I’ve seen this reviewed elsewhere, but I wanted to take a few words to express my delight at his wit, his easy writing style and most importantly his vision of how to be American with a southern point of view. Walker Percy’s collection of essays, “Signposts in a Strange Land,” is a marvelous introduction to how the notions of place, culture and history become reconciled over time. In one delightful essay, entitled, “Red, White and Blue-Gray (1961),” Percy comments on the hoopla surrounding the rash of ACW literature that was emerging in the years before the Centennial, “[that] in the popular media the War is so friendly that the fighting is made to appear as a kind of sacrament of fire by which one side expresses its affection for the other.”
His writing must be read as if listening to the slow cadences of Shelby Foote (his childhood playmate), one sentence melodiously flowing into the next. In some of his essays, he struggles with the dilemma common to many thinking southerners. How to move forward into a color-blind society, while acknowledging the gifts garnered from the not-so-shiny past? How do you appreciate and celebrate your unique point of view without lapsing into a diabetic coma of moonlight and magnolias?
Now, understand, for me this has been a journey — unlike Percy, in my quest to be taken seriously as a writer and a researcher I thought I had to downplay the southern aspect. I saw the racism, the elitism, the Lost Cause dominating a debate that I thought should have been long settled. The south was a region mocked as either hick-like, intolerant or swooning in Blanche Dubois-like reminicence. The first time I went to a UDC meeting I was vindicated — several things frightened me — the fact I was 20 years younger than anyone else, the fact that we pledged allegiance to North Carolina or the fact that part of me responded to the whole GWTW miasma surrounding the elegant luncheon.
But I love my home state, my history — “my NC is a vale of humility between 2 mountains of conceit,” was one of my Daddy’s maxims. Its richness of culture transcends the politics that shoved me away from Civil War history in the first place. From the ladies of the Edenton tea party, to the Lowry outlaws hiding in the PeeDee swamps and fightin’ North & South alike, to the millhands of Gastonia and the pirates of the coast — those are stories worth knowing, worth sharing…
That’s the beauty of Percy’s work — he asks you to remember and then rather than sit in maudlin memory, propels you to think, react, do something. I kind of like that in a book.
Music for moonlight & magnolias: in general look at Asleep at the Wheel, AJ Roach, Shawn Colvin, Little Feat (Dixie Chicken), Lone Justice (Dixie Storms), Billie Holiday (for shivers down your spine listen to Strange Fruit), Dvorak’s from the New World symphony, Lily Allen (ok, quirky Brit, but something about her is like a southern summer beach trip)
“Make voyages! Attempt them! – there’s nothing else. ” –> Tennessee Williams