Thursday, July 21, 2011

Flannery O'Connor--The Fiction Writer and His Country

            O’Connor wrote this in response to a Life magazine article which asked where the novels which were speaking for America were—and why novels no longer conveyed joy.  To O’Connor, the writer can only represent herself.  What’s interesting to me is her characterization of the current understanding of Southern literature:
Most readers these days must be sufficiently sick of hearing about Southern writers and Southern writing and what so many reviewers insist upon calling the “Southern school.”  No one has ever made plain just what the Southern school is or which writers belong to it. Sometimes, when it is most respectable, it seems to mean the little group of Agrarians that flourished at Vanderbilt in the twenties; but more often the term conjures up an image of Gothic monstrosities and the idea of a preoccupation with everything deformed and grotesque.  Most of us are considered, I believe, to be unhappy combinations of Poe and Erskine Caldwell. (802)
She goes on to say that while such outsiders consider that southerners are anguished people, anguished because of their isolation from the rest of the country—though O’Connor notes that
this would be news to most Southern writers.  The anguish that most of us have observed for some time now has been caused not by the fact that the South is alienated from the rest of the country, but by the fact that it is not alienated enough, that every day we are getting more and more like the rest of the country, but by the fact that it is not alienated enough, that every day we are getting more and more like the rest of the country, that we are being forced out, not only of our many sins but of our few virtues. (802)
To O’Connor, this increasing assimilation has led to Southern writers being more self-consciousness of their Southern-ness, and it is this which is hurting Southern fiction.
            O’Connor claims that it is the Christian writer—not one who writes from a sentimental perspective, but rather one who writes with a true “respect for mystery,” who is able to write the most striking fiction—as the greatest fiction is that in which the “writer’s moral sense coincides with his dramatic sense” (804).  As O’Connor says, “I see from the standpoint of Christian orthodoxy.  This means that for me the meaning of life is centered in our Redemption by Christ and that what I see in its relation to that.  I don’t think that this is a position that can be taken halfway or one that is particularly easy in these times to make transparent in fiction” (805)—and it is her Christian perspective which gives her “the sharpest eyes for the grotesque, for the perverse, for the unacceptable” (805).  It is the Christian’s perception of the “distorted” which she tries to then convey to her readers—and as her readers most likely will see such distortions as natural, she will be “forced to take ever more violent means to get his vision across to this hostile audience” (805): “to the hard of hearing you shout, and for the almost blind you draw large and startling figures” (806).

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