Walker Percy Quotes (displaying: 1 - 30 of 97 quotes)
Have you noticed that only in time of illness or disaster or death are people real? I remember at the time of the wreck-- people were so kind and helpful and solid. Everyone pretended that our lives until that moment had been every bit as real as the moment itself and that the future must be real too, when the truth was that our reality had been purchased only by Lyell's death. In another hour or so we had all faded out again and gone our dim ways.
Why do people often feel bad in good environments and good in bad environments? Why did Mother Teresa think that affluent Westerners often seemed poorer than the Calcutta poor, the poorest of the poor? The paradox comes to pass because the impoverishments and enrichments of a self in a world are not necessarily the same as the impoverishments and enrichments of an organism in an environment.
Like many young men in the South, he had trouble ruling out the possible. They are not like an immigrant's son in Passaic who desires to become a dentist and that is that. Southerners have trouble ruling out the possible. What happens to a... man to whom all things seem possible and every course of action open? Nothing of course.
Ours is the only civilization in history which has enshrined mediocrity as its national ideal. Others have been corrupt, but leave it to us to invent the most undistinguished of corruptions. No orgies, no blood running in the street, no babies thrown off cliffs. No, we're sentimental people and we horrify easily. True, our moral fiber is rotten. Our national character stinks to high heaven. But we are kinder than ever. No prostitute ever responded with a quicker spasm of sentiment when our hearts are touched. Nor is there anything new about thievery, lewdness, lying, adultery. What is new is that in our time liars and thieves and whores and adulterers wish also to be congratulated by the great public, if their confession is sufficiently psychological or strikes a sufficiently heartfelt and authentic note of sincerity. Oh, we are sincere. I do not deny it. I don't know anybody nowadays who is not sincere.
All arguments between the traditional scientific view of man as organism, a locus of needs and drives, and a Christian view of man as a spiritual being not only unresolvable at the present level of discourse but are also profoundly boring... From the scientific view at least, a new model of man is needed, something other than man conceived as a locus of bio-psycho-sociological needs and drives. Such an anthropological model might be provided by semiotics, that is, the study of man as the sign-using creature and, specifically, the study of the self and consciousness as derivatives of the sign-function.
Do you know what he told me after lying under a cliff for thirty six hours with two inches of his femur sticking out? He said: 'Queenie, I think I'm going to pass out and before I do, I'm going to give you a piece of advice' - God, I thought he was going to die and knew and was telling me what to do with his book - and he said quite solemnly: 'Queenie, always stick to Bach and the early Italians' - and passed out cold as a mackerel. And by God, it's not bad advice.
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.
He registered a dizzy 7.6 mmv over Brodmann 32, the area of abstractive activity. Since that time I have learned that a reading over 6 generally means that a person has so abstracted himself from himself and from the world around him, seeing things as theories and himself as a shadow, that he cannot, so to speak, reenter the lovely ordinary world. Such a person, and there are millions, is destined to haunt the human condition like the Flying Dutchman.
The non-suicide is a little traveling suck of care, sucking care with him from the past and being sucked toward care in the future. His breath is high in his chest. The ex-suicide opens his front door, sits down on the steps, and laughs. Since he has the option of being dead, he has nothing to lose by being alive. It is good to be alive. He goes to work because he doesn't have to.
Other people, so I have read, treasure memorable moments in their lives: the time one climbed the Parthenon at sunrise, the summer night one met a lonely girl in Central Park and achieved with her a sweet and natural relationship, as they say in books. I too once met a girl in Central Park, but it is not much to remember. What I remember is the time John Wayne killed three men with a carbine as he was falling to the dusty street in Stagecoach, and the time the kitten found Orson Welles in the doorway in The Third Man.
I stood up. Can a man stand alone, naked, and at his ease, wrist flexed at his side like Michelangelo's David, without assistance, without diversion, without drink, without friends, without a woman, in silence? Yes. It was possible to stand. Nothing happened. I listened. There was no sound: no boats on the river, no trucks on the road, not even cicadas. What if I didn't listen to the news? I didn't. Nothing happened. I realized I had been afraid of silence.
Thought Experiment: You are a native of New York City, you live in New York, work in New York, travel about the city with no particular emotion except a mild boredom, unease, exasperation, and dislike especially for, say, Times Square and Brooklyn, and a longing for a Connecticut farmhouse. Later you become an astronaut and wander in space for years. You land on a strange, unexplored (you think) planet. There you find a road sign with an arrow, erected by a previous astronaut in the manner of GIs in World War II: 'Brooklyn 9.6 light-years.' Explain your emotion.
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. At such times it seems that the conversation is spoken by automatons who have no choice in what they say. I hear myself or someone else saying things like: "In my opinion the Russian people are a great people, but--" or "Yes, what you say about the hypocrisy of the North is unquestionably true. However--" and I think to myself: this is death. Lately it is all I can do to carry on such everyday conversations, because my cheek has developed a tendency to twitch of its own accord.
It's one thing to develop a nostalgia for home while you're boozing with Yankee writers in Martha's Vineyard or being chased by the bulls in Pamplona. It's something else to go home and visit with the folks in Reed's drugstore on the square and actually listen to them. The reason you can't go home again is not because the down-home folks are mad at you--they're not, don't flatter yourself, they couldn't care less--but because once you're in orbit and you return to Reed's drugstore on the square, you can stand no more than fifteen minutes of the conversation before you head for the woods, head for the liquor store, or head back to Martha's Vineyard, where at least you can put a tolerable and saving distance between you and home. Home may be where the heart is but it's no place to spend Wednesday afternoon.
You say it is a simple thing surely, all gain and no loss, to pick up a good-looking woman and head for the beach on the first day of the year. So say the newspaper poets. Well it is not such a simple thing and if you have ever done it, you know it isn't--unless, of course, the woman happens to be your wife or some other everyday creature so familiar to you that she is as invisible as you yourself. Where there is chance of gain, there is also chance of loss. Whenever one courts great happiness, one also risks malaise.
An organism exists in its environment in only one mode, that of an open system responding to those segments of its environment to which it is genetically programmed to respond or to which it has learned to respond. But a self must be placed in a world. It cannot not be placed. If it chooses by default not to be placed, then its placement is that of not choosing to be placed.