Sunday, September 20, 2009

Life, Death, or Death in life

I recently finished a reread of The Second Coming by Walker Percy - the first reading was probably 7-8 years ago. I somewhat remembered the storyline, and also had some oft-used quotes from the book. I appreciate Percy's understanding of the human condition, and his ability to unpack it within characters and story. The 2 main characters are in process of great awakenings to a) how things truly are, and b) how things might look different. I thought I'd include some portions here...

"There was the cat. Sitting there in the sun with its needs satisfied, for whom one place was the same as any other place as long as it was sunny - no nonsense about old haunted patches of weeds in Mississippi or a brand-new life in a brand-new place in Carolina - the cat was exactly a hundred percent cat, no more no less. As for Will Barrett [main character], as for people nowadays - they were never a hundred percent themselves. They occupied a place uneasily and more or less successfully. More likely they were forty-seven percent themselves or rarely, as in the case of Einstein on the streetcar, three hundred percent. All too often these days they were two percent themselves, specters who hardly occupied a place at all. How can the great suck of self ever hope to be a fat cat dozing in the sun?
There was his diagnosis, then. A person nowadays is two percent himself. And to arrive at a diagnosis is already to have anticipated the cure: how to restore the ninety-eight percent?" (p 16)

"I made straight A's and flunked ordinary living." (p 93)

"One night after the war and during the Eisenhower years the father was taking a turn under the oaks. The son watched him from the porch.
"The trouble is" the man said, "there is no word for this."
"For what?"
"This." He held both arms out to the town, to the wide world. "It's not war and it's not peace. It's not death and it's not life. What is it? What do you call it?"
"I don't know."
"There is life and there is death. Life is better than death but there are worse things than death."
"There is no word for it. Maybe it never happened before and so there is not yet a word for it. What is the word for a state which is not life and not death, a death in life?" (emphasis mine p 126)

"Wasn't it possible to believe in God like Pascal's cold-blooded bettor, because there was everything to gain if you were right and nothing to lose if you were wrong?
For a while it seemed that it was possible.
Then it seemed not to matter.
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." (p 156)

"Ha, there is a secret after all, he said. But to know the secret answer, you must first know the secret question. The question is, who is the enemy?
Not to know the name of the enemy is already to have been killed by him...
The name of the enemy is death, he said, grinning and shoving his hands in his pockets. Not the death of dying but the living death...
Death in this century is not the death people die but the death people live. Men love death because real death is better than the living death. Tha's why men like wars, of course. Bad as wars are and maybe because they are so bad, thinking of peace during war is better than peace. War is what makes peace desirable. But peace without war is intolerable." (emphasis mine, p 271)

(Father Weatherbee speaking) "How can we be the best dearest most generous people on earth, and at the same time so unhappy? How harsh everyone is here! How restless! How impatient! How worried! How sarcastic! How unhappy! How hateful! How pleasure-loving! How lascivious! Above all, how selfish! Why is it that we have more than any other people, are more generous with what we have, and yet are so selfish and unhappy? Why do we think of nothing but our own pleasure?" (p 359)


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