What Percy called the malaise, Kierkegaard described as a kind of despair: being lost in everydayness, unable or unwilling to confront ultimate questions. Kierkegaard thought that every person lived in one of three spheres of existence: 1) the aesthetic, which was immersion in the sensory pleasures of this world with no awareness of transcendence; 2) the ethical, a kind of Stoicism, which stressed duty, commitment and fidelity to law; and 3) the religious, which was an interpersonal relationship with God that was achieved not through reason or argument or proof but through a leap of faith. A person who makes this leap should live in such a way as to bear witness to the loving presence of God. That witness could be both a sign and an invitation to others.
For much of Percy’s first novel, The Moviegoer, the narrator and main character, Binx Bolling, lives in the aesthetic sphere, but he is on a search. He notes: “To become aware of the possibility of a search is to be on to something. Not to be on to something is to be in despair.” Eventually, through a love relationship with a very needy young lady, Binx makes a leap to God.