The Walker Percy Center for Writing and Publishing at Loyola University New Orleans will host its second bi-annual Percy-themed conference this weekend: “Still Lost in the Cosmos: Walker Percy and the 21st Century.” The conference takes place Friday and Saturday, with a keynote speech by author Paul Elie on Friday evening and a performance based on Percy’s Lost in the Cosmos by Tom Key on Saturday evening. A panoply of panels on a variety of Percy- and Cosmos-related topics will take place throughout the days, including “Amnesia, Eroticism, and Disappointment in Lost in the Cosmos,” “The Pursuit of Happiness and the Failure of Self Help,” and “The Medium is the Cosmos: Technology and Media in Lost in the Cosmos.”All of the events take place on Loyola’s campus. More details about the conference, including ticket prices, here.
In an article commemorating the 20th anniversary of Percy’s death, the Chronicle of Higher Education published an article on Lost in the Cosmos titled “Walker Percy’s Weirdest Book.” The author, Tom Bartlett, explains that Cosmos is “an indescribable concoction of hard facts and wild imagination, a parody of self-help books (sort of), a philosophy textbook (kind of), and a collection of short stories, quizzes, diagrams, thought experiments, mathematical formulas, made-up dialogue, ridiculously long chapter titles, and a few David Foster Wallace-worthy footnotes.” In a 2013 entry to his “Cosmos and Culture” blog on NPR’s website, Adam Frank said of the book: “Everyday we wake up and we’re forced to schlep these selves around. We shop, take the kids to Kung Fu, register our cars at the DMV. Yet through it all we’re stuck in the dark about who we are, what we are, and what these selves are here for. Playfully perverting the self-help genre (there are lots of end-of-chapter exercises) Percy lays bare the choices facing us, and he takes no prisoners. This book is bound to make you feel worse, at least in the beginning.”
The conferences hosted by the Walker Percy Center are just one part of its multifaceted approach to celebrating the author, who briefly taught at Loyola, and examining his work from a scholarly perspective. Its last Walker Percy Center conference, “The Moviegoer at 50,” attracted more than 150 Percy scholars from throughout the nation and Europe to discuss Percy’s most well-known novel. The conference proceedings are currently being edited into a book. The center is constructing a database of scholarly work by and about Walker Percy, which will be available to the public through the center’s website. Meanwhile, local author and head of the Loyola English Department Chris Chambers is editing a collection of short fiction the center will publish by writers who consider Percy a mentor or guiding spirit.