Movies in Literature Part 1: Walker Percy’s ‘The Moviegoer’ (further continued)

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I found this intriguing comment on the sequence we have been looking at from The Moviegoer. It was posted beneath an article on the novel, on the New York Times online:

I grew up in New Orleans and attended college — or mostly didn’t — there as well. I’ve always thought the movie theater that Percy describes so well at the beginning of the book was the lonely movie theater next to the University of New Orleans on Elysian Fields. In Gentilly (where Binx lives).

Don’t bother Google Mapping it — it was replaced, pre-Katrina, by a Taco Stand (I think). I can’t remember what it’s name was.

It was a lonely little movie theater, not popular, not nice, not far from Lake Pontchartrain, and in fact I can remember when the wind was really whipping it up you could hear it shaking the walls of the theater unless you were watching some blood bath with supersonic Jet levels of sound.

I saw David Lynch’s “Blue Velvet” there and this remains one of the frightening-est film experiences of my life. The film, the creepy guy down front, the howling wind, the absence of any real neighborhood life when the University wasn’t in session… it was, in its way, absolutely perfect.

Jude Bloom

I’m tempted to treat this comment as yet another text to be deciphered. There are certainly some interesting parallels with Percy’s writing as well as with my interpretation of Percy. I like that Jude emphasises the cinema as ‘lonely’ and talks of sounds as ‘shaking the walls.’ Both are examples that hardly only claim to affirm the literal reality of the setting as described by Percy. They rather stake a claim on the affirmation of its spiritual and psychological truth-value. 

Yet this might be saying too much. Jude’s comments here made me think a little about my last two posts on The Moviegoer. I noticed particularly that there seemed to be something close to contradictory in the fact that I first chose to describe the sequence as ‘beautiful’, then, after presenting it, to dwell on its negative criticism of cinema and moviegoing. After all what did I find beautiful? Of course it was the description of cinema: of the process of going to the cinema and of the pleasures one can attain from this. And how could the sequence give me these feelings about cinema (and Jude too, since he likewise concludes a criticism of the ‘not nice’ “real” cinema by stating that it was ‘perfect’) while seemingly at the same time attempting to undercut cinema’s worth?

I’m not sure I can claim to have a definitive answer to this question but I think it’s an important one to consider. It reminds me in passing of the protagonist narrator in Dostoevsky’s Notes From the Underground as he notes that ‘There is pleasure in a toothache.’ It’s perhaps that the very fact of touching on real experience, however dark this may be, can have a positive effect – of making it real to us. This may even perhaps be literature’s main purpose.

Alternatively and just as likely, however, tho admittedly somewhat more banal, is the possibility that Jude and I are quite simply choosing to read against the grain, adding to the text our own passion for cinema. We are taking the pleasure without the toothache..

A third possibility, also highly likely I think, is that Percy wants us to identify with his protagonist’s happiness, aligning our own pleasure with his, but also wants to suggest its problems on a perhaps more subtle, as yet only partially noticeable level. This might suggest an approach with therapeutic aims, hoping to cure us of our affliction.

These are just tentative thoughts and I imagine will remain this way for some time. Please let me know what you think. Reading one, two or three?! Or a combination of two or three of these readings? Or something completely different?

p.s. Jude’s comment can be read in full here. His excellent website Bloom Radio can be found here.

The original sequence from The Moviegoer can be found here. My reading of this sequence can be found here.

 

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2 responses to “Movies in Literature Part 1: Walker Percy’s ‘The Moviegoer’ (further continued)

  1. It’s funny you use the metaphor of enjoying a toothache…. in Percy’s later novel, The Second Coming (which is a kind of sequel to Love In The Ruins), a pivotal plot point is a depressed man who descends into an underground cave in order to force God out one way or the other… his deep spiritual crisis is pushed aside, however, when he develops a severe toothache. Weakened and hurt, he leaves the cave (barely) and in the process (maybe) gets his life back, physical and spiritual…..

    Percy apparently saw the value of, if not the pleasure, then at least the necessity, of toothaches.

  2. In fact I’ve read The Second Coming, tho a while ago now – so it may have been some kind of an influence, tho not a very conscious one I’d think. I’ve not yet read Love In The Ruins which I’ve been meaning to get ahold of for a while.. it’s good tho right? I should read it?!

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