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Percy: the Common Reader and the Complex Reader Essay

Walker Percy’s “The Loss of the Creature” is a work to be read ? and read again. He questions language and understanding or belief. He writes “piling example upon example” (qtd. in Percy 462). He speaks of the rare sovereign knower and the unique sovereign experience. One will never fully recover an entity into the understanding of the primary founder’s, as try he might. There will only be one sovereign experience. There are many opportunities for one to view the Grand Canyon.

The common tourist takes the packaged tour. He sees the canyon the way his travel agent intended. He takes pictures and “measures his satisfaction by the degree to which the canyon conforms to the preformed complex” (qtd. in Percy 463). This simply means he is pleased with his experience, feeling he has not been cheated by the packaged tour. Like the tourist visiting the Grand Canyon, the common reader merely reads the text, however, the spaces between the lines are left unexplored.

The common reader might read “The Loss of the Creature,” not comprehend Percy’s concepts and dismiss the text comparable to the tourist visiting the canyon, ignoring all of the history, beauty and mystique that has formed this national treasure into the preformed concept that civilization knows it as today. One who reads as a common reader would find that Walker Percy’s “The Loss of the Creature” is a collection of asinine statements laid upon one another generating chaos in their minds, and nothing more. In contrast to the tourist, the sovereign knower opts not to take the packaged tour.

He is the one hoping to see the Grand Canyon as Garcia Lopez de Cardenas saw the Grand Canyon the first time, therefore creating a sovereign experience. To do this he must “avoid the approved confrontation of the tour and Park Service” (qtd. in Percy 464). One way the tourist can create a sovereign experience, hence becoming a sovereign knower is by a dialectical movement. The dialectical movement brings one back to the beaten track, but at a level above it. By standing behind the other tourists, he “sees the canyon through them and their predicament, their picture taking and busy disregard.

In a sense, he exploits his fellow tourists; he stands on their shoulders to see the canyon” (qtd. in Percy 464). He is a level above, yet he can view the canyon with the others. He must avoid the commonplace of all tourists and explore the canyon on his own. He searches for “it,” for the first time, for discovery, and for the sovereign experience. He who reads Walker Percy as a complex reader sees everything differently, as the sovereign knower sees the canyon differently. The complex reader tries to understand Percy.

He sees the monotonous examples and tries to make sense of them. He ponders “it”, the sovereign experience and the dialectical movement. The complex reader compares and applies Percy’s manner to his own experiences. He is the sovereign knower: a level above the common reader, yet he reads the same text, understands it, and uses it to his advantage. As the tourist compares to the sovereign knower, the common and complex readers compare. Bothe sightseers visit the same canyon and both readers read “The Loss of the Creature” by Walker Percy, however, their strategies clearly differ.

Per say, neither the common reader nor the complex reader are better. The common reader has a preformed symbolic complex of the text where as the complex reader has none. Ignorance is bliss. Had the tourist known of the sovereign experience, his own visit might not have been as successful, and had the common reader tried to understand the text ignoring his own preformed symbolic complex of “hard words” and “nonsense” he might have understood Percy and enjoyed it as a complex reader.

A sovereign experience is unique. It happens once, to one person, and can never be repeated exactly. Walker Percy was a man who had time to think, and even more importantly had time to record his thoughts. “The Loss of the Creature” truly causes one to think. The choice of reasoning or dismissing it entirely is the reader’s. Works Cited Percy, Walker. “The Loss of the Creature. ” Ways of Reasoning: An Anthology for Writers. Ed. David Bartholomae and Anthony Petrosky. New York: Bedford, 1990. 461-79.


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