Walker Percy Wednesday – 13

Happy people were worse off in their happiness in museums than anywhere else, he had noticed sometime ago. In here the air was thick as mustard gas with ravenous particles which were stealing the substance from painting and viewer alike. Though the light was technically good, illuminating the paintings in an unexceptionable manner, it nevertheless gave the effect of descending in a dismal twilight from a vast upper region which roared like a conch shell. Here in the roaring twilight the engineer stationed himself and watched people watch the paintings. Sometime ago he had discovered that it is impossible to look at a painting simply so: man-looking-at-a-painting, voilà!—no, it is necessary to play a trick such as watching a man who is watching, standing on his shoulders, so to speak. There are several ways of getting around the ravenous particles . . . Yet the young man, who was scientifically minded, held himself sufficiently detached to observe the behavior of other visitors. From his vantage point behind the pillar he noticed that the people who came in were both happy and afflicted. They were afflicted in their happiness. They were serene, but their serenity was a perilous thing to see. In they came, smiling, and out they went, their eyes glazed over. The paintings smoked and shriveled in their frames.

Walker Percy, Philosopher