A montanha mágica

quarta-feira, abril 21, 2010

Believing in Flannery O’Connor (2/2)

LMD, sem título, 2010

"O’Connor, as Wise Blood proves, was no run-of-the-mill religious novelist. In addition to having a deeply philosophical turn of mind, she was a thoroughgoing modernist who adhered no less devoutly to the Jamesian precept to “dramatize, dramatize!” Moreover, her youthful reading of Jacques Maritain, the Catholic philosopher who argued in Art and Scholasticism (1930) that “the pure artist considered in the abstract as such . . . is something completely unmoral,” had persuaded her that the serious Catholic fiction writer had no moral obligation to be preachy.

Between them, these two inclinations led O’Connor to write stories in which religious faith (or its absence) and its effects on her characters were portrayed with little or no explanatory authorial comment. Because these stories are in the broadest sense comic—and because they portray a culture of which most educated Americans of the 50’s knew little or nothing—it was inevitable that they would be misunderstood by many of their first readers, who wrongly pigeonholed their author as a purveyor of the same Southern gothicism and grotesquery that they had previously encountered in such novels as Erskine Caldwell’s Tobacco Road (1932) and Truman Capote’s Other Voices, Other Rooms (1948).

To be sure, the undeniable brilliance of O’Connor’s writing won her near-immediate acclaim from the American intelligentsia. Her cause was promptly taken up by such noted editors and writers as Robert Giroux, Robert Lowell, Katherine Anne Porter, and Philip Rahv, who published two excerpts from Wise Blood in Partisan Review. But it soon became evident that some of those who most admired her writing failed to grasp its point, and the middlebrow publications of the day reviewed her with a blend of puzzlement and disdain.

Typical of the critical response to O’Connor’s early work was Time’s unsigned review of A Good Man Is Hard to Find (1955), her first short-story collection, in which sympathetic detachment was mistaken for cutting satire:

Georgia’s Flannery O’Connor has already learned to strip the acres of clay-country individuality with the merciless efficiency of a cotton-picking machine. . . . The South that simpers, storms, and snivels in these pages moves along a sort of up-to-date Tobacco Road, paved right into town.
O’Connor was unsurprised by such obtuseness. “I have found,” she wrote with dry amusement, “that 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.” Yet it vexed her all the same, and when Wise Blood was reissued in 1962, it was accompanied by a newly written author’s note in which she called the book “a comic novel about a Christian malgré lui4.”
Some of O’Connor’s friends were dismayed by her decision to speak so frankly about the book’s religious implications, no doubt because many of them, as Brad Gooch makes clear in Flannery, preferred not to believe that orthodox belief was so salient an aspect of her work. Even the usually sympathetic Gooch describes the note to Wise Blood as “rather heavy, and blunt.” By then, however, it had become apparent to most of O’Connor’s critics that she was writing from a specifically religious perspective, though only a few saw that she identified herself with her Christ-haunted preachers and prophets.

Consider, for instance, the critical reception of The Violent Bear It Away (1960), a dark and shocking short novel whose protagonist, Francis Tarwater, is a fourteen-year-old boy torn between the crude but passionate Protestantism of his great-uncle, an angry old man who believes himself to be a prophet, and the bloodless secularism of his uncle, a school teacher who longs to bring the boy “out of the darkness into the light.” Francis is ignorant, willful, and violent, and there is nothing obviously sympathetic about the way O’Connor describes him—but he has still been touched by grace, and so she sides with him in his quest. “The modern reader will identify himself with the school teacher,” she told a friend, “but it is the old man who speaks for me.” Yet Time, though its reviewer sensed something of O’Connor’s larger purpose, failed to perceive her sympathy, claiming that the book showed “the secure believer poking bitter fun at the confused and bedeviled.”

It was not until 1979, fifteen years after her death, that the full extent of O’Connor’s orthodoxy became widely known. In that year a collection of her letters, The Habit of Being, was published, revealing her to have been a witty, engaging correspondent.5 Paradoxically, it was The Habit of Being that cemented O’Connor’s reputation, displaying her as a person in a way that her fiction never does (though Flannery reveals that a considerable amount of her private life made it onto the page, albeit in cryptic form). But O’Connor also tore the veil of symbolism away from Wise Blood, The Violent Bear It Away, and such widely anthologized stories as “A Good Man Is Hard to Find,” writing with straightforward specificity about their religious aspect.

After the publication of The Habit of Being, there was no longer any excuse for readers to ignore or misinterpret the religious underpinnings of O’Connor’s fiction, or to fail to take at face value her categorical statement that “I write the way do because (not though) I am a Catholic. . . . The stories are hard but they are hard because there is nothing harder or less sentimental than Christian realism.” By then, though, O’Connor’s work had taken on a life of its own, and to this day it remains common for readers to assume that her comic portraits of Southern Protestantism are hostile rather than sympathetic.


Therein lies the O’Connor “problem,” if problem it is. To what extent is her fiction accessible to those who do not take its religious wellsprings seriously? This is far more of a problem today than it was in the 50’s and 60’s, for American intellectual culture has lately become almost entirely secularized, and it begs a hard question: Will O’Connor’s work survive only by being misunderstood?

It is true that she has much to offer beyond her spirituality. O’Connor was also a consummate craftsman whose stories are both beautifully wrought and closely observed. A case in point is “Parker’s Back,” a story from Everything That Rises Must Converge (1965), her second and last collection, on which she was working at the time of her death. She describes a small-town boy who sees a man covered with tattoos at a fair and immediately undergoes something like a conversion experience:

Parker had never before felt the least motion of wonder in himself. Until he saw the man at the fair, it did not enter his head that there was anything out of the ordinary about the fact that he existed. Even then it did not enter his head, but a peculiar unease settled in him. It was as if a blind boy had been turned so gently in a different direction that he did not know his destination had been changed.
In many of O’Connor’s best stories, “Parker’s Back” prominent among them, the religious theme is so subtly dramatized that it can be overlooked by casual readers unaware of the author’s larger purpose. Whatever else her fiction is, it is not Catholic propaganda.6 In the end, though, a critical approach that denies or downplays O’Connor’s faith will necessarily result in only a partial appreciation of her work. It is no more possible to understand a book like Wise Blood without taking Catholicism seriously—if only to reject it—than it is possible to understand the fiction of Isaac Bashevis Singer without taking Judaism seriously.

The difference, of course, is that Singer viewed religion with reluctant skepticism, O’Connor with unswerving certitude. As I once wrote in these pages:

O’Connor’s Christ-haunted characters differ profoundly from Singer’s demon-infested Jews. In O’Connor, unbelievers living in a fallen world tainted by modernity suddenly find themselves irradiated by grace, but, like Hazel Motes . . . they struggle in vain against its revelatory power. In Singer’s world, by contrast, there are no sudden revelations, only the unquenchable desire to believe, against all evidence to the contrary, that life has meaning.7 Might O’Connor’s faith cause the brilliance of her art to fade in an age of increasingly militant secularism whose cultural tastemakers do not share her beliefs? The fact that her reputation has continued to grow when so many of her contemporaries have become critical also-rans says something about her staying power. Yet there have always been doubters. In 1972, O’Connor was posthumously given the National Book Award for an omnibus volume of her complete stories. Robert Giroux, her longtime editor, was accosted at the ceremony by a dubious colleague who asked, “Do you really think Flannery O’Connor was a great writer? She’s such a Roman Catholic.”

It will be interesting—and revealing—to see whether that question is asked with increasing frequency in the years to come."

Terry Teachout

posted by Luís Miguel Dias quarta-feira, abril 21, 2010

Powered by Blogger Site Meter

Blogue de Luís Dias
A montanha mágica YouTube

vídeos cá do sítio publicados no site do NME

Ilusões Perdidas//A Divina Comédia


Google Art Project

Assírio & Alvim
Livrarias Assírio & Alvim - NOVO
Pedra Angular Facebook
blog da Cotovia
Livros &etc
Relógio D`Água Editores
porta 33
A Phala
Papeles Perdidos
O Café dos Loucos
The Ressabiator

António Reis
Ainda não começámos a pensar
As Aranhas
dias felizes
there`s only 1 alice
menina limão
O Melhor Amigo
Hospedaria Camões
Bartleby Bar
Rua das Pretas
The Heart is a Lonely Hunter
primeira hora da manhã
contra mundum
Os Filmes da Minha Vida
Poesia Incompleta
Livraria Letra Livre
Kino Slang
sempre em marcha
Pedro Costa
Artistas Unidos
Teatro da Cornucópia

Manuel António Pina
Rui Tavares
31 da Armada

Discos com Sono
Voz do Deserto
Ainda não está escuro
Provas de Contacto
O Inventor
Ribeira das Naus
Vidro Azul
Sound + Vision
The Rest Is Noise
Unquiet Thoughts

Espaço Llansol
Bragança de Miranda
Blogue do Centro Nacional de Cultura
Blogue Jornal de Letras
letra corrida
Letra de Forma
Revista Coelacanto

A Causa Foi Modificada
Almocreve das Petas
A natureza do mal
A Terceira Noite
Bomba Inteligente
O Senhor Comentador
Blogue dos Cafés
cinco dias
João Pereira Coutinho
Linha dos Nodos
Life is Life
Mood Swing
Os homens da minha vida
O signo do dragão
O Vermelho e o Negro
Pastoral Portuguesa
Poesia & Lda.
Vidro Duplo
Quatro Caminhos
vontade indómita
Arts & Letters Daily
Classica Digitalia
biblioteca nacional digital
Project Gutenberg
First Things
The Atlantic
El Paso Times
La Repubblica
BBC News
Folha de S. Paulo
Harper`s Magazine
The Independent
The Nation
The New Republic
The New York Review of Books
London Review of Books
The Spectator
The Times Literary...
The New Criterion
The Paris Review
Vanity Fair
Cahiers du cinéma
all music guide
Flannery O'Connor
Bill Viola

Destaques: Tomas Tranströmer e de Kooning
e Brancusi-Serra e Tom Waits e Ruy Belo e
Andrei Tarkovski e What Heaven Looks Like: Part 1
e What Heaven Looks Like: Part 2
e Enda Walsh e Jean Genet e Frank Gehry's first skyscraper e Radiohead and Massive Attack play at Occupy London Christmas party - video e What Heaven Looks Like: Part 3 e
And I love Life and fear not Death—Because I’ve lived—But never as now—these days! Good Night—I’m with you. e
What Heaven Looks Like: Part 4 e Krapp's Last Tape (2006) A rare chance to see the sell out performance of Samuel Beckett's critically acclaimed play, starring Nobel Laureate Harold Pinter via entrada como last tapes outrora dias felizes e agora MALONE meurt________

São horas, Senhor. O Verão alongou-se muito.
Pousa sobre os relógios de sol as tuas sombras
E larga os ventos por sobre as campinas.

Old Ideas