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The 'parent in the percept' in 'The Last Gentleman.'

Walker Percy's The Last Gentleman (1966)(1) opens with this description:

One fine day in early summer a young man lay thinking in Central Park.

His head was propped on his jacket, which had been folded twice so that the lining was outermost, and wedged into a seam of rock. The rock jutted out of the ground in a section of the park known as the Great Meadow. Beside him and canted up at mortar angle squatted a telescope of an unusual design. (p. 3)

Such an introduction announces three aspects of the subject of the novel. First and foremost, as the first sentence brazenly announces, the narrative is to be about the young man's thinking, especially as his thinking is colored by fantasy. As Freud (whose theories provide a prominent subtext for the novel) said, fantasy, or primary process thinking, or secondary process thinking, as a natural preserve, like Yellowstone Park, is for the mental health of urbanized society(2). Second, the specific setting, Central Park, suggests that the mental setting is to be colored by a nostalgia for the Central Park, the Garden of Eden.(3) Third, the telescope reveals the intention of both the young man's conscious thinking and his unconscious thinking, as later analysis will describe.

Then the narrator intrudes his presence with this description:

In the course of the next five minutes the young man was to witness by chance an insignificant, though rather curious happening. It was the telescope which became the instrument of a bit of accidental eavesdropping. As a consequence of a chance event the rest of his life was to be changed. (p. 3)

What is established here is that the scene just described is not immediate, but is mediated. For all its circumstantiality, the scene is not in the present, but in the past. The scene is therefore being mediated through the consciousness of the narrator. Since the narrator then offers an unqualified prediction about the totality of the young man's future, it is likely that the narrator is a self describing his former self to his self which is just coming into existence. Such a narrative technique would be consistent with the model of consciousness that Walker Percy implies in his essays in The Message in the Bottle (1975).(4)

The narrator then describes the "chance event" that was to change the rest of the life of the young man, soon to be identified as Williston Bibb Barrett, hereafter Will. Hoping to photograph a peregrine falcon in its mid-air attack on a pigeon, Will had focused his newly purchased telescope skyward. Since he thinks of the falcon coming down "at two hundred miles an hour, big feet stuck out in front like a Stuka" (p. 5), he must think that he holds a picture of reality that is dominated by the viciousness of both man and nature. Instead, Will had accidentally focused on this scene:

His heart gave a leap. He fell in love, at first sight and at a distance of two thousand feet. It was not so much her good looks, her smooth brushed brow and firm round neck bowed so that two or three vertebrae surfaced in the soft flesh, as a certain bemused and dry-eyed expression in which he seemed to recognize - himself She was a beautiful girl but she also slouched and was watchful and dry-eyed and musing like a thirteen-year-old boy. She was his better half. It would be possible to sit on a bench and eat a peanut-butter sandwich with her and say not a word. (pp. 7-8)

The immediate evocation of this scene is that of the romantic discovery of the soul mate, that complement to one's self for whom one always longs.(5) There is yet another evocation, though, that of a longing that begins much earlier in life, one which may be the foundation of romantic longing. To see oneself in another is to reexperience the "mirror phase" of infancy, when one first experiences consciousness by focusing upon the mother's face while nursing the mother's breast. This phase, just preceding but inextricably connected with language acquisition, is the last time that communication can rely simply upon silence, on affect without cognition.(6) Such is the import, then, of the narrator's concluding statement above: "It would be possible to sit on a bench and eat a peanut-butter sandwich with her and say not a word."

Although the narrator is speaking of the past, he realizes that that past had had a past lurking in it. He therefore offers a short, very selective summary of Will Barrett's life before he had set up his telescope. Of Will's mother virtually nothing is said, at this time or in subsequent narration. Of Will's father a good deal is said, though what is said, both here and hereafter, is elliptic and oblique. Will's life in public is given in a somewhat more straightforward order, even if the dating of specific events can only be approximated. Probably at fifteen, Will had, like the Barrett men before him, entered Princeton University. In the fall of his junior year he had dropped out, going to New York City, "where he lived quite contentedly at the Y.M.C.A." (p. 16). His choice of residence probably publicizes his virginal state; such is his confused state of mind that he accepts identification from the institution in which he finds himself (here as young male Christian, but later as expatriate Southerner or Ohioan, pp. 20-21). The following summer he had come home to Mississippi to read law in his father's office. At the end of the summer his father had died, of a cause not given in this summary (pp. 16-17). Then Will had been drafted into the army, to serve two years before being medically discharged because of amnesia. He had returned to the Y.M.C.A., presumably still virginal, to submit himself to five years of psychiatric treatment and to become a "humidification engineer" (p. 18) at Macy's.

But the "talking cure" fails for Will; no wonder that his telescope had quickly told him that "parley fails" (p, 5). The failure must have resulted, at least in part, from the fact that Dr. Gamow, his rather orthodox Freudian analyst, had never talked to Will as a subject, but had recorded his notes about Will for his private observation. Thus Will had had to sneak a reading of the notes (p. 39); in effect Dr. Gamow had increased Will's alienation by presenting Will to himself as an "object of technique" (p. 35). Thus he had driven Will deeper into a reliance upon the subject/object model of the world formulated by Descartes. Will signals this new state of mind by purchasing the telescope; Ilham Dilman offers a general explanation for Will's specific inappropriate act: "Cartesian dualism is ... the separation of the mind and the body into a disembodied spirit and an object it can use as an instrument-whether as a lever or a pair of binoculars."(7)

This reconstruction of Will's public behavior might imply that Will, like many of his peers, had, after a difficult adolescence, then settled down. But the narrator immediately offers evidence that all is not as it might appear:

A German physician once remarked that in the lives of people who suffer emotional illness he had noticed the presence of Lucken or gaps. As he studied the history of a particular patient he found whole sections missing, like a book with blank pages.

Most of this young man's life was a gap. (p. 12)

"The "German" physician was really an Austrian, Sigmund Freud.(8) According to his basic theory, a person who suffers traumatic childhood experiences will repress the memory of those experiences from the conscious to the unconscious mind. Thus such a person has many gaps in the life story that he can tell. At the same time, though, the repressed memories attempt to manifest themselves through neurotic symptom-formation, distorted conscious thinking and apparently inappropriate physical behavior. Both of Will's activities on the day that he sets up his telescope can be scanned by the previous sentence. He has been in analysis for five years, five days a week, but so strong has been his repression that he has been unable to tell his analyst any of the memories which traumatize him. He has chosen his occupation, which involves monitoring a larger computer system which reports such data as temperature and humidity, because it signifies to him the kind of unmediated relation which he would like to have with a mechanistic world. As a result, he suffers from delusions that "noxious particles" (p. 25)(9) fill the air and from deafness (probably hysteric in origin) and, episodically, from deja vu, fugue states, and spasms of the left leg.

The narrator offers no explanation for these symptoms, many of which are termed "Depersonalization Phenomena" by the American Handbook of Psychiatry. The narrator may or may not know what his past self is repressing. It is possible that he knows more than he is telling and that he does not know all that could be told. Since he does not tell, however, we are forced to interpret his narration for ourselves.

The earliest account of Will Barrett that the narrator gives us is undoubtedly the most revealing in the entire narration:

As a child he had had "spells," occurrences which were nameless and not to be thought

of, let alone mentioned, and which he therefore thought of as lying at the secret

and somehow shameful heart of childhood itself. There was a name for it, he discovered

later, which gave it form and habitation. It was deya vu, at least he reckoned

it was. (p. 11)

This memory is most revealing, even though it is, for the narrator, a screen memory, that is, a memory that is not in and of itself significant, but significant insofar as it is a sign for an experience that the narrator cannot allow himself to remember or - if he can remember it - to tell it.

A short elaboration of the event by the narrator may contain a vital clue:

What happened anyhow was that even when he was a child and was sitting in the

kitchen watching D'lo snap beans or make beaten biscuits, there came over him

as it might come over a sorrowful old man the strongest sense that it had all happened

before and that something else was going to happen and when it did he would

know the secret of his own life. Things seemed to turn white and dense and time

itself became freighted with an unspeakable emotion. Sometimes he "fell out" and

would wake up hours later, in his bed, refreshed but still haunted. (p. 11)

What is so haunting here is the manifest absence of the mother, either in the kitchen or, later, at the bedside. What is so haunting in the entire novel - a recollection, remember - is the absent mother, of whom Will thinks only once (p. 237). What is significant here is that the narrator thinks the experience was a deja vu, if Freud's contention be accepted that a deja vu of a specific locale always indicates the desire of consciousness to return to the mother's genitals.(10) Such a latent meaning would account for the extreme emotion the narrator invests in the experience, "the secret and somehow shameful heart of childhood itself."

The mother is, to labor the obvious, the original object with whom the self has a relation. The nature of this relation, according to many thinkers, determines the nature of all subsequent relations that the self establishes.(11) Such a view is well known in the study of child psychology. It is, though, a novel idea in the study of phenomenology, being introduced by Mel D. Faber, in Objectivity and Human Perception (1985). Faber's thesis is that the original relationship determines the self's way of seeing the world. He is speaking literally, not figuratively. What the self sees is affected to some degree or another by "the parent in the percept,"(12) by the effect of the unconscious upon actual vision. Will's desire to see as through a telescope, then, is a telling clue to his sense of object loss; he believes that the telescope will provide a restitution: "It was as he had hoped. Not only were the bricks seen as if they were ten feet away; they were better than that. It was better than having the bricks there before him. They gained in value" (p. 31).

There is but one eventuality for the first relationship: the self is separated from its original object, to begin a life-long search for an object or complex of objects to replace the lost original.(13) The narrator may be describing some such condition for Will when he says that Will had "fallen ... into a long fit of melancholy and vacancy amounting almost to amnesia" (p. 17), fallen in the way that the story of the Garden of Eden speaks of the Fallenness that led to expulsion. The loss of the original object also teaches the self about the immensity of space - the original object was a body as close as a gaze and a caress, experienced bodily as well as cognitively, but when it recedes, the newly bodiless self is introduced to an expanding universe. Will Barrett's registering of stars and other physical phenomena in his flow of consciousness may result from the "scientific" view of the world forced upon him by his earliest trauma.(14)

So infatuated with his scientific outlook has he become that he decides to abandon "his alma mater, sweet mother psychoanalysis" (p. 41), to become a scientist, spending his last $1,900 to buy a telescope, which will be his way of announcing that the world can be viewed directly through technology. It is ironic that while he must have bought the telescope as a symbol, that instrument has another well-known symbolic significance, one which undercuts the significance that Will had intended. In Chapter 7 of The Interpretation of Dreams (1900), the foundation of psychoanalysis, Freud uses the telescope as his model for the "psychic apparatus." In his model, perceptions of phenomena pass through the clear glass of primary awareness, to lodge on one or another of the planes of the lenses, the unconscious. What is seen by the viewer, then, is perception as it is affected by past perceptions, none of which ever escapes from its lodgement on a lens.

When Will first sets up his telescope, it does what he had expected it to do: "These lenses did not transmit light merely. They penetrated to the heart of things" (p. 29). Will's happy thought may be true in more ways than one, for soon enough he is drawn to use the telescope in a place that appeals to his unconscious quest for paradise, Central Park. There, quite by chance, he glimpses first a woman older than himself and then a younger woman, who comes to retrieve a message left by the other woman. Both of these women are to be parents in Will's percept. The older woman, Rita Vaught, will act as the Bad Mother; motivated by her desire to control the younger woman, Kitty Vaught, Rita will try to frustrate Will's pursuit of Kitty, whom he unconsciously sees as the Good Mother. When Will discovers that the bench on which he had first seen the women is "ground zero" (p. 48), he delightedly takes it as a sign that he would see them again - he can of course have no way of knowing that they represent "ground zero" of his consciousness, awakening his infantile need for mother and home, "the heart of things."

Together the women provide a trail that leads Will to more Vaughts, Poppy(p. 63), Mama (p. 53) or Dolly (p. 97), and Jamie, their fatally ill sixteen-year-old son, Kitty's younger brother. (Rita is divorced from Sutter, the Vaught's thirty-four-year-old miscreant doctor son.) It turns out that Poppy knew Will's father (pp. 51-52) and that Mama knew Will's mother, Lucy Hunicutt (p. 53). The fact that the Vaughts come from Birmingham only intensifies Will's flirtation with the idea that he has finally found his true family.

Although Will is drawn to Kitty because of his psychic need for an idealized mother figure, that does not mean that he cannot associate her with "country matters." Despite his residence in the Y.M.C.A., Will has been driven by carnal desire, of a peculiar nature, as is revealed in his relationship with Midge Auchincloss. Will had simply not been able to advance his relationship with Midge to what Desmond Morris calls the twelfth and final stage of sexual intimacy, "genitals to genitals"(15):

Though they liked each other well enough, there was nothing to do, it seemed, but

press against each other whenever they were alone. Coming home to Midge's apartment

late at night, they would step over the sleeping Irishman, stand in the elevator

and press against each other for a good half hour, each gazing abstractedly and

dry-eyed over the other's shoulder. (pp. 23-24)

Even after an extraordinary "date," during which Will and Midge had rescued a lost child (!) and actually talked, they had returned to Park Avenue, to creep "into the selfsame lobby and over the sleeping Irishman and into the elevator where they strove against each other like wrestlers, each refusing to yield an inch" (p. 26). The censorious Irishman may be asleep, but Will's "censor" clearly is not. Will's arrest in the penultimate stage of sexual intimacy argues that his psychic need for merger - rather than a genital need for penetration - has its origin back in the symbiotic phase.(16)

Perhaps Will's immediate conviction that he has fallen in love through the telescope provokes a fire in the loins that he had never experienced for Midge. He soon begins to fantasize about Kitty:

Luck would be this: if he saw her snatch a purse, flee into the park pursued by the

cops. Then he would know something and could do something. He could hide her

in a rocky den he had discovered in a wild section of the park. He would bring

her food and they would sit and talk until nightfall, when they could slip out of

the city and go home to Alabama. (p. 64)

It should be noted, though, that even in his standard "rescue scenario" there lurk the park and home, both places seemingly essential to any thinking that he does. The park as context for his imagined action and for his point of departure for home probably prompts him to specify a "den" for their refuge; in Remembering, Edward Casey points out that "[f]or St. Augustine, memory is precisely place-like in its capacity - as is attested by an entire metaphorics of |cave,' 'den,' 'cavern,' 'treasure-house,' etc."(17) Will, who has earlier confessed to Kitty that he suffers from a faulty memory (p. 56), must share St. Augustine's "metaphorics" of place. We learn that his bouts of amnesia often seem to culminate with a fugue to a park-like place (p. 12).

So strong is his attraction to Kitty that Will's thinking leaps farther into the future than he has ever been before:

What he wanted to tell her but could not think quite how was that he did not propose country matters. He did not propose to press against her in an elevator. What he wanted was both more and less. He loved her. His heart melted. She was his sweetheart, his certain someone. He wanted to hold her charms in his arms. He wanted to go into a proper house and shower her with kisses in the old style. (p. 71)

Coincidentally, Poppy Vaught is ready with a plan that would support Will's intentions. Saying that Will's mother and father are dead and that Will has no business in New York, Poppy offers Will a job, first as a chauffeur for the trip back to Birmingham (pp. 78-86) and then as a companion for Jamie, in the Vaught home on number 6 fairway of the golf course, always a paradisiacal place in Percy's fiction.

Such glowing prospects for success awaken other parents in the percept.(18) The next day Will meets Rita: "All at once he knew everything: she had come to get rid of him. She hoped he would take his telescope and go away" (p. 91). Having heard that Will is to go home with them (and therefore be a threat to her control over Kitty), Rita plans a diversion, requesting that Will stay in New York during an additional treatment for Jamie and then take Jamie anywhere he desires to go (p. 96). To sweeten her offer, she will sell Ulysses, her camper, to Will for one dollar. When Will questions the camper's name, Rita replies, "He was meant to lead us beyond the borders of the Western world and bring us home" (p. 96). Rita is implying that Will will eventually reach Alabama to claim his bride, after a period of enjoyable wandering; but as Bad Mother she is trying to tempt Will into accepting a fantasy in place of the reality that he could now claim.(19)

Then another parent appears, while Will is walking in his favorite place, Central Park, at night. The danger with which his fantasizing is fraught is implied by the fact that he is in the park at night, not exactly a brilliant idea even in the 1960s. That he is then accosted by a "damp young man" with an interest "in the Platonic philosophy" (p. 98) reinforces his danger and foreshadows the temptation to be posed by the new parent. Will is experiencing "old deja vus of summertime" (p. 99), when a memory of his father intrudes. Strong enough to be an hallucination, the memory is of his father walking before their home, pacing as if a sentry, guarding the home from impurity, saying to his son, "Go to whores if you have to, but always remember the difference. Don't treat a lady like a whore or a whore like a lady" (p. 100). Such a dualism idealizes some women, apparently, and de-idealizes all the others - but it is based on the idea that a woman is a lady only because a man holds such an exalted conception of her; her real nature is to be of the tribe of whores. Laboring under that belief, one might well end up like the "damp young man." It is certainly no dualism for Will to be considering; he decides forthwith to pay court to Kitty.

Quite in her Bad Mother character, Rita eyes "him ironically, her head appearing to turn perpetually away" (p. 102), soon leaves the room. Yet Will courts unsuccessfully: only when he is defeated does Kitty respond, agree to go to Central Park with him, volunteer a "police special" so that he can protect them (sometimes a revolver is not just a revolver) (p. 106). Will takes her to a part of the park he knows as well as "his own back yard" "down a ravine choked with dogbane and whortleberry and over a tumble of rocks into a tiny amphitheater, a covert so densely shaded that its floor was as bare as cave's dirt" (p. 107). The Augustine metaphorics of the description suggest that the place is both the room of memory and the womb to which Will wishes to return. "She moved away. As he traced a finger in the dust, drawing the old Northern Pacific yin-yang symbol, he heard the rustling of clothes and singing of zippers" (p. 108). Will's tracery reveals that while he thinks that he is ecstatic that she is there, he is really thinking about the she who is not there, the Good Mother.(20)

When Kitty returns, Will discovers the difference between the real and the ideal. It is one thing to pursue a girl who represents an ideal, but it is another, when the girl thinks she is the real object of pursuit and takes off all her clothes; then there is the matter of "the astounding and terrific melon immediacy of nakedness" (p. 110). Kitty then utters the word that sons allegedly want to hear: "Lover." The arrested child in Will, like his Stone Age ancestor, concentrates primarily on the melons.(21) But it appears that melons are not in season for the arrested teenager in Will, for he, getting genital, is detumefacted by the parental distinction between the two types of women. Unlike Adam and Eve, Will and Kitty leave the park none the worse for wear.

The narrator has spent over a hundred pages telling of Will's attempt to reconstruct the Garden of Eden in Central Park - and of his failure and expulsion. It is only to be expected that the sequel will constitute a wandering that - although interrupted by distractions that seem important at the time - is always motivated by an unconscious desire to reach the Promised Land. Physically, the trip is to be from New York to the South and thence to the Southwest; temporally, the trip is to be into the past and thence into the future. Externally, the events experienced by Will Barrett are usually interesting, sometimes funny, sometimes sad; these events constitute the novel for many readers. What is proposed in this paper is that the external events act as a landscape of Will's mind, symbolizing the various psychic forces which affect his consciousness, rendering his direct experience of the wandering "gappy." Unable to recover his earlier experience through psychoanalysis, Will, still handicapped physically, had experienced the "gappy" events that he is now, many years later, recovering through creative narratization. It is laboring the obvious to point out that Walker Percy's own life to age thirty was a model for Will Barrett's to age twenty-five in many, many ways.(22)

Two days after the failed merger in Central Park, the Vaughts leave for home. Will is supposed to be with them, but is left behind, thanks to a stratagem by Rita (p. 155). Thus Will is forced into a sidetrack involving Forney Aiken, Mort Prince, and the Texas lady golfers (p. 152), before he catches up with the Vaughts in Williamsburg. There Will and Jamie use Ulysses as an outrider for the family Cadillac, rendezvousing in Wilmington and Charleston (p. 160). Will and Kitty have very little time together until the rendezvous at Folly Beach; there, despite Will's contradictory responses to women, they almost try to merge - until Rita opens the door (p. 168). At the Golden Isles of Georgia, Will and Kitty seclude themselves in Ulysses - an automotive Eden - until Rita braves a hurricane to knock at the door (p. 180).

Finally the Vaught home is reached, "in a beautiful green valley across a ridge from the city" (p. 189). Just how much the "beautiful green valley" recalls the Birmingham suburb of Mountain Brook, Percy's childhood home, may be seen by reading the chapter on Birmingham in George R. Leighton's Five Cities: The Story of Their Youth and Old Age.(23) The prominence of the golf course around the Vaught "castle" suggests that this locale is the iconic Garden of Eden scene in Walker Percy's mental landscape: here was original unity with the mother and here was expulsion and exile as a consequence of the father's suicide.

Since the Vaught home becomes so heavily symbolic to Will Barrett, attention must be paid to Will's symbolization of Kitty and her siblings, Jamie, Val, and Sutter, all of whom grew up in that home and must have some relation to it and to the "beautiful green valley" in which it is located. Kitty is of course "his golden girl of summertime and old Carolina" (p. 213),(24) first goddess and then mortal, always confusing. For Will, Jamie is "pure aching primary awareness" (p. 162), lacking the secondary awareness to reflect upon his alienation from the original object, arrested in a state that Will may envy but never recapture. The more Will learns about Val and Sutter, the more he must see them as opposite extremes in their reactions to the sense of loss that comes with the acquisition of language; although opposed and extreme, each provides a model for Will to emulate.

Although Val Vaught grew up at the country club swimming pool, she has become Sister Johnette Mary Vianney (p. 212), after the "French country priest ... whose holiness was exemplary."(25) As a student of Vilfredo Pareto (p. 299) - who sought a general law of sociology based upon "the Newtonian vision"(26) - Val came to herself in her misery, therefore welcoming conversion to Catholicism by a nun, who took her to her "mother house" (p. 300). At that point Val became a believer in the (W,w)ord. She took the Catholics "at their word" (p. 300), believing "the whole business" (p. 301), but being unable to reduce it to words. Before taking final vows as a nun, she was sent to a mission in Alabama by her superiors, who apparently did now know what else to do with her. There she works in linguistics, her field she claims (p. 301), a very applied linguistics. The black children of the community can hardly speak because they have not been spoken to (p. 299); Val therefore acts as an Annie Sullivan, who taught another Alabama child to speak (p. 301). Underlying her pedagogy is the knowledge that the divine gift of language acquisition is only effectively given if it is accompanied by maternal love (or an adequate equivalent of love). Even so, at best, language acquisition necessarily entails the onset of alienation, necessitating the Word as the only reconciliation with the original Subject. Here Percy represents his paramount idea (drawing upon Christianity, object-relations psychoanalysis, and language theory) that the history of the (W,w)orded individual recapitulates the history of the (W,w)orded race - John 1: 1-5 offers a far more eloquent expression of this transcendent event than I can.(27) In her nourishing action, appropriately feeding a chicken hawk (p. 297), Val is a newsbearer, who can feed anyone who understands that it is the human being's nature to be a peregrine.

Appropriately enough, it is in the Vaught garden where Will has been dreaming (pp. 205-207) that he first sees Sutter, who has been observing him from a balcony. Although Will is unaware of it, he quickly attributes aspects of his father's personality to Sutter and is soon drawn to ask him for answers to the questions raised by his father's rigid dualism. Sutter, for his part, seems already to know that Will's mental and sexual ailments result from his loss of his mother and his inability to gain his independence from his father (pp. 220-221). At this time Sutter absolutely refuses to offer Will any advice, and it does not occur to Will that Sutter's refusal might be because he has enough mental and sexual ailments of his own with which to contend. Thus frustrated - being both in the home of his desire and yet prevented from satisfying it - Will is unconsciously controlled by his dreams and his sleepwalking (pp. 237-240).

For all of his voluminous scientizing of sexuality in his journal, Sutter is utterly silent about the origins of his ideas - such a Cartesian split is the most obvious evidence of his absolute alienation. Thus Sutter's psychosexual development must be inferred from his later behavior. He records a crucial event in his notebook:

The day before I left home I stood in a lewd wood by, the golf links. . . . The wood

was the lewd wood of my youth where lovers used to come and leave Merry Widow

tins and where I dreamed the lewd dreams of youth. Therefrom I spied Jackie Randolph

to wing her cart up number 7 fairway sans caddy and sans partner. Invited

her into the woods and spoke into her ear. She looked at her watch and said she

had 20 minutes before her bridge luncheon. She spread her golf towel on the pine

needles, kept her spiked shoes on, and cursed in my ear. (p. 349)

Sutter's description of leaving home is literal, but also symbolic of his exile from Eden. His disillusionment about the fact that the woods were used by lovers suggests that he was once a romantic idealist like Quentin Compson, whose yard was littered by at least one Merry Widow tin. To show his mature cynicism he lays Jackie Randolph right on iconic ground. As complaisant as any Merry Widow, she spreads her towel and curses like the whore that Sutter thinks her to be - for he thinks all women are whores. Sutter's sensitivity to those spikes on her shoes suggests that his masculinity might not be so absolute as his subsequent sexual flagrancy might suggest. An observation by Karl Stern is helpful at this point:

The neurosis of Don Juan, the man who is fascinated by conquest, but unable to

love, has been frequently made the subject of psychoanalytic studies. In such men

the ambivalence towards the mother is so deep and the homosexual tie is so strong

that they cannot commit themselves to woman other than by an ambivalent and

sadistic relationship. And they are mysteriously compelled to go through this act

of conquest and flight in an eternally repetitive experience.(28)

To validate his neurotic behavior, Sutter has developed an elaborate theory that the loveless genital channel is the only one on which modern man can broadcast his desire for transcendence. The only trouble is that success in loveless genitalization guarantees failure: "post-orgasmic despair without remedy" (p. 345). It was after an encounter with a "winner of [the] Powder Puff Derby" (p. 373) that Sutter had attempted suicide. Thus his repetitious behavior is basically a drive toward Thanatos.

Since Will is unable to think clearly about his condition, he is subjected to competing "tugs" (p. 294), which are personified by Kitty, Val, and Sutter. Thus he vacillates between opposed decisions, depending upon the Vaught who is influencing him at the moment. It is a rare insight when he imagines himself and Kitty "as doll-like figures tumbling before the magic wand of an enchantress" (p. 277), in this case Rita. Within an hour, it could be yet another enchantress.

When Sutter takes Jamie away, Kitty suddenly becomes very possessive of Will. Thus she shows him a G. E. Gold Medallion home - fit domicile for Aphrodite, "the golden one" - located by "a ferny dell and a plashy little brook with a rustic bridge" (p. 285), on "the last wrinkle of the Applachians [sic]" (p. 283), Percy's favorite Edenic acclivity. The place can be had at a special reduced price "to the family" (p. 285); indeed Kitty is so enthralled by real estate that she envisions a career as a real estate agent (p. 284); indeed she is suddenly so enthralled by the prospect of Will as husband that she envisions him "strolling up and down the bridge" of the good ship Matrimony "with his telescope under his arm" (p. 285). Her vision is more perceptive than she can know - if Will succumbed to domesticity, he would indeed still need his telescope/fantasy apparatus. Despite Kitty's sweetening of the deal by $100,000, no wonder that the narrator observes that "[a]lready the carnivorous ivy was stealing down the mountainside" (p. 287), as Will roared "down the gloomy Piedmont."

Despite such maternal temptations, Will feels a "huge tug forward" (p. 294), toward Sutter and Jamie, so that Ulysses starts out away from home. Like Ulysses' trip, Will's trip takes him by many places, stirring up many mystifying memories in the process. Approaching Val's mission, Will has a very vague flash of memory of a hunting trip that he may have taken with his father (p. 295), a memory that he will not be able to confront for years. This memory seems only to be an overture to the Brahms memories (p. 329) that he has when he reaches Ithaca, in the Mississippi Delta, his boyhood home; these memories are so dangerous, if fully addressed, that his unconscious offers an alternative "dread tug of the past not quite remembered" (p. 305), Kitty. But he does not turn back. Will actually is able to enter his boyhood home, even to enter the attic in which his father committed suicide (p. 331), even to recognize the futility of his father's act (p. 332), but the narrator seems to be implying that his young self had not been able at that time sufficiently to work through to an acceptance of what his father's selfish act had done to him. Without that bedrock realization, the subsequent past cannot be truly narratized so that as Will continues west he is tempted by the phony past of Shut Off, Louisiana (pp. 337-347), and cannot, in regard to Senator Underwood, separate what he has heard from what he directly experienced (pp. 347-351). So overwhelmed by pastness is he that he calls Kitty (pp. 351-352), presumably for a comforting pastness, but rather than being divine she is still domestic, promising a replacement for the $100,000 check that he has apparently lost. Rather than creeping ivy, "[e]vil low-flying clouds" pursue him; almost in a panic, he uncouples Ulysses' "umbilical connections," roars for the Panhandle at eighty-five.

As he goes farther west, Will seems to increase his velocity, as if knowing that only increased force will tear him loose from the concrete South so that he can penetrate the abstract Southwest. At the Rio Grande he reaches absolute space: "Beside him a gold aspen rattled like foil in the sunlight. But there was no wind. He moved closer. A single leaf danced on its pedicle, mysteriously dispensed from energy laws" (p. 355). By the time he gets to Sutter's ranch, the transition is complete: "The silence was disjunct. It ran concurrently with one and did not flow from the past.... The silence hushed everything up, the small trees were separated by a geometry of silence. The sky was empty map space" (p. 356).

But, of course, the impact of the enormity of space only awakens his unconscious need for the original enclosure:

Under one bed he found a book of photographs of what appeared to him

to be hindoo statuary in a jungle garden. The statues were of couples locked in

erotic embraces. The lovers pressed together and their blind lozenge-eyes gazed

past each other. The woman's neck arched gracefully. The man's hand sustained

the globe of her breast; his pitted stone shaft pressed against the jungle ruin of her

flank. (p. 357)

The lovers' attempt to merge in the garden recalls Will's behavior first with Midge and then with Kitty, back in New York City. At that time Will had acted out his attempt to draw space closer by purchasing the telescope, so it is not surprising that he now mounts the telescope on the window of Ulysses (p. 358). But what he sees is cold comfort, so that he suddenly reverts to his need for the concrete (if smothering) South:

He shivered. I'm through with telescopes, he thought, and the vasty galaxies. What

do I need with Andromeda? What I need is my Bama bride and my cozy camper,

a match struck and the butane lit and a friendly square of light cast upon the neighbor

earth, and a hot cup of Luzianne between us against the desert cold, and a warm

bed and there lie dreaming in one auother's arms while old Andromeda leans

through the night. (p. 358)

Will is, to labor the obvious, still torn between two opposed spheres, which always first entice him and then dismay him.

Neither sphere has banished death, of course: the reality that confronts Will in Santa Fe is that Jamie is dying. Will immediately throws himself into a frenzy of caring for the boy, even though he is still torn between "his umbilical connections" (p. 375) and Sutter's contention that "fornication is the sole channel to the real" (p. 372). He even has a dim realization that while the two "tugs" may have opposed effects on him, they originate from the same source; as he tells Sutter:

"You know, Dr. Vaught, I have lived a rather abnormal and solitary life and have

tended to get things backwards. My father was a proud and solitary man. I had no

other family. For a long time I have had a consuming desire for girls, for the coarsest

possible relations with them, without knowing how to treat them as human

beings. No doubt, as you suggested, a good part of my nervous condition stems

from this abnormal relationship - or lack or relationship -" (p. 385)

Will should know better than to expect help from Sutter, for he has just described Sutter's own condition; while Will has been talking, Sutter had been "sighting [his] Colt at one after another of the passing women ..." (p. 387). Sutter's fascination with the "little death" is only a preparation for the big self-inflicted) death to which his philosophy will inevitably lead him. The narrator implies that his young self had somehow realized at that moment the ineffectuality of Sutter's behavior:

Perhaps this moment more than any other, the moment of his first astonishment,

marked the beginning for the engineer of what is called a normal life. From

that time forward it was possible to meet him and after a few minutes form a clear

notion of what sort of fellow he was and how he would spend the rest of his life.

p). 389)

In effect Will here rejects a father figure, who has just offered him the same option offered by his real father, suicide. It is to be expected that Will will turn (through the agency of Val) to another father figure, Father Boomer (p. 396). This father figure will not - as his predecessors - deny Will the door back to the Garden of Eden, but will on the contrary open the door for him.(29) He also offers Will a way of avoiding the subject/object, spirit/flesh dualism personified by father Barrett/"father" Vaught: the Christian doctrine of incarnation. But Will has not reached the point of understanding the efficacy of the symbolic act. As Father Boomer baptizes Jamie (as God names Jamie as one of His Own), Will sees "a Holsum bread truck pass under the street light" (p. 404), but does not see that event as a symbol. Thus, when Jamie dies, Will is vaguely aware that something significant occurred through the baptism, but he does not know what. He has made a stand against death, even saved Sutter from it, but it will be years before he will understand that only love is the certain victor over death. Will will continue to yearn for the lost object and harbor suicidal tendencies, until he falls in love with Allison Hunicutt Huger, who is both mate and mother figure and also "a gift and therefore a sign of a giver."(30) Here Percy repeats his paramount idea, that the Delta Phenomenon is the miraculous transposition from inevitable earthly loss to heavenly restitution. (1) (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux). For a related treatment of this novel, see iny essay "Will Barrett under the Telescope," Southern Literary Journal, 20 (Spring 1988), 16-42. (2) In many respects, what Freud (1911, p. 222, n.) said about fantasy in the world of eality may be said about love relationships. He compared fantasy to a natural preserve, like Yellowstone Park - a bit of the pristine wilderness preserved within the confines of civilization." Jacob A. Arlow, "Object Concept and Object Choice," in Peter Buckley, ed., Essential Papers on Object Relations (New York: New York University Press, 1986), p. 142. Arlow's linkage between general fantasy and the quest for the ideal love object is particularly pertinent to the thesis that I pursue in this essay. (3) In The Longing for Paradise: Psychological Perspectives on an Archetype, trans. Myron B. Gubitz (Boston: Sigo Press, 1985), Mario Jacoby shows the linkage between the racial myth of the original Paradise and the individual dream of the original object, mother. Jacoby was anticipated by, among others, Erich Fromm, in The Greatness and Limitations off Freud's Thought (New York: Harper & Row, 1980), p. 29: "... it is not the sexual desire which makes the relationship to mother so intense and vital and the figure of the mother so important, not only in childhood but maybe for a person's entire life. Rather, this intensity is based on the need for the paradisiacal state ...." In Percy's earlier novel, The Moviegoer (1961), the illustrations of Central Park that hang over Binx Bolling's bed (the site of his dream fantasies) in his apart-ment in the home of Mrs. Schexnaydre (she's nadir) reveals Binx's quest for the Good Mother, even as he is exiled in the domain of the Bad Mother. (4) In The Message in the Bottle Percy credits Charles Sanders Peirce with the original formulation of the language model that he, ignorant of Peirce, had developed as "the delta factor." It is probable that Percy had also learned of Peirce's model of thinking, which Peirce traced back to Plato: "the inward dialogue carried on by the mind with itself without spoken sound." See Max Fisch, Peirce, Semiotic, and Pragmatism, ed. Kenneth Laine Ketner and Christian J. W. Kloesel (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1986), p. 358. Only the conceptualization of consciousness as dialogic ("... consciousness, one suddenly realizes, means a knowing-with," MB, p. 274) could support Percy's implication throughout his work that narratization is the therapeutic technique inherent in psychoanalysis, religious experience, and belletristic authorship. See my "Neurobiology and Psychoanalysis in the Work of Walker Percy," RANAM,. 24 (1991), 1-8. (5) In Plato's Symposium, Aristophanes asserts that in the beginning each human was double, with two heads, four arms, and four legs. Some of these creatures were male and female joined, others were the same sex joined. Fearing such powerful creatures, Zeus cut them in two; thus each half-creature is born with a desire to be rejoined with its matching half-self. Interestingly, Willard Gaylin, in Rediscovering Love (New York: Viking, 1986), pp. 99-100, after relating Plato's story, acknowledges its recent application in psychoanalysis: "The concept of originally being one with another and of the birth of the self bv cleaving from another, the poetic myth of Aristophanes, finds renewal in the psychological theory of a modern-day psychoanalyst, Dr. Margaret Mahler." (6) Mel D. Faber, Objectivity and Human Perception: Revisions and Crossroads in Psychoanalysis and Philosophy (Edmonton: University of Alberta Press, 1985), pp. 20-25, credits Dr. Margaret Mahler's work as one of the foundations of his theory, to be described later in this essay. (7) Ilham Dilman, Love and Human Separateness (London: Basil Blackwell, 1987), p. 7. Ironically, Karl Stern, The Flight from Woman (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1965), pp. 91 ff., implies that it was Descartes' mother-loss which induced him to create the system which separated consciousness from its object. (8) There is a strong indication that Will Barrett and Binx Bolling, despite tlieir vastly different public behaviors, share a very similar consciousness, and not only because each is a quester for an ideal mother-figure. In the presence of his actual, rejecting mother, Binx says, "If, as a student, I happened to get excited about Jackson's Valley Campaign or Freud's Interpretation of dreams, it was not her way to oppose me" (The Moviegoer [New York: Noon-day Press, 1967], p. 138). Will's medical discharge occurred after he was found "wandering about the Shenandoah Valley between Cross Keys and Port Republic, sites of notable victories of General Stonewall Jackson" (p. 18); and in mentioning Lucken the narrator has just alluded to The Interpretation of Dreams to characterize his younger self. (9) It was, of course, Isaac Newton who popularized "particles" as the constituents of Descartes' res extensa. Following Frank Manuel's biography of Newton, Morris Berman, The Reenchantment of the World (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1981), pp. 118 ff., argues that Newton's mater-loss led to his glorification of matter. Perhaps the narrator makes an inside-joke when he likens his younger self's obliging revelation of symptoms to Dr. Gamow as the apple falling just "to please Sir Isaac Newton" (p. 32). The narrator is himself doing the same thing to an obsessed would-be Percy exegete. (10) Sigmund Freud, The Interpretation of dreams, trans. Dr. A. A. Brill (New York: Modern Library, 1950), p. 271. (11) For example, Friedrich Nietzsche, as quoted by H. F. Ellenberger, The Discovery of the Unconscious (New York: Basic Books, 1970), p. 708: "Every man keeps in himself an image of the woman deriving from that of his mother, and according to that image he will be prone to respect or despise women." (12) Faber, pp. 157-158: "... philosophy's deepest unconscious aim - its |secret longing' as Husserl expressed it - has not been simply the attainment of |objectivity' but the accomplishment of a new or renewed sight of the world in which the internalized object no longer rules our perception, killing wonder and joy, and breeding the stressful delusions of projective awareness. Descartes, Hume, Kant, Hegel, Husserl, Merleau-Ponty - all these philosophers have sought not only |truth' but release from |passion,' from what Spinoza called |human bondage,' from the anxiety and tension of the |parent in the percept'."

In Churchill's Black Dog, Kafka's Mice & Other Phenomena of the Human Mind (New York: Grove Press, 1988), Anthony Storr bases his chapter on Isaac Newton on Frank Manuel's biography, then amplifies Faber's list of thinkers having an "absence of close personal ties" (p. 101): Descartes, Locke, Hobbes, Hume, Pascal, Spinoza, Kant, Leibniz, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, and Wittgenstein. Almost all of them are alluded to or directly referred to by Will Barrett or the other narrators of the Percy canon. (13) Faber, p. 29: "What occurs as the infant undergoes separation has been described as a |life-long mourning process,' a process that triggers an endless search for |replacement' which is tied integrally to our participation in the symbolic realm. ..." Faber later speaks (p. 180) of psychoanalytic theory "as it understands and discloses the word as an avenue back to the parental figure and language as originating in the defensive reply to the fear of separation and loss." This theory begs to be applied to the problem of Percy's language theory and may explain why so many of Percy's neurotic characters are "speechless." (14) From the very beginning of The Last Gentleman, the bench in Central Park on which the mother-figure first sits is also "exactly at ground zero" for a possible explosion of nerve gas (p. 48). Thereafter, numerous details evoke Will's sense of disintegration as he moves toward "ground zero" at Trinity site in the starry New Mexico desert. (15) Desmond Morris, Intimate Behaviour (New York: Random House, 1971), p. 78. (16) See Martin S. Bergmann, The Anatomy of Loving (New York: Columbia University Press, 1987), pp. 240-241: "In my 1971 paper, I suggest that the symbiotic phase leaves a psychic residue in the form of a longing for merger and this state of longing is reevoked when one falls in love. It was this longing that Plato described so well over 2500 years ago. Bak's (1973) views on this subject are similar to mine. He writes: |Being in love is a uniquely human, exceptional emotional state, which is based on undoing of the separation between mother and child' (p. 6)." See, also, Ethel Spector Person, Dreams of Love and Fateful Encounters (New York: W. W. Norton, 1988), pp. 126-127: "Successful lovers establish a union, characterized by ongoing warmth, commitment, intimacy, reciprocity, and some degree of mutual identification. But although the lovers may strive for complete merger (what we might then describe as fusion) they cannot sustain it. Instead, if they are lucky enough to enjoy a passionate love, their feelings of union will be interspersed with ecstatic moments of merger." Will's lovemaking may be a case of putting the cart before the horse, psychologically speaking. (17) Edwards. Casey, Remembering: A Phernomenological Study (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987), p. 343. (18) It must be remembered that this story is being recreated by an older Will Barrett, who - long after the fact - is attributing the identification of Good Mother to Kitty and Bad Mother to Rita. When Will thinks, "she hoped he would take his telescope and go away," it is with the awareness of the telescope as symbol reflecting his quest for the Good Mother. (19) Martin Bergmann, The Anatomy of Loving sees the Odyssey as a grand illustration of what he calls "the rapprochement subphase" (p. 25): "Odysseus represents a mythical tale of a child enjoying life's adventures on the way home." See, also, Bergmann, p. 241: "When the rapprochement subphase [in childhood] has not been navigated successfully, lovers will repeat the need to leave and return only to leave again, subjecting their partner to an infinite number of waiting tests." (20) The yin-yang is Percy's symbol for the original duality in unity, that state of consciousness before consciousness becomes alienated from the original object, the mother figure. He uses it in Lancelot and The Thanatos Syndrome, as well as in The Last Gentleman. Basically the yin-yang symbolizes the "two polar energies that, by their fluctuation and interaction, are the cause of the universe. Yin and yang are polar manifestations of the Tao of the supreme ultimate ( [right arrow] t'ai-chi), their concrete manifestations being Earth and Heaven" (Stephen Schumacher and Gert Woerner, eds. The Encyclopedia of Eastern Philosophy and Religion [Boston: Shambhala, 1989], pp. 428-429). The yin-yang thus becomes one of the symbol group that Erich Neumann identifies as "the Self-contained" (The Origins and History of Consciousness [Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1969], p. 8). Such a symbol group, in Carl Jung's system, constitutes an archetype. As Neumann defines them, archetypes "are the pictorial forms of the instincts, for the unconscious reveals itself to the conscious mind in images which, as in dreams and fantasies, initiate the process of conscious reaction and assimilation" (Origins, p. xv). So frequently has this symbol group been represented by the uroboros, the serpent biting its tail, that Neumann entitles his examination of the creation myth "The Uroboros." (21) Erich Neumann (Origin, p. 32 ff.) attributes a breast-fixation to the infancy of consciousness by lengthy examination of the emphasis placed upon breasts in the art work representing the Great Mother. (22) In addition to my "Neurobiology and Psychanalysis," see Gregory Rochlin, Griefs and Discontents (London: J. & A. Churchill, 1965), Chapter 5, Creativity, pp. 165-224, who stresses the need for restitution as an enormous stimulus to creativity. (23) (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1939). See also my discussion of "Walker Percy's South(s)" in Rewriting the South, ed. Lothar Honnighausen (Bonn), forthcoming, for a discussion of Southern locales as representations of the mental landscape of Walker Percy and of his narrators. (24) In Percy's symbolic topography the Carolina mountains and the Shenandoah Valley frequently are Edenic. Kitty's "goldenness" indicates that Will thinks of her as Aphrodite; see Paul Friedrich, The Meaning of Aphrodite (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978), pp. 78-79, 93. Sharon Kincaid (The Moviegoer) and Moira Schaffner and Lola Rhoades (Love in the Ruins) are also heavily invested with Aphrodite-like qualities. (25) William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience (New York: Collier Books, 1961), p. 243. (26) Charles H. Powers, Vilfredo Pareto (Newbury Park, California: SAGE Publications, 1987), pp. 23-24. (27) In "The Cross and the Delta," in Walker Percy: Novelist and Philosopher, ed. Jan Nordby Gretlund and Karl-Heinz Westarp (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1991), pp. 3-12, I place the language event (the Delta Phenomenon/the Helen Keller Phenomenon) within Christian interpretation of history. (28) The Flight from Woman, p. 221. It should be noted that Binx Bolling (The Moviegoer) also suffers from the "neurosis of Don Juan." I argue that Tom More (Love in the Ruins) suffers from a related mother-induced mental state; see "Tom More's |Nobel Prize Complex'," Renascence, 44 (Spring 1992), 175-182. (29) Gregory Rochlin, Griefs and Discontents, pp. 134-142, following Mircea Eliade, discusses Christianity as offering restitution for the lost paradise of infancy. Mario Jacoby, Longing for Paradise, p. 207, also quotes Eliade: "... paradisiac symbolism is arrested in the rites of baptism. ..." - hence the appropriateness of Jamie's baptism to close the story. (30) Walker Percy, The Second Coming (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1980), p. 360.
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Author:Lawson, Lewis
Publication:The Mississippi Quarterly
Date:Dec 22, 1992
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