Conversations on Flannery O'Connor

Mars Hill Audio is an excellent audio journal, delivered as bi-monthly cassettes or CDs. Yesterday they announced a new “Conversations” item on Flannery O’Connor. The following is from the press release.

Flannery O’Connor strongly disliked fiction that attempted to be uplifting or improving. She complained in one of her essays about fellow Catholics who wanted “positive literature,” a desire that she felt was rooted in “weak faith and possibly also from this general inability to read.” O’Connor was always nervous about fiction that was concerned about right belief but indifferent to the actual shape of lives being lived. She lamented that “When the Catholic novelist closes his own eyes and tries to see with the eyes of the Church, the result is another addition to that large body of pious trash for which we have so long been famous.”

But Flannery O’Connor held herself and other writers to a high standard rooted in her religious convictions; she once wrote that for novelists, “Our final standard will have to be the demands of art, which are a good deal more exacting than the demands of the Church. There are novels a writer might write, and remain a good Catholic, which his conscience as an artist would not allow him to perpetuate.” Art, in O’Connor’s view, is rooted in the stuff of reality, and thus being a bad artist while trying to be a good Christian is no more excusable than being a bad plumber or a bad accountant or a bad driver while trying to be a good Christian. In all of these vocations, one can only be ethically responsible before God and toward one’s neighbors if one is properly engaged with reality as it is, whether it be leaky pipes, arithmetic, traffic patterns, or story telling.

In this MARS HILL AUDIO Conversation, Ken Myers talks with Susan Srigley about how O’Connor’s perception of reality suffuses her fiction in ways that fit the views of how art works developed by Thomas Aquinas, views often summarized as “sacramental” or incarnational.” And Ralph Wood discusses O’Connor’s acceptance of the limits placed in our lives by Providence, how limits may be a source of wisdom rather than frustration. Wood also talks about the place of Southern culture and history in O’Connor’s work as well as her sympathies with backwoods religion.

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