Is Walker Percy Really Binx Bolling?

Posted on February 7, 2010


I have a photo of a young Walker Percy in line to go to a movie. Is this a clue? It’s a fine photo and a nice coincidence, as someone may in the future write: Walker Percy: The Real Moviegoer. But was Walker Percy in despair? And isn’t it sometimes the case that you were not in despair at all, and that despair did not in fact exist for you until you read Soren Kierkegaard? I’ve read enough SK to know that if someone were to ask me if I had despair, I would say cheerfully, “of course! I have lots!” Even though I am not really that sure whether or not despair is what I have. But appear ignorant of despair? Never! “I have despair all right!” I’d say, “I most certainly have more despair than you!”

In the photo we recognize Percy by his large curvaceous forehead. He has extended his left leg to point his toes in the air as if were beginning to dance the cha cha. He appears to be whistling. His appearance is altogether blithe, innocent, cheerful and not particularly expressive of despair. However we know a secret: Walker Percy’s grandfather, father and possibly his mother have all commited suicide. Well then, his blithe whistling can only be ironic! He must be very happy to escape his grim history in the movies!

My Lutheran pastor, the reverend K, told me she thought the novel The Moviegoer possessed a naïve transparency, as if looking into its dark waters, we see not the characters, but rather the author’s face. She called the book outrageously misogynist, and that any grace, or truth inferred in the novel is lost in the cheap thrills of novelized womanizing. To K’s mind the narrator Binx Bolling is bloated, self possessed, terrifically sexist, and whiny. Anything worth while he has to say about despair, the movies, the malaise, American boredom, is in fact canceled out, or perhaps drown out by his worser qualities. K hated Binx and didn’t want to finish the book, but had too because of a certain book club.

Now the question is: how much of Walker Percy was in Binx Bolling? K perhaps would say a great deal of it was and perhaps this is the reason in the end, why she could not like the narrator nor the novel. She hated it because it was too much the roman a clef, because it was biographically real. That there was a real life source of meanness to women and the source was none other than Walker Percy. Who can say how many affairs with secretaries Walker had, (except of course for those, unlike myself ,who have read biographies) and that inquest doesn’t really matter. A better question is what did Walker Percy think about secretaries? This question will forever be unanswerable; no matter how much biographical data we have in the end, the mind is obscure and we can only guess. (isn’t interiority the true realm of the novelist?) I believe however that there is sufficient irony in Binx’s secretarial sexcapades, to show a moral stance. He does settle down in the end, as it were, choosing a more ethical commitment, which of course has its direct philosophical analogue in Keirkegaard’s Either/Or, and the seducer’s diary and what not. Which catalogues one way to deal with the despair; that is by going through secretaries as if they were bags of skittles. For SK somehow this grounds the seducer. Grounds someone, yes, but grounds them ironically. We know better.

And doesn’t Walker Percy know better? That’s the fucker. He may well know it well, but it doesn’t matter. Because even the ironic comes back to haunt itself with the literal!