This year marks the 25th anniversary of the famous Walker Percy Jefferson Lecture “The San Andreas Fault in the Modern Mind.” The lecture remains the best introduction into the heart of Percy’s writings and preoccupations. It is his little summa where he lays out the problem of communication between humanist and scientific forms of knowledge.
The lecturer this year was Walter Isaacson head of the Aspen Institute, former chairman of CNN, and once the managing editor of Time. He is perhaps better known as a biographer who’s written books about Franklin, Einstein, and more recently, his best-selling biopic of Steve Jobs. But that’s not relevant here. The Walker Percy connection is much more interesting to me.
In the Jefferson Lecture Isaacson talks about growing up with the Percy’s:
Dr. Percy, with his wry philosophical depth and lightly-worn grace, was a hero of mine. He lived on the Bogue Falaya, a bayou-like, lazy river across Lake Pontchartrain from my hometown of New Orleans. My friend Thomas was his nephew, and thus he became “Uncle Walker” to all of us kids who used to go up there to fish, capture sunning turtles, water ski, and flirt with his daughter Ann. It was not quite clear what Uncle Walker did. He had trained as a doctor, but he never practiced. Instead, he seemed to be at home most days, sipping bourbon and eating hog’s head cheese. Ann said he was a writer, but it was not until his first novel, The Moviegoer, had gained recognition that it dawned on me that writing was something you could do for a living, just like being a doctor or a fisherman or an engineer. Or a humanist.
It is particularly meaningful for me to be giving this lecture on the 25th anniversary of the one by Walker Percy. I took the train from New York for that occasion, looking out of the window and thinking of his eerie essay about the malaise, “The Man on the Train.”
Isaacson’s lecture uses Percy’s lecture as a springboard for his reflections upon technology and the humanities, thereby demonstrating the continued relevance of last century’s leading Catholic novelist.
Before I go and copy and paste the whole thing, I’ll close with the following piece of advice Percy gave to Isaacson:
There are, he told me, two types of people who come out of Louisiana: preachers and storytellers. For goodness sake, he said, be a storyteller. The world has too many preachers.
I was not able to embed any of the videos above, so here’s one of Walker Percy talking about Blaise Pascal:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F8N7S-pOooc