Monday, August 16, 2010

Walker Percy

Walker Percy was interviewed during a visit to Washington D.C. in May 1989 to deliver the Jefferson lecture at the National Endowment for the Humanities. Part of the interview:

In your novels, you seem to render a diagnosis for the age and the people in it. Has your medical background had a lot to do with that?

That's a good question. Some people think that the two vocations, the two professions, couldn't be more different--being first, a physician, then ending up as a novelist. I find it very useful to use the same stance--the stance of the physician is that of a diagnostician. His premise, his presumption is when he sees a patient something's wrong. Something's wrong : the question is what's gone wrong, and how do you find out to make a diagnosis. I find that extremely useful in dealing with the present age. Something's clearly wrong, maybe even worse than usual in civilizations. I find it a natural stance from which to write both novels and nonfiction.

In your novels and essays there is a lot of comic satire of science, but a great love and respect for science comes through as well. Would it possible to separate you as a novelist from Walker Percy the scientist?

Well, I hope not. I don't think the two are mutually exclusive. I don't have any quarrel with science. In what they do, they do very well. The trouble is the sciences for the last two hundred years have been spectacularly successful in dealing with subhuman reality, subhuman creatures, chemistry and physics of matter, and with extraordinary progress in learning about the cosmos; but also an extraordinary lack of success in dealing with man as man, man qua man. I think it's very ...[read on]
The Last Gentleman by Walker Percy is one of Elizabeth Spencer’s five best books of Southern fiction.

--Marshal Zeringue