Walker Percy Wednesday 141


The naming of the predicament of the self by art is its reversal. Hence the salvific effect of art. Through art, the predicament of self becomes not only speakable but laughable. Helen Keller and any two-year-old and Kafka’s friends laughed when the unnameable was named. Kafka and his friends laughed when he read his stories to them.
The community of art is not the elect community of science but the community of the artist and all who share his predicament and who can understand his signs.
The impoverishment? It comes from the transience of the salvation of art, both for the maker of the sign (the artist) and for the receiver of the sign.
The self in its predicament is exhilarated in both the making and the receiving of a sign—for a while.
After a while, both the artist and the self which receives the sign are back in the same fix or worse—because both have had a taste of transcendence and community.
If poets often commit suicide, it is not because their poems are bad but because they are good. Whoever heard of a bad poet committing suicide? The reader is only a little better off. The exhilaration of a good poem lasts twenty minutes, an hour at most.
Unlike the scientist, the artist has reentry problems that are frequent and catastrophic.
In fact, a catalogue of the spectacular reentries and flameouts of the artist is nothing other than a pathology of the self in the twentieth century, much as the fits and frenzies of Saint Vitus’s Dance were signs of the ills of an earlier age.

What account, then, can a semiotic give of the paradoxical impoverishments and enrichments of the self in the present age?
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.