Walker Percy and Suicide
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 Alexis de Tocqueville — a critique of Cartesian dualisms that separated mind from body and man from nature, leading eventually to an existential man isolated both from himself and his neighbor.
This article was originally published in Modern Age, Winter 2005. Read by Ken Myers. 24 minutes.