The dream screen in 'The Moviegoer.' (by Walker Percy)
When I sat down to write The Moviegoer, I was very much aware of discarding the conventional notions of a plot and a set of characters, discarded because the traditional concept of plot-and-character itself reflects a view of reality which has been called into question. Rather would I begin with a man who finds himself in a world, a very concrete man who is located in a very concrete place and time. Such a man might be represented as coming to himself... (9)
The man coming to himself is the Binx who has selected and arranged a group of images so that their form conveys, represents, names his feelings to himself. These images--and, indeed, the form they take--would have been formed from and influenced by dreams, so that it is appropriate that dreams and dreaming are inescapably prominent in the content of the narrative. The boy Binx who got "excited" about Freud's Interpretation of Dream (138), but was rebuffed by his mother's lack of interest, the thirty-year old Binx who is unconsciously driven by dreams caused by the rebuffing mother to "act out," and is in the Epilogue the Binx who, by virtue of his conversion to Christianity (a restitution of the most object), can now understand and name his past condition for himself.
During the eight days of his life that he recollects, Binx goes to the movies four times and refers to twelve identified and several unidentified movies. There is some truth to the diagnosis of Binx provided by Harvey R. Greenberg:
One encounters chronic moviemania in rigid, inhibited types who feel exquisitely uncomfortable when forced into close interpersonal contact. Safe only in well-defined social situations, intolerably anxious if called upon to improvise, these people sleepwalk through the day's routine and only come alive at second hand, as proxy participants in the adventures of their screen idols. (Walker Percy's elegant novel The Moviegoer describes such a case.) (4) But there is not enough to Greenberg's analysis. Binx shows no interest in cinematographic technique, nor indeed does he say much about acting technique; he comments on a film narrative or a character's action only if it re-presents in some way some aspect of his life. The movie screen is his dream screen, in the sense that Robert T. Eberwein describes the connection between the two screens in Film and the Dream Screen.
Throughout Binx's recollection it is the image of the movie theater, rather than the memory of a specific movie, which offers the more evocative impression. As Esther Harding interprets a theater as a dream symbol: "This is the place where the typical stories of a man's life are shown, that is, the mythogems are presented to consciousness" (171). When Binx describes his "neighborhood theater in Gentilly" (7)--the evocative gen the source of so many birth-related words--he emphasizes its form, not its function of presenting constantly changing attractions: the theater "has permanent lettering on the front of the marquee reading: Where Happiness Costs So Little" (7). He adds, "[t]he fact is I am quite happy in a movie, even a bad movie," his choice of preposition suggesting the primacy of the experience of enclosure in his moviegoing. It is not too much to suggest that he experiences "nyctophilla," defined by Bertram Lewin as "an erotic pleasure in darkness, which enters as a wish-fulfillment element in fantasies of being in the ~womb,' or more properly, as the German word Mutterleib suggests, of being in the mother's body" (The Image, 40). In short, Binx has a need, whether by dreaming or by moviegoing, to regress to "the first incestuous objects of the libido," as Freud puts it (350).
When Binx begins his recollection, he indicates that he had been awakened to the possibility of a search by a dream of his wounding in the Korean War, an event to which he will refer several times in his narrative. That event was no doubt traumatic, yet the imagery which Binx uses to describe it suggests that that memory "screens" a memory of a more primal wounding:
I remembered the first time the search occurred to me. I came to myself under a chindolea bush.... My shoulder didn't hurt but it was pressed hard against the ground as if somebody sat on me. (10-11)
Only once in my life was the grip of everydayness broken: when I lay bleeding in a ditch. (145) The first citation is made meaningful by J. C. Flugel's comment about anxiety, during his discussion of "birth fantasies." Tracing the word anxiety back to the Sanskrit anhus, meaning "narrowness or constriction," he argues that anxiety "bears witness to the fundamental association of fear with pressure and shortness of breath, which--the former owing to the passage through the narrow vagina, the latter to the interruption of the foetal circulation--constitute the most menacing and terrifying aspects of the birth process" (70). The second citation is a rather vivid description of the moment of birth.
If Binx's memory of his war wound is a re-presentation of his birth trauma, it is significantly appropriate that he thinks of the wound in connection with all three women who play psychosexual roles in his life. As a result of the car collision on their way to the Gulf Coast, Sharon has to cut away Binx's T-shirt:
I was shot through the shoulder--a decent wound, as decent as any ever inflicted on Rory Calhoun or Tony Curtis. After all it could have been in the buttocks or genitals--or nose. Decent except that the fragment nicked the apex of my pleura and got me a collapsed lung and a big roaring empyema. (126) It is noteworthy that Binx's wounding results in a lung condition, for there is a long tradition of suspecting nostalgia as a cause of some lung conditions (Rosen 448-50). When Sharon, the mother substitute, sees the scar, she obligingly becomes maternal: "Come on now, son, where did you get that?" (126) Binx is jubilant, must think that his seduction is as good as done. Later, at the fishing camp, Binx uses the episode of his wounding to try to get his mother to understand how he has felt about his entire life: "What I am trying to tell you is that nothing seemed worth doing except something I couldn't even remember" (158). In other words, through the screening process he represses any recognition of the primal wound and therefore regresses in fantasy and in acted-out Don Juan behavior. And, finally, when he realizes in Chicago that he is falling in love with Kate, he says: "There I see her plain, see plain for the first time since I lay wounded in a ditch and watched an Oriental finch scratching around in the leaves..." (206). Binx implies that his mental visualization is finally free of "the parent in the percept."(2) His ability to choose an appropriate mate enables him to transcend his yearning for the mother who will not nurture.
The first movie that Binx mentions is not one that he actually attends during the time being recollected; this strategy gives Binx the opportunity, to imply from the outset that his moviegoing is a la recherche du temps perdu--almost all of the movies to which he refers are re-releases. Since it is unidentified by title--thus losing its individuality, becoming a generic movie--the movie he mentions is just one that he "saw last month out by Lake Pontchartrain" (4) with his then-sweetheart Linda. What he says about the theater, little as it is, says much about his psychosexual regression:"[a] strong wind whipped the waves against the seawall; even inside you could hear the racket" (4), and "the theater was almost empty, which was pleasant for me" (5). For Binx the theater replicates his intrauterine residence, which he would of course like not to share.
In this regard, it is significant that the theater is "out by Lake Pontchartrain" and Binx has a date with him. Binx is acting out Sandor Ferenczi's contention that man has a drive to water as it symbolizes his phylogenetic history both as a fish and as a foetus. Such a drive activates the fantasy of copulating with the mother; since this activity is forbidden, the actual copulation must occur with a substitute object, which is what Binx's succession of secretaries represents, kill of whom he takes to the Gulf Coast. Ferenczi's "situation of the penis in the vagina, the foetus in the uterus, and the fish in the water" (45) will surface again.
In his state of regression from the reality-principle, as Freud called it, Binx would have watched this movie closely:
The movie was about a man who lost his memory in an accident and as a result lost everything: his family, his friends, his money. He found himself a stranger in a strange city. Here he had to make a fresh start, find a new place to live, a new job, a new girl. It was supposed to be a tragedy, his losing all this, and he seemed to suffer a great deal. On the other hand, things were not so bad after all. In no time he found a very picturesque place to live, a houseboat on the river, and a very handsome girl, the local librarian. (4-5) The Thalassan content of the movie thus replicates the meaning that the theater has for Binx.
The theme of the movie is "[a]mnesia[,]...the perfect device of rotation."(3) Binx very carefully neglects the ending, stopping his recapitulation at the point of rotational triumph, at which point the ego-hero has reached Eden, "a very picturesque houseboat on the river," and an ideal mother-substitute, "the local librarian." For if rotation climaxes, post-coital depression is inevitable; rotation's "only term is suicide or self loss." (Percy, "The Man" 95). Just a few minutes later, Binx admits premature withdrawal from the not:
The movies are onto the search, but they screw it up. The search always ends in despair. They like, to show a fellow coming to himself in a strange place--but what does he do? He takes up with the local librarian, sets up about proving to the local children what a nice fellow he is, and settles down with a vengeance. In two weeks time he is so sunk in everydayness that he might just as well be dead. (13) Binx has already admitted that his rotation with Linda is over.
There is one final comment to be made about this first description of movie going. Binx always places himself in a movie theater, his fantasy substitute for the maternal womb, when he illustrates, either by implication or by explication, the various aspects of his theory of psychology (certification, alienation, rotation, and aesthetic repetition). He very clearly situates his intellect within a matrix of mother-loss.
Thus, early on Wednesday morning, before Binx ventures into his objective-empirical world (as a young bachelor stockbroker in New Orleans, scion of a very old Louisiana family), he has already--by using Mrs. Langer's analogy, "[c]inema is ~like' dream"--described his felt life. For all the apparent specificity and solidity of Binx's world, Gentilly is "very spacious and airy and seems to stretch out like a field under the sky" (9-10); if such a description does not convey enough unheimlichkeit, then Binx's response to the homes near the lake should be noted: "at this hour of dawn they are forlorn. A sadness settles over them like a fog from the lake" (84). This white mist--to be exposed before the week is out, at Binx's mother's fishing camp--is now just "a fog of uneasiness, a. thin gas of malaise" (18): What is the malaise? you ask. The malaise is the pain of loss. The world is lost to you, the world and people in it, and there remains only you and the world and you no more able to be in the world than Banquo's ghost. (120)
On Wednesday night, Binx does go to a movie, Panic in the Streets, with his Aunt Emily's stepdaughter Kate. In the movie Richard Widmark plays a public health inspector who discovers "that a culture of cholera bacilli has gotten loose in the city....There is a scene which shows the very neighborhood of the theater" (63). Such a movie, focusing upon the objective-empirical world, emphasizes the values of its worldview. Thus, for people indoctrinated with that worldview, to see the familiar re-presented by a visual apparatus is to see heightened reality. Such a movie would seem to hold no promise for Binx, but there is that phenomenon of--to borrow the language of "The Man on the Train"--"the triumphant reversal of alienation through its representing" (93). Binx calls this "phenomenon of moviegoing ...certification" (63):
Nowadays when a person lives somewhere, in a neighborhood, the place is not certified for him. More than likely he will live there sadly and the emptiness which is inside him will expand until it evacuates the entire neighborhood. But if he sees a movie which shows his very neighborhood, it becomes possible for him to live, for a time at least, as a person who is Somewhere and not -Anywhere. ll(63) As a curative for emptiness--malaise, "the pain of loss"--such a reversal is, however, a Band-Aid. Alienation endures.
And since it does, Binx must look for a rotatory deliverance: on Thursday morning he embarks upon the seduction of his new secretary, Sharon. Already he has begun to fantasize her as Aphrodite, seeing her as a golden creature (95).(4) Binx admits: "[d]esire for her is like a sorrow in my heart" (68). His description of his desire is no more exaggerated than is to be expected of a healthy twenty-nine year old man in the Big Easy, but the psychosexual ramifications of his desire are better appreciated with the aid of Robert Romanyshyn's phenomenology of desire, too long to be repeated here, except for its summary:
If desire if the story of a homecoming, then it is the story of a home which is present before one's consideration of the heavens but paradoxically also absent until after this consideration. It is a home which does not exist but paradoxically always is, a home which is not a fact but more like a promise. It is a nostalgic home, this home of desire. It is the home out of which dreams of paradise and tales of the gardens of Eden are born. It is the home we have never had but have always lived. (51-2) Sharon, then is the latest object to excite Binx's fantasy of the mother-land. As he secretively reads Arabia Deserta (68), a title which describes his life in Gentilly, he dreams of Sharon, the oasis, the place where the water is.
Charles M. Doughty's long trek to Mecca--as a disguised Christian among the Muslims--reminds Binx of how he came to undertake his "horizontal search." He had pursued a "vertical search"--an intellectual quest founded on Plato, currently manifested by objective-empiricism(5)--until he discovered that it left him "left over" (70), his adaptation of Sartre's de trop, the individual who is superfluous in any scientistic worldview. It happened in a hotel in Birmingham (the same city in which Walker Percy discovered alienation); Binx read The Chemistry of Life, which explained everything but himself, which is not chemical; he closed the book to go see It Happened One Night, which is offered, in "The Man on the Train," as an illustration of this movement: "Zone crossing is of such great moment to the alienated I because the latter is thereby able to explore the It while at the same time retaining his option of noncommitment" (88). Then, therefore, Binx adopted the "horizontal search," the alienated way, with its specious deliverances of short-term reversal, rotation and aesthetic repetition. Disguised as successfully as Charles Doughty, Binx displays his noncommitment most apparently as he explores the en soi of his succession of secretaries.
On his way home on Thursday afternoon, Binx stops off at the Tivoli Theater. Since the theater as a form is the locus of Binx's womb fantasy, which often reveals itself in his hankering after such Eden-like places as oases and parks, the Tivoli, named after the famous Italian gardens, would have special appeal for him. The manager practically forces Binx to take a "sample look" (73) at a Jane Powell musical, but the cheerful outgoingness of the actress is enough to drive him to despair.
Yet one happy movie does not an alien make. Binx has to admit, "it was here in the Tivoli that I first discovered place and time, tasted it like okra" (75), during a re-release of Red River a couple of years before. It: is Binx's recollection of the experience as a gustatory event which demands close attention; in Film and the Dream Screen Robert Eberwein bases the following paragraph on the thought of Julia Kristeva:
The infant's relationship to its mother after birth can be described as a kind of ~semiotic' chora. ...In its vocalizations and cries (these actions themselves revivals of more primitive activities engaged in within the womb), the infant tries to survive by calling for food. The mother responds to these anaclises by offering herself. Notice the similarity of the terms used by Kristeva to describe the mother and the kind of language one might use to describe the viewing situation in a theater. The mother sustains the infant by ~providing...an axis, a projection screen, a limit, a support for the infant's invocation...' The union of infant and mother in the semiotic chora fixes a ~space': Orality, audition, vision: archaic modalities upon which the most precocious discretion emerges. The breast given and withdrawn; lamp light capturing the gaze; the intermittent sound of voices or music--these greet anaclisis,...hold it, and thus inhibit and absorb it in such a way that it is discharged and calmed through them....Therefore, the breast, light, sound become a there; place, point, marker....The mark of an archaic point, the initiation into ~space,' the, ~chora.' ...There is not yet an outside. (32) In the Tivoli Binx had, to say it another way, become energized by a dream of repetition, by a desire to go back to the time of symbiosis, before breast was lost as language was gained. Thus he became the moviegoer.
Binx's recollection of the Tivoli experience reminds him of another movie:
Once as I was travelling through the Midwest ten years ago I had a layover of three hours in Cincinnati. There was time to go see Joseph Cotten in Holiday at a neighborhood theater called the Altamont--but not before I had struck up an acquaintance with the ticket seller, a lady named Mrs. Clara James, and learned that she had seven grandchildren all living in Cincinnati. (75) Binx mentions the ticket seller because he had just previously explained his dependence upon mediation:
If I did not talk to the theater owner or the ticket seller, I should be lost, cut loose metaphysically speaking. I should be seeing one copy of a film which might be shown anywhere and at any time. It is possible to become a ghost and not know whether one is in downtown Loews in Denver or suburban Bijou in Jacksonville. The film experience, he realizes, could be a metaphor for the objective-empirical method: Cartesian reality is universal and eternal, with the hurrian being reduced to being a spectator. But now that he is alienated from the objective-empirical, Binx knows that salvation--if there is to be any--will be local and immediate, spoken to his person by another person.
The Cincinnati movie occurs to Binx for several reasons having to do with a sense of place. For one thing, Cincinnati is the home of the famous Eden Park. The theater's name, Altamont, would remind him of the hometown of Thomas Wolfe (celebrated in "The Man on the Train"  as a practitioner of the repetitional movement in literature). Clara James might suggest Laura James, the mother-substitute for Eugene Gant in Look Homeward, Angel. The movie title, Holiday, suggests that Binx, in recalling the Tivoli, has been tempted to yearn for the Urkinohaus, the Mutterleib. The setting of the movie has an idyllic, Thalassan name, Lake Placid, especially in contrast to Saranac Lake, five miles down the road, where Walker Percy had to deal with both tuberculosis and alienation. The movie thematizes the contrast between objective-empirical values, contained in the marble-walled Seaton mansion, and object-relation values, contained in the playroom. Johnny Case arrives to become engaged to julia Seaton, but when he meets her sister Linda, they fall in love. According to Timothy W. Johnson, the playroom "is Linda's refuge--a warm, intimate room filled with dreams, childhood mementos....and a portrait of their [dead] mother over the fireplace" (759). The only trouble with Binx's recollection? The lead male actor was Cary Grant, not Joseph Cotten: like Binx's memory, all aesthetic repetitions are unreliable.
Escaping from Jane Powell, Binx reaches his apartment in the basement of the house of Mrs. Schexnaydre (pronounced locally "SCHEX nay der," but Gallo-psychoanalytically as "chez NAY dir"). However her name is pronounced, she is the "bad mother" for the ego-hero; Mrs. Schexnaydre's house is built on this mythological substrate:
When [the hero] arrives at the nadir of mythological round, he undergoes a supreme ordeal and gains his reward. The triumph maybe represented as the hero's sexual union with the goddess-mother of the world (sacred marriage), his recognition by the father-creator (father atonement), his own divinization (apotheosis)...:intrinsically it is an expansion of consciousness and therewith of being (illumination, transfiguration, freedom). The final work is that of the return.... (Campbell 246)
Mrs. Schexnaydre has three dogs--a fractionate Cerberus--but Binx most despises the one that he has nicknamed "Rosebud," in honor of its "large convoluted anus" (77). As a student of moviegoing, Binx must know that Citizen Kane hinges on an object named Rosebud, which is the key to understanding that Charles Foster Kane's destiny was determined by the loss of his mother (Mayne 116-19). Once Binx can get past "Rosebud," he can get to his bed, over which "hang two Currier and Ives prints of ice-skaters in Central Park. How sad the little figures seem, skimming along in stop! How sad the city seems!" (78) Early on Wednesday Binx had said: "I... once met a girl in Central Park, but it is not much to remember" (7). Thus he implies that while he can try to repress his thoughts during the day he cannot control the dreams that hang over his bed at night. With his mind still very much in the mood awakened by his memory of Holiday, he goes to a movie on Thursday night.
Nor should the type of movie he selects come as a surprise:
Tonight, Thursday night, I carry out a successful experiment in repetition.
Fourteen years ago, when I was a sophomore, I saw a western at the movie-house on Freret Street, a place frequented by students and known to them as the Armpit. The movie wa The Oxbow incident and it was quite good....Yesterday evening I noticed in the Picayune that another western was playing in the same theater. (79) When he and Kate come out of the movie, Binx says, "A successful repetition":
What is a repetition? A repetition is the reenactment of past experience toward the end of isolating the time segment which has lapsed in order that it, the lapsed time, can be savored of itself and without the usual adulteration of events that clog time like peanuts in brittle. (79-80) Binx's analogy between aesthetic repetition and peanut brittle (sans goobers) is like, Ethel Spector Person's analogy between aesthetic repetition and the "lover's reel" in stressing that memory is selective (128). But Binx's analogy is additionally appropriate in stressing that experience, in his case, is gustatory:
How, then, tasted my own fourteen years since The Oxbow Incident?
As usual it eluded me. (80) Binx's frustration is predicted by "The Man on the Train":
Unlike rotation, [ repetition] is of two kinds, the aesthetic and the existential, which literature accordingly polarizes. The aesthetic repetition captures the savor of repetition without surrendering the self as a locus of experience and possibility. When Proust tastes the piece of cake or Captain Ryder finds himself at Brideshead, the incident may serve as an occasion for either kind: an excursion into the interesting, a savoring of the past as experience; or two, the passionate quest in which the incident serves as a thread in the labyrinth to be followed at any cost. This latter, however, no matter how serious, cannot fail to be polarized by art, transmitting as the interesting. The question what does it mean to stand before the house of one's childhood? is thus received in two different ways--one as an occasion for connoisseur sampling of a rare emotion, the other literally and seriously: what does it really mean? (95-6) Since Binx is still engaged in rotation and aesthetic repetition, he has not surrendered "the self as a locus of experience and possibility" in order to pursue "the passionate quest." Thus he can only "savor" the past--Percy is consistent from genre to genre in attributing gustation to aesthetic repetition. But only in the novel, in that genre's covert way, will he ever admit that the gustatory response is ultimately lactophilia.
As if to demonstrate his refusal to surrender to the passionate quest, Binx dedicates Friday and Saturday to the great rotation of seducing Sharon. He is so engrossed in his plan that he does not need to go to a movie on Friday night, just watches a little television. Then, by noon on Saturday, he has persuaded Sharon to go to the beach with him. Once in his MG, she seems to intuit her role as a mother-substitute, for she begins to address him as "son" (124) or "boy" (132). Through a fortunate accident, Binx is able to impersonate "Rory Calhoun or Tony Curtis" (126), even "Bill Holden" (127), as one of them would appear if he was playing a wounded war hero; Sharon is so captivated and maternal that Binx has milk on his mind as they take the ferry out to Ship Island. He is surrounded by "milk white" (219) country children, while the boat is "chuffing through the thin milky waters of Mississippi Sound" (129).(6)
Binx perfectly captures the excitement when one returns to the beach:
Over the hillock lies the open sea. The difference is very great: first, this sleazy backwater, then the great blue ocean. The beach is clean and a big surf is rolling in; the water in the middle distance is green and lathered. You come over the hillock and your heart lifts up; your old sad music comes into the major.(130) But Binx's especial excitement is suggested by a comment made by D. W. Winnicott about a line by Tagore, "On the seashore of endless worlds, children play":
In my adolescence I had no idea what it could mean but it found a place in me, and its imprint has not yet faded.
When I first became a Freudian I knew what it meant. The sea and the shore represented endless intercourse between man and woman, and the child emerged from this union to have a brief moment before becoming in turn adult or parent. Then, as a student of unconscious symbolism, I knew (one always knows) that the sea is the mother, and onto the seashore the child is born. Babies come up out of the sea and are spewed out upon the land, like Jonah from the while. So now the seashore was the mother's body, after a child is born and the mother and now viable baby are getting to know each other. (Muensterberger 5-6)
With such an emotional investment, Binx easily fantasizes Sharon as Aphrodite, born of the white foam:
She wades out ahead of me, turning to and fro, hands outstretched to the water and sweeping it before her. Now and then she raises her hands to her head as if she were placing a crown and combs back her hair with the last two fingers. The green water foams... (130) As Aphrodite--"originally a mother goddess," according to Michael Balint (93)--Sharon plays her role to perfection: "Come on, son. I'm going to give you some beer" (131). With his gustatory need met, no wonder that Binx can hardly wait for the next movement: "Once when she gets up, I come up on my knees and embrace her golden thighs, such a fine strapping armful they are" (132). Then he pays her full homage: "~Sweetheart, I'll never turn you loose.' Mother of all living, what an armful" (132). According to some etymologies, "mother of the living" is the meaning of the name Eve, so that Binx must be convinced that he is pretty close to Paradise. By the time the moon rises, Sharon has agreed to visit Binx's mother's fishing camp (136). While he has already admitted that Sharon, as a rotation object, is not so magnetic as she was, even so the pull of his mother's fishing camp as a locus of aesthetic repetition is so great that he still means to seduce her there, to fulfill Ferenczi's "situation of the penis in the vagina, the foetus in the uterus, and the fish in the water." He will return to the womb on his mother's place, if not in her place.
But his mother is at the camp, surrounded by the six surviving children of her second marriage. With justification, Binx thinks of the Titanic, another doomed maiden voyage. For the moviegoer, this will not be A Night to Remember. Just moments before, Sharon had given him the penultimate promise: "She had become tender toward me and now and then presses my cheek with her hand" (136). Such caresses activate the infant's reflex to suck (Brazelton and Cramer 51-2). The welcome that Binx receives from his mother is of a different order:
~Well, well, look who's here,' she says but does not look.
Her hands dry, she rubs her nose vigorously with her three middle fingers held straight up. She has hay fever and crabs make it worse. It is a sound too well known to me to be remembered, this quick jiggle up and down and the little wet wringing noises under her fingers.
We give each other a kiss or rather we press our cheeks together, Mother embracing my head with her wrist as if her hands were still wet. (137)
In effect receiving a brush-off from his mother, Binx ponders their relationship: "Sometimes I feel a son's love for her, or something like this, and try to give her a special greeting, but at this time she avoids my eye and gives me her cheek..." (137-8). When, after a while, lie tries again to talk to her, he gets the impression that she is "as old and sly as Eve herself' (142), but this is not the bountiful Eve he had earlier imagined Sharon to be, but the Great Mother, whose preeminence was destroyed by the Yahwist author of Genesis. That goddess was often accompanied by a son-lover who was sacrificed to die, in order to perpetuate her power.
Understandably, Binx jumps at the opportunity to take his half-siblings and Sharon to the Moonlite Drive-In (143-4). There he can patter about rotations and aesthetic repetitions, as if his life were nothing but moviegoing. But later the real moviegoing begins:
Three o'clock and suddenly awake amid the smell of dreams and of the years come back and peopled and blown away again like smoke. A young man am I, twenty nine, but I am as full of dreams as an ancient. At night the years come back and perch around my bed like ghosts. (144)
Here dreams have the attribute of smell--appropriately, since the sense of smell, like the sense of taste, is first directed to the mother's breast (Brazelton and Cramer, 60-1), which is the place on which dreams originate. Binx had broached the subject of his dreaming with a similar image:
I dreamed of the war, no, not quite dreamed but woke with the taste of it in my mouth, the queasy-quince taste of 1951 and the Orient. (10) Since the wartime experience is a screen memory for his infantile trauma, it should be accompanied by a taste.
As would be expected, Binx's previous extended discussion of his disturbed sleep occurs when he speaks of chez Naydre: ... sometimes before dawn I awake with a violent start and for the rest of the night lie dozing yet wakeful and watchful. I have not slept soundly for many years. Not since the war when I was knocked out for two days have I really lost consciousness as a child loses consciousness in sleep and wakes to a new world not even remembering when he went to bed. I always know where I am and what time it is. Whenever I feel myself sinking toward a deep sleep, something always recalls me: ~Not so fast now. Suppose you should go to sleep and it should
happen. What then?' Clearly nothing. Yet there I lie, wakeful and watchful and a sentinel, ears tuned to the slightest noise. I can even hear old Rosebud turning round and round in the azalea bushes before settling down. (83-4)
The simple explanation will not, however, suffice. The basement apartment, "as impersonal as motel room" (78), is a placeless place. Binx lives as a exile from Central Park, hounded by Rosebud, the witch's watchdog. Anyone caught in that situation would be tempted to regress, but fear that such regression might lead to extinction.
On the occasion in question, Binx had gotten up to walk to the lake. On his way he thought of another poor sleeper: "My father used to suffer from insomnia" (85). Binx's Aunt Emily has a memory of Binx's father as a "student prince" (50), taking "off helter-skelter up the Rhine . . . with a bottle of Liebfraumilch under one arm and Wilhelm Meister under the other." But apparently he never learned to wander from Wilhelm, nor did he find a sufficient supply of Liebfraumilch, even though he married a nurse. As Binx walks, he thinks of his mother's inability to respond to her husband's insomnia:
Just at this hour of dawn I would be awakened by a terrible sound: my father crashing through the screen door, sleeping bag under his arm, his eyes crisscrossed by fatigue and by the sadness of these glimmering dawns. My mother, without meaning to, put a quietus on his hopes of sleep even more effectively than this forlorn hour. She had a way of summing up his doings in a phrase that took the heart out of him. He dreamed, I know, of a place of quiet breathing and a deep sleep under the stars and next to the sweet earth. She agreed. ~Honey, I'm all for it. I think we ought to get back to nature and I'd be right with you, Honey, if it wasn't for the chiggers. I'm chigger bait.' (85)
Binx's father continued his decline until he had no appetite at all. Then Binx's mother did mother her husband:
I got his book. I remember it--it was a book called The Greene Murder Case. Everybody in the family read it. I began to read and he began to listen, and while I read, I fed him. (152-3)
But any reader of "The Man on the Train" knows that the effect of such a treatment is only temporary: "An Erle Stanley Gardner novel is a true exercise in alienation. A man who finishes his twentieth Perry Mason is that much nearer total despair than when he started" (83). Only the onset of World War II could rouse Binx's father from his torpor. Then--and this completes Binx's train of thought about his father--as a volunteer, Binx's father had died "in the wine dark sea" (2.5) off Crete. That his father had regressed to extinction is implied in Binx's bitter comment:
He found a way to do both: to please [the family] and please himself. To leave. To do what he wanted to do and save old England doing it. And perhaps even carry off the grandest coup of all: to die. To win the big prize for them and for himself (but not even he dreamed he would succeed not only in dying but in dying in Crete in the wine dark sea). (157)
That he knows the source of his father's alienation Binx implies by his assertion that his father died with a copy of A Shropshire Lad in his pocket, mother-haunted A. E. Housman's great celebration of his nostalgia.(7)
When, then, Binx suddenly wakes at the fishing camp, he seems to experience nausea: . . . my old place is used up (places get used up by rotatory and repetitive use) and when I awake, I awake in the grip of everydayness. Everydayness is the enemy. No search is possible. Perhaps there was a time when everydayness was not too strong and one could break its grip by brute strength. Now nothing breaks it--but disaster. Only once in my life was the grip of everydayness broken: when I lay bleeding in a ditch. (145)
It was at that time that he had experienced two days of dreamless sleep (83-4), and he must be, as his father was, tempted to seek extinction, now that his moviegoing evasions no longer seem to work.
But then he acts like a stubborn infant:
In a sudden rage and, as if I had been seized by a fit, I roll over and fall in a heap on the floor and lie shivering on the boards, worse off than the miserablest muskrat in the swamp. Nevertheless I vow: I'm a son of a bitch if I'll be defeated by everydayness. (145)
And indeed he would be a son of a bitch (goddess) if he succumbed to an alienation which she had caused. He resolves to resume the search that he has occasionally mentioned, the existential repetition (or quest or return), which ends, according to "The Man on the Train," "before the house of one's childhood" (96).
Such a resolution allows Binx to go back to sleep, a deep sleep, it may be inferred from his description of awakening:
It starts as an evil turn of events. There is a sense of urgency. Something has to be done. Let us please do something about it. Then it is a color, a very bad color that needs tending to. Then a pain. But there is no use: it is a sound and it is out there in the world and nothing can be done about it. Awake. (146-7)
The description sounds more like a fetus trying not to be born or like a moviegoer at a movie with a bad projectionist. Then Binx is before the house of his childhood:
The world is like milk: sky, water, savannah. The thin etherlike water vaporizes; tendrils of fog gather like smoke; a white shaft lies straight as a ruler over the marsh. (147)
As Binx listens to his stepfather going off to fish, he becomes aware of his isolation:
The hull disappears into a white middle distance and the sound goes suddenly small as if the boat had run into cotton.
A deformed live oak emerges from the whiteness, stands up in the air, like a tree in a Chinese print. Minutes pass. (147-8)
Binx can only wait:
Behind me a screen door opens softly and my mother comes out on the dock with a casting rod. . . ~Hinhhonh,' she says in a yawn-sigh as wan and white as the morning. Her blouse is one of Roy's army shirts and not much too big for her large breasts. (148)
In fantasy Binx has pursued the mother-near-the-water during his entire narration, and now she stands before him, "her large breasts" lactating his world, like the Great Mother of old (Neumann 32) or like Juno, whose lactation created the Milky Way (Warner 196).
Binx pulls on his pants, to walk barefoot into "a cool milky world" (148):
~Isn't it mighty early For you!' Her voice is a tinkle over the water.
My mother is easy and affectionate with me. Now we may speak together. It is the early morning and our isolation in the great white marsh.
~Can I fix you some breakfast?'
~No'm. I'm not hungry.' Our voices go ringing around the empty room of the morning.
Surely it comes as a surprise that Binx would refuse her gesture, for Binx has been speaking, ever since his memory of the movie out by Lake Pontchartrain (5), of the empty room that represents the womb and of the whiteness of the water locale and of the empty movie screen (soon to be discussed) that represents the breast. But Binx's next statement explains his reason for declining: "Still she puts me off" (149). Binx seems to realize that she will be his nurse no better than she was his father's.
Binx notes that his mother "veers away from intimacy" (149), would prefer to talk about fishing. When he says that he does not like to fish, she replies, "You're just like your father." Binx stretches "out at full length," nestling his "head on a two-by-four," as if it were a mother's arm: "It is possible to squint into the rising sun and at the same time see my mother spangled in rainbows" (149-50), like a promise. The description of nursing by Kristeva offered earlier should be recalled.
Binx needs both nourishment and news. As if to tease him in both his desires, his mother tells of his father's one successful fishing trip, when he caught a sac au lait, so named by the Louisiana French in an attempt to pronounce Choctaw sakli, their name for the fish known in English as trout (Mathews, 1438). That sakli became sac au lait may speak volumes about Gallic psychosexual development. For Binx's father the fish was no more a mamma than his wife would be. In time, Binx's mother turns the conversation to her father, who also was not a fisherman, though "[h]e owned a fleet of trawlers at Golden Meadow. But did he love pretty girls. Till his dying day" (155). Still squinting "up at her through the rainbows," Binx asks, "Does it last that long?" Her reply is sharp and conclusive: "Don't you get risque with me! This is your mother you're talking to and not one of your little hotsy-totsies." Apparently admitting defeat, Binx concludes, "Fishing is poor" (159), and there will be no "penis in the vagina" or, "foetus in the uterus" at all.
What has been going on here? It should be remembered that Binx is constructing his narrative at least a year after the fact (for a violation of the "virtual present" of the narrative proper, see the anticipation of the "catastrophe Monday night" just as Binx and Kate arrive in Chicago on Monday morning, 201). It should be kept in mind, too, that Binx uses in his narrative either the same terms--rotation, (aesthetic) repetition--or closely equivalent terms--"malaise" for alienation, "search" for existential repetition--of the psychological system discussed in "The Man on the Train"; thus he implies that he is basing his interpretation and description of his earlier behavior on that system. Further, he makes in his narrative the same basic distinction that is made by "The Man on the Train"; for his narrative, the "vertical search" names the objective-empirical technique and the "horizontal search" (70) names the alienated response (and its putative deliverances). And, also, since he mentions Freud's Interpretation of Dreams in connection with his teenage curiosity and his mother's aloofness (138), he implies a long and close sensitivity to psychoanalytic literature, especially as it might benefit him. Finally, since he identifies himself as a "moviegoer (109) and uses moviegoing and movie lore to illustrate his psychological theories and his impersonations, he implies a full knowledge of the psychoanalysis of moviegoing, as summarized in such recent studies as Robert Eberwein's Film and The Dream Screen (1984) and Judith Mayne's Private Novels, Public Films (1988). With these considerations in mind, it is quite possible that Binx has relied upon a psychoanalytic theory formulated by Bertram Lewin to structure his narrative, especially the scene between his mother and himself on the dock. But even if Binx is not familiar with Lewin's research, it can, nevertheless, be used to gloss his mental arid physical behavior.
Lewin introduced his theory in "Sleep, the Mouth, and the Dream Screen." His curiosity was aroused by Freud's comment in The Interpretation of Dreams that a wish to sleep is "the prime reason for all dreaming, the dream being the great guardian of sleep" (419). Lewin was also pondering M. J. Eisler's assertion "that sleep [is] a regressive phenomenon, a return to hypothetical preoral or apnoeic stage, such as might be imagined for the unborn child" (419). Then a patient in session told him: "I had my dream all ready for you; but while I was lying here looking at it, it turned over away from me, rolled up, and rolled away from me--over and over like two tumblers" (420). Lewin was inspired to conceive of the "dream screen."
Lewin later reported, in "Inferences from the Dream Screen," that the analogy between the dream process and the moviegoing experience occurred to him immediately (226). (This is the same analogy that Susanne Langer was to formulate later, except that she reversed the terms; it is also the same analogy that is undeveloped in Julia Kristeva's description of the nursing event.)(8) As refined and developed by Lewin and other analysts--Charles Rycroft, Joseph Kepecs, Gert Heilbrunn, Mark Kanzer, Angel Garma, L. Bryce Boyer, and Carel van der Heide--the following model of the dreamer as moviegoer is widely used.
When a baby nurses, it wishes to nurse to gratification, then to drop into a dreamless, regressive sleep. The last visual impression that it receives before sleeping is the huge blank breast that is not far enough distant even to be perceived as an object separate from the ego. The baby therefore internalizes the breast as a blank dream, a blank screen with nothing on it. This internalization is not abandoned in time. As the ego develops, manifest content dreams--unconscious wishes that threaten to awaken the sleeper--are projected onto the dream screen, but that screen is ordinarily not recalled when the manifest dream is recalled. But as some people begin to awaken, the ego sometimes has the experience of seeing the dream screen--on which is projected a visual dream--receding, losing its flat appearance, assuming a smaller curved shape. The experience of the dream screen seems more prevalent among those dreamers who have deep oral fixations. Such dreamers also have fantasies of intrauterine regression, but there is also the possibility of a conflicting psychic energy, a death wish. Thus some such dreamers fight sleep, to the extent that "the tensions may be carried over into a dreamlike awakening in which the identifications and the instinctual goals remain confused" (Kanzer, 519). In "Reconsideration of the Dream Screen" Lewis offers a composite of reports of the dream screen:
The whitish, cloudy, endless wall is the breast or the ghost of a breast--thus sensed by the diplopic amblyopic baby, with its weak powers of accommodation and its confused depth and color perceptions. Notably the screen equivalent in such dreams is of badly defined thickness and consistency; it is thick or fluid, dark or whitish or milky, out of focus--indeed questionably visual at all . . . . (183)
What does the model of the dream screen have to say about Binx's narrative? With his first description of moviegoing, Binx shows that a movie theater re-presents his fantasy of regression to the womb. When he comes out of his moviegoing, he generally heads for water, another image of intrauterine flight. Having denied the reality of his biological mother, he has split his fantasy figure: Mrs. Schexnaydre is the "bad mother," while each new secretary is the "good mother," as long as she represents pure possibility. Binx's oral fixation shows his need to nurse to satisfaction, so that he could sleep soundly (and thus see the dream screen) instead of the manifest content (such as the skaters in Central Park) which haunts his head. He suffers, instead, from dream disturbance, even as he fears relaxing his fragile grip on his ego so that he could sleep, for the regression might then be fatal.
In the scence at die fishing camp Binx suffers from dreaming, then makes a first effort to resist. Then he dreams the dream screen (146-7), even tries to prevent "color" and "sound" from occurring on the screen, thus waking him. The subsequent whiteness imagery indicates that the dream screen lingers, even as his mother appears through the "screen" (148)--it will be recalled that Binx described his "father crashing through the screen door, . . . his eyes crisscrossed by fatigue and by the sadness of these glimmering dawns" (85), such as Binx is now seeing. Then, by stretching out on the dock, Binx positions himself as the child at the breast of the nurse. His rejection of her offer to make his breakfast reveals that he is coming to the realization that she simply cannot be a gratifying mother. He is progressing from a dependence upon ideal internal objects toward a more realistic response to things as they are, thus showing ego development.(9)
This is not to say that Binx's recovery will be quick and/or complete. On the way back to New Orleans on Sunday afternoon, he falls back into his rotational fantasy, seeking "the thickest and innerest part of Sharon's thigh" (166), which is just a frisson from fusion, fantasy's focus:
She bats me away with view vigor.
~Son, don't you mess with me.'
~Very well, I won't,' I say gloomily, as willing not to mess with her as mess with her, to tell the truth.
~That's all right. You come here.'
She gives me a kiss. ~I got your number, son. But that's all right. You're a good old boy. You really tickle me.' She's been talking to my mother. ~Now you tend to your business and get me on home.'
~I have to meet someoie.'
Before they had started to the beach, Sharon had asked Binx, "Is Miss Cutrer any kin to you" (118), already suspecting that the romantic role of a Binx secretary is to be a temporary, not a permanent hire. Now, having talked with the real mother, who has been telling Binx for years that he should marry Kate (155), this hotsy-totsy realizes that she had better be getting out to "meet someone" of her own.
His fantasy of attainment having thus been rebuffed, Binx goes to the home of his Aunt Emily in the Garden District--certainly no garden district for him--there to suffer from his loss of sleep "during the past week" (182). Then, with Kate, he literally becomes "the man on the train," directed by his Uncle Jules to attend a convention in Chicago. His drowsiness had been but a prelude to his condition on the train:
The drowsiness returns. It is unwelcome. I recognize it as the sort of fitful twilight which has come over me of late, a twilight where waking dreams are dreamed and sleep never comes. (188)
The sleep that never comes is also the penis that never comes. Back at Aunt Emily's, Sam Yerger had asked the departing Binx, "Brother Andy, is you getting much" (183). The fact is that, for all Binx's elaborate Don Juan behavior, he mentions not one orgasm, that experience whose existential drive is to achieve the same experience of fusion that he seeks through regression. Significantly, Binx alternates looking out the window and looking over the shoulder of his reading neighbor, both actions mirroring what is on his mind:
We pause at an advertisetment of a Bourbon Street nightclub which is a picture of a dancer with an oiled body. Her triceps arch forward like a mare's. For a second we gaze heavy-lidded and pass on. Now he finds what he wants . . . . Dreaming at his shoulder, I can make out no more than
In order to deepen and enrich the marital--It is a counseling column which I too read faithfully. (188-9)
As the "train sways through the swamp" (189), Binx is miserable:
Staying awake is a kind of sickness and sleep is forever guarded against by a dizzy dutiful alertness. Waking wide-eyed dreams come as fitfully as swampfire.
His condition like that earlier described by Mark Kanzer as "a dreamlike awakening," Binx has a waking dream of the sexologists Dean, whom he had seen at a Canal Street book-signing of their collaboration Technique in Marriage, one technique of which begins: "Now with a tender regard for your partner remove your hand from the nipple and gently manipulate. . ." (191). At this point in the life of the moviegoer/man-on-the-train, a remark by Joseph Kepecs, in "A Waking Screen Analogous to the Dream Screen," is appropriate: "It is quite likely that many people are unable to perceive the real world clearly because between it and themselves they interpose a phantom of the maternal breast through which everything else is seen" (171). This scene once again confirms that the existential concerns of "The Man on the Train" are the psychosexual concerns of The Moviegoer.
Kate herself is in a serious crisis, part of a long-term condition that may have originated in deprivation of the object (110-111), for her mother, it is to be inferred, died before Kate was three years old. Binx implies that they share the same condition, even as they share her roomette on the train. He observes the dream screen:
Outside a square of yellow light flees along an embankment, falls away to the woods and fields, comes roaring back good as new. Suddenly a perky head pops up. Kate is leaning forward hugging herself.
He observes her observing the dream screen:
She is back at her window, moving her hand to see it move in the flying yellow square.
We hunch up knee to knee and nose to nose like the two devils on the Rorschach card.(10) (192)
With such mutuality of misery, they begin to discuss marriage, a subject which has come up between them before (116). Since Kate is as alienated as Binx, it follows that she too has been dreaming of orgasms as fusion (199). They try, therefore, to consummate their relationship, hoping for deep, dreamless sleep: Binx imagines himself dispatching Kate into "as sweet a sleep as ever Scarlett enjoyed the morning of Rhett's return" (200). But "flesh poor flesh" failed them. Then Kate imagines herself as Ophelia (2-10), undone by another mother's boy, according to Freud.
Despite their sexual failure, Binx is developing the strength to express his love for Kate, who looks after him (201) much as a mother hen, "with many a cluck and much fuss" (202). He suffers not even "two seconds of malaise" (204). Then, in a bar on the Loop, Binx looks at Kate: . . . I see her plain, see plain for the first time since I lay wounded in a ditch and watched an Oriental finch scratching around in the leaves--a quiet little body she is, a tough little city Celt; no, more of a Rachel really, a dark little Rachel bound home to Brooklyn on the IRT. I give her a pat on the leg. (206)
Kepecs' comment about the "phantom of the maternal breast through which everything else is seen" is appropriate here. By calling Kate a Rachel, Binx may only mean that she is like a Jew, whom he has earlier epitomized as the alienated person (88-9), but there is the possibility that he is thinking of the Rachel who wept for her children. He knows that he needs that kind of wife who can feed his maternal deprivation. For once, he is free of the desire that is symptomatic of his nostalgia. (207)
Even a visit to the home of some Wilmette suburbanites fails to dismay the couple:
Back to the Loop where we dive into the mother and Urwomb of all moviehouses--an Aztec mortuary of funeral urns and glyphs thronged with the spirit-presences of another day, William Powell and George Brent and Patsy Kelly and Charley Chase, the best friends of my childhood--and see a movie called The Young Philadelphians. Kate holds my hand tightly in the dark. (21 1)
Looking back from his post-recovery vantage point, Binx now knows what the movie theater had meant to him before, the locus of all his repetitional fantasies, and can name it for what it had been. Ernest Becker says:
The dream mode, like the cinema, brings fantasied fulfillment in a shallowly lived present. The shortcomings of our world are remedied in fancy allowing one to transpose the body of his wife into that of his favorite movie star. (39)
In his childhood loneliness, Binx had sought fantasy friends in the movie theater, the very locus of loss. But now he has found a fellow inhabitant in the city of love (as the movie title indicates); he even offers a synopsis of the movie, for he now realizes that it had foreshadowed his destiny:
Paul Newman is an idealistic young fellow who is disillusioned and becomes cynical and calculating. But in the end he recovers his ideals. (211) Then Paul is worthy of his Christian name--and so is Binx.
The forces of the past do not, however, give up their hold so easily. In his drowsy and dazed condition, Binx had neglected to tell his Aunt Emily of Kate's decision to go to Chicago with him. Outraged, she slimmons her nephew back to New Orleans for judgment. Her wrath is terrible, for, with one question, she reveals that she has absolutely no comprehension of her nephew's desperate condition ("What do you think is the purpose of life--to go to the movies and dally with every girl that comes along" ), for both behaviors originate in his mother-loss.(11)
Dismissed, Binx sees no future but Mrs. Schexnaydre's basement--but Kate tells him to wait there for her. While he waits, he is convinced that he will despair like his father; the future looks so bleak that he can only "fall prey to desire" (228), become once again a captive of nostalgia. He even tries to contact Sharon, to revive his fantasy quest for the "oceanic feeling"; standing in an "evil-smelling" telephone booth, he is mocked by a piece of playground equipment: "Iii-oorr goes the ocean wave, its struts twinkling in the golden light, its skirt swaying to and fro like a young dancing girl" (231), like the vision of Aphrodite presented by Sharon in the golden light on the beach. But, having found a "someone," Sharon is not at home; rather Binx talks to her roommate, Joyce, for whom he has harbored rotatory yearnings: "I've been wanting to meet you for some time" (229). But even she could be mocking Binx, for she replies, "The Lord of Misrule reigned yesterday. . ." (230) [on Shrove Tuesday]. As lan Suttie explains, the Lord of Misrule is a late survivor of the young male lover-victim who was sacrificed each spring in the Great Mother rites. (130).
But then Kate proves loyal, does not abandon him as his fantasy-mother Sharon had. Kate's savior role had been foreshadowed earlier, when Sam Yerger tells Binx that when he saw Kate he said to himself: "My God . . . . there goes Natasha Rostov" (171). As Paul Friedrich notes: ". . .the striking thing about Natasha in War and Peace is her drastic shift from being an erotic adolescent to being a Slavic Urmutter. . ." (182-3). Since Binx has read "the novel of novels" (69), he should have had a little more confidence in Kate. At the playground they reaffirm their decision to marry. Such is the restoration of his spirit that he sees a sign of God's grace--a black man emerging from a Catholic church with his forehead marked with ashes--and converts, achieves an existential repetition.
In the "Epilogue" Binx reviews the events which have occurred since he and Kate decided to marry. The June marriage and his September entry into medical school indicate that he has escaped the hold of mother-loss and accepted the role at which is father had foundered, thus transcended both the preoedipal and oedipal conditions that had caused his psychic dysfunction. And since both actions were doing the right thing, in Aunt Emily's eyes, even if she does not understand them, he is reconciled to her. The next Mardi Gras, Uncle Jules, at the Boston Club, suffered a second heart attack, which proved fatal. Then in May his half-brother Lonnie died of a "massive virus infection" (237). Kate still suffers from severe anxiety. Binx refuses to say anything about himself--directly--for existential repetitions cannot be transmitted in literature. But he has endured the ordeal and received the four boons of reward described by Joseph Campbell--sacred marriage, father atonement, apotheosis, and elixir theft (246). He does not mention the movies (or screens, either dream or door). Nor does he mention his old hankering for Central Park; instead, he reveals that on the day of Lonnie's death, he took his brothers and sisters to ride the train in Audubon Park (240). Binx is still the man on the train, but his destination now is the City of God. (1) In feeling and Form Langer speaks of the likeness of cinema to dream and of the "virtual present" (412), both ideas essential to the technique of The Moviegoer. That Percy had closely read Feeling and Form is apparent from his review of it, "Symbol as Need," Thought, 29 (Autumn 1954), 381-90. (2) See my essay, "~The Parent in the Percept' in The Last Gentleman" for a discussion of psychically-impaired visualization in Percy's second published novel. (3) Percy's essay "The Man on the Train," Partisan Review, 23 (Fall 1956), 478-94, with its discussion of moviegoing and his psychology of alienation, was an essential preparation for the writing of and is an essential preparation for the reading of The Moviegoer. (4) Otto: "Poets after Homer call [Aphrodite] ~golden' and speak of her as the ~smiling'. . . goddess" (97). See my "The Moviegoer Dates the Love Goddess," forthcoming, for Binx Bolling's visualization of Sharon as Marilyn Monroe, who was the personification of Aphrodite for the 1960-1961 "virtual present" of The Moviegoer. (5) See my "Walker Percy's The Moviegoer: the Cinema as Cave," for a discussion of Binx Bolling's scientistic education. (6) See Firestone: "When deprived of love-food, an infant experiences considerable anxiety and pain and attempts to compensate by sucking its thumb and providing self-nourishment in various ways. At this point in its development, a baby is able to create the illusion of the breast. An infant who feels empty and starved emotionally relies increasingly on this fantasy for gratification. And, indeed, this process provides partial relief. In working with regressed schizophrenic patients, my colleagues and I observed that some had visions and dreams of white hazes, snow, and the like, sometimes representing the wish for milk and nourishment. One patient described to me a white breast that he saw, and when I asked what came out of it, he said, ~Pictures.' Thus, fantasy may eventually become ~more real' to the seriously disturbed person than does experience in the ~real' environment" (37-38). (7) For an object-relations study of Housman, see Wolfenstein. (8) See Esman: First he offers an account of a session: "About three months after he began psychotherapy, Tommy reported that he had gone with his father to a baseball game the previous Sunday. They had little to say to one another, their principal communication consisting of Tommy's request for ice cream and his father's peremptory refusal to buy it for him. That night the child had the following dream:
I was sitting in a movie theater, or someplace. There was sort of a screen,
and baseballs were coming out of it toward me. There was a man there who
was catching the balls and deflecting them to everyone else, so I couldn't get
any." Esman makes this interpretation: "The dream reported here appears to exemplify the dream screen concept in all respects. The day residue is an experience of oral deprivation in a profoundly oral fixated boy, in whom depression and overeating represent desperate attempts at restitution for gross early deprivations. The frustrating person in the dream is a direct representation of the reality figure. Aside from its obvious transference implications, the latent content of the dream appears to be: ~My father repeatedly deprives me of the breast and milk that I so desperately want. Only by directly representing the breast and its longed-for solace can I remain asleep.' Thus, the dream is seen to have oedipal and preoedipal content; it serves the oral regression that is the principal defensive measure at this boy's disposal against the intense rage evoked by the experience of deprivation" (250-51). (9) See Boyer: "Rycroft's patient (personal communication 1959) "was in a state of "narcissistic identification" since (1) he had withdrawn interest from external objects, (2) he was preoccupied with an introject, and (3) he identified himself with this introject.' The analysand presented dream screen phenomena at a time when an object relationship was developing. Rycroft considered the most significant aspect of the appearance of the screen phenomenon to be that it marked a shift from narcissistic identification with the internal object to turning toward an external object. He concluded that the phenomenon of the dream screen represents, in addition to the fulfillment of the wish to sleep at the mother's breast, an attempt in the course of the analysis to reestablish an object relationship with the mother via the transference" (48). Through his self-analysis (i.e. his narrative) Binx is describing his success in shifting from an internal object to an external object. (10) It is tempting to think that Binx alludes to Rorschach Plate VII, which, as Booth--Percy's second psychoanalyst--acknowledges, many Rorschach psychologists interpret as the "mother card" (97). (11) This scene reflects a very important aspect of Walker Percy's psychodrama. The character "Aunt Emily" is based on Percy's adoptive father (his father's first cousin) William Alexander Percy, an unmarried man who seems never to have had a close feminine relationship. Thus his validity as a father-figure may have been undercut in Percy's mind, as the gender change of the character might suggest. Percy's biographer Tolson cites the paper by Janet Rioch, Percy's first psychoanalyst, which, he believes, discusses Percy's aborted analysis (140-43) and which, I believe, supports my inferences. I suggest that it was the aborted analyses which destined Percy to work through his self-analysis in fiction.
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|Author:||Lawson, Lewis A.|
|Publication:||Papers on Language & Literature|
|Date:||Jan 1, 1994|
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