“The Loss of the Creature” by Walker Percy opens up a whole new world of perspectives for the reader. Percy presents various examples, making connections between them of how one loses an experience through the creation of preconceived ideas, where people can only have a true experience of something if all of the social biases and prejudices are ignored. Percy asserts that human beings lose sovereignty of an experience through symbolic complexes and pre-packaged experiences; two distinct works dovetail with his philosophical perspectives.
The film, “Grand Canyon,” directed by Lawrence Kasdan compliments Percy’s ideas by exemplifying realizations of genuine experiences through a motion picture, John Berger, in his essay, “The Ways of Seeing,” reinforces Percy’s idea of the loss of sovereignty by discussing how people see and how meanings are manipulated. Walker Percy asserts that preconceived thoughts in one’s mind before an experience result in the loss of authenticity. Percy presents the dichotomy of the discovery of the Grand Canyon by Cardenas, the original discoverer, versus the sightseer.
Since the canyon has now been exposed commercially to the rest of the world, when a sightseer views the Canyon, it isn’t “the sovereign discovery of the thing before him; it is rather the measuring up of the thing to the criterion of the preformed symbolic complex” (Percy, 469). When one actually reaches the canyon, he or she will have a preconceived image take over the experience, which can lead to false appreciation. Even naming it the “Grand Canyon” imposes a premature expectation of the visitor, which is not necessary to find its splendor.
One cannot have a genuine experience and witness something for what it is because there are always generated opinions that stain peoples’ minds. It is noted that in recent years, “there has been—under the condition of modernity—an erosion of the concept of sovereignty” (Rupesinghe et al. , 25). Because of the exposure to generic images and ideas, the true meaning of sovereignty has been falsified and degraded. What was unique and true to the population has been polluted with premature expectations. As a result, the dominance one had over an experience has been taken away.
Furthermore, Percy asserts that human beings lose the authenticity of an experience not only through symbolic complexes but also through packaging. Often times, a specialist or an expert guides the course of an experience because of their previous exposure to it. This is packaging. As stated in an article about the goals of a supervisors, “The findings revealed the following themes: respect and responsibility; carefulness and sensitivity; reflection and confirmation; and genuineness and fairness,” meaning one of the main priorities for planners is to provide a genuine, edifying experience for the consumer (Berthold et al. . This is significant because there is a major contrast between what their goals are and what they actually do. Although planners focus on catering a genuine experience, the actual experience that the consumers receive is absolutely artificial. Percy states, “The very means by which the thing is presented for consumption, the very techniques by which the thing is made available as an item of need-satisfaction, these very means operate to remove the thing from the sovereignty of the knower. A loss of title occurs” (6).
In other words, although an expert may try to recreate the trueness of an experience, a loss of sovereignty is inevitable. The consumer has absolutely no power over the course of the experience that they are given, only being able to see what they portray. Because the sovereignty remains in the mind of the planner, a layman is only participating in a small portion of what the whole experience could have been. Presently, packaging results in an experience losing its genuineness. With that said, the film, “Grand Canyon,” compliments the concept of loss of sovereignty extremely well.
One of the main protagonists, Mack, a white man in a luxurious car, strays off his usual route and finds himself threatened by a group of black men. He has experienced something genuine, an experience that no one else can boast about because he escaped the brink of death. Mack decides to befriend his savior, Simon, because of his selfish desire to preserve and validate this incredible experience, which ultimately blinds him from delighting in it. The sovereignty is lost because he is not able to live that experience through his own eyes, but only by the confirmation of another.
What actually happened does not matter anymore. This is a complete parallel to an example that Percy gives in his essay about a tourist couple visiting an unknown village. Just like Mack, the couple is too caught up with authenticating the experience through a friend, where they cannot completely enjoy and take pleasure in the experience without confirmation. An article boldly claims that, “Genuineness is also an aesthetic property that delivers an experience of its own,” contradicting Mack and the couple’s efinition of what a genuine experience is (Korsmeyer, 1). Something genuine finds value in itself, rather than its surroundings. When one finds value in trying to satisfy the surrounding, or even preserving the experience, then that genuineness is lost. Because people’s minds obligate them to share and confirm every aspect of their lives, what they find value in an experience has changed. As a result, Mack and the tourist couple exemplify this situation for they show what is more important to them: authenticating an experience rather than the experience itself.
To continue on, John Berger’s idea of manipulation of meaning supports Percy’s ideas of loss of genuineness. There is a complete parallel in ideas between Berger and Percy when both authors make similar claims, just in different terms. At the start of his essay, Berger points out, “The way we see things is affected by what we know or what we believe” (8). In other words, people’s minds are tainted with biases which control what they see and experience. This forms the backbone of Percy’s thoughts on preconceived ideas and how they can manipulate an experience, mostly what one sees.
It is nearly impossible to see something purely for what it is because of the thoughts that developed beforehand. Berger also describes a way to prevent manipulation of ideas by stating, “By refusing to enter a conspiracy, one remains innocent of that conspiracy. But to remain innocent may also be to remain ignorant” (32). By staying pure, away from the mainstream perceptions, one may maintain innocence, where the innocence is the ability to have an untainted experience. Any impression or judgment that has been planted in one’s mind previously takes control of what one will see.
Remaining ignorant will help block the development of preconceived ideas, which will aid in pure, untouched experiences. Ultimately, the formation of ideas and opinions about things of the world has blinded people’s minds from grasping the experience and truly witnessing the beauty of what that stands for. With both a film and essay supporting the claims that Percy has made, the essay “The Loss of the Creature” resembles the forgotten value of true experience of the world like Grand Canyon, the traditional rituals of villagers, students’ way of learning, etc.
The connections made through the examples given completely praises the idea of preconceived images, the formation of a symbolic complex, eradicating the opportunity one may have in experiencing something genuine. It is clear that Percy is trying to persuade the audience that people can only have a true experience of something if they can get rid of all prejudices and experience its present by overlooking everything one has already heard about it.
Berger, John. (1997) Ways of Seeing. London: British Broadcasting Corporation and Penguin Books. Print. Grand Canyon. Dir. Lawrence Kadsan. Perf. Kevin Kline, Steven Martin, Danny Glover. Twentieth Century Fox, 1991. Film. H. Berthold, et al. “Ethical Dimensions Of Supervision: The Supervisors’ Experiences. ” Nursing Ethics 7. 4 (2000): 350-359. Academic Search Premier. Web. 19 Nov. 2012. Korsmeyer, Carolyn. “Touch And The Experience Of The Genuine. ” British Journal Of Aesthetics 52. 4 (2012): 365-377. Academic Search Premier. Web. 18 Nov. 2012. Percy, Walker. “The Loss of the Creature. ” The Message in the Bottle. New York: Picador, 1975. Print. Rupesinghe, Kumar, and Marcial Rubio Correa. Culture Of Violence. n. p. : United Nations University Press, 1994. eBook Collection (EBSCOhost). Web. 18 Nov. 2012.