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Louisiana State University

Servile Leisure: Walker Percy's The Last Gentleman and the Philosophy of Josef Pieper
THE WORD "GENTLEMAN," WHICH FIGURES PROMINENTLY IN THE TITLE OF Walker Percy's second published novel, simultaneously calls to mind the social world of manners and morals and the economic world of money and class. Percy scholars who study the concept of the gentleman generally limit their focus to the former aspect, emphasizing the stoic code of behavior that characterized the male plantation ehte in the old South.' In one way or another, these critics argue that Will Barrett—and characters hke him in Percy's other novels—refashion or reject Stoicism in order to survive in the postmodern South. While Percy undoubtedly engages with his "Uncle" Will's stoicism in the novel, its prominence in both Percy's fiction and nonfiction tends to overshadow any study of the economics of being a gentleman. Though Will Barrett is almost universally identified as the novel's titular "gentleman," landed gentlemen are not janitors—or "humidification engineers." If they have any profession at all, they are planters, doctors, lawyers, or generals. The Last Gentleman does not hmit itself to these categories, however; its almost encyclopedic catalog of occupations depicts people wealthy enough to travel for weeks at a time, play golf, buy fancy telescopes, and read Wittgenstein, as weU as people who work for hire as janitors, butlers, gardeners, cooks, coroners, nurses, companions, and hunting guides. Labor, race, and social stratification, therefore, unavoidably interact in Percy's treatment of the gentleman. Deeply influenced by the thought of the "CathoUc Revival" that peaked in the 1940s and '50s, Percy would have been aware of contemporary theories of labor and leisure. As an active participant in the intellectual climate of the Cathohc revival, when "it was . . . common for Catholic intellectuals to pay close attention to the reigning philosophies of the day"(Quinlan 58), Percy probably encountered the most prominent exposition of Catholic thought on the subject: Leisure,

'See, for example, Ciuba, Donaldson, and Prenshaw.

Incidentally. and The Nation. and Thomas Aquinas. Percy associates the characteristics of Pieper's philosophical gentleman with those engaged in servile labor—an acdvity that Pieper deemed incompadble with authentic leisure.' he puts the philosopher himself in a proper reladon to other philosophers dead and living" (16). *rhe book was also positively reviewed in the Chicago Tribune. Percy does not accept the ^Chapter 2 of O'Gorman's Peculiar Crossroads discusses at length the interdisciplinary ambiance of Roman Catholic intellectual life in the '40s and '50s. but dislocated. 1980) in its examination of labor and leisure—an examination illuminated by reading Percy's novel alongside Leisure. the Times Literary Supplement. . Their plots are broadly similar. T. When the Enghsh transladon of Leisure. Ehot admired the convergence of philosophy and theology in Pieper's work in his introduction. The Moviegoer (1961). from its predecessor and even its sequel {The Second Goming. As a homeless wayfarer whose peculiar perspecdve on reaUty makes him unusually receptive to both people and things. however. Allen Tate's favorable review in The New York Times Book Review drew additional attention to Pieper's ideas.CCA Rachel Faber Hiuaphries the Basis of Gulture. Both follow an intelligent. Though there is no evidence that Percy read Pieper's book. Thus. Aristotle.^ Pieper was well respected in the 1950s and 1960s as an ethical philosopher and student of Plato. Commonweal. The Last Gentleman (1966) followed Walker Percy's first published novel. (¿inlan mentions Pieper as a major influence on modem converts to Catholicism (219). S. The issues of labor and race. disturb any tidy parallel between the two authors. both novels end with the death of a teenage boy. The Spectator. Will Barrett echoes Pieper's picture of the gentleman of leisure with starthng accuracy. by German philosopher Josef Pieper. and a proper respect for 'the wisdom ofthe ancients. the Basis of Gulture. however.^ Josef Pieper's thought clearly influenced the chmate in which Percy matured as a writer. Ehot argues that Pieper "restores to their position in philosophy what common sense obsrinately tells us ought to be found there: insight and wisdom. male protagonist as he embarks on a search for meaning apart from his family's past. the Basis of Czy7mre—still Pieper's most wellknown work in EngHsh—^wasfirstpubhshed in 1952. In the United States. By affirming the dependence of philosophy upon revelarion. The Last Gentleman reflects major elements of Pieper's thought. The Last Gentleman differs.

and vddening the sphere of servile work to the advantage ofthe Hberal arts" (66). and contracted. Servile work. Percy forges a new sort of "leisure class" that rehes on Pieper's homelessness and receptivity for its insight. and to see 'the world' above and beyond our immediate environment" (122). the only remedy Hes in renewing the entire culture. Pieper labels the class of workers "entirely subject to economic forces" the "proletariat" (65). the dictate ofthe state. When the circumference of Hfe itself shrinks. the wayfarers. Pieper defines leisure as a pose of philosophic receptivity that begins in wonder and ends in celebrating the joys of everyday Hfe (53." Only the homeless. . on the other hand. "enlarging the scope of Hfe beyond the confines of merely useful servile work. with the result that he can no longer act significantly outside his work. resting on the inner vision that accompanies it" (55). leisure and the Hberal arts taking first place. He rattles it to see where it cracks. but he forges ahead •mxh his discussion. 131.. He briefly cites Stalin and Sartre as counter-examples. he mentions Marx only in passing. It is "leisure which leads man to accept the reaHty of the creation and thus to celebrate it. ^Pieper acknowledges that he is using loaded terms here (61). enslaves the worker to its utiHtarian dictates. 135). and cuts it up to see if a part vdH stand alone. Thus philosophical leisure is necessarily distinct from everyday labor. Though he is concerned with leisure and the culture of "total work" that opposes it. Testing it out in the thomy circumstances of the postmodern South. is a proletarian because his Hfe has shrunk inwardly.. the title of Pieper's book is misleading—his real object is to define a philosophical and distinctively Christian approach to reaHty. have the sense of wonder necessary "to preserve our apprehension of the universaHty of things in the midst of the habits of daily Hfe. The whole ideological structure of a society must be re-ordered. the last is unique: "everyone whose Hfe is completelyfilledby his work. While thefirsttwo are social and poHdcal problems commonly associated with the pHght ofthe proletariat. but critiques the artificial boundaries of social and economic privilege. and perhaps can no longer even conceive of such a thing" (65). fHps it upside down to see how that looks.'' He cites three causes of this "binding": lack of ownership.Servile Leisure 555 reigning CathoHc theory of the day uncritically. The leisurely gaze requires two things: homelessness and freedom from "servile work. and spiritual poverty.

ostensibly his homeland. Will's homelessness unsettles him even from his ancestral home. and which he had better attend to" . . and deeper aspect" (128). only alienates him further: "it is much worse to be homeless and then to go home where everyone is at home and then still be homeless. Things then assume a strange. Will cannot find rest even there. the object of that search is receptivity. Rita's gift of Ulysses. it gives him a fresh perspective on the world: "Much of the time he was like a man who has just crawled out of a bombed building. . the "last gentleman. however. As Sutter reasons to Val in his notebook. Everything looked strange. Wanderers are afflicted with homelessness. they lose their density and solidity and their apparent finality—they can no longer be taken for granted. however. stripped of prefabricated explanations. Such a predicament. "Let us say you were right: that man is a wayfarer who therefore stands in the way of hearing a piece of news which is of the utmost importance to h i m . Will Barrett dweUs almost permanently in this strange new world. is not altogether a bad thing. Pieper 137). he had no secondhand opinions and he could see things afresh" (11)." precisely the condition that Pieper identifies as "so essentially human and so essential to human existence" (Percy 10. new. The South. all at once. Therefore his homelessness was much worse in the South because he had expected to find himself at home there" (186). In his discussion of Guardini's infiuence on Percy. thousands of miles. As with the iconic traveler of Westem literature. and more than one woman hinder Will's joumey to Ithaca—^which happens to be his hometown in Mississippi. Despite the active seeking involved in a quest. the Trav-L-Aire camper "in the world yet not of the world. transparent." Will is "a watcher and a listener and a wanderer. The South was at home. a German theologian and the author of the epigraph to The Last Gentleman. Pieper's thought tallies well with Percy's portrait of Will Barrett. which is essentially passive. at the same time. Like the sole survivor of a bombed building." confirms Will's homelessness (Percy 153).Rachel Faber Humphries In spite of their radically different audiences. Unlike Homer's pagan hero. an essential trait in the thought of Romano Guardini. Farrell O'Gorman call homelessness "the necessary condition for escaping despair" (155). ridiculous predicaments. This coincides with Pieper's contention that "to anyone raising such a [philosophical] question the things 'before his eyes' become.

suggests. (Schwartz 114) Will attributes his unusually acute perception at least partly to his illness and dislocation: "I'm not weH. even Kitty Vaught all know something he doesn't know.Servile Leisure 557 (353). Percy cannot simply adopt Pieper's perspective on leisure. With extra time.. Two decades later. But Sutter. and therefore it is fitting that I should sit still. Fr. here. . He is waiting for a sign. In spite of Percy's affinities with Pieper. Though a wayfarer. Pieper calls this "Hstening to the essence of things" receptivity (33). came increasing opportunities to fill it with commercial entertainment.. . Likewise." . in his way. Although less than twenty years apart. . so to speak. technological advances and burgeoning wealth gave Americans more "free time" than ever. With such differences iñ cultural context.. "What can be seen" tums out to be the wonderful extravagance of the tiny details of ordinary Hfe—details that can only be seen with the keen reception of "an EngHshman in his burrow. The Moviegoer. WiU reaHzes that "it was not in the Brahms that one looked and not in soHtariness and not in the old sad poetry but. and has "the knack of divining persons and situations.. . . however. Hke an Englishman in his burrow. The Last Gentleman is not afictionaHzedversion of Pieper's philosophy. Jamie Vaught. When Pieperfirstwrote the essays that constitute Leisure. the receptive posture of true leisure is replaced by the pure passivity of entertainment. without calHng for any effort or strain on our part to possess them" (31). And it certainly doesn't hurt to be a watcher and a waiter. the cultural and economic situations of postwar Germany and 1960s America posed strikingly different challenges to leisure. In this setting. as a radar. Val. means to open one's eyes receptively to whatever offers itself to one's vision. and see what can be seen" (191). and knowing this he is extraordinarily open to the signals they send. It doesn't hurt being "all antennae" either. a man merely "stands in the way" of his news. He argues that "To contemplate . Boomer. his condemnation of a society of "total work" responded to the nationwide determination to rebuild an economy devastated after the war." As he contemplates his father's suicide. and the things seen enter into us. to 'look' in this sense. Percy recasts the receptivity of his Hstening protagonist in technological terms. he must Hsten rather than pursue. the Basis ofGulture. The Last Gentleman presents a world in which peoplefilltheir free time with golf and bourbon. as the title of Percy's first published novel.

they were better than that." as Percy puts it—when it encounters sex and Cathohcism (137. It was better than having the bricks there before him. diverges from the philosopher's depiction of totally passive appreciation. The telescope is essential to the narrative: Will falls in love with Kitty through its lens in the opening scene. The radar provides only limited insight.209). Special measures were needed to recover them. precipitating his epic journey from New York to Santa Fe. There were times when he took roles so successfully that he left off being who he was and became someone else. (31) Through the telescope. while WiU can instantly detect the mode in which someone operates. that he all but disappeared into the group As a consequence this young man. In an atmosphere polluted by "ravenous particles" (26). he "cannot hear what people say but only the channel they use" (93. is not as rhapsodically positive as Pieper's. therefore. Percy's radar. 91). Receptivity overpowers his personality. Finally. Receptivity requires openness to the things "under your nose"—it is not an abstruse appreciation of Brahms and^ Matthew Arnold to be savored only by the eUte. though it bears striking similarities to Pieper's receptivity. Will can (and does) misuse his gift. dislocated to begin with. . as well as other things. so adept did he become at role-taking. cf. are not as accessible as they used to be. he said to himself. (19-20) Percy's treatment of receptivity. the telescope's lenses can "recover" ordinary objects: Not only were the bricks seen as if they were ten feet away. hardly knew who he was from one day to the next. Will's dislocation makes him particularly vulnerable to a total loss of individuality as he melds seamlessly into his various groups: So thoroughly in fact did he identify with his group companions of the moment... The telescope recovered them. Will's radar fails entirely—"boggles. Will overcomes his dislocation—at least momentarily—^by seeing extraordinary things in an ordinary way.Rachel Faber Hiunphries under your nose. this proves that bricks. They gained in value Beyond any doubt. Moreover. here in the very curiousness and droUness and extraness of the iron and the bark" (332). Though he acknowledges the benefits of what he calls Will's "sole gift." Percy recognizes its limits and its potential for misuse in a troubled person trying to make his way in a bewildering society (50). Will's expensive German telescope also aids his perception.

too. Vaught. interposing one more layer of glass and metal between WiU and reality: "It was as if the telescope created its own world in the briUiant theater of its lenses" (5). . . settles on a different definition of WiU's idendty (64-65). "In the space of seconds he changed from a Southerner in the North .900 (in cash) to spend (29). through the lenses of his telescope. to believe that he dwelled in loving and familiar territory. giving him. Nevertheless. Percy questions Pieper's model of receptivity while he echoes it. their fervors altemadng and jostUng each other hke bad dancers" (168). African Americans are the only people other than WiU who have a radar: They of course lived by their radars too. but also from his feUow human beings. Rather than making an external world more accessible. Percy's more critical approach to Pieper's ideas intensifies in the novel's portrayal of race. Bridsh convert to Catholicism John Henry Newman cited the ability to make others feel at home as one of the characteristics of the quintessential gendeman: . The pricey German telescope distances Will not only from his physical environment. When he first meets Mrs. "sdU out of phase. . It was their special talent and it was how they got along: tuning in on the assorted signals about them and responding with a skill two hundred years in the making. which would conflict with Pieper's insistence on passivity. Not merely answering the signals but providing home and sustenance to the transmitter. as in the case of Will's radar. And not merely responding. by indicating his privileged economic posidon. uses his abiUty to make other people at home. the transmitter. as in the story of the bUnd men and the elephant. A century before Percy wrote his novel. As a result. Though his plantation is less than impressive. thereby allowing WiU to accept its revelation. . which "penetrate[s] to the heart of things" (29). Percy displaces active discovery onto the telescope itself. the telescope merely produces another world. Will maintains an appropriately receptive posture. WiU stiU has more than $1. (194) WiU. a skiUful player of an old play who knows his cues and waits smiUng in the w i n g s .Servile Leisure 559 Although "recovery" seems to imply direct acdon. Perhaps the medium of WiU's first encounter with Kitty seals the fate of their relationship—since he sees her at a distance. they remain emodonaUy and mentaUy distanced. to a Southerner in the South. . They were onto the same game" (55). every member of the Vaught family.

he can recollect to whom he is speaking. Percy diverges from Pieper. 'You and Jamie can go to coUege—or go round the world! Now isn't that better than being janitor?'" (86). he is seldom prominent in conversation. who argues that "servile work" is incompatible with philosophical contemplation.Rachel Faber Humphnes The true gentleman in like manner carefully avoids whatever may cause a jar or a jolt in the minds of those with whom he is cast. or resentment. The systematic poverty of African Americans and the dependency on personal labor that it causes makes them far more Hkely to be reduced to an economic cipher than Will's sporadic need for employment—after aH. or topics which may irritate. Vaught. since he understood that the 'boy' was a Negro and Mr. —all clashing of opinion. Nevertheless. WiU is a "humidification engineer"—a lowly profession according to Mr. The conclusion must be that. WiH notes. In Pennsylvania. he is tender towards the bashful. in Percy's thought. or gloom. WiH and the African American servants are identified primarily by their role as workers. he guards against unseasonable allusions. while Will's attention to others' feeHngs is part of his mannered upbringing. He has his eyes on all his company. "The engineer wished he would mention a salary. the African Americans' tour-de-force of civiHty arises from the raw need to survive—a slip. the distinction between Will's place in the Southem economy and the exploitative situation of African Americans should not be passed over. His observation highHghts both the demeaning practice of identifying black people vdth . Nevertheless." His economic dependence places him in a position akin to that ofthe African American employees: "The engineer nodded and asked no questions. By associating classically "gentlemanly" quaHties with Will Barrett and the Vaught servants. an intrusion of unfamiliarity or unpleasant independence could cost them their Hves. there are "no Negroes to cut the grass" (140). and never wearisome. gentle towards the distant. marking him as a member of Pieper's "proletariat. (145-46) The behavior of both Will and the African American servants fits perfectly with Newman's description of gentlemanly conduct. all restraint. or suspicion. and merciful towards the absurd. his great concern being to make every one at their ease and at home. WiH's profession and his concem for wages tie him to the working process. servile labor does not necessarily preclude the leisure previously reserved for the wealthy upper classes. he has the soil bank. When the book opens. Vaught was embarrassed lest it should appear that the engineer was being offered a Negro's job" (80). In The Last Centleman. or collision of feeling.

describing a member of the "group" he wants Will to join. they are "so black and respectful. Hke them. underscores the deep disparity that remains between a white man—even a white man as sensitive as WiU—and the African American community. but Will's double operates on the other end of the occupational spectrum. The strong parallels between Will Barrett and the novel's African American charactersfinallyresolve into an African American character who is almost Will's double—the playwright traveling with Fomey Aiken when Will meets them in Ithaca. "Negroes" have WiU's ability to play a role so well that they disappear into it. Gamow. "For once the engineer felt as powerful and white-hot a radar beam leveled at him as he leveled at others. simultaneously. This fellow was not one to be trified with. Additionally. who is far from "success-oriented" and certainly in the middle of an "identity crisis. Even so." Half of the time he cannot even remember his own name. two characters with the receptive capacity Pieper associates with leisure cross racial boundaries and the traditional line between servile labor and the Hberal arts. WiU and the playwright each possess qualities that Will associates with both races.Servile Leisure 5g j their labor and. Thus. alongside the perilous stake they have in the success of their radar. they can present themselves as whatever the people around them wish them to be. Like Will when in a group. how dependent the Southem way of life still is on that labor. and interpersonal relations. so absolutely amiable and weU-disposed that it was possible to believe that they really were" (172). Will's identification with African Americans runs deeper than economic status or even his radar capacity: they resemble each other psychologically. Altogether. Dr. mentions an "extremely sensitive Negro who is not success-oriented—a true identity problem there" (40). Percy seems to suggest that Will and African Americans have essentially similar approaches towards identity. Both men are primarily identified by their respective professions rather than by their names. Will's radar allows him to see African Americans as other white people cannot: "Here came this strange young man who transmitted no signal at all but who rather. while Will works as a utilitarian humidification engineer. was aU ears and eyes and . This description perfectly fits Will. achievement. the playwright is an artist. He had done the impossible!—kept his ancient Negro radar intact and added to it a white edginess and restiveness" (319). The economic oppression of African Americans.

While Will and the African Americans move along the trajectory of leisurely enHghtenment. but they. contemplative leisure as philosophical wayfarers. the defining action of the old southem gentleman" broken down. though the paths they travel may run closely parallel.. Initially. There was nothing to say." Overall.. the unexorcised demon of radical inequaHty Hmits the capacity of even philosophical leisure to transcend racial.Rachel Faber Humphries antennae. they will never intersect as long as the drastic disparities in their situations exist. and a new relationship has yet to replace it (Prenshaw 92). those traditionally considered part of the leisure class are left to stagnate. but the chasm separating their experiences of the economic system and of social interaction impede real understanding— "you got to get where I am. they wander compulsively.. by the same token. economic. "was the only white man in the entire South who did not know all there was to know about Negroes" (194). Meanwhile I wish you well. The Vaughts have apparently unHmited free time. However. At the same time. however. therefore. his gaze does not lead to his personal enHghtenment but to even greater confusion for both sides. the Negroes. But the sons had nothing to say You may be in a fix and I know that but what you don't know and won't beheve and mustfindout for yourself is that I'm in a fix too and you got to get where I am before you even know what I'm talking about and I know that and that's why there is nothing to say now. He actually looked at them" (195).' just as they used to call the madam of the house 'she'" (195). the old mode of communication has been cut off. Percy's treatment of Will Barrett's relations with the African American community sets them both on the path to authentic. Hke WiU. With the "old patriarchal and patronizing relation of white to black. Will. moreover. didn't know what to do with him. and class boundaries. When Will meets a young black man his own age outside of his childhood home. The tone of conversation during the golfers' break at the Vaught's country-club home seems to cement the correlation between leisure and money: . They called him 'he. Their fathers would have had much to say. the novel appears to reinforce the wealthy's claim to a monopoly on leisure. (332-33) The arresting Hkeness in their respective situations allows them to wish each other well. The Vaughts' servants are unsettled by Will's perceptive gaze: "He liked to sit in the pantry and watch them and talk to them.

at the same time. stood the caddies. just like four prosperous gents might have done in old Virginny in 1774. a respectful twenty yards away. The greatest enemy to leisure. with a fair sweat up and sugared bourbon that tasted as good as it smelled. though "face to face Avith the divine good vdthin him. is more nearly the inner prerequisite which renders leisure impossible: it might be described as the utter absence of leisure. but not so bad that it was not a pleasant thing to say so of a gold-green afternoon. This is precisely the kind of culture in which Will Barrett attempts to find his place. disturbing currents of labor and class trouble the pleasant surface their conversation. but idleness: "Idleness. when he acquiesces in his own being" (51). quietly unmasks the camaraderie of the sixthhole break. the sadness of the idle pervades the "gold-green afternoon. where there is no room for poetry and art." he claims. or the very opposite of leisure." Nevertheless. an acknowledged influence on Percy (O'Gorman 128). they employ "black ragamuffins" to shoulder—literally—the burden of their pastime. The golfers gazed philosophically into their whisky and now and then came out with solemn Schadenfreude things. . . where love and death are robbed of all significant effect and reduced to the level of a banality" (96)." merely rejuvenates workers so that they work better when they return. therefore. Idleness emerges from a culture "where the religious spirit is not tolerated. The wealthy men have so much leisure time that they can afford to work up a sweat in pursuit of pleasure.Servile Leisure 563 The tone of the sixth-hole break was both pessimistic and pleasurable. yes. or the "break. Idleness. "so far from being synonymous with leisure. Leisure is only possible when a man is at one with himself. Over yonder. is not work." presumably because they are unwelcome in the suburbs unless they come as servants. Pieper concludes that the idle person." is still "prey to sadness" (49). it arises." For this definition. only when the human being is seen as a worker rather than an active human subject. Pieper's ideological lenses illuminate the precise nature of the tensions in this passage. . The world outlook was bad. Pieper draws on Kierkegaard. The caddies must travel from "the city. a culture in which cars have "Confederate plates on the front bumper and plastic Christs on the dashboard" (186). In this atmosphere. ultimately. (192-93) Percy associates their philosophical attitude with the "prosperous gents" of "old Virginny. .^ Sadness. four black ragamuffins who had walked over the ridge from the c i t y . according to Pieper.

rather than sit here solemn-and-joyous. Sutter. peeping out at the doleful woods of Spotsylvania through the cheerful plexiglass of Sheboygan" (153). on the other hand. running away from the "pure sadness" ofthe "games and group activities" of his childhood summer camp (13). pleasure in another's misfortune. have a wee drop with one's old woman. How much better it would be to be a janitor and go home at night to a cozy cottage by the railroad tracks. .* Percy takes the sadness of the idle one step further. Newman's Idea of a University ioi this concept. feierlich. Such sadness saturates popular culture throughout the novel. this business of being a youth at college. WiU responds to sadness very early in his Ufe. Pieper. a morbid cultural critic. . H." notes that Uberal education is properly "the knowledge of a gentleman" (101). you will notice. (14) 'Percy's perspective has been seconded from a surprising source: a sociological study that found that "higher incomes are associated with lower levels of leisure" (Aguiar and Hurst 3). . insdtutionaUzed educadon offers even less hope for leisure than the Birmingham suburbs: But what a sad business it was for him. 'Pieper draws heavily on J. from the golf courses ofthe Sunbelt South to the haUs of Princeton. In its most extreme manifestadons. as sad as lewdness is sad)" (293). in these honorable digs. says in his notebook that everyone in soap operas is "decent (and also sad. afflicts the wealthy in Percy's novel and shuts them out of the effortless wonder of true leisure.Rachel Faber Humphries Their pleasantry is simply schadenfreude. He envied the janitors. and its concomitant sadness. the sign of WiU's status as a searcher—^Ulysses the camper—is immune from sadness. only catastrophic events Uke hurricanes restore him (and other people. In counterpoint. WiU caUs Kitty's "horsy conjugal way"—and the suburban marriage it implies—"sad poilu love" (256).. In The Last Gentleman. He can only recover himself by hitchhiking home and riding out the summer in a tree house built by him and his "Negro friend.. sadness can be deadly: WiU's father "was kiUed by his own irony and sadness and by the strain of living out an ordinary day in a perfect dance of honor" (10). noxious particles which befoul the sorrowful old Eastern sky" (25). it "sampl[es] the particularides of place yet [is] cabined off from the sadness of place. Idleness. he nodces) to himself: "The hurricane blew away the sad. a staunch advocate for the "Uberal arts. therefore.^ He expUcidy mendons universities as sites of genuine philosophical educadon (46)." As an adult. ..

a fake Ford. a final question did occur to him and he took off after it. it is misery to suppose that others see them.. At the same time. . even when you made straight A's.Servile Leisüie 565 Will's sentimental phrases aside. he notices that the working class can escape the sadness ofthe Princetonians imprisoned in their "honorable digs. spavined and sprung. Indeed. They are victims of an intense self-contemplation" (135). and Jamie's studies are divorced from reaHty of any kind: "how strange it was that school had nothing whatever to do with Hfe. it is misery to them to think or to speak of their own feeHngs. . The Edsel paused. Percy's overwhelmingly negative picture of the university system partly coincides with the view of one of its foremost apologists—John Henry Newman." he shouted in a dead run. As to confession . extends hope to the eternal wayfarer: But as the Edsel took off. Liberal education unaided by any moral or theological education cannot "contend against those giants. kit and caboodle. Percy and Newman. The Edsel waited for him. Strength flowed Uke oil into his muscles and he ran with great joyous ten-foot antelope bounds. Kitty's. sighed. like a Negro's car. do agree on the shortcomings of even a properly functioning Hberal university education. to them it is impossible. . "Wait. canceHed out. Already worthless as an educator. EspeciaHy when you made straight A's" (204). In his Idea of a University. . the passion and the pride of man" (90). The old talk of school as a preparation for Hfe—what a bad joke" (201). sunk at one comer and flatulent in its muffler. at the same time. the physical properties ofthe books and sHde rules are more appeaHng than the inteHectual information that they are supposed to impart. and stopped." The university he attends in Alabama is even worse. his code of ethics is insufficient for virtue (89). therefore. poHshed off. (409) . Newman pointed out that. spiiriously elegant and unsoimd. Will's. as pleasant as a gentleman can be. and their shyness and sensitiveness often become morbid.. Newman's description of a HberaHy educated gentleman is almost a point-for-point diagnosis of Will's predicament: "they shut themselves up in themselves. the university erupts into racial hatred when the first black student arrives. however. . The end of The Last Gentleman can be read as a graceful summary of Percy's difficulties with both Pieper's philosophy and postmodern culture that. Any value in the courses is carefully negated by extravagant praise that sends it "out the window.

it calls to mind the economic stratification so prevalent in the novel. "The soul of leisure. but as lovingly sought. Since Pieper's time. can never be finally answered and disposed of " (140). undermining the economic superiority of the gentleman of leisure. consuming entertainment. ." epitomizes the hollow culture of the "Sunbelt South" where Mr. . though not. casting the hollow idleness of the wealthy into vivid reHef. idleness has further displaced genuine leisure. Will's "joyous ten-foot antelope bounds" refiect the effortless extravagance that characterizes authentic leisure. and the other African American characters. of course. It is simply that wisdom is the object of philosophy. Though The Last Gentleman reñects the core of Pieper's theory of leisure in the characters of Will Barrett. even in New Mexico. Will chases Sutter because he has one more question. as a "fake Ford. or reducing blood pressure. in such a way that it has no relation whatsoever to its aim.' Celebration is the point at which the three elements of leisure emerge together: effortlessness. In spite of their differences. Vaught peddles his wares with a slouch hat and a cane at Confederate Chevrolet. their insistence on leisure for its own sake sets Walker Percy and Josef Pieper apart from a culture that allocates "free time" for increasing productivity. At the same time." rather than being disheartening. and never fully possessed" (142). while Pieper's philosophical categories highHght the enforced servitude of the African Americans. calm and relaxation" (Pieper 71).Rachel Faber Humphries Sutter's dilapidated Edsel encapsulates The Last Gentleman's troubHng issues." it will not let the reader forget. Broken down and falling apart. it can be said. orients the philosophical joumey towards hope. Economic status and a receptive philosophical posture unite African American characters and Will Barrett. "Spuriously elegant and unsound. Hes in 'celebration. as Pieper points out. Will's enthusiastic pursuit of the car comprehends both the essence of the philosophical joumey and the hope for its continuance. Hke a Negro's car. The conclusion of Percy's novel thus sketches. the philosopher always has one more question because "a philosophical question . The etemal "not-yet. the playwright. in miniature. the entire trajectory of his re-examination of the Catholic philosophy of labor and leisure. since philosophy "aims at a type of wisdom which is unattainable. The Edsel. . Percy critiques Pieper's absolute separation between labor and leisure. Finally. the realities of racial oppression that undermine Pieper's vision of universal leisure.

andGatholic Vision in Postwar Southem Fiction. Federal Reserve Bank of Boston. Josef. Alexander Dm. Wonder. . and the Problem of MascuHnity. Eliot. Mark. Trans." Mississippi Quarterly 61. is now the appropriate response to impressive computer-generated special effects. Ed. Nevertheless. the indictment of the "leisure class" in The Last Gentleman retains much of its power. Walker. 15 Apr. 2007. The Last Gentleman. 62-77. 2004. of the mind and spirit that is always open to what is fresh. 1999. "Keeping Quentin Compson Alive: The Last Gentleman. <http://www.Servile Leisure 567 common speech associates the language of leisure with mere entertainment. The Idea ofa University.frb. Introduction. "Measuring Trends in Leisure: The Allocation of Time over Five Decades.pdf>. Troy. Walker Percy. Percy's sober look at the divisive wounds of racial inequaHty does not prevent his ending where Pieper does—in "the joy of the beginner. Gary. John Henry. NY: Whitston. Lewis Lawson.2 (1988): 131-45. 1952. The Second Coming. Pieper xi-xvii. 1996. Though Pieper's terms have been perverted. T. Peculiar Grossroads: Flannery O'Gonnor. S. 1966. Susan V. Donaldson.bos. Works Cited Aguiar. January 2006. "Percy's First Gentle Man. and Erik Hurst. New Haven: Yale UP. New York: Pantheon. new and as yet unknown" (137)." Walker Percy's Feminine Gharacters. Newman. Pieper. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP. Ed. Percy. the starting point for leisurely contemplation. Leisure: The Basis of Gulture. I would Hke to acknowledge the assistance and encouragement of Brannon Costello in preparing this article. The passivity of watching television or movies precludes passive receptivity. 1995. Frank Tumer. Farrell. 1899. New York: Picador." Working Papers. O'Gorman.

Allen. "In Search of the 'Wisdom Possessed by God. 84-95. South Bend: St. 1998. Peggy Whitman. Joseph. Trans Gerald Malsbary. Täte. the Basis of Culture. 1952: 12. 1996. 1991. "Elegies for Gentlemen: Walker Percy's The Last Gentleman and Eudora Welty's 'The Demonstrators'.Rachel Faber Humphries Prenshaw.2 (1988): 112-28. of Leisure. Leisure. "Life and Death in The Last Gentleman." Walker Percy: Novelist and Philosopher. Ed. Jackson: UP of Mississippi.147-48. by Josef Pieper. Augustine's. Schwartz. New York Times Book ReviewlA Feb. Jan Nordby Gretlund and KarlHeinz Westarp. Walker Percy: The Last Cathohc Novelist Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP. . the Basis of Culture. Quinlan."' Renascence 40.'" Rev. Rpt. Kieran.

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