A final word for the year 2011  

Posted by Denis Haack in , , , , ,

This is my final blog in 2011, time running out as it is, and I can think of no better post than to let Walker Percy have the final word. I could say that Percy is one of my heroes, which is true, but the way the word “hero” is overused today makes that comment feel like I’m in some way trivializing his memory, which is something I refuse to do. Walker Percy (1916-1990) was a novelist and essayist who lived in Louisiana, and if you have not read him you need to make a resolution this year to correct that error. Begin with The Second Coming (1980), then read The Moviegoer (1961), and then… well, if you begin with those two novels you’ll read the rest on your own.

In Signposts in a Strange Land (1991) a number of Percy’s essays were collected, edited by Patrick Samway. The essays fall into three categories: Life in the South, Science, Language, Literature, and Morality and Religion. As an Epilogue Samway wisely included “Questions They Never Asked Me,” a witty, wide-ranging, and insightful interview in which Percy both posed the questions and provided the answers. It is from this interview (pp. 416-417) that I take the following excerpt.

Do you regard yourself as a Catholic novelist?
            Since I am a Catholic and a novelist, it would seem to follow that I am a Catholic novelist.

What kind of Catholic are you?

No. I mean, are you liberal or conservative?
            I no longer know what those words mean.

Are you a dogmatic Catholic or an open-minded Catholic?
            I don’t know what that means, either. Do you mean do I believe the dogma that the Catholic Church proposes for belief?


How is such a belief possible in this day and age?
            What else is there?

What do you mean, what else is there? There is humanism, atheism, agnosticism, Marxism, behaviorism, materialism, Buddhism, Muhammadanism, Sufism, astrology, occultism, theosophy.
            That’s what I mean.

To say nothing of Judaism and Protestantism.
            Well, I would include them along with the Catholic Church in the whole peculiar Jewish-Christian thing.

I don’t understand. Would you exclude, for example, scientific hu­manism as a rational and honorable alternative?

            It’s not good enough.

Why not?
            This life is much too much trouble, far too strange, to arrive at the end of it and then be asked what you make of it and have to answer, “Scientific humanism.” That won’t do. A poor show. Life is a mystery, love is a delight. Therefore, I take it as axiomatic that one should settle for nothing less than the infinite mystery and the infinite delight; i.e., God. In fact, I demand it. I refuse to settle for anything less. I don’t see why anyone should settle for less than Jacob, who actually grabbed aholt of God and wouldn’t let go until God identified himself and blessed him.

Grabbed aholt?
            A Louisiana expression.

Happy New Year—may 2012 be rich in evidences of grace and glimmers of glory for you.

This entry was posted at Tuesday, December 27, 2011 and is filed under , , , , , . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .


Some good thoughts, Denis. I am interested in reading up on Walker Percy. Thanks for the recommendation and a Happy New Year to you as well.

December 28, 2011 at 8:18 AM

Ok. I am intrigued. Anyone who uses "grabbed aholt" in an interview must be worth reading.

Heather Q.

December 30, 2011 at 4:52 PM

I bought a copy of "The Moviegoer" at a recent library sale. You've inspired me to start reading it today!

January 1, 2012 at 11:10 PM
Steve Garber  

One of my very favorites ever, so a true hero I suppose. I have lived with his insights, and argued his insights, all over the world. And I think it was you, Denis, who first talked with me about Message in a Bottle, years ago. A good gift it was.

January 23, 2012 at 8:21 AM

If this brief excerpt has inspired some of you to read Walker Percy, then 2011 ends happily for me. I don't remember pointing you to Message, Steve, but if I did then I did one thing right. Few novelists capture a Christian vision of life and reality as well as he, with such glorious prose, subtle wit, and deep wisdom.

I've often thought Percy's expression would make a good epitaph for my tombstone: "he grabbed aholt of God."

January 24, 2012 at 10:53 AM

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