May 21, 2007

Walker Percy & Jonathon Franzen's The Corrections

Interesting link, via Korrektiv:
In their marital battles—over child care, housework, their individual behavior —Gary is, like his father, a small and close minded moralist. This of course is reprehensible, but note that it is so not because the old-fashioned notions of personal responsibility and truth telling are reprehensible—far from it —but because Gary improperly understands and enforces these concepts.

In contrast, Caroline is completely committed to seeing all behavior exclusively in biomedical terms. As Gary expresses it, “His lumbering forces of conventional domestic warfare were no match for [her] biological weaponry. He cruelly attacked her person, she heroically attacked his disease” (Franzen, 2001, 201). This would seem to grant Caroline the moral high road. In fact, however, Caroline is, perhaps unknowingly, committed to an overthrow of morality since on her view behavior is nothing more than biochemistry of the brain. And correcting behavior is not about moral responsibility, it’s about chemical change: behavioral change is much better left, she believes, to external forces like Corecktall (or, e,g., an SSRI) rather than an internal recognition of a need to change.

That this is a false position is argued for in the ending of The Corrections. Despite the fact that Gary is now full of whatever the latest developments in psychopharmacology can offer, his life remains empty, and he is no closer to coming to any sort of self-recognition...Gary continues to shift blame away from himself onto others and seeks happiness from external sources such as can be provided by psychopharmacology.

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