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The Art of Walker Percy

Stratagems for Being

edited by Panthea Reid Broughton

Southern Literary Studies

336 pages / 5.50 x 8.50 inches / no illustrations

Literature - American

  Paperback / 9780807124550 / March 1999

“Walker Percy’s mixture of philosophical wisdom and accomplished storytelling keeps inspiring responses from a wide range of people—literary critics, theologians, philosophers. This book provides a series of exceptionally thoughtful and suggestive essays—a deserved honor to Dr. Percy, and a gift to all of us who read him with pleasure and who will profit immensely from these responses of the mind and heart to his artistic and literary achievement.” —Robert Coles, author of Walker Percy: An American Search

The writings of Walker Percy, as Panthea Broughton notes in her introduction, are at once both accessible and inaccessible. Because they tempt readers to identify with characters and recognize ideas, they have gained a large and enthusiastic following. But because they are subtle and complicated, they defy attempts to reduce them to transparencies. Indeed, Percy’s fiction and nonfiction have a curious, baffling quality that eludes all but the most scrupulously thoughtful and sensitive readers. Through his close alignment with European novelists and philosophers, this native of Alabama has given to American fiction a classic tone that is lacking in the work of such twentieth-century writers as Hemingway and Fitzgerald.

In The Art of Walker Percy Broughton has brought together essays from fifteen scholars. Writing from a conviction of the centrality and worth of Walker Percy’s work, as well as from the idea that fresh criticism is of value not only to readers but to living authors as well, the essayists present diverse approaches to understanding his art.

Cleanth Brooks, in his essay, compares Percy with Eric Voegelin and notes the similarity of their respective approaches to the moral problems of modern man. Martin Luschei, in an examination of the technique of The Moviegoer, shows how Percy presents his fictional world through the use of filmic art. William Poteat’s critique of The Message in the Bottle deals with Percy’s original contribution to the philosophy of language. Ted Spivey offers a structuralist analysis of Percy’s work and suggests that inLancelot Percy’s quest takes a new direction.

Still other contributors approach Percy through more traditional rubrics, such as the South, Kierkegaard’s stages, dualism, and theology, in new and revelatory ways. Written specifically for this new collection, their essays present the reader with a sense of how many appropriate “stratagems” there are for seeing the meaning in Percy. As they bring his work into focus, therefore, they assist Walker Percy in his avowed strategy of helping us see the world. 

Panthea Reid Broughton taught at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University and Louisiana State University. She has published extensively in literary quarterlies and has reviewed for Saturday Review World, the Chicago Sun Times, and the New York Times Book Review.

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