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(From Modern Age, Winter 2005)
In this article, John Desmond uses the novels of Walker Percy to critique the increasing trend in today’s medical fields and in secular society as a whole to affirm, even if tacitly, that suicide is a decision belonging to each individual as a right. Desmond examines how the influence of existentialist philosophers, Albert Camus and Søren Kierkegaard, informed the theme of suicide in Percy’s novels. As a philosophical novelist, Percy was not merely interested in the narrative effect of suicide, but more deeply wanted to probe how modern man finds himself living a form of “spiritual suicide” or “sickness unto death” (in the words of Kierkegaard). Percy’s critique of modernity was — following the lead of Alexis de Tocqueville — a critique of a Cartesian dualism that separated mind from body and man from nature, leading eventually to an existential man isolated both from himself and his neighbor. 24 minutes. $2.