Does the classroom ever feel to you like an island upon which you’ve been hurled by a surf so fierce that you can remember little of your life before you hit the beach? You push yourself up from your landfall and try to make sense of your surroundings. As a curious amnesiac—or perhaps as a despairing one—you make your way through course assignments, hoping for help to figure out who and where you are, as well as what you’re supposed to be doing. Despite your best efforts, you feel what Walker Percy would call “a loss of sovereignty,” a disorienting sense that what you are doing has been designed by experts in obedience to inscrutable criteria and sometimes dubious ideals.
This spring, I’ll be teaching an honors seminar (TR, 2:00-3:20) that critically examines the fiction and non-fiction of Walker Percy towards the end of helping honors students to regain a proper sovereignty in your liberal arts studies on the edge of Chicago.
HON 333: The Moviegoer, the Castaway, and the Liberal Arts Student: An Exploration of Walker Percy’s Contributions to the Life of Learning
Never heard of Walker Percy? Well, his acquaintance has been among the more important of my reading life. I hope you’ll find him the same. Percy was a medical doctor turned storyteller, an existentialist thinker and a committed Christian, a funny novelist and a smart writer of essays. His works will serve as entry points into a course of reading, conversation, writing, and junkets that invite students to approach the learning life as a castaway and wayfarer.
We’ll be reading novels such as The Moviegoer, The Second Coming, The Last Gentleman, as well as nonfiction essays such as “The Loss of the Creature,” “Notes for a Novel about the End of the World,” and “The Mystery of Language.”
This course should have a strong cross-disciplinary appeal, not least because Walker Percy was a physician as well as a writer. His own habit was to draw on scientific examples when trying to understand the humanities better, and vice-versa. We’ll do the same. Discussions, role play, dramatizations, one-minute essays, student presentations, and film excerpts—all these will frame in-class explorations of how students and citizens today have lost sovereignty, especially as this crucial concern of Percy’s appears in his essays and in three of his novels. We’ll be in the city as well as in the books, trying out Percy’s moviegoing strategies for evading the lostness that sometimes settles over a person’s life. Much like Percy’s characters, you’ll be invited to note ways that people are sticking themselves into this urban world, listening to them and perhaps looking for a way to help them a long a bit.
Who should take this course? First of all, anyone wishing to fulfil their requirement to take one Honors Seminar in the course of their tenure here at Trinity. But it’s not just for upper-class students; this is a course that should appeal to people in their first, second, third, or fourth year of studies here at Trinity. I hope you’ll sign up and make landfall in order to experience a good sort of lostness and a proper sort of foundness.