Living and dying as a Penn State fan

Originally posted to my blog for the Leadership Academy.

I received an email this morning from a former student. I have not read the novel (but have been meaning to for years) and now I have further incentive to do so. We lived for 6 years in the same town where Walker Percy had lived, Covington, LA. A great author, his works are incredibly well known in the south but not so much up north. He is well worth reading. My student’s email:

I’ve been reading Walker Percy’s Love in the Ruins lately and came across the following passage about Penn State:

“Here’s the riddle. Father Smith speaks of life. Life is better than death. Frenchmen and Germans now choose life. Frenchmen and Germans at Verdun in 1916 chose death, 500,000 of them. The question is, who has life, the Frenchman now who chooses life and will die for nothing or the Frenchman then who chose to die, for what? I forget.

“Or a Pennsylvanian. This afternoon during the assault on Fort Douaumont, I heard a sportscaster listing the football powers of the coming season. Number one on his list were the Nittany Lions of Penn State. I do not care about the Nittany Lions. But what would it be like to live in Pennsylvania and every day of your life hear sportscasters speak of the prospects of the Nittany Lions?

 “With my lapsometer I can measure the index of life, life in death and death in life. It is possible, I suspect, to be dying and alive at Verdun and alive and dying as a booster of the Nittany Lions.”

Wikipedia describes the novel

Love in the Ruins is a novel of speculative or science fiction by author Walker Percy from 1971. It follows its main character, Dr Thomas More, namesake and descendant of Sir Thomas More author of Utopia, a psychiatrist in a small town in Louisiana called Paradise. Over time, the US has become progressively more fragmented, between left and right, black and white as social trends of the 1960s run to illogical extremes. Society begins to come apart at the seams and no one except More seems to notice and no one, including him, seems particularly to care. More, a lapsed Catholic, alcoholic, and womanizer, invents a device that he names the Ontological Lapsometer, which can diagnose and treat the harmful mental states at the root of society’s slow disintegration. However, in the wrong hands, the device can also exacerbate the problems and a government representative, intent on getting More a Nobel Prize, seeks to put it to his own uses while More attempts to prevent a disaster.

Seems timely. I have already downloaded it on iBooks.

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