Percyscapes: The Fugue State in Twentieth-Century Southern by Robert W. Rudnicki

By Robert W. Rudnicki

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Example text

They join one observation to another for a higher semiotic meaning and therefore a more sophisticated understanding of the world. Percy's characters, squinting with hands outstretched and fingers working, exist in a world of hidden meanings and joinery among worn-out signs. As for Faulkner, McCullers, Warren, Ellison, Ford, and McCarthy, their more familiar or more recent characters provide a ''testing ground" to show that Percy's semiotic ontology is not limited as a critical princi- 4. J. Donald Crowley places Percy in an American rather than a European literary tradition in "Walker Percy: The Continuity of the Complex Fate," in Critical Essays on Walker Percy, 25985.

The effect of fugue is to go, but the effect of semiosis is to come. Come is an important word in the Percy corpus. I believe Percy and other twentieth-century southern writers found that this tension between fugal "goings" and semiotic "comings" provides a compelling dramatic structure. My introductory chapter attempts to justify the appropriateness and examine the richness of the fugue state as a heuristic device for interpreting the fiction of twentieth-century southern writers by exploring its etymology and connotations.

For reasons I suggest in this chapter, the locus of these protagonists seems to be the modern South. The semiotic insights Percy derives from Charles Sanders Peirce provide a conceptually powerful schema for relating form and theme in modern literature, as well as for analyzing the relationswhich all involve semiotic shortcomingsof characters, authors, and ultimately readers. The southern writer does seem to represent a special case in literary modernism, especially when read from this perspective.

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