THE MESSAGE IN THE BOTTLE by Walker Percy

THE MESSAGE IN THE BOTTLE

How Queer Man Is, How Queer Language Is, And What One Has To Do With The Other

KIRKUS REVIEW

Walker Percy, the novelist, has written a deadly serious work of theoretical linguistics. So serious is he that he suggests The Moviegoer, The Last Gentleman and Love in the Ruins were written for comic relief to this twenty-years-in-progress inquiry into the relationship between human consciousness and the structure of language which eventually will end in dogged pursuit of the contents of Chomsky's "little black box"--the Language Acquisition Device (LAD). The box remains black, but Percy leaps over the heads of semanticists, syntacticians, transformational grammarians, psychologists, learning theorists, logicians, philosophers, semioticists and the rest of the empirically minded pack into a "radical" linguistic anthropology that purports to explain why 20th century man feels bad. The message in his bottle--the "news" for which the modern castaway desperately searches--seems for all the world to be the Christian gospel which he no longer has the "means" for understanding. Putting aside the religious argument, Percy tackles the failure of positivism and the need for "a metascientific, metacultural reality." His special perspective equates consciousness with symbolization and revives a theory of Charles Peirce (a predecessor of William James) for a tentative exploratory model of sentence formulation--making the connection between the object in the world and its verbal designation. Language and abstraction, as the characteristics that divide man from the rest of the animal kingdom, fascinate us too; but Percy promises a great deal at the outset and that final diagram of the triadic structure of the typical "semological-phonological" naming sentence seems most recondite. It may be accessible to specialists.
Pub Date: June 16th, 1975
ISBN: 0312254016
Page count: 354pp
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1st, 1975




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