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Autobiography in Walker Percy:
Repetition, Recovery, and Redemption


Edward J. Dupuy

— A new appreciation of Walker Percy's writing in its kinship to autobiography

In this highly original study, Edward J. Dupuy looks not so much at a one-to-one relation between Walker Percy's life and his works but more at the broader relations between autobiography, philosophy, and language as evidenced in Percy's work taken as a whole. Although Percy never wrote what is commonly considered an autobiography, in both his fiction and non-fiction, as Dupuy shows, he repeatedly addressed some of the same issues that concern theorists of autobiography. His novels, in particular, exemplify the autobiographical act of repetition — that is, the retrieval of foreclosed elements of the past in order to reveal present and future possibilities for the self. That movement is manifest in the characters' preoccupations and in the recurrence of certain elements drawn from Percy's own life.

Dupuy begins by establishing the theoretical underpinnings upon which the rest of the books depends. In Chapter 1, he shows that like Kierkegaard and Heidegger, Percy struggled with the placement of self in time and that he came to understand repetition as an effort to redeem or recover time. He explains Percy's relation to William Spanos' postmodern hermeneutics, especially Spanos' concept of inter esse, which in its dual meaning — "being between" and "concerned" — encompasses both being and time.

In the remaining chapters, Dupuy builds on that philosophical foundation by relating the roots of the word autobiographyautos, bios, andgraphein — to Percy's linguistic theory, his critique of a gnostic culture, and his writing style.

He first investigates Percy's semiotics of the self, and more specifically how Percy's first two protagonists — Binx Bollings and Will Barrett — shed light on the self's unformulability in language. He then examines Percy's criticism of his culture as gnostic in two of his most famous essays, "The Loss of the Creature" and "The Message in the Bottle," and also his references to the Holocaust throughout his novels, especially in The Thanatos Syndrome. He returns to Percy's linguistic theory and its embodiment of repetition as both a theme and a narrative style, making special reference to the essay "Metaphor as Mistake" and the novels The Moviegoer and The Second Coming. In the final chapter, Dupuy recapitulates the foregoing points but with closer regard to Percy the man.

An intelligent, often witty discussion of not only Walker Percy but also New Criticism, postmodern criticism, and autobiographical principles, Autobiography in Walker Percy is a work rich in both theory and textual analysis that will engage scholars and true aficionados of Percy.

Edward J. Dupuy is director of communications and head of the Division of Language Skills, Literature, and Music at Saint Joseph Seminary College in Covington, Louisiana.

Publication Date: 1995