Sunday, January 10, 2010

Appreciation: Kierkegaard Lite

I think my problem with Søren Kierkegaard is that I came to him too late. I could see there was something going on but I couldn't get past the self-absorption, the adolescent pomposity. Had I read him I was myself a pompous and self-absorbed adolescent, I might have had a chance. Like Ayn Rand.

I don't know what adults read in lieu of Ayn Rand, but for Kierkegaard, I've found my solution: Walker Percy, specifically The Moviegoer. Well: "found" is a bit of a stretch. I've heard of it often; I've long since acquired sufficient evidence on which to infer that it has a kind of a cult status, the kind of title that people--I think mainly guys, perhaps earnest, lonely guys--utter with a kind of hushed passion. I see from the weathered cashier's tag that I bought my own copy on October 9, 1978. That was a transitional time in my own life and I suppose I was looking for something new. Evidently I found something new, because my copy of The Moviegoer lay aside unnoticed until I was cleaning out some bookshelves just last week.

In any event, I've read it now and I'm a believer. It's all there: The Moviegoer is about the meaning of life, the mystery of existence and above all, about "despair"--or at least I think it is about despair, but "the specific character of despair is probably this: it is unaware of being despair." Who said this? Søren Kierkegaard. How do I know? Because Walker Percy quotes him in the epigraph to The Moviegoer. It's a funny, poignant, warm-hearted, richly-textured book, and as a substitute for Kierkegaard, it's top of the chart:
Uncle Jules is the only man I know whose victory in the world is total and unqualified. He has made a great deal of money, he has a great many friends, he was Rex of Mardi Gras, he gives freely of himself and his money. He is an exemplary Catholic, but it is hard to know why he takes the trouble. For the world he lives in, the City of Man, is so pleasant that the City of God must hold little in store for him. I see his world plainly through his eyes and I see why he loves it and would keep it as it is; a friendly easy-going place of old-world charm and new-world business methods where kind white folks and carefree darkies have the good sense to behave pleasantly toward one another. No shadow ever crosses his face, except when someone raises the subject of last year's Tulane-L.S.U. game.
That's on page 31, and you know you are in safe hands, so you can just go along for the ride. I admit I don't quite grasp the plot if there is a plot. But plot is often lost on me. And with writing needs like this, who needs a plot anyway?


elrojo said...

i've never finished reading my copy of The Moviegoer. cant even find it. got to be somewhere on one of the shelves. but i found a copy of Arundel by Kenneth Roberts and i put it bedside which ensures I;m going to finish reading it this time. I'm reading Justice by michael sandel -- just started it, but it aint a bedside book -- it's too much for in the bed reading. i'll read it on the couch in my office.

clay barham said...

Kierkegaard, like Rand, was more existentialist in looking at the possibilities of human action. From her works, it is apparent Ayn Rand admired the courageous pebble-droppers, the nails standing above the boardwalk that ruling elite might trip over, who challenged the established and accepted way things were done. It was the creative, imaginative individuals who followed a dream, a vision of some better way of living that she wrote about, not the socialist taker who envied the creative few even when enjoying the benefits of the pebble-dropper’s efforts. This was her focus. All other ingredients haters add to the interpretation of Ayn Rand’s ideas are simply mud to cloud the water. Whether she was atheist or Jewish, anti-Christian or self-centered means nothing. She believed she was OK and others, as individuals, were potentially OK as well, but herds were led by the few who would limit individuals and take from those who have to share with those who have not, and they and their leaders were not OK. Those who violently oppose Rand are the ones who want to retain the Old World ideals of a few elite ruling the many, as is being reintroduced to America by the Obama forces.