Center at Loyola discussed Bink’s fascination for women with large hips and derrieres, they also said that Percy loved the company of women. All three novelists were frequent guests of Percy’s literary luncheons. “He was “on” to women,” Bosworth said, quoting a Percy remarks that [women] are just better than we are.”
It’s hard not to talk about the character Binx Bolling’s relationship to the many women in the National Book Award-winning novel, but the panel focused a great deal on the philosophical nature of Percy’s work. The Moviegoer is ultimately about “the inadvertent hopefulness of the awareness of despair,” Bosworth said. Walker wanted to write philosophy but thought he would never get a publisher. We heard a fair bit about Soren Kierkegaard and Christian existentialism in the panel and how it plays into Binx’s endless search for meaning in a world he was deeply alienated from, about how Binx tries to come to terms with the world.
The panel wasn’t all about angst. They spoke of the humor in the book which is at times a comedy of manners of the South and New Orleans just before the era of Civil Rights, the character Sharon’s remark that she “didn’t know people ate crawfish” meaning to a woman of that time from Alabama not knowing that white people ate crawfish. One panelist told the story of how Alfred Knopf was a close friend of Percy’s uncle, and the uncle sent the manuscript to Knopf with instructions to “publish it”. Knopf could bring himself to say no but hated the book, and instructed the warehouse not to fill any orders for it. After the novel won the National Book Award it was almost impossible to find in a store because no orders had been filled for it.
It was more than a comedy of manners, Martin suggested. It was also a careful portrait of class and race of the same period, the characters very conscious of their place in a stratified society. The novel is in part, she asserted, about Binx’s attempt to escape that world, moving from his aunt’s home Uptown into the facelessness of Gentilly where Binx lives, perhaps the least romantic setting one could select in New Orleans.
Wiltz spoke about the characters fascination with the manufactured physical rather than the natural world, things planted in space but moving through time, his reflections on the piers along the Gulf Coast, the seats in his movie theaters. “He tends to attach a lot of importance to manufactured things, ” Wiltz said. “He’s not too crazy about the naturla world. He’s the modern man who would rather watch the world on a screen/”
The panel discussed the idea that movies are an analog for religion for the a religious Binks and allowed Percy to bring in ideas of religion, an important subject for a man who converted to Catholicism in 1947 and was as much a Catholic existentialist as Kierkegaard and Paul Tillich. Binks “loved movies with happy endings. It allowed for the posibility of imagination” but the group suggested the script as analog for scripture, the invisible director in the place of God.