Type of Document Thesis Author Dominy, Jordan J. Author's Email Address email@example.com URN etd-04102006-105201 Title "The Nature of the Search": Popular Culture and Intellectual Identity in the Work of Walker Percy Degree Master of Arts Department English, Department of Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title Andrew Epstein Committee Chair Darryl Dickson-Carr Committee Member Leigh Edwards Committee Member Keywords
- American Literature After 1945
- Popular Culture
- Walker Percy
Date of Defense 2006-04-03 Availability unrestricted AbstractIn this thesis, I argue that the works of Walker Percy present a progression from passive to active attitudes toward popular and mass culture and that understanding this progression brings a new perspective to the relationship between intellectuals and popular culture in mid-to-late-twentieth century American literature. I discuss two of Percy’s novels, The Moviegoer and Lancelot, and a book of non-fiction satire and parody, Lost in the Cosmos: The Last Self-Help Book.
The first chapter addresses The Moviegoer. In it, I argue that its protagonist, Binx Bolling, deals with the encroaching mass culture of American suburbia of the 1950’s by combining the best of both his high and low culture identities into a midcult one, a term defined by Andrew Ross and originally discussed by Dwight MacDonald, a contemporary of Percy. The novel’s mere promise of happiness at it’s conclusion reflects an ambivalent attitude toward popular culture and the midcult on Percy’s part.
The second chapter explores the ways in which Lance Lamar, the protagonist of Lancelot, violently subverts popular culture’s media by videotaping his wife’s acts of infidelity and murdering her lover. I also relate Andrew Ross’s discussion of pornography’s proliferation in mass media in the late 1960’s and 1970’s and the implications it has for Lance’s anger towards the film company filming an all-but pornographic film at his ancestral home. Lance’s violent reactions certainly reflect a changing attitude for Percy, who is more wary of the open sexuality in popular culture, but certainly does not advocate the violent revolution that his protagonist does.
The final chapter reflects yet another change in Percy’s attitude towards popular culture with Lost in the Cosmos. Rather than choosing fiction, he addresses his concerns with his own voice, albeit with parody, caricature, and satire. But beyond ridiculing popular culture, he recognizes the ways in which intellectuals are susceptible to its influence as well and how this makes the existence of Andrew Ross’s “new intellectual” who can speak to both the academic and popular sphere a near impossibility. Ultimately, the resolution of the conflict between intellectuals and popular culture lies with individuals.
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