In Message in the Bottle, Walker Percy offers insights on such varied yet interconnected subjects as symbolic reasoning, the origins of mankind, Helen Keller, Semioticism, and the incredible Delta Factor. Confronting difficult philosophical questions with a novelist’s eye, Percy rewards us again and again with his keen insights into the way that language possesses all of us.
This dense, well-written and extraordinary book is an excellent introduction to the works of a great 20th century thinker. In this collection of essays, Percy manages to confront some difficult philosophical questions in an exciting and readable context. Percy was first a novelist, and his writing is seldom inaccessible. He deals in everything from religion to science, from literary theory to travel. His best writing relates to theories of language and the human being. Yet like some of the greatest X-Files episodes, Percy leaves many things unresolved, liminal, only suggested. Message in a Bottle is designed to stimulate the reader rather than fill them with useless information. I finished reading this book with the desire to read it again, and whenever I see it on the bookshelf I am comforted by the thought that there are people in the world who think for themselves, and who have the courage to print what they think.
A few of the essays in this collection make for somewhat dry reading (Percy even says so himself), but if wonder and enlightenment are your goals, then this is an extremely rewarding book. His insights on symbolic reasoning, the origins of mankind, Hellen Keller, Semioticism, and the incredible Delta Factor are invariably fresh and thought-provoking. Percy is really onto something here; he may have only scratched the surface, but what he has revealed has powerful implications for all of us.
Message in a Bottle deals with the most important question of all: What is Man? Percy contends, as any good Heideggerian would, that we are essentially castaways on an island. We aren’t quite sure how we got here and we don’t quite know what we’re supposed to do now that we are here. But Percy is a Thomist, not an existentialist (although the two are connected). While Percy finds the greatest evidence for our essential ‘lostness’ in the altogether baffling phenomenon of language, Percy is nevertheless concerned with what we are to do about out anxiety about existence. Percy is interested in pursuing the Thomistic project; ‘completing’ reason with revelation.