March 8, London: A successful repetition. Walker Percy, through The Moviegoer’s main character Binx Bolling, introduces this concept of ‘the repetition’. The example is of Binx going to see a Western at a theater near Tulane, at which he had seen a Western a decade before when he was enrolled in school. He sits in a similar row, picks at the decaying wood of his seat, and overall revels in an experience relived. How perfectly resonant for my project.
But a true repetition, I realized as I delved further into The Moviegoer, was a dangerous undertaking. This book strikes a dozen different chords inside of me: I have felt that despair, lurking behind the actions of the everyday; I have been smitten with half a hundred despairing girls like Binx’s Kate; I have wanted nothing more than to lose myself in New Orleans, my ancestral home. The Moviegoer is my favorite book of the Thirty-Three Project so far, and it might be my favorite book of them all. But it is for deeply personal reasons, and it is a dangerous book to attach to the concept of repetition.
It was at fifteen that I lost my father. Two years later I left home for college. And a year after that I ended the first healthy relationship of my life. The year that followed (really, the next three) was the hardest year of my life. This was the year I met Binx Bolling.
There is a perverse pleasure in despair, mine at least. It’s elegantly romantic to live beyond true happiness, to ride along behind one’s own eyes as an observer of a life and to find it lacking. When I first read The Moviegoer, I was deeply trapped in a cycle of these emotions. I say trapped because it took me many years to unravel the fact that I was making myself unhappy and enjoying making myself unhappy. In that time, and the times preceding and following, more than half the women I found myself in love with were Kates, perched on a dangerous edge of self-destruction. And myself, I was floundering in sadness. I spent a Christmas, perhaps the worst of them, unable to articulate any of this because my partner at the time was further along the path. I was whisked from family function to family function, blithely repeating my year of updates. I had a script, I was aware of how depressing it was to have a script, and I couldn’t break from it. I thought myself functionally a robot who could only power down in the late evening with several whiskies and a half a pack of Lucky Strikes. See those tropes right there, the burgeoning alcoholism, the chain smoking broodishness, even the insomnia, I knew the romantic qualities I was evoking. Herein lies the perverse pleasure. Even today, it tickles a desire to go far off the rails.
There was a fantasy I’ve held for some years of disappearing to New Orleans. It bubbles up in different forms from time to time. The first time I suspect was soon after reading this book: I concocted a scheme to scam the University of Southern California into sending me to New Orleans to ‘study the American myth in a cradle of it’. End product would have been some sort of terrible navel-gazing writing. And the visual fantasy in my mind of that summer was to move to a sweaty New Orleans apartment and wake up drenched in last night’s whiskey for a few months. When my mind’s eye to the future turns dark, some format of that fantasy still lurks there.
All of this obscures the fact that The Moviegoer is an absolutely sublime book. Percy captures these emotions and the city of New Orleans masterfully. The Mississippi Gulf Coast, a fishing camp on a bayou, the quiet suburban steets of Gentilly to the levee on the Lake, these are all places I know and love and it gives me great pleasure to read them rendered so beautifully.