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Message in the Bottle

4.05  ·  Rating Details ·  459 Ratings  ·  31 Reviews
In Message in the Bottle, Walker Percy offers insights on such varied yet interconnected subjects as symbolic reasoning, the origins of mankind, Helen Keller, Semioticism, and the incredible Delta Factor. Confronting difficult philosophical questions with a novelist's eye, Percy rewards us again and again with his keen insights into the way that language possesses all of u ...more
Paperback, 272 pages
Published April 28th 2000 by Picador USA (first published 1975)
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Ian Mullet
Nov 25, 2007 Ian Mullet rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: fans of walker percy novels
despite the upchuck-inducing cover of the edition that comes up on goodreads, this is a good book, indeed a good read.

while he's more famous for his novels, i enjoy his essays more. in his novels he always strains for opportunities to wax philosophical and in his essays he finally has free reign to just go for it. "the delta factor" and "man on a train" stand out in my memory.

"the delta factor" opens with six pages of questions, mostly about the existential conundrum that we are sad when we sho
Feb 03, 2011 Leif rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: re-read
I recommend reading "Lost in the Cosmos" before this one. This is a collection of essays dealing with language and what our use of symbols and signs tells us about our essential humanity. If you are not a Christian, you should keep in mind that Percy is (although NOT a fundamentalist, young-earther; in fact, he is equally critical of fundamentalists on both sides of the God question), and it informs every argument he makes. If you know that up front, it should not stop you from enjoying and lear ...more
Percy attempts to define language, define language processing and more. I particularly enjoyed "The Delta Factor," a re-telling of language triangles work. Percy turns the commonplace communication/rhetorical triangle on its head. Perhaps Helen Keller the listener received Anne Sullivan's message of "water" and understood the subject of water as liquid. Or maybe Keller the listener heard both water and liquid as messenger/communicator with Sullivan being outside the triangle. Sullivan would then ...more
Jul 16, 2014 Dan rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
An interesting and-but dense book that reads very much like it was written—put together over a long period of time, without much regard for the way it would read all at once.

Most readers could probably just skip to Lost in the Cosmos and The Moviegoer, which share not only ideas but fragments of scenes and scenarios with the essays in this book. But Percy fans should, at a minimum, read "The Loss of the Creature," "The Message in the Bottle," and "Symbol as Hermeneutic in Existentialism" for lon
May 20, 2011 Ilze rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Committed linguists
It's a miracle I made it - yes, I actually READ EVERY PAGE - all the way to the end. But then, I might've known there's trouble when I realized that the first chapter consists almost in its entirety of questions ... only to discover the origin of it all, Walker Percy had read about Helen Keller's acquisition of language and this led him to ask questions. I'm not sure how many times he repeats for us how Keller suddenly realized that "water" = "water" spelt on her hand when her tutor let the liqu ...more
Jun 21, 2016 P rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Well, something you don’t see every day: a Catholic Peircean. Percy would have, I think, greatly benefited from reading Merleau-Ponty (just as the latter would have benefited from reading Peirce), as the great phenomenologist of embodied perception, intersubjective linguistic experience, and insistence on the value of empiricism. Many of the questions here would have dissolved or been redirected. Still, Merleau-Ponty’s dyadicism is insufficient, and here the triadic semiotics of Peirce and Percy ...more
Sarah Duggan
Full disclosure: I skimmed sections because I can only handle so much linguistic theory. There are some good Percy witticisms in here, including ideas that would become the plots of his novels The Last Gentleman and Love In the Ruins. The snarky observations about the state of Catholic literature in the modern world were my favorite. If you like his novels, this is like the special features commentary track to his stories.
Rebecca Rebecca
Jan 04, 2016 Rebecca Rebecca rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Interesting essays on language, from a perspective inspired by C. S. Pierce.
Jul 20, 2009 booklady marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to booklady by: Robert Moynihan
Robert Moynihan, reporting from Rome, "Inside the Vatican Magazine" Newsflash, Letter from Rome, #22: 'I studied the works of Walker Percy, the American Catholic novelist, when I was in college, at Harvard. I went to meet Percy in 1977. His most important book is a collection of philosophical essays entitled The Message in the Bottle.

The entire goal of his writing was to show how the historical events of Christian history constituted a "message" which brought life to people who were in the posi
Jun 19, 2011 Becky rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: unfinished
Didn't end up finishing this! Many of the essays were very enjoyable and weave together linguistics, existentialism, theology, anthropology, and literary criticism. The book as a whole is something of a love letter to the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, and the author has interesting things to say about the extent to which we can say meaningful things about the world, explain scientific behavior in a world of cultural relativity, and whether "scientific" solutions to problems actually make people happy. ...more
Aug 28, 2007 Lowry rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone who cares about language
(See my review of The Moviegoer.) In this book you will find, in discursive form, the ideas that all of Percy's novels are about. Which is not to say that they are dry or uninviting here; it's fascinating to see how they play out in a different genre of writing. Percy was essentially a philosopher of language, a student of how it is that we are able (or not) to make a meaning jump the gap from one human mind to another. If that interests you, and it is or should be a mighty interesting subject t ...more
Kevin Estabrook
I enjoyed several of these essays. Many are sublime at points. Though some were more technical than i had interest in. Having only read "Lost in the Cosmos" (in my top 3 favorite books) and "Love in the Ruins" (enjoyable), perhaps i will return to these essays after reading more of Percy's fiction.
language theory and kind of ...antisemiotics? A bit over my head and out of date, and would have been more influential if he'd been listened to then. Now, kind of a curiosity for crystallizing at a tangent ideas that we've come to in a roundabout way (if you like to keep super close track of what Chomsky is or has been or may well be up to, this is may be more interesting to you.)
There are some true gems in this book. Honest to God though, some of the analogies he employs are absolutely beyond me. Maybe one day I will understand the title essay of the book, but at the moment the castaway scenario seems just a mess of a metaphor. And now I am running, simply racing even, back to my dear Owen Barfield to regain clarity.
Jon Trott
Nov 07, 2007 Jon Trott rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Folks Smarter than Me
Yes, this book is about semiotics and all sorts of really cool stuff that makes your brain go "WoooOOOOO!" Trouble for me was that my brain, after a while, went "FZZzzzzzt" -- obviously not well enough wired to take in all that Percy talks about here. (For a one chapter rendition of the same stuff, see the chapter on semiotics in his "Lost in the Cosmos.")
Jan 19, 2012 Brett rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I love Walker Percy. But this was too dry and too repetitive to keep my interest at all. It asks some interesting questions, but never really answers them, but just repeats the same objections to science's current answers to the questions over an over.
Seth Holler
Dec 21, 2011 Seth Holler rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Read mostly in Sept 2011, but the final chapter - the one for which he says, in the first chapter, there probably is no audience, on 7-5-12. At that time I also reread my notes from each chapter and revised my rating from 4 to 5 stars.
Jul 02, 2011 Craig rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Some of it is interesting; but the author is a little 'out there,' and the chapters are hard to follow as they are a series of independent articles that don't really mesh together in a book very well. Some of the insights are true gems, but hard to find.
Dec 17, 2014 Richard rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: project-2014

The subtitle has nothing to do with lgbtq, etc.

This book breaks no new ground. It does provide, as overview, starting points for those wanting to think about being, language, consciousness, reality, "the" mind, etc.

Read this book, etc.

Jennings Peeler
Aug 21, 2014 Jennings Peeler rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: project_2014

The subtitle has nothing to do with lgbtq, etc.

This book breaks no new ground. It does provide, as overview, starting points for those wanting to think about being, language, consciousness, reality, "the" mind, etc.

Read this book, etc.

I skimmed about half of this book. It's not an easy read, and these days I don't have the mental energy needed.
Mar 18, 2008 Nick rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Get ready for your brain to hurt - and then to feel totally enlightened about how language effects us in ways that separate us from other animals.
Jul 21, 2009 Donna rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: walker-percy
One of my very favorite collections of essays. "The Delta Factor" can bring me to tears most any time. It's the most poignant rendering of the human condition I have ever read.
Adam Ross
Feb 20, 2010 Adam Ross rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm re-reading this for a piece I'm writing for and can't express what a pleasure it is to hear Percy's voice again.
Jul 27, 2010 Elise rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I didn't feel the need to read this whole book. It is incredibly insightful, and well-written, but a bit too technical at times. The first essay is one of my all-time favorites!
Douglas Wilson
Feb 03, 2009 Douglas Wilson rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: wordsmithing
Really fine.
Stacey Douglas
Stacey Douglas rated it really liked it
Jul 06, 2012
Lauren rated it liked it
Nov 11, 2012
Kenneth rated it liked it
Jun 28, 2007
Andrew Kooy
I haven't read it yet but it is on my ever dwindling to-read list.
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Walker Percy (1916–1990) was one of the most prominent American writers of the twentieth century. Born in Birmingham, Alabama, he was the oldest of three brothers in an established Southern family that contained both a Civil War hero and a US senator. Acclaimed for his poetic style and moving depictions of the alienation of modern American culture, Percy was the bestselling author of six fiction t ...more
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“I propose that English poetry and biology should be taught as usual, but that at irregular intervals, poetry students should find dogfishes on their desks and biology students should find Shakespeare sonnets on their dissecting boards. I am serious in declaring that a Sarah Lawrence English major who began poking about in a dogfish with a bobby pin would learn more in thirty minutes than a biology major in a whole semester; and that the latter upon reading on her dissecting board That time of year Thou may’st in me behold When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang Upon those boughs which shake against the cold— Bare ruin’d choirs where late the sweet birds sang. might catch fire at the beauty of it.” 2 likes
“A man is after all himself and no other, and not merely an example of a class of similar selves. If such a man is deprived of the means of being a self in a world made over by science for his use and enjoyment, he is like a ghost at a feast. He becomes invisible. That is why people in the modern age took photographs by the million: to prove despite their deepest suspicions to the contrary that they were not invisible.” 1 likes
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