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 OâConnor does not belong in the company of Ernest Hemingway and Katherine Anne Porter but in the company of Sophocles because her work âserves to teach man his dishonor.â 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 OâConnorâs Violence
And the Violent Bear It Away: O'Connor and the Menace of Apocalyptic Terrorism
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âFor [the fiction writer],â Flannery OâConnor said, âthe bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima aï¬ects life on the Oconee River, and thereâs not anything he can do about itâ (MM 77). A devout Catholic living in the Cold War, when Manichean politics brought the world to the brink of Armageddon, OâConnor often commented on the atomic bombâs 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 councilâs condemnation of a ânumber of crimes and...
âGod May Strike You Thisawayâ: Flannery O'Connor and Simone Weil on Affliction and Joy
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There is a persistent misgiving that Flannery OâConnor 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 OâConnor, in letters to Ted Spivey less than a year apart, described The Violent Bear It Away before it appeared as a novel âbuilt around a baptism,â and after it appeared as âa very minor hymn to the Eucharistâ (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 OâConnorâs "A Stroke of Good Fortune"
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Thomas Haddox, in his article on urban community in âA Stroke of Good Fortune,â refers to the story as one of the most âunlovedâ of Flannery OâConnorâs works, but the extremely diverse interpretations of the story by critics suggests its significanceâif 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 OâConnor complained that reviewers were describing her narratives as âhorror storiesâ (HB 90). Considering all the morbid images they encountered, the reviewers could hardly be blamed for doing so. As The New Yorker observed, a âmacabre airâ 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 âA Good Man Is Hard to Find,â Flannery OâConnor warned her audience to âbe on the lookout for such things as the action of grace in the Grandmotherâs soul, and not for the dead bodiesâ (MM 113). Perhaps OâConnor 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 OâConnor 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 OâConnor and Cormac McCarthy
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Cormac McCarthy was raised a Roman Catholic in Tennessee, and his fiction abounds with the âdistorted images of Christâ that Flannery OâConnor saw as particularly characteristic of the region they shared in common (âThe Catholic Novelist in the Protestant South,â CW 859). Yet he cannot be deemed a Catholic writer in the same way that she can. Unlike OâConnor, McCarthy has refused to...
Shiftletâs Choice: O'Connor's Fordist Love Story
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In the opening pages of Flannery OâConnorâs short story âThe Life You Save May Be Your Ownâ (1953), the tramp Tom T. Shiftlet arrives at the hardscrabble farm of Lucynell Crater and her daughter of the same name, a âlarge girlâ with âpink-gold hair and eyes as blue as a peacockâs neck.â Entering the Cratersâ yard, Shiftlet pauses for a moment to admire the sunset. Turning to approach the...
III. Theorizing O'Connor's Violence
OâConnor as Miscegenationist
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A variety of positions on the topic of OâConnor and race have been presented reasonably. I can agree with Timothy P. Caron that OâConnorâs southern religiosity ironically led her into problems on the subject of race, or with Julie Armstrongâs whiteness-studies approach to OâConnorâs works, in which Armstrong finds some stereotyping. I also agree with Margaret Earley Whitt...
âThe Hermeneutics of Suspicionâ: 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: âStrange things is a-happening every day!â That was all over fifty-four years agoâI first met...
Madness and Confinement in Michel Foucault and Flannery OâConnor
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Among the strangest of bedfellows, Michel Foucault and Flannery OâConnor 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 Å½iÅ¾ek
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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 OâConnor drives me and, it would seem, just about everyone else who values her work. We all know, thanks to OâConnorâs 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 Beckâs translation highly appropriate to the state of OâConnor studies today, perhaps even oï¬ering us a bit of wisdom. More important, I find OâConnor 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