Flannery O’Connor in the Age of Terrorism
Essays on Violence and Grace
Publication Year: 2010
Published by: The University of Tennessee Press
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The Trappist monk Thomas Merton once wrote that Flannery O’Connor does not belong in the company of Ernest Hemingway and Katherine Anne Porter but in the company of Sophocles because her work “serves to teach man his dishonor.” Our current cultural moment deals in clear ways with issues of dishonor, with issues of the place of the United States in the world community...
I. Reading O’Connor’s Violence
And the Violent Bear It Away: O'Connor and the Menace of Apocalyptic Terrorism
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“For [the fiction writer],” Flannery O’Connor said, “the bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima aﬀects life on the Oconee River, and there’s not anything he can do about it” (MM 77). A devout Catholic living in the Cold War, when Manichean politics brought the world to the brink of Armageddon, O’Connor often commented on the atomic bomb’s fallout on her imagination. Given her...
The Violence of Technique and the Technique of Violence
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Though he did not live to see much of the twenty-first century, Pope John Paul II may have best articulated its core spiritual concerns. The purpose of his work has been to map out and challenge the ways in which contemporary Western culture has devalued human life. In his 1995 encyclical Evangelium Vitae, he quoted the second Vatican council’s condemnation of a “number of crimes and...
“God May Strike You Thisaway”: Flannery O'Connor and Simone Weil on Affliction and Joy
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There is a persistent misgiving that Flannery O’Connor delighted in death, that she nurtured an incurable malignancy of the imagination, that a fundamental malevolence pervades her fiction, and thus that she reveled in the destruction of bodies if not also souls. Yet the discerning reader will concede that in both her personal life and her literary work few other writers have enabled us to name so...
Eating the Bread of Life: Muted Violence in The Violent Bear It Away
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Flannery O’Connor, in letters to Ted Spivey less than a year apart, described The Violent Bear It Away before it appeared as a novel “built around a baptism,” and after it appeared as “a very minor hymn to the Eucharist” (HB 341, 387). The first comment echoes an earlier letter to Elizabeth Bishop and has often served as a key to the interpretation of the book (CW 1092). The latter comment has...
Toward a Consistent Ethic of Life in O’Connor’s "A Stroke of Good Fortune"
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Thomas Haddox, in his article on urban community in “A Stroke of Good Fortune,” refers to the story as one of the most “unloved” of Flannery O’Connor’s works, but the extremely diverse interpretations of the story by critics suggests its significance—if not its beloved status (4). These perspectives cover an impressive range of issues and approaches; they variously read the protagonist...
II. Connecting O'Connor's Violence
Gory Stories: O'Connor and American Horror
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A few weeks after the publication of A Good Man Is Hard to Find, Flannery O’Connor complained that reviewers were describing her narratives as “horror stories” (HB 90). Considering all the morbid images they encountered, the reviewers could hardly be blamed for doing so. As The New Yorker observed, a “macabre air” hangs over the collection (93). A Good Man features scenes of...
All the Dead Bodies: O'Connor and Noir
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In her prepared remarks before reading from her notorious psycho-killer story “A Good Man Is Hard to Find,” Flannery O’Connor warned her audience to “be on the lookout for such things as the action of grace in the Grandmother’s soul, and not for the dead bodies” (MM 113). Perhaps O’Connor worried that people would associate her fiction with the school of dead bodies known...
How the Symbol Means: Deferral vs. Confrontation in The Sound and the Fury and "The Artificial Nigger"
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Flannery O’Connor was in a peculiar position in regard to literary modernism, as I have argued elsewhere. On the one hand, she was an heir and proponent of prose techniques developed by writers such as Gustave Flaubert, Henry James (especially as commented upon by Percy Lubbock in The Craft of Fiction), and James Joyce. The presuppositions of this poetics were impressed upon her from...
Violence, Nature, and Prophecy in Flannery O’Connor and Cormac McCarthy
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Cormac McCarthy was raised a Roman Catholic in Tennessee, and his fiction abounds with the “distorted images of Christ” that Flannery O’Connor saw as particularly characteristic of the region they shared in common (“The Catholic Novelist in the Protestant South,” CW 859). Yet he cannot be deemed a Catholic writer in the same way that she can. Unlike O’Connor, McCarthy has refused to...
Shiftlet’s Choice: O'Connor's Fordist Love Story
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In the opening pages of Flannery O’Connor’s short story “The Life You Save May Be Your Own” (1953), the tramp Tom T. Shiftlet arrives at the hardscrabble farm of Lucynell Crater and her daughter of the same name, a “large girl” with “pink-gold hair and eyes as blue as a peacock’s neck.” Entering the Craters’ yard, Shiftlet pauses for a moment to admire the sunset. Turning to approach the...
III. Theorizing O'Connor's Violence
O’Connor as Miscegenationist
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A variety of positions on the topic of O’Connor and race have been presented reasonably. I can agree with Timothy P. Caron that O’Connor’s southern religiosity ironically led her into problems on the subject of race, or with Julie Armstrong’s whiteness-studies approach to O’Connor’s works, in which Armstrong finds some stereotyping. I also agree with Margaret Earley Whitt...
“The Hermeneutics of Suspicion”: Problems in Interpreting the Life of Flannery O'Connor
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In the 1950s, down at Andalusia on the front porch, I once told Flannery about a wonderful African American gospel singer during that time, performing mostly in the South, Sister Rosetta Tharpe. Sister Rosetta Tharpe had a great performance piece she belted out that I liked to sing: “Strange things is a-happening every day!” That was all over fifty-four years ago—I first met...
Madness and Confinement in Michel Foucault and Flannery O’Connor
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Among the strangest of bedfellows, Michel Foucault and Flannery O’Connor are social critics whose work exposes the force inherent in medical culling and legal incarceration, whether perpetuated by the European Enlightenment or a small southern town. Foucault unmasks the socially edifying function of asylums and confinement in his influential Madness and Civilization, recently retranslated and...
On Belief, Conflict, and Universality: Flannery O'Connor, Walter Benn Michaels, and Slavoj Žižek
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This is an essay born of exasperation, of the futility that I feel in confronting the interpretive impasse to which Flannery O’Connor drives me and, it would seem, just about everyone else who values her work. We all know, thanks to O’Connor’s essays and correspondence, what her intentions as a writer were; we all know whether we are persuaded by her arguments; and we have probably decimated...
Everything That Rises Does Not Converge: The State of O'Connor Studies
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However odd some may find beginning a survey of literary criticism with such a doctrinal Christian epigraph, I cannot help but find this passage in Beck’s translation highly appropriate to the state of O’Connor studies today, perhaps even oﬀering us a bit of wisdom. More important, I find O’Connor using similar language about her own writing when late in her career she writes a long...
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Page Count: 296
Illustrations: 15 halftones
Publication Year: 2010