L'Etranger Chez Lui

I suppose that after William Faulkner and Eudora Welty and Flannery O'Connor, Walker Percy (1916-1990) has been for the last three decades the most widely read of Southern writers. He has been known as a social observer as well as a novelist, and as a philosopher as well as a Roman Catholic. And he has been known particularly by readers of these pages, if only because he was given The Ingersoll Foundation's T.S. Eliot Award m 1988. He has been known, I mean to say, not only because of that award but also and even more because of the reasons for which he received it. Jay Tolson has put the case very well:

Percy was a thinker and artist at odds with his time, both with the various and local Zeitgeists of postwar America and, more generally, with the spirit and intellectual tenor of what might crudely be called modernity. Percy, moreover, was uncomfortable with the dominant ethos of his culture, occasionally even at war with it.

It's all the more remarkable, therefore, that such a shrewd and sympathetic study as Tolson's should emerge of the politically incorrect Percy—who once pointed out on the op-ed page of the New York Times that there is no scientific doubt about when life begins: at the moment of conception. Characteristically of Percy, his point was true, simple, precise, and unwelcome though much needed. As with much that he said, he was in a unique position to say it.


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