The loss of the sovereign person Print
By Walker Percy   
Thursday, 25 August 2011

In the New Mexican desert, natives occasionally come across strange-looking artifacts which have fallen from the skies and which are stenciled: Return to U.S. Experimental Project, Alamogordo. Reward. The finder returns the object and is rewarded. He knows nothing of the nature of the object he has found and does not care to know. The sole role of the native, the highest role he can play, is that of finder and returner of the mysterious equipment.The same is true of the layman's relation to natural objects in a modern technical society .No matter what the object or event is, whether it is a star, a swallow, a Kwakiutl, a "psychological phenomenon, " the layman who confronts it does not confront it as a sovereign person, as Crusoe confronts a seashell he finds on the beach. The highest role he can conceive himself as playing is to be able to recognize the title of the object, to return it to the appropriate expert and have it certified as a genuine find. He does not even permit himself to see the thing-as Gerard Hopkins could see a rock or a cloud or a field. If anyone asks him why he doesn't look, he may reply that he didn't take that subject in college (or he hasn't read Faulkner).

 

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