Found in the cosmos: Walker Percy's signs of transcendence

Date
1998-12-30
Authors
Caroll, Linda Cole
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Abstract

This dissertation, an exercise in abduction, explores Walker Percy's typology of semiotics which inextricably entwines throughout his canon with his Judeo-Christian ethic. The study begins by examining ideas that influenced Percy's multi-layered philosophical preoccupation, primarily Charles Sanders Peirce's paradigm of semiotics and Søren Kierkegaard's Christian existentialism. By applying those ideas, which Percy addresses explicitly in his non-fiction, this rhetorical study then interprets and analyzes specific signs of transcendence within three of Percy's six published novels: Lancelot, The Second Coming, and The Thanatos Syndrome. For Percy, the mysterious triadic event of semiotics, in which man as organism—by using the copula is—names and knows an Object, juxtaposes symbol-mongering and alienation, a phenomenon unique to humans. With language, Homo loquens, man the talker, or Homo symbolificus, man the symbol-monger, acquires consciousness, which stipulates a knowing with. Of particular interest to this study is how Percy demonstrates this epistemological event in his fiction. Thus, this study further explores how Percy encodes his belief that the triadic phenomenon unleashes desiderata within Homo symbolifius, for with language comes the opportunity to become self-conscious, a movement away from static unconsciousness, an abstraction of the self.

Following Kierkegaard's lead, Percy establishes existential possibilities for his characters and readers, a coming-to-know-dynamic-action that can move characters and readers from unconscious alienation through conscious despair and finally toward transcendence. This study examines not only signs of authentic movement to escape alienation, but also signs of inauthentic movement by way of repetition and rotation. This study further explores how Percy signals the immediate or impending doom and thereby extends the possibility for hope.

Because Percy accepts the ad infinitum property of semiotic interpretations, his novels—grounded in the phenomenological and dialogic for novelist, characters, and readers alike—do not conclude with any definitive answers, more often with extended questions. This open-ended rhetor compels readers to discern the relation between semiotics and stipulates movement toward transcendence for his readers.

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Keywords
Language, literature, and linguistics, Percy Walker, Semiotics, Transcendence
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