Walker Percy Wednesday 65

In addition to checking out the Walker Percy documentary if you are a fan of the great man, please consider making a contribution to this project — all is explained in the video.


“Yes. Death is winning, life is losing.”
“Ah, you mean the wars and the crime and violence and so on?”
“Not only that. I mean the living too.”
“The living? Do you mean the living are dead?”
“How can that be, Father? How can the living be dead?”
“I mean their souls, of course.”
“You mean their souls are dead,” says Max with the liveliest sympathy.
“Yes,” says Father Smith tonelessly. “I am surrounded by the corpses of souls. We live in a city of the dead.”

. . .

Here’s the riddle. Father Smith speaks of life. Life is better than death. Frenchmen and Germans now choose life. Frenchmen and Germans at Verdun in 1916 chose death, 500,000 of them. The question is, who has life, the Frenchman now who chooses life and will die for nothing or the Frenchman then who chose to die, for what? I forget.

Or a Pennsylvanian. This afternoon during the assault on Fort Douaumont, I heard a sportscaster listing the football powers of the coming season. Number one on his list were the Nittany Lions of Penn State. I do not care to hear about the Nittany Lions. But what would it be like to live in Pennsylvania and every day of your life hear sports-casters speak of the prospects of the Nittany Lions?

With my lapsometer I can measure the index of life, life in death and death in life. It is possible, I suspect, to be dying and alive at Verdun and alive and dying as a booster of the Nittany Lions.

An example of life in death: for fifty years following the Battle of Verdun, French and German veterans used to return every summer to seek out the trench where they spent the summer of 1916. Why did they choose the very domicile of death? Was there life here? Afterwards they would sit for hours in a café on the Sacred Way.

But I must prove my case. I must be present with my lapsometer in circumstances where the dying are alive and the living are dead. Observe, measure, verify: here’s the business of the scientist.

Outside my “enclosed patio” the weeds are sprouting through the black pebbles Doris brought back from Mexico. Virginia creeper has taken the $500 lead statue of Saint Francis she ordered from Hammacher-Schlemmer. The birdbath and feeder Saint Francis holds are empty. Tough titty for the titmice.

Sunday night: awake till 5 a.m. Reading Stedmann on Verdun, listening to a screech owl crying like a baby in the swamp, assaulted by succubi, night exaltations, morning terror, and nameless longings; sipped twelve toddies.

But why should I be afraid? Tomorrow—today—I meet with the Director and hear the triumphant news about my lapsometer, the first caliper of the soul and the first hope of bridging the dread chasm that has rent the soul of Western man ever since the famous philosopher Descartes ripped body loose from mind and turned the very soul into a ghost that haunts its own house.