Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Human Person: Transcendent - Immanent? Walker Percy

Percy says neither, or rather both. The answer is “wayfarer.” This means: tending toward transcendence by ontological structure yet trapped in immanence by organic and historical situation. What are the alternatives? Dramatically, they are “God or no-God. … (Sex) or blowing your brains out. Whereas and in fact my problem is how to live from one ordinary minute to the next on a Wednesday afternoon.”[1]

Prior to that, Percy wrote in the diary of the character Sutter [himself]:

“Let us say you were right: that man is a wayfarer (i.e., not transcending being nor immanent being but wayfarer) who therefore stands in the way of hearing a piece of news which is of the utmost importance to him (i.e., his salvation) and which he had better attend to. So you say to him: Look, Barrett, your trouble is due not to a disorder of your organism but to the human condition, that you do well to be afraid and you do well to forget everything which does not pertain to your salvation. That is to say, your amnesia is not a symptom. So you say: Here is the piece of news you have been waiting for, and you tell him. What does Barrett do? He attends in that eager flattering way of his and at the end of it he might even say yes! But he will receive the news from his high seat of transcendence as one more item of psychology, throw it into his immanent meat-grinder, and wait to see if he feels better. He told me he’s in favor of the World’s Great Religions. What are you going to do about that?

“I am not in favor of any such thing. We are doomed to the transcendence of abstraction and I choose the only reentry into the world which remains to us. What is better then than the beauty and the exaltation of the practice of transcendence (science and art) and of the delectation of immanence, the beauty and the exaltation of lewd love?”[2]

Me (Blogger): But, as Percy says, he must re-enter to live out Wednesday afternoon minute by minute.

And I ask: what is involved in that? Not escape into emotional or intellectual transcendence, nor even the world religions, nor the self unravelling in lewd love. Rather, to achieve transcendence by walking the way of Christ who willed obedience to the call of the Creator (Mysteriously Himself and the Father) with his human will laden with all sin – our sin. This is Christological anthropology. And this "quid divinum" occurs in the quotidian ordinariness of Wednesday afternoon. The hard conversion to giftedness in obeying the call to do this and that apparently inconsequential nothing (processed by the “immanent meat-grinder:” reason) brings about the joy of transcendence amidst the gloom of Wednesday’s immanence.

[1] Walker Percy, “The Last Gentleman,” Ivy Books – Ballantine (1966) 279.

[2] Ibid 278.

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