Walker Percy’s Theory of Hurricanes

Walter Isaacson in The New York Times:

PercyWalker Percy had a theory about hurricanes. “Though science taught that good environments were better than bad environments, it appeared to him that the opposite was the case,” he wrote of Will Barrett, the semi-autobiographical title character of his second novel, “The Last Gentleman.” “Take hurricanes, for example, certainly a bad environment if ever there was one. It was his impression that not just he but other people felt better in hurricanes.” Percy was a medical doctor who didn’t practice and a Catholic who did, which equipped him to embark on a search for how we mortals fit into the cosmos. Our reaction to hurricanes was a clue, he believed, which is why leading up to the 10th anniversary of Katrina, it’s worth taking note not only of his classic first novel, “The Moviegoer,” but also of his theory of hurricanes as developed in “The Last Gentleman,” “Lancelot” and some of his essays.

…Percy’s diagnosis was that when we are mired in the everydayness of ordinary life, we are susceptible to what he called “the malaise,” a free-floating despair associated with the feeling that you’re not a part of the world or connected to the people in it. You are alienated, detached. As Percy put it in “The Moviegoer,” “The malaise has settled like a fallout and what people really fear is not that the bomb will fall but that the bomb will not fall.” The heroes of his books, each in his own way, embark on a search for the cause and cure of this syndrome. “What is the nature of the search?” wonders Binx Bolling, the narrator of “The Moviegoer.” “The search is what anyone would undertake if he were not sunk in the everydayness of his own life.” A real-world crisis can provide a respite from the malaise.

More here.