Walker Percy Wednesday 129


Question (I): Which of the two, the actors or the townspeople, are the more real, that is, perceive themselves as more nearly what they are?
(a) The townspeople because they have no illusions about themselves, their humdrum lives and workaday selves, whereas the actors not only live in a tinsel world but are themselves forever playing roles, are always “on” even when they walk into the town drugstore.
(b) The actors, particularly the actress who, by very reason of her finding herself in a real place among real people and removed from the fakery of Hollywood, is able for once in her life to become herself, her true best self.
(c) Neither town folk nor actors, because both are equally displaced, equally deprived of themselves, though in different ways. The town folk are deprived because, though they live in a “real” town, through an optical illusion they perceive the actors to be more splendidly real than they themselves and perceive the actors’ lives to be both more glamorous and more of a piece (to judge from the films) than their own, which seem somewhat dim and tentative by comparison. Through a different sort of optical illusion, the actors are able for a while to take on the very reality imputed to them by the town folk, wear it like a costume and with the greatest of ease because they’ve been doing nothing else most of their lives. Thus, they cloak the nought and nakedness of their selves, which are perhaps no different in kind from anyone else’s but perhaps more acutely felt.
Note that the felt “reality” of the actors in the town is as brief as any other performance. After six weeks on location, even the gracious actress said she “couldn’t wait to get out of the boonies.” For their part, too, the town folk might get sick and tired of the antics of, say, Mel Brooks.
Though both actors and town folk have reached for what they perceived to be a heightened reality, it, reality itself, has somehow fallen between them, like a dropped ball.


A letter to Dear Abby:

I am a twenty-three-year-old liberated woman who has been on the pill for two years. It’s getting pretty expensive and I think my boyfriend should share half the cost, but I don’t know him well enough to discuss money with him.

(f) The Self since the time of Descartes has been stranded, split off from everything else in the Cosmos, a mind which professes to understand bodies and galaxies but is by the very act of understanding marooned in the Cosmos, with which it has no connection. It therefore needs to exercise every option in order to reassure itself that it is not a ghost but is rather a self among other selves. One such option is a sexual encounter. Another is war. The pleasure of a sexual encounter derives not only from physical gratification but also from the demonstration to oneself that, despite one’s own ghostliness, one is, for the moment at least, a sexual being. Amazing! Indeed, the most amazing of all the creatures of the Cosmos: a ghost with an erection! Yet not really amazing, for only if the abstracted ghost has an erection can it, like Jove spying Europa on the beach, enter the human condition.