Walker Percy Wednesday 149


Five modes of recreation might be deduced from the semiotic which follows upon the placement of an autonomous unspeakable self in its world. The recreational modes of the autonomous self are understandable in terms of the semiotic options open to it, that is, those transactions with its world, itself, and other selves which are specified by its own placement in its world and its perception of itself as unspeakable.
They are:
Travel, the actual movement of the self in its world.
Sports, the disposing of oneself by contest and in team sports, the creation of a quasi community and territory, and the consequent identification of self with us against them.
Media, those transactions in which the self receives signs from other selves through a medium. Such a category can include sign-transactions as diverse as reading War and Peace, watching Dallas on TV, listening to The Grateful Dead on tape, hearing Dan Rather on the five-thirty news.
Drugs: the alteration of consciousness or the anesthetizing of the unspeakability of self.
Sex: the cheapest, most readily available and pleasurable mode of intercourse with our selves and the only mode of intercourse by which the self can be certain of its relationship with other selves—by touching and being touched, by giving and receiving pleasure, by penetrating or being penetrated.
Polarities of the “authentic” vs. the “inauthentic” are easily discernible in recreational modes. The criteria of authenticity are not necessarily objective but have rather to do with the rules by which the self allows or disallows its own experience.
For example, in travel, the actual movement of the self in the world to escape the expanding nought of the autonomous self at home, different selves will be disappointed or satisfied or delighted according as the trip falls short of, meets, or exceeds the expectation of the self. But the expectation of the self, to be informed in its nothingness—if only I can get out of this old place and into the new right place, I can become a new person—places a heavy burden on travel.
Three people take a bus tour of Mexico.
The bus breaks down and the tourists have to make an unscheduled stop, an old abandoned monastery converted to a questionable hotel by a questionable hotelier, like Ava Gardner in Night of the Iguana.
Traveler A is unhappy. She paid for certain accommodations and expects them. Things have gone awry. She makes everyone miserable with her complaints.
Traveler B is delighted. Having set great store by this trip, he is disappointed by its routineness, by Latinized Holiday Inns, by condo-rimmed beaches, by his boring fellow tourists. Now the unexpected happens. He feels he has left the beaten path. With satisfaction he surveys his new lodgings, a monk’s cell with adobe walls yea thick—he tells his friends later—and a single window overlooking a lush jungle. An adventure. What next?


One might be looking for adventure, sex, who knows?—or perhaps one has a rotten job and a rotten marriage and so may want nothing more than a mindless hiatus, so that it doesn’t matter whether the bus is lost or found or touring Mexico or Ireland. It’s too bad that A is unhappy, it is nice that B is happy, and a matter of indifference that C is neither. But what more is there to say?


The expectations of the autonomous self, to be informed in its nothingness—if only I can get out of this old place and into the right new place, I can become a new person—pins a quasi-religious hope on, of all things, travel.


Scene in one thousand movies: a party, formal stuffed-shirt party, NYC cocktail party, country club party, New Year’s Eve party, hippie party—any kind of party—but with the one common denominator of a failed festival, a collapsed and fragmented community. There is always the painfully perceived gap between what is and what might be. If there were such a device as a social-relationship indicator and one could quantify the relationship what-is/what-might-be, most parties would register less than 5 percent. Hence the booze. Unlike the use of spirits in the past, the purpose of alcohol is not to celebrate the festival but to anesthetize the failure of the festival. The locus of the failure is the self. Richard Pryor: Why free-basing? Because it wipes out the self.