Dissertation Abstract




Rescuing The Human Mystery:

A Study Of Walker Percy's Thought In His Fiction,

"Lost In The Cosmos", And Other Writings


Jenkins, William Thomas


Degree:           PH.D.

Year:             1992

Pages:            00266

Institution:      UNIVERSITY OF ARKANSAS; 0011

Advisor:          Adviser: SIDNEY BURRIS


Source:           DAI, 54, no. 07A, (1992): 2579


Walker Percy has consistently mounted in his fiction and essays a defense of the mystery of human life. One book that witnesses to the damage caused to individuals and to society whenever life is reduced to being a problem is Lost in the Cosmos. This relatively unexamined book offers some useful ways into the thought of Walker Percy, especially in his novels. It is a compendium of themes, characters, situations, and ideas that recur frequently in the fiction.

          Lost in the Cosmos is helpful in gaining insight into Percy's fiction and other writings because in it one can find corrections of various intellectual and artistic problems that tended to weaken Percy's previous fiction and essays. The book also reveals a layperson's attempt to depart from the standard versions of academic semiotics.

          One result of Lost in the Cosmos is the creation of Percy's "short stories." These short, parabolic vignettes make use of the satire one may find in the novels. From this concentrated look at satire the reader may turn to the novels and find a powerful critique of modern American Christianity. Following the comments on the devaluation of language in Lost in the Cosmos one can see how the novels lampoon and lament the Church when it becomes dominated by the surrounding culture.

          This culture of well-being is criticized in other ways. Percy, especially in his novel The Thanatos Syndrome, parallels much in the thought of the French Sociologist Jacques Ellul. Both specify how the ascendency of life as a problem instead of a mystery has diminished the lives of countless people. Both also share a tenuous hope that genuine religious commitment may deflect some of the damage done.

          One of the areas of human life that has suffered from the problems Percy and Ellul write about is sexuality. One especially important example of essay writing and fiction is Chapter Eighteen of Lost in the Cosmos. The concerns presented there, based on Soren Kierkegaard's thoughts about the "Musical-Erotic," are compared to the concerns of two other writers, Denis de Rougemont and W. H. Auden.

          A final look is given to Percy's semiotics when applied to the fiction of others. Here the work of Charles S. Peirce is examined in relation to Percy's foundational assumptions about art.




Descriptor:       LITERATURE, AMERICAN

Accession No:     AAG9334097

Provider:        OCLC

Database:         Dissertations