Concept of "the Search" in the Midst of "Everydayness" - Excerpt from "The Moviegoer" by Walker Percy
In this passage from Southern novelist Walker Percy, he introduces some key fundamental concepts related to the human condition. He introduces the idea of "the search." The search is the exploration of the deepest and unnamed desires of man's heart. It is that which he longs for even when he doesn't realize that he longs for it. It is his desire for God, for the Absolute.
"The Search" and "Everydayness"
Percy introduces the novel of The Moviegoer by bringing us into the life of a young man in Louisiana named Binx. He is a successful businessman in the world of stocks and investing, yet he is plagued by a sense of purposelessness. His brother died at a young age from pneumonia, and this certainly still weighs on his mind. As he fills his days with work, chasing women, and the daily routines of life, he is also deeply intrigued by movies. Movies bring his mind back to "the search." What is the search? Well, Binx, in the midst of his own debauchery, is at the same time a deep thinker. He rides the bus, chooses to take public transportation on purpose, and all the meanwhile observes the interesting people around him.
One of the main themes in chapter one is the idea of "everydayness." People, he notices, are caught up so thoroughly in their everyday duties, errands, necessities, lifestyles that it numbs them. They don't stop to think about deeper questions in life. But why? Are they already so confident in their beliefs that they don't need to give them a second thought? Or are they simply just ignoring important questions in their constant pursuit of their relative goals and pursuits. The search ... the search is an existential one. It is a desire for something more, for a more complete understanding of life. The search is for life's ultimate meaning, its ultimate goal. He knows there's something more, and thus why the movies intrigue him so much. Here, he can catch glimpses of the human search for meaning in different shapes and forms - yet even the movies fall short of the existential search.
A Few Thoughts
This is the impetus for The Moviegoer, but I think it also represents something deeply true about our time and place. As humanity solves the existential problem of bodily survival, a whole new vista of questions and problems awakens to us with a force that can be unbearable. When we are engaged in a daily battle for survival, for food, water, clothes, shelter, safety, what is meaningful for that day manifests itself almost self-evidently. But, again, what happens when we are safe, well fed, clothed, living in luxurious homes, with all of our bodily wants taken care of? What, then, is meaningful?
While there are those who would seek to reject and subdue any such search for ultimate meaning, saying that it is an illusion. This is, after all, the logical conclusion of the Materialism and Reductionism that plagues the scientific community. But the questions remains ... why do we have the desire for more? Why does the search exist at all? What does this say about us, about our nature as humans? I believe that it says that we are more than our bodies. For example, why would we hunger for food if we did not have a stomach? The food and stomach must co-exist in a type of dependence. We wouldn't hunger for food if we did not have a stomach, yet we would not have a stomach if food did not exist. And so, our desire to eat food tells us that we must have a stomach. The Materialist tries to say that our hunger is an illusion. The hunger for the spiritual, metaphysical, transcendent, absolute ... those are all just illusions, they say. You don't really want those things, they say. But is this true? I would argue that it is abundantly clear that humans hunger for something more than this world can offer ... and thus the search will always continue.
Let me know you're thoughts on this.
What do you seek - God? you ask with a smile. I hesitate to answer, since all other Americans have settled the matter for themselves and to give such an answer would amount to setting myself a goal which everyone else has reached - and therefore raising a question in which no one has the slightest interest. Who wants to be dead last among one hundred and eighty million Americans? For, as everyone knows, the polls report that 98% of Americans believe in God and the remaining 2% are atheists and agnostics - which leaves not a single percentage point for a seeker. For myself, I enjoy answering polls as much as anyone and take pleasure in giving intelligent replies to all questions. Truthfully, it is the fear of exposing my own ignorance which constrains me from mentioning the object of my search. For, to begin with, I cannot even answer this, the simplest and most basic of all questions: Am I, in my search, a hundred miles behind them? That is to say: Have 98% of Americans already found what I seek or are they so sunk in everydayness that not even the possibility of a search has occurred to them?" 1
1 - Percy, Walker. The Moviegoer. (New York. Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2019) Pg. 13, 14.