Saturday, April 25, 2009
Bits and snippets from the one and only...
“Anything that comes out of the South is going to be called grotesque by the northern reader, unless it is grotesque, in which case it is going to be called realistic.”
“Everywhere I go I’m asked if I think the university stifles writers. My opinion is that they don’t stifle enough of them. There’s many a best-seller that could have been prevented by a good teacher.”
“The novelist with Christian concerns will find in modern life distortions which are repugnant to him, and his problem will be to make these appear as distortions to an audience which is used to seeing them as natural; and he may well be forced to take ever more violent means to get his vision across to this hostile audience. When you can assume that your audience holds the same beliefs you do, you can relax a little and use more normal means of talking to it; when you have to assume that it does not, then you have to make your vision apparent by shock -- to the hard of hearing you shout, and for the almost-blind you draw large and startling figures.”
“You would probably do just as well to get that plot business out of your head and start simply with a character or anything that you can make come alive...Wouldn’t it be better for you to discover a meaning in what you write rather than to impose one? Nothing you write will lack meaning because the meaning is in you.”
“When the Protestant hears what he supposes to be the voice of the Lord, he follows it regardless of whether it runs counter to his church’s teachings. The Catholic believes any voice he may hear comes from the Devil unless it is in accordance with the teachings of the Church.”
“To a lot of Protestants I know, monks and nuns are fanatics, none greater. And to a lot of the monks and nuns I know, my Protestant prophets are fanatics. For my part, I think the only difference between them is that if you are a Catholic and have this intensity of belief you join a convent and are heard from no more; whereas if you are a Protestant and have it, there is no convent for you to join and you go about in the world, getting into all sorts of trouble and drawing the wrath of people who don’t believe anything much at all down on your head.”
“St. Cyril of Jerusalem said to the catechumens, ‘The dragon sits by the side of the road, watching those who pass. Beware lest he devour you. We go to the Father of Souls, but it is necessary to pass by the dragon.’ No matter what form the dragon may take, it is of this mysterious passage past him, or into his jaws, that stories of any depth will always be concerned to tell, and this being the case, it requires considerable courage at any time, in any country, not to turn away from the storyteller.”
“One of the tendencies of our age is to use the suffering of children to discredit the goodness of God, and once you have discredited His goodness, you are done with Him. The Aylmers whom Hawthorne saw as a menace have multiplied. Busy cutting down human imperfection, they are making headway also on the raw material of the good. Ivan Karamazov cannot believe, as long as one child is in torment; Camus’ hero cannot accept the divinity of Christ, because of the massacre of the innocents. In this popular pity, we mark our gain in sensibility and our loss in vision. If other ages felt less, they saw more, even though they saw with the blind, prophetical, unsentimental eye of acceptance, which is to say faith. In the absence of this faith now, we govern by tenderness. It is a tenderness which, long since cut off from the person of Christ, is wrapped in theory. When tenderness is detached from the source of tenderness, its logical outcome is terror. It ends in forced-labor camps and in the fumes of the gas chamber.”
“You will have found Christ when you are concerned with other people’s sufferings and not your own.”
All of Flannery O’Connor’s fiction, none of which is quoted above, can be found in her two volumes of short stories (A Good Man Is Hard To Find and Everything That Rises Must Converge, plus The Complete Stories, a combination of the first two plus several stories she wrote and submitted in lieu of a master’s thesis while attending the prestigious Iowa Writers’ Workshop) and her two novels (Wise Blood and The Violent Bear It Away).
All of the bits and snippets quoted in this post are taken from two other sources, Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose by Flannery O’Connor and The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O’Connor by Flannery O’Connor (Sally Fitzgerald, editor), which, if your local library does not carry, shame on them.
Flannery O’Connor died of lupus at the age of 39. Had she lived, she would have turned 84 last month.
(1962 Photo By Associated Press)