What is the nature of the search?

MoviegoerI am currently reading what literary critics argue is the finest work of fiction by Walker Percy:

When The Moviergoer was first published in 1961, it won the National Book Award and established Walker Percy as one of the supplest and most deftly modulated new voices in Southern literature. In his portrait of a boyish New Orleans stockbroker wavering between ennui and the longing for redemption, Percy managed to combine Bourbon Street elegance with the spiritual urgency of a Russian novel. On the eve of his thirtieth birthday, Binx Bolling is adrift. He occupies himself dallying with his secretaries and going to movies, which provide him with the “treasurable moments” absent from his real life. But one fateful Mardi Gras, Binx embarks on a quest – a harebrained search for authenticity that outrages his family, endangers his fragile cousin, Kate, and sends him reeling through the gaudy chaos of the French Quarter. Wry and wrenching, rich in irony and romance, The Moviegoer is a genuine American classic.

It is no accident that Binx’s search occurs on Mardi Gras, literally “Fat Tuesday,” alluding to the last day of feasting before the fast and penitence of Lent. Here is how Binx describes “the search”:

What is the nature of the search? you ask. Really it is very simple, at least for a fellow like me; so simple that it is easily overlooked. The search is what anyone would undertake if he were not sunk in the everydayness of his own life. This morning, for example, I felt as if I had come to myself on a strange island. And what does such a castaway do? Why, he pokes around the neighborhood and he doesn’t miss a trick. To become aware of the possibility of the search is to be onto something. Not to be onto something is to be in despair. The movies are onto the search, but they screw it up. The search always ends in despair. They like to show a fellow coming to himself in a strange place – but what does he do? He takes up with the local librarian, sets about proving to the local children what a nice fellow he is, and settles down with a vengeance. In two weeks time he is so sunk in everydayness that he might just as well be dead. What do you seek – God? you ask with a smile. I hesitate to answer, since all other Americans have settled the matter for themselves and to give such an answer would amount to setting myself a goal which everyone else has reached – and therefore raising a question in which no one has the slightest interest. Who wants to be dead last among one hundred and eighty million Americans? For, as everyone knows, the polls report that 98% of Americans believe in God and the remaining 2% are atheists and agnostics – which leaves not a single percentage point for a seeker. For myself, I enjoy answering polls as much as anyone and take pleasure in giving intelligent replies to all questions. Truthfully, it is the fear of exposing my own ignorance which constrains me from mentioning the object of my search. For, to begin with, I cannot even answer this, the simplest and most basic of all questions: Am I, in my search, a hundred miles ahead of my fellow Americans or a hundred miles behind them? That is to say: Have 98% of Americans already found what I seek or are they so sunk in everydayness that not even the possibility of a search has occurred to them? On my honor, I do not know the answer.

Most human beings who describe themselves as “searchers” are not really searching to find anything. Binx Bolling is rare. He undertakes the search in the spirit of Jesus’ teaching: “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you” (Matthew 7:7, ESV).

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