Friday, April 25, 2008

I never tire of Flannery O'Connor

For the past week, over at Scot McKnight's blog, a small discussion has been going on in several threads (“On Reading Fiction 1,” “On Reading Fiction 2,” etc., through “On Reading Fiction 5”) using Flannery O'Connor's short story, “Revelation,” as a jumping-off point. I have joined in, and here are some more of my comments. (If it is confusing to read just my comments, go over there to read the entire conversation.)

#1: [name], what will be left when the wood, hay, stubble, and “all the rest” (to use your words) have been burned away will be the gold, the silver, and the precious stones. And just as it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God, it will also surely be a fearful thing to be saved, yet so as by fire.

I know this doesn’t sound at all postmodern, but it’s what “the Scripture saith.”

[name], I didn’t read O’Connor in the 60’s, I read her in the 70’s, but it was pretty shocking stuff even then. Reading Wise Blood prompted no less a personage than Evelyn Waugh to say of it, “If this is really the unaided work of a young lady, it is a remarkable product.” In “Revelation,” what don’t you find shocking about, “Mrs. Turpin knew just exactly how much Negro flattery was worth and it added to her rage”? What don’t you find shocking about, “You could never say anything intelligent to a nigger. You could talk at them but not with them”? Read all of her stories; eventually you will be shocked.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: If reading Flannery O’Connor doesn’t shock you, you aren’t paying close enough attention.

#3: [name], I can’t wait for you to read “The Lame Shall Enter First”! And are you saying you haven’t read “A Good Man Is Hard To Find”? Tsk, Tsk (jk)!!! Flannery’s second novel, The Violent Bear It Away, has a very high “shock quotient,” in my opinion. Try all of her work, a little at a time. Eventually, mark my words, you’ll be shocked. (I must have a very low shock threshold: I was shocked from the get-go, after reading “Everything That Rises Must Converge” in 1975.) It’s also very instructive to read Mystery and Manners, her non-fiction volume, to find where she’s coming from.

Flannery O’Connor said, “While the South is hardly Christ-centered, it most certainly is Christ-haunted.” Then there’s William Faulkner’s famous statement, “The past is never dead; in many places it’s not even past.” I don’t think the times are all that different, in the South or anywhere else. The landscape may have changed, but people’s hearts haven’t.

#4: [name], I have never thought about “the level of thoughtfulness and complexity within Mrs. Turpin” before or that O’Connor uses it to “jab at” the reader’s assurance of superiority to Mrs. Turpin.

Flannery was definitely attempting to wake up readers of her fiction from their complacent sleep, to get a specific message across through her characters. Even the trees and the sun are characters in her stories in the sense that Flannery used them to shock the reader into looking at things another way.

I think perhaps you are also right in thinking that we readers are being “tweaked” and challenged about our assumptions that transformations are total, all-at-once experiences. Given that Flannery O’Connor was a devout Roman Catholic and not a Four Spiritual Laws evangelical, that is certainly a very real possibility. I generally read “out of” her work, though, and not “into” it.

I never tire of uncovering layers and layers of meaning and motive in the works of Flannery O’Connor.
[End of comments]

But assuming that even readers of my blog will eventually grow weary of my fascination with all things Flannery O'Connor, this ends my series of posts about her.

1 comment:

  1. Gol-lee, Mr. Bob B. ! You're going to stop writing about Flannery O'Conner just when your posts have got me about ready to try again to read some of her work? I started on an O'Conner book (can't now remember the title) some years back and became overwhelmed; I might be mature enough now to take her on again! You've piqued my interest. I'll let you know.

    I very much enjoy reading your posts (and check every day to see if you have shared some new (to me)point of view.

    Thank you SO much for your very kind comments on my blog! I'm truly honored that you've paid a visit and even more pleased that you took time to let me know it.

    I hope you and your lady-wife are having a pleasant weekend. It's been beautiful here today after a rainy, stormy week.