Thursday, September 05, 2019
The Century of Merde
One of the greatest 200-word stretches of the English language you'll ever encounter:
"Today is my thirtieth birthday and I sit on the ocean wave in the schoolyard and wait for Kate and think of nothing. Now in the thirty-first year of my dark pilgrimage on this earth and knowing less than I ever knew before, having learned only to recognize merde when I see it, having inherited no more from my father than a good nose for merde, for every species of shit that flies - my only talent - smelling merde from every quarter, living in fact in the very century of merde, the great shithouse of scientific humanism where needs are satisfied, everyone becomes an anyone, a warm and creative person, and prospers like a dung beetle, and one hundred percent of people are humanists and ninety-eight percent believe in God, and men are dead, dead, dead; and the malaise has settled like a fall-out and what people really fear is not that the bomb will fall but that the bomb will not fall - on this my thirtieth birthday, I know nothing and there is nothing to do but fall prey to desire."
- Walker Percy, from The Moviegoer
I love this man. I love him because he could write that and still show up for Mass every week, which he did all through his life, and because he meant those 200 words and because he meant it when he showed up for Mass, too, and he didn't see any contradictions between them. The Evangelical world would be toting up the "merdes" and the "shits" and clucking disapprovingly, all the while completely missing the point, which is that it's tough to be alive and to stay alive in a world led by dunderheads, and that you need a whole mess of faith to get by.
Percy didn't spend his entire life in New Orleans, but he loved the city and was formed by it. He wrote:
“New Orleans is both intimately related to the South and yet in a real sense cut adrift not only from the South but from the rest of Louisiana, somewhat like Mont St. Michel awash at high tide. One comes upon it, moreover, in the unlikeliest of places, by penetrating the depths of the Bible Belt, running the gauntlet of Klan territory, the pine barrens of South Mississippi, Bogalusa, and the Florida parishes of Louisiana.”
That's where I'm heading, although I'll miss the build-up by skipping the surrounding Klan territory and flying directly in to Louis Armstrong Airport. I wouldn't mind searching out Percy's old home in Carrollton, making a pilgrimmage to celebrate and honor the man who proclaimed the century of merde. He wasn't wrong. I'm also looking forward to attending the Jazz Mass at St. Augustine Church in Treme. He wasn't wrong about that, either.