Dean's Update - October 17, 2022

October 17, 2022

Dear Colleagues:

In Reading Walker Percy’s Novels (LSU Press, 2018), Jessica Hooten Wilson frames her interpretation of the great southern Catholic writer’s novel, Love in the Ruins, this way:

The end of the world has been lamented repeatedly throughout history: in Mesopotamian culture, in ancient Rome when the barbarians ransacked the capital, in the headlines of British news during World War I. Every age has suffered crises that have pushed some prophets and artists to don metaphorical sackcloth and cry out, “This is the end!” Even now, the twenty-first century is rife with apocalyptic terror . . . The question is, what to do when the world crashes down around you? How to live and love in the ruins of civilization?

Wilson knows what Percy knew: the world is fallen, us with it, and things are in a bad way. We’re nonetheless called by God’s grace to full life and self-giving love, even as we wait for the Lord’s renewal of all things in Christ. Both themes—postlapsarian darkness and gracious redemption—are found in Percy’s work. Yet Wilson laudably allows the novels’ often grim realism its full due.

Walker Percy wrote six novels, and Wilson brings gems of insight to all of them.

Of The Moviegoer, she writes that Binx Bolling may begin “as an Underground Man . . . but he ends the novel in imitation of another of Dostoevsky’s characters, Alyosha.” For The Last Gentleman, which ends disconcertingly, she points constructively to its epigraph from Romano Guardini: “Love will disappear from the face of the public world, but the more precious will be that love that flows from one lonely person to another.”

About Love in the Ruins, Wilson argues that Percy gives us not a surrealist satire that mocks our age, but what Percy calls “prophesy in reverse.” Here, she recalls what he elsewhere writes of apocalyptic fiction: “Perhaps it is only through the conjuring up of catastrophe, the destruction of all Exxon signs, and the sprouting of vines in the church pews, that the novelist can make vicarious use of catastrophe in order that he and his reader may come to themselves.”

When she comes to Lancelot, Percy’s darkest novel that takes cues from Dante’s Inferno, Wilson notes it is “tremendously difficult to read,” so diabolical and scandalous is the protagonist. Yet she sensitively grasps Percy’s point, which she summarizes with a line from Pope John Paul II’s Letter to Artists: “Even when they explore the darkest depths of the soul or the most unsettling aspects of evil, artists give voice in a way to the universal desire for redemption.”

If you don’t know these novels—and also Percy’s The Second Coming and Thanatos Syndrome—you should. They unite artistry, honesty, and wisdom in unsettling ways, and good readers finish them not with self-satisfaction, but contrition and firm resolution of amendment. And if you do know Percy’s work, you’ll all the more embrace the opportunity to revisit his work in Wilson’s company as she joins us for the Drumwright Family Lecture and a series of other Honors College appearances today and tomorrow. The end of the world may draw nigh, but until the end, it’s our calling to live and love as Christians in the ruins. I’m there with you!

Please give your attention to the following news and opportunities:

• Join me tomorrow, Tuesday, October 18 at 4:00 p.m. as we host our annual Drumwright Family Lecture, featuring Jessica Hooten Wilson, visiting professor of liberal arts at Pepperdine University. Jessica’s talk—a reflection on Walker Percy’s Love in the Ruins—is entitled “The Little Way through the Apocalypse” and will be given in Alexander Reading Room. The Drumwright Lecture is a high-water mark in Honors College life, and I look forward to enjoying our time together and learning alongside you.

• Program directors will soon enlist your help in drafting bylaws to inform departmental organization and operation. This effort follows a COACHE Survey Working Group on Decision-Making Across All Levels recommendation that academic departments “create bylaws to govern their decision-making processes and organizational procedures.” Bylaws will bring improved consistency and transparency to our deliberative procedures, and they will help us accomplish our work with greater assurance and effectiveness.

• I continue active fundraising work in support of student scholarships, endowed chairs, and our capital project, the latter currently of highest priority as construction is slated to begin in May 2023. Recent development trips have taken me to Amarillo, Austin, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, Oklahoma City, Phoenix, and Tulsa. Special thanks to dean’s office staff for carrying on ably during my travel, and thanks to all for patience with occasional rescheduling of planned meetings with me.

• Three lectures later this week and next deserve lively attention and attendance.

BIC’s Alumni Homecoming Lecture will be given by Matthew Pierce (BBA ’09) on Friday, October 21 at 2:30 p.m. in Bennett Auditorium on the subject, Walking Builds Character: Fragments of Kierkegaard, College and an Examined Life. Matthew is senior vice president at Truist Financial.

On Tuesday, October 25, the Great Texts Program will host alumnus Samuel Pomeroy (BA ’12) for his talk, The Problem of the Nation-Angels in Early Christianity, at 4:00 p.m. in Memorial Drawing Room. Sam holds a Ph.D. from Leuven and is an Alexander von Humboldt Post-Doctoral Fellow at the University of Münster.

Also on Tuesday, October 25 at 4:00 p.m. (alas), Micheal O’Siadhail will give a reading of his new collection of poems, Testament, in the Armstrong Browning Foyer of Meditation, with a book signing and coffee reception following.

Homecoming is this weekend! Join me in welcoming to campus many whose lives trace a path through Baylor’s Honors College. On Saturday morning, our tent will be set up as usual at the corner of Morrison Hall and 5th Street. As the parade enters campus by 8:00 a.m., come enjoy coffee, donuts, and other refreshments while watching festive parade floats and reminiscing with alumni and friends.

All the best,

Douglas V. Henry | Dean
Honors College | Baylor University | 254.710.7689