Binx: Why He Searches and What He Finds

Binx says the search, “is what anyone would undertake if he were not sunk in the everydayness of his own life.” (13) But how do we know what is everyday? We can imagine that, for everyone, everydayness becomes something different and personal, a unique coating of dust that gets in our joints and traps us in one routine, stiffening us until we can’t bend out of our rutted path long enough to find a rotation. Binx terms “a good rotation” as “the experience of the new beyond the expectation of the experiencing of the new.” (144) In The Moviegoer, his search is a center point for not only himself and the story, but for us readers as well. Yet, by the end, he has little to say on the matter, and merely continues on in summing up his life before politely leaving us and fading away altogether. Why would such an integral focu be so easily brushed under the rug? I would say it is best summed up by what Binx’s cousin, Kate, says to him when she explains how she has ‘found her freedom’ and quite her therapy: “But even if Merle knew [that a person is completely free] there is no way in the world I could have taken his advice. How strange to think that you cannot pass along the discovery.” (114) In essence this can be taken to understand that the search cannot be explained or told, but must be found individually by everyone. Binx has nothing more to tell of his search, at the story’s end, as we have walked with him the whole way and seen it for ourselves; and if we haven’t seen it, then he cannot explain it, because we must draw our own conclusions, for all searches can, in some way, help us in our own search, and no one but yourself can truly find that for you.

 

Binx’s search digs a hole through the text, and as it does so, it swirls us down a drain with it, sinking us into the malaise: the dull, dreary droning of life that must be experienced in order set us on the path to start our own search.  The malaise is natural; it is the beaten path that people wear themselves into. It is the laziness that steals upon you when nothing ever changes but the calendar day. And it is not so much a question of escaping it; for Binx does not manage to outrun his malaise throughout the book. Rather, you must learn to balance with it, and to find enough change and growth in life to reach a point where you walk with the malaise, but neither of you carry the other. The way to do this, is to find a route where you are not truly alone; this does not mean you must have a person as your companion, though Binx says otherwise and seems to outright disdain the thought of taking up a hobby or other passion instead, stating that such a thing, as he sees it, is merely a placebo and not a treatment for the lasting effects of the malaise. Given the transcendentalism laced within The Moviegoer, and the questions of religion—for when Binx first introduces “the nature of the search”, he teases us with the semi-rhetorical question: “What do you seek—God?”—it can also be understood that finding company and contentment in one’s own person or soul may prove the needed balance. But what Binx needs seems to be just what he both longs for and seeks to escape.

 

Binx dislikes the everydayness of life; it can be said he might consider himself above it, much as his aunt considers herself above a certain “lower” class of people. Binx proves himself acutely aware—almost hypervigilant even—of his environment, and especially of the people in it. He remains fixated on people, be it one of his string of girls he plays around with, seeking companionship through, or through some member of his family or looser acquaintances. Yet, he does not click with many at all; they seem to float through one another like ghosts—a symptom of the malaise that blankets all, as Binx says, of it, “The world is lost to you, the world and the people in it, and there remains only you and the world and you no more able to be in the world than Banquo’s ghost.” (120) Otherwise, they remain unable to approach one another at all; in Binx’s meeting with Harold, a supposed close acquaintance of the past, he describes their disconnection as “[standing] off the peninsula like ships becalmed—unable to move.” (210) The only two he does truly understand, and who sincerely understand him, are his cousin, Kate, and his half-brother, Lonnie, who both ironically represent one of the two most humdrum paths that you might imagine in the search for your place and yourself: normalcy, and religion.

 

In order to understand what “normalcy” is, especially concerning Kate and Binx, who are not truly as “normal” and humdrum as other people are portrayed in The Moviegoer, we have to define normalcy by the times of the novel. In the 1950s, despite the great changes that had begun rocking the country, there remained a powerful current of convention, especially in the South. Women, especially those of higher standing, like Kate, were expected to marry and carry on the family line. Men, too, were generally expected to marry, get a good job, and become a pillar of society. Part of Binx’s search seems to be to escape this, yet he also seems to long for it by how he runs through strings of girls and seeks some way to be happy with them. A discovery he makes, in his journey for the search, is that normalcy isn’t a river with a single current and direction, but an ocean that spreads out vast possibility, with thousands of niches that he can fit himself into, in his own way. By marrying Kate, someone he can understand and who understands him, he has taken up the role of someone who does his duty and becomes what is expected of him. But he also does this on his own terms. Though he does marry the person his mother desired him to, and he does choose to follow his aunt’s suggestion of studying medical school, he does them in his own time and his own way. A central concern Binx seems to have is that he will become “nobody nowhere” or “anyone anywhere” and lose his sense of self by becoming merely another conforming member of the masses. Yet in his fear of failing to distinguish himself, he fails to progress much and continues to rattle around, unsatisfied, until he finally happens upon the choices: helping Kate, talking with Kate, spending time with Sharon, going to see his mother’s family, going to Chicago with Kate, deciding to marry Kate– in essence, choosing to choose something that forces him to truly take a step forward.

 

As for religion, Binx says, “Other people, so I have read, are pios as children and later become skeptical. . . Not I. My unbelief was invincible from the beginning. I could never make head or tail of God.” (145) This might seem an odd quote, especially given his statements of how devote his mother’s family is, and seeing strong example of this through his interactions with his half-brother, Lonnie, who proves himself highly devoted and interested in the subject of religion. And it does seem that the inner searching for the soul and religion– an aspect of the transcendentalist tones pervasive in parts of The Moviegoer– is as typical a search, to the average American, as Jay Gatsby’s American Dream was, and still is. But it is not the search that Binx can comprehend; in fact, he states: “If God himself had appeared to me, it would have changed nothing. . .I have only to hear the word God and a curtain comes down in my head.” (145) This may be because God, while He can be found, He cannot be found in His pure form, unaltered by human interpretation. And it may be that everyone’s search is from a different aspect of themselves; Binx’s is not spiritual, but physical and emotional. He needs something to do with himself, and he needs someone to do it with.

 

Another aspect of Binx, that surely factors into his search and drive for something that clicks, is that he may well suffer from PTSD. He has served in the Korean War, and he was traumatically physically injured; it is stated that a friend actually saved his life, implying the circumstances he found himself in become quite seriously dire. Moreover, he suffered infection of his wound, as he later tells Sharon. These are quite enough to open the door to his suffering this ailment, and his behavior throughout the story may prove it. Binx’s great fixation on people and description of them and things around him may be taken as a facet of the hypervigilance that often stalks those suffering PTSD. Perhaps even his search itself, his need to find something, is fueled by a disquiet in his mind that somewhere, something may be wrong and he has to find it before he can truly rest. Yet, he also has difficulty focusing on things, such as when he recounts his ‘brief stint’ into research and found himself constantly distracted and seeking elsewhere. He also suffers insomnia, and says, “I do not try to sleep.” (86) He has odd dreams and sleep disturbances; at his mother’s house he wakes very suddenly and early, “amid the smell of dreams and of the years come back and peopled and blown away like smoke.” (144) He also says similar things when first beginning his explanation of the search: “I dreamed of the war, no, not quite dreamed but woke with the taste of it in my mouth, the queasy-quince taste of 1951 and the Orient.” (10) He goes on to recount, vaguely, the time he was injured and lying under a bush. He has had a flashback, though does not cage it in such terms; PTSD still was not well-understood until during and after the later Vietnam War, and even then it remained ‘shameful’ and understudied for some time. When he wakes at his mother’s house, he experiences distress and anger:

In a sudden rage, as if I had been seized by a fit, I roll over and fall in a heap on the floor and lie shivering on the boards, worse off than the miserablest muskrat in the swamp. Nevertheless I vow: I’m a son of a bitch if I’ll be defeated by the everdayness. (145)

This reads reminiscent of the stories of returning veterans struggling to fit into civilian life again. Part of Binx’s connection with Kate, and his search, stems from his feelings of not fitting in and being generally uncomfortable and dissatisfied with things. He also appears to suffer from depression, having constant ‘low fits’ like Kate’s downward swings, and often viewing the world in a gloomy and isolated manner. As a final similarity between Binx and battle-wearied soldiers, his statements in Chapter Two, Section 9, regarding seeing death in humans, mirrors a statement by the narrator of A Rumor of War. Binx says: “For some time now the impression has been growing upon me that everyone is dead. . . It happens when I speak to people. In the middle of a sentence it will come over me: yes, beyond a doubt this is death.” (99) In A Rumor of War, author, Philip Caputo, says:

I saw their living mouths moving in conversation and their dead mouths grinning the taut-drawn grins of corpses. Their living eyes I saw, and their dead eyes still-staring. Had it not been for the fear that I was going crazy, I would have found it an interesting experience, a trip such as no drug could possibly produce. Asleep and dreaming, I saw dead men living; awake, I saw living men dead. (A Rumor of War)

Furthermore, the author, Walker Percy’s, opening quote: “…the specific character of despair is precisely this: it is unaware of being despair,” by Søren Kierkegaard. (The Sickness Unto Death) This rings powerfully with Binx’s character as well. He does not merely walk under the shade of a malaise, but, without something to do, and steps made forward, he is a malaise himself, possibly suffering from conditions he has little name or thought for, and that keeps him from being able to advance, as he otherwise might, along the road of his search.

 

In conclusion, I would say, that Binx has made great strides in his search for himself, his place, and his meaning. He has understood that settling down is not a chain to prevent his search, but affords him a companion he can search with and thus venture further on in his journey. His spirituality remains in question; he seems to find no real use for it, or interest in it, but so did he with the thought of really marrying and doing what his aunt and family wanted– he repeatedly stated he lacked the inclination for it. So it may be that the next leg of his search will be to turn towards God, or further puzzle out his feelings towards such things. For surely the search is never over and done until you yourself have passed, and even then, your former existence might be helping someone else to begin or go through their search. It continues on, rotating and cycling like Binx’s ‘experiments’ of the same experience years apart. Binx has, for now, resolved the true beginning of his search. But in the future, it might come about that he begins again, and again, and each time finds himself the same, but each time stretches further, until he can at last reach the heart of what he seeks, which only he himself can truly know and understand. We, as readers, can but interpret it and seek to find our own meaning through his.

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