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Walker Percy "The Loss of the Creature"

Some quotes from 'The Loss of the Creature', by Walker Percy. This essay was written in 1954.

"The educator whose business it is to teach students biology or poetry is unaware of a whole ensemble of relations which exist between the student and the dogfish and between the student and the Shakespeare sonnet.

To put it bluntly: A student who has the desire to get at a dogfish or a Shakespeare sonnet may have the greatest difficulty in salvaging the creature itself from the educational package in which it is presented. The great difficulty is that he is not aware that there is a difficulty; surely, he thinks, in such a fine classroom, with such a fine textbook, the sonnet must come across! What's wrong with me?

The sonnet and the dogfish are obscured by two different processes. The sonnet is obscured by the symbolic package which is formulated not by the sonnet itself but by the media through which the sonnet is transmitted, the media which the educators believe for some reason to be transparent. The new textbook, the type, the smell of the page, the classroom, the aluminum windows and the winter sky, the personality of Miss Hawkins---these media which are supposed to transmit the sonnet may only succeed in transmitting themselves. It is only the hardiest and cleverest of students who can salvage the sonnet from this many-tissued package. It is only the rarest student who knows that the sonnet must be salvaged from the package. (The educator is well aware that something is wrong, that there is fatal gap between the student's learning and the student's life: The student reads the poem, appears to understand it, and gives all the answers. But what does he recall if he should happen to read a Shakespeare sonnet twenty years later? Does he recall the poem or does he recall the smell of the page and the smell of Miss Hawkins?)"


"I propose that English poetry and biology should be taught as usual, but that at irregular intervals, poetry students should find dogfishes on their desks and biology students should find Shakespeare sonnets on their dissecting boards ..."

Walter Percy -Bio
Wikipedia entry
"He devoted his literary life to the exploration of "the dislocation of man in the modern age." His work displays a unique combination of existential questioning, Southern sensibility, and deep Catholic faith."

Encyclopedia of Alabama
"Percy also wrote other noted works that explore the notion that human beings are out of place in the cosmos, that they have become alienated to the world they inhabit, and that they are searching for ways to bring significance into their lives. In short, as the title of one of his works of non-fiction implies, they are looking for "the message in the bottle" that will bring a salvation of sorts."

Some notes on Percy's essays
Wikipedia entry
"'The Loss of the Creature' is an exploration of the way the more or less objective reality of the individual is obscured in and ultimately lost to systems of education and classification."
"The literature student is blocked from the sonnet by the educational system built around it, what Percy calls its "package." Instead of transmitting the subject of education, education often transmits only itself, and the student does not view the subject as open and delightful, nor does he view himself as sovereign. Percy offers two ways around this, both involving, as did his solution to the problem of the Grand Canyon, an indirect approach. Either the student can suffer some sort of ordeal that opens the text to him in a new way; or else he can be apprenticed to a teacher who takes a very unusual approach to the subject. He suggests that biology students be occasionally taught literature, and vice-versa. The overall effect of this obscuration by structure is one of the basic conditions of modern society: The individual layman is reduced to being a consumer. The individual thing becomes lost to the systems of classification and theory created for the consumer, and the individual man loses all sense of ownership. The solution to this problem, according to Percy, is not to get rid of museums but for 'the sightseer to be prepared to enter into a struggle to recover a sight from a museum'"

Inventory of Percy's Works

The essay text

Pdf file

Percy at Notre Dame
In his speech, Percy reflects on the task of the novelist.

Image credits
Walker Percy by Brilarian

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