Repetition and Walker Percy’s Love in the Ruins

As I was writing today, it hit me that Kierkegaard’s notion of repetition bears some interesting similarities to the hilarious apocalyptic satire by Walker Percy, Love in the Ruins. The book revolves around a southern doctor, Thomas Moore (descendant of Sir Thomas Moore, author of Utopia), who happens to be an alcoholic, a lapsed Catholic, and a brilliant inventor who also has a problem with women. Dr. Moore lives in a not-too-distant-future wherein the United States has become so polarized that the air feels heavy with threats of civil war. Divisive issues in politics, religion, race, and more have crafted stark divisions geographically and societally. Somehow, the tortured but endearing Dr. Moore is able to traverse these highly segregated strata of society. He strikes the reader as a kind of country doctor, intuitive and regarded as a hero by all–if there’s anything that unites the polarized town he lives in, it’s that Dr. Moore, despite his obvious alcoholism and trouble with women, is perhaps your best bet for treating the rising psychological problems invading society.

These psychological problems are comedically discussed as the physical manifestations of the positions individuals psychologically hold to. Liberals, for example, are prone to impotence while conservatives have fits of rage. The common theme is that all of these physical problems are ultimately the result of severe abstraction from concrete reality. Patients come to Dr. Moore, who has developed a device that attempts to put things back in balance in the brain, but it is clear that his remedies are temporary and the abstracted roots of the symptoms experienced by his fellow townsfolk will not be exterminated by external methods.

What each patient is ultimately looking for is a repetition, in the Kierkegaardian sense. Each patient has lost his or her reality, has been reflected into an abyssal non-space of consciousness. Even Dr. Moore seeks repetition, failing to find it but doing his best to stave off the symptoms biologically. Much more could be said, but the bottom-line, I think, is that Percy is suggesting individuals need to come to themselves, especially by the process of forgiveness (which is clear in the case of Dr. Moore, whose history is inescapable). To continue on in denial of this necessity of forgiveness leads to the worst kinds of polarizations from actual life and the relationships found there. The novel does embody a certain repetition in the end, though its strength is its articulation of the existential need for atonement more than anything.

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