Thursday, November 07, 2013

On Sex

The modern man isolated from faith, from raising his desire for God into a conscious desire, is sunk into the position of seeing physical love as an end it itself...The Sex act is a religious act & when it occurs without God it is a mock act or at best an empty act.

(Found here.)

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

From The Habit of Being...

There is a moment of grace in most of the stories, or a moment where it
is offered, and usually rejected. Like when the Grandmother recognizes
the Misfit as one of her children (a child of God) and reaches out to
touch him. It’s the moment of grace for her anyway—a silly old woman—but
it leads him to shoot her. This moment of grace excites the devil to

(Found here.)

Friday, March 01, 2013

Pornography essentially sentimental, for it leaves out the connection of sex with its hard purpose, and so far disconnects it from its meaning in life as to make it an experience for its own sake.

-- The Church and the Fiction Writer, America Magazine, 1957 -- (found here).

Friday, November 05, 2010

Excerpt of Poem by Maxine Kumin

Milledgeville, Ga., 1988

...but first, an historic detour just this side
of what the local intelligentsia
in fond self-deprecation call Mudville
to take the cart track up to Andalusia,
the family seat, a serene remove from town,
as in a good Victorian novel.

Here, from the first-floor bedroom window
even on those last dark days, she could see
her beloved peacocks pecking and fanning,
the tribe of philoprogenitive donkeys
ambling down to the farm pond in the meadow,
a grove of ancient pecan trees bending
to be picked. Not antebellum grand,
but commodious Andalusia, with real gardens
harrowed every spring with real manure,
so that it's touching but not surprising that
when Mary McCarthy remarked, years before,
she had come to think of the Eucharist as a symbol,
O'Connor, considerably put out
by lapsed Catholic rhetoric, flared,
"Well, if it's a symbol, to hell with it."

Not as I pictured her, enthroned
on high, fiercely Promethean
with eagles, say, or lions on the headstone --
but the square, unlandscaped family plot
sans even a drooping willow seems right.
Aligned with her father, three great-aunts opposite,
space for the mother who outlives her yet,
Flannery lies unadorned except by name
who breathed in fire and fed us on the flame.

[from Looking for Luck: Poems (W. W. Norton & Company, 1992), pp. 45-47]

Friday, October 08, 2010

Grace and Sentiment

Our age not only does not have a very sharp eye for the almost imperceptible intrusions of grace, it no longer has much feeling for the nature of the violences which precede and follow them.
— Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose

* * *

To expect too much is to have a sentimental view of life and this is a softness that ends in bitterness. - Inside Catholic link

Monday, July 12, 2010

From Mystery and Manners

People without hope not only don't write novels...they don't read
them. They don't take long looks at anything...

— via Ignatius Insight twitter feed

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

From Letter 3/10/56....

When we think about the Crucifixition, we miss the point if we don't think about sin.     [Found here.]

Tuesday, February 23, 2010


Only if we are secure in our beliefs can we see the comical side of the universe.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Regarding A Good Man is Hard to Find

Grace to the Catholic way of thinking, can and does use as its medium the imperfect, purely human, and even hypocritical. Cutting yourself off from Grace is a very decided matter, requiring a real choice, act of will, and affecting the very ground of the soul. The Misfit is touched by the Grace that comes through the old lady when she recognizes him as her child, as she has been touched by the Grace that comes through him in his particular suffering. His shooting her is a recoil, a horror at her humanness, but after he has done it and cleaned his glasses, the Grace has worked in him and he pronounces his judgment: she would have been a good woman if he had been there every moment of her life. True enough. In the Protestant view, I think Grace and nature don’t have much to do with each other. The old lady, because of her hypocrisy and humanness and banality couldn’t be a medium for Grace. In the sense that I see things the other way, I’m a Catholic writer. [Found here.]

from "The Church & the Fiction Writer"

What the Catholic fiction writer must realize is that those who question [the faith] are not insane at all, they are not utterly foolish and irrelevant, they are for the most part acting according to their lights. What he must get over is that they don't have the complete light.

Friday, October 09, 2009

From 2/4/1961 Letter....

I measure God by everything I am not.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Letter from FOC:

The business of the broken sleep is interesting, but the business of sleep generally is interesting. I once did without it almost all the time for several weeks. I had high fever and was taking cortisone in big doses, which prevents your sleeping. I was starving to go to sleep. Since then I have come to think of sleep as metaphorically connected with the mother of God. Hopkins said she was the air we breathe, but I have come to realize her most in the gift of going to sleep. Life without her would be equivalent to me to life without sleep, and as she contained Christ for a time, she seems to contain our life in sleep for a time so that we are able to wake up in peace.    [Found here.]

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

From The Habit of Being...

I am reading the [Simone] Weil books now, having finished the Letters to a Priest and I am very much obliged to you and will keep these books until you want them. I am struck by the coincidence (?) of title of Waiting for God, and Waiting for Godot—have you read that play, by an Irishman named Beckett? The life of this remarkable woman still intrigues me while much of what she writes, naturally, is ridiculous to me. Her life is almost a perfect blending of the Comic and the Terrible, which two things may be opposite sides of the same coin. In my own experience, everything funny I have written is more terrible than it is funny, or only funny because it is terrible, or only terrible because it is funny. Well Simone Weil’s life is the most comical life I have ever read about and the most truly tragic and terrible. If I were to live long enough and develop as an artist to the proper extent, I would like to write a comic novel about a woman—and what is more comic and terrible than the angular intellectual proud woman approaching God inch by inch with ground teeth?... [24 September 55 to “A.”]

By saying Simone Weil’s life was both comic and terrible, I am not trying to reduce it, but mean to be paying her the highest tribute I can, short of calling her a saint, which I don’t believe she was. Possibly I have a higher opinion of the comic and terrible than you do. To my way of thinking it includes her great courage and to call her anything less would be to see her as merely ordinary. She was certainly not ordinary. Of course, I can only say, as you point out, this is what I see, not this is what she is—which only God knows. But I didn’t mean that my heroine would be a hypothetical Miss Weil. My heroine already is, and is Hulga. Miss Weil’s existence only parallels what I have in mind, and it strikes me especially hard because I had it in mind before I knew as much as I do now about Simone Weil. …You have to be able to dominate the existence that you characterize. That is why I write about people who are more or less primitive. I couldn’t dominate a Miss Weil because she is more intelligent and better than I am but I can project a Hulga. [30 September 55 to “A.”]
Found here and here.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Another View of Recent Biography

Ralph C. Wood, author of "Flannery O'Connor and the Christ-haunted South" has a more critical view of the recent Gooch biography:

Gooch lays O’Connor’s genuine distinctiveness to the side, and thus fails to bring her life into the sharp focus it demands. His biography has no overarching theme, no compelling trajectory, no revealing figure in the carpet. He seems to believe that O’Connor was a rara avis, but his main evidence is that, as a child, she trained a chicken to walk backward and that, as an adult, she raised peafowl and other exotic birds. The patronizing intimacy of Gooch’s title turns out, moreover, to be a distancing device. [Ouch, see this blog's title.] Instead of probing the complex depths of “Flannery,” Gooch has written a jauntily superficial book....


It has become virtually standard procedure, among interpreters of Gooch’s kind, to say that O’Connor’s life and work must not be confined or reduced to her Catholicism, that she had not merely one but many strings on her fiddle, that we deny the variousness of her fiction by concentrating chiefly on its religious quality. Gooch establishes the small truth contained in this charge by showing that O’Connor did not confine herself within a religious cocoon but was keenly attuned to writers as various as T. S. Eliot and Guy de Maupassant, Caroline Gordon and William Faulkner, and even J. D. Salinger. He also demonstrates that O’Connor was remarkably alert to popular culture, finding both irony and revelation in seedy clichés and banal commercials. Having seen a hucksterish stunt for a film called Mark of the Gorilla, she put it to hilarious use in Wise Blood, where an ape impersonator greets moviegoers in order to boost attendance. Yet Gooch doesn’t take time to observe the significance of Enoch Emery, the youth who seeks the tawdry fame of this pseudo-simian: Cut off from religious rituals that might have given redemptive shape to his life, Emery must invent his own ceremonial patterns for living. He bases his life on the vain promises of advertisements, making their blandishments his credo. The result is something at once farcical and pathetic, as Emery becomes a telling caricature of our unacknowledged nihilism.

Instead of attending to such moral discernments, Gooch chooses to make Freudian readings that obfuscate rather than clarify. He interprets the brilliant brat in “A Temple of the Holy Ghost” as wrestling with her dawning erotic desires, arguing that her sexuality is finally “sublimated in religious expression.” Such sexual preoccupations blind Gooch to the child’s real problem: She is afflicted with a condition far more fundamental than her prepubescent sexuality — namely, her religious pride as a Roman Catholic.


For Flannery O’Connor, a civil religion of “Do Unto Others” will never suffice. It has no metaphysical foundations to undergird it, no sacramental or prophetic communities to sustain it. Though her region was wracked with racial violence, O’Connor dealt head-on with the race question in but a single story, “The Artificial Nigger.” The problem wasn’t that racial injustice failed to arrest her imagination so much as that its solution required no keen moral discernment. As a Walker Percy character declares, the one thing requisite is obedience to a single command: Stop abusing Negroes. For similar reasons, O’Connor was drawn to southern fundamentalists, despite their inveterate scorn for Catholicism as the “whore of Babylon.” Like them, she sought something far more needful than political equality: the Faith that heals racial reformers of their false righteousness no less than racial bigots of their true sinfulness. Gooch misses the mark, therefore, when he says that O’Connor is guilty of “a type of artistic racism” for not seeking, by her own confession, to get inside the minds of her black characters. If O’Connor had focused her fiction on such matters, she might have become another Lillian Smith (the author of the 1944 novel Strange Fruit). But she might also have failed to become the greater writer she in fact became.


Having recently “outgrown” Catholicism, [Mary] McCarthy opined that she still found eucharistic symbolism literarily useful, even though she didn’t believe any of its hocus-pocus. With a candor not usually encountered at New York social gatherings, the usually taciturn O’Connor could not remain silent, even at the cost of giving great offense. “Well,” she said, “if it’s a symbol, then to hell with it.” Gooch makes nothing of this scandalous claim, nor does he deal with O’Connor’s later elaboration: “That was all the defense I was capable of but I realize now that this is all I will ever be able to say about it, outside of a story, except that it is the center of existence for me; all the rest of life is expendable.”

The Eucharist does not merely point or gesture toward something vaguely transcendent, O’Connor was saying; it sacramentally enacts the Reality it declares: This is Christ’s life-giving body and blood, the feast without which we are literally starved of life. Or else it is a snare and a delusion that should be denounced as such. Gooch observes, instead, that O’Connor “framed her new life in religion” when her illness compelled her to return home and live with her mother back in Milledgeville for the last dozen years. Quite to the contrary, O’Connor had already framed her life — both literary and existential — in her Catholicism. “I am a Catholic not like someone else would be a Baptist or a Methodist,” she said, “but like someone else would be an atheist.”

Monday, January 19, 2009

Flannery quoted by Philip Yancey in Feb 2009 "First Things"

The Catholic writer, insofar as he has the mind of the Church, will feel life from the standpoint of the central Christian mystery: that it has, for all its horror, been found by God to be worth dying for.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Wise Blood  Excerpt

Pg 16 of Three by Flannery O'Connor, from the story Wise Blood:
They were like stones! he would shout. But Jesus had died to redeem them! Jesus was so soul-hungry that He had died, one death for all, but He would have died every soul's death for one! Did they understand that? Did they understand that for for each stone soul, He would have died ten million deaths, had His arms and legs stretched on the cross and nailed ten million times for one of them?

The boy didn't need to hear it. There was already a deep black wordless conviction in him that the way to avoid Jesus was to avoid sin. He knew by the time he was twelve years old that he was going to be a preacher. Later he saw Jesus move from tree to tree in the back of his mind, a wild ragged figure motioning him to turn around and come off into the dark where he was not sure of his footing, where he might be walking on the water and not know it and suddenly know it and drown. Where he wanted to stay was in Eastrod with his two eyes open, and his hands always handling the familiar thing, his feet on the known track, and his tongue not too loose.

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

One more from The Presence of Grace

Some of the most interesting parts of the book are hints thrown off in passing which show that attention to the study of archetypes could benefit the Church in some of the acute pastoral problems she faces today. In discussing the prevalent lapse of Catholics brought up in Catholic homes and educated in Catholic schools, Fr. White observes that this is very likely a failure of our sacred images to sustain an adequate idea of what they are supposed to represent. The images absorbed in childhood are retained by the soul throughout life. In medieval times, the child viewed the same images as his elders, and these were images adequate to the realities they stood for. He formed his images of the Lord from, for example, the stern and majestic Pantacrator, not from a smiling Jesus with a bleeding heart. When childhood was over, the image was still valid and was able to hold up under the assaults to belief. Today the idea of religion of large numbers of Catholics remains trapped at the magical stage by static and superficial images which neither mind nor stomach can any longer take. (100 Soul and Psyche)

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

More from The Presence of Grace

He proposes in the place of that anguish that Gide called the Catholic’s ‘cramp of salvation’ — obsession with personal salvation — an anguish transmuted into charity, anguish for another. Thus for Sartre, ‘hell is other people,’ but for the Christian with Mauriac’s anguish others are Christ. We realize that this way of looking at life was so completely left out of Mauriac’s youthful Catholic education that it has had to come to him as a discovery of later life. (96 - The Son of Man, Mauriac)

Monday, December 29, 2008

From The Presence of Grace

In genuine tragedy and comedy, the definite is explored to its extremity and man is shown to be the limited creature he is, and it is at this point of greatest penetration of the limited that the artist finds insight. Much modern so-called tragedy avoids this penetration and makes a leap toward transcendence, resulting in an unearned and spacious resolution of the work. The principle of this thorough penetration of the limited is best exemplified in medieval scriptural exegesis, in which three kinds of meaning were found in the literal level of the sacred text: the moral, the allegorical,and the anagogical. This is the Catholic way of reading nature as well as scfripture, and it is a way which leaves open the most possibilities to be found in the actual. (94- Christ and Apollo)

Catholics who are not articulate about their love of the Bible are generally those who do not love it, since they read it as seldom as possible, and those who don’t read the Bible do not read it because of laziness or indifference or the fear that reading it will endanger their faith, not the Catholic faith, but faith itself. (25 - The Catholic Companion to the Bible.)
(More here.)

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

A Review: "Flannery: A Life" by Brad Gooch

Brad Gooch, in his biography of Flannery O'Connor, quotes his subject: "There won't be any biographies of me because, for only one reason, lives spent between the house and the chicken yard do not make exciting copy." But Gooch proves that notion false with an absorbing biography of one of the most fascinating of 20th century writers.

Flannery's wit and sharp sense of humor is ever present despite the sometimes grim subject matter. On a trip to Lourdes she assured Betty Hester that "I am one of those people who could die for his religion sooner than take a bath for it." She went into the waters of the spring anyway, saying that "at least there are no societal trappings along with the medieval hygiene....I saw nothing but peasants and was very conscious of the distinct odor of the crowd."

Gooch builds suspense while deftly handling subjects such as the gradual learning of the nature of her disease and how a potentially serious romantic relationship ended when he married someone else. Betty Hester's loss of faith was another blow, using the plural as a mask for personal pain: "I don't know anything that could grieve us here like this news." Gooch says that she came to blame this loss of faith on Iris Murdoch, whose works she found "completely hollow". Hester grew infatuated with Murdoch in what the author terms a "weird literary battle for Betty's soul."

Reviews and reactions to O'Connor's fiction from the literary world were especially interesting. T.S. Eliot said he was "quite horrified by those [stories] I read. She has certainly an uncanny talent of a high order but my nerves are just not strong enough to take much of a disturbance."

O'Connor was delighted when she came across things that looked as they really were so it was appropriate that it was her eyes that many visitors to Andalasia found remarkable. Her friend Maryat called them "astonishingly beautiful".

She saw suffering as gift, remarking on her illness and literary career:
When she broke the news of her lupus to Robert Lowell, in March 1953, she swore that "I can with one eye squinted take it all as a blessing." Spinning her own life as a parable of a prodigal daughter, forced home against her wishes and finding a consoling gift, she later encouraged the young Southern novelist Cecil Dawkins: "I stayed away [in New York] from the time I was 20 until I was 25 with the notion that the life of my writing depending on my staying away. I would certainly have persisted in that delusion had I not got very ill and had to come home. The best of my writing has been done here."
Anecdotes abound, such as this tidbit of what captured her attention on a trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art at the Cloisters in New York:
In the soft light of the Early Gothic Hall...she was drawn to a four-foot-high statue of Virgin and Child, with both parties "laughing; not smiling, laughing."...What chiefly pixilated her in the sculpture was its artistic sensibility. As she wrote to a friend, "Back then their religious sense was not cut off from their artistic sense.' Embodying a profound spirituality that could accommodate humor, even outright laughter - a recipe she was working toward in her own novel - the statue...was living proof of Maritain's writings on the breadth of expression possible in religious art."
And on the issue of faith and mystery, Flannery writes in response to a friend who worried about the challenge of secular learning:
"At one time, the clash of different world religions was a difficulty for me. Where you have absolute solutions, however, you have no need of faith." Instead she suggested a respect for 'mystery,' a term she first applied to illness, but which was increasingly key to her theology. As for the conundrum of predestination and God's punishment, she offered a literary answer: "Even if there were no Church to teach me this, writing two novels would do it. I think the more you write, the less inclined you will be to rely on theories like determinism. Mystery isn't something that is gradually evaporating. It grows along with knowledge."
Two nitpicks: the author suggests that her final two stories display a development in O'Connor's vision, a development which doesn't appear to be explicitly defined other than a quote referring to a critic saying there was a "mellowing" in her fiction. More on that theme would've been helpful. Also O'Connor's reaction against Communism during the late '40s was labeled as "shrill" and apocalyptic though given the level of death, both spiritual and physical in Stalin's U.S.S.R., her response seems proportionate.

But Gooch has given us a great treat in this excellent and fair-minded biography of a story-teller who once said that it "requires considerable courage not to turn away from the story-teller."

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

From "Habit of Being"

Anyway, don't think I am suggesting you read the Office everyday. It's just a good thing to know about, I say Prime in the morning and sometimes I say Compline at night but usually I don't. But anyway I like parts of my prayers to stay the same and part to change. So many prayer books are awful, but if stick with the liturgy, you are safe.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

From Notre Dame lecture on Southern Fiction

Compassion is a word that sounds good in anybody's mouth...It's a quality that no one can put his finger on in any exact critical sense, so the word is always safe for anybody to use. Thomas Mann has said that the grotesque is the true anti-bourgeois style, but I think the kind of hazy, compassion demanded of the writer now makes it difficult for him to be anti-anything.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

From Brad Gooch biography of O'Connor

I went to St. Mary's as it was right around the corner and I could get there practically every morning. I went there three years and never knew a soul in that congregation or any of the priests, but it was not necessary. As soon as I went in the door I was at home.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Flannery's Voice...Literally

Here is a lecture given at Notre Dame a year before her death.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

"Nobody with a good car needs to be justified."

-- excerpt from "Wise Blood"
It is more than usual to find the attitude among Catholics that since we possess the Truth in the Church, we can use this Truth directly as an instrument of judgment on any discipline at any time without regard for the nature of that discipline itself...The Catholic fiction writer, as fiction writer, will look for the will of God first in the laws and limitations of his art and will hope that if he obeys these, other blessings will be added to his work.

--Flannery quoted by John R. Traffas in 8/24/08  National Catholic Register (also here)

Monday, May 05, 2008

From Quotations Page

Everywhere I go I'm asked if I think the university stifles writers. My opinion is that they don't stifle enough of them. There's many a best-seller that could have been prevented by a good teacher.

More from "The Church and the Fiction Writer"

When fiction is made according to its nature, it should reinforce our sense of the supernatural by grounding it in concrete observable reality. If the writer uses his eyes in the real security of his Faith, he will be obliged to use them honestly and his sense of mystery and his acceptance of it will be increased. To look at the worst will be for him no more than an act of trust in God...A belief in fixed dogma cannot fix what goes on in life or blind the believer to it...If the Catholic writer hopes to reveal mysteries, he will have to do it by describing truthfully what he sees from where he is. An affirmative vision cannot be demanded of him without limiting his freedom to observe what man has done with the things of God...It is popular to suppose that anyone who can read the telephone book can read a short story or a novel, and it is more than usual to find the attitude among Catholics that since we possess the Truth in the Church, we can use this Truth directly as an instrument of judgment on any discipline at any time without regard for the nature of that discipline itself. Catholic readers are forever being scandalized by novels that they don't have the fundamental equipment to read in the first place, and often these are works that are permeated with a Christian spirit. It is when an individual's faith is weak, not when it is strong, that he will be afraid of an honest fictional representation of life.

Monday, October 29, 2007

From essay "The Church and the Fiction Writer"...

What the fiction writer will discover, if he discovers anything at all, is that he himself cannot move or mold reality in the interests of abstract truth. The writer learns, perhaps more quickly than the reader, to be humble in the face of what-is. What-is is all he has to do with; the concrete is his medium; and he will realize eventually that fiction can transcend its limitations only by staying within them. Henry James said that the morality of a piece of fiction depended on the amount of 'felt life' that was in it. The Catholic writer, in so far as he has the mind of the Church, will feel life from the standpoint of the central Christian mystery: that it has, for all its horror, been found by God to be worth dying for. But this should enlarge not narrow his field of vision. [Via here.]

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

On the admired new Archbishop of Atlanta...

Usually I think the Church's motto is The Wrong Man for the Job; but not this time. (Found here.)

On Faith...

...let me tell you this: faith comes and goes. It rises and falls like the tides of an invisible ocean. If it is presumptuous to think that faith will stay with you forever, it is just as presumptuous to think that unbelief will... 'Lord, I believe; help my unbelief' [is] the most natural and most human and most agonizing prayer in the gospel, and I think it is the foundation prayer of faith...Faith is a gift, but the will has a great deal to do with it. The loss of it is basically a failure of appetite, assisted by sterile intellect. (Found here.)

Friday, October 12, 2007

From "Conversations with Flannery O'Connor"...

The novelist with Christian concerns will find in modern life distortions which are repugnant to him and his problems will be to make these appear as distortions to an audience which is seeing them as natural. (pg. 110)

From "Conversations with Flannery O'Connor" ..

The best American writing has always been regional. But to be regional in the best sense you have to see beyond the region. For example, the Fugitives at Vanderbilt in the '20s felt that the South they knew was passing away and they wanted to get it down before it went, but they had a larger vision than just the South. They were against what they saw coming, against the social planner, fellow traveller spirit that came along in the next ten years. They looked to the past and future to make a judgement in their own times. (pg. 109)

From "Habit of Being"...

I wouldn't spend much time worrying about [spiritual] dryness. It's hard to steer a path between indifference and presumption and [there's] a kind of constant spiritual temperature-taking that don't do any good or tell you anything either. (pg. 581)

From "Habit of Being"...

It all reminds me of the Tates getting upset because Cardinal Spellman writes bad novels. I think it's charming that Cardinal Spellman writes bad novels. If he wrote good novels, I'd be worried about the Church.
(pg. 588)

It sure don't look like I'll ever get out of this joint. By now I know all the student nurses who "want to write," -- if they are sloppy & inefficient & can't make up the bed, that's them--they want to write. "Inspirational stuff I'm good at," said one of them. "I just get so taken up with it I forget what I'm writing."
(pg. 583)

Friday, August 31, 2007

From "Habit of Being"...

Don't think I write for purgation. I write because I write well.

(--via Pen and Palette)

Monday, July 30, 2007

From Habit of Being, pg 307...

The Church is founded on Peter who denied Christ three times and couldn't walk on the water by himself. All human nature vigorously resists grace because grace changes us and the change is painful. Priests resist it as well as others. To have the Church be what you want it to be would require the continuous miraculous meddling of God in human affairs, whereas it is our dignity that we are allowed more or less to get on with those graces that come through faith and the sacraments and which work thorugh our human nature...Human nature is so faulty that it can resist any amount of grace and most of the time it does. The Church does well to hold her own; you are asking that she show a profit. When she shows a profit you have a saint, not necessarily a canonized one. -- (Flannery O'Connor to Cecil Dawkins 12/8/58. Habit of Being, 307) (via Open Book)

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

From "Habit of Being"...

...I mean about the same thing that [Joseph] Conrad meant when he said that his aim as an artist was to render the highest possible justice to the visible universe. For me the visible universe is a reflection of the invisible universe. [pg. 128; via Deep Furrows]

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

From Fiction is a Subject with History....

I would to put forward the proposition, repugnant to most English teachers, that fiction, if it is going to be taught in the high schools, should be taught as a subject and as a subject with a history. The total effect of a novel depends not only on its innate impact, but upon the experience, literary and otherwise, with which it is approached. No child needs to be assigned Hersey or Steinbeck until he is familiar with a certain amount of the best work of Cooper, Hawthorne, Melville, the early James and Crane, and he does not need to be assigned these until he has been introduced to some of the better English novelists of the 18th and 19th centuries...

It is one thing for a child to read about adultery in the Bible or in Anna Karenina and quite another for him to read about it in most modern fiction. This is not only because in both the former instances adultery is considered a sin, and in the latter, at most, an inconvenience, but because modern writing involves the reader in the action with a new degree of intensity and literary mores now permit him to be involved in any action a human being can perform. (Link via Deep Furrows.)

From "The Habit of Being"...

When I went to Iowa I had never heard of Faulkner, Kafka, Joyce, much less read them. Then I began to read everything at once so that I didn't have time I suppose to be influenced by any one writer. I read all the Catholic novelists, Mauriac, Bernanos, Bloy, Greene, Waugh; I read all the nuts like Djuna Barnes and Dorothy Richardson and Va. Wolfe (unfair to the dear lady of course); I read the best Southern writers like Faulkner and the Tates, K. A. Porter, Eudora Welty and Peter Taylor; read the Russians, not Tolstoy so much but Dostoevsky, Turgenev, Chekhov and Gogol. I became a great admirer of Conrad and have read almost all of his fiction. I have totally skipped such people as Dreiser, Anderson (except for a few stories) and Thomas Wolfe. I have learned from Kafka, though I've never been able to finish one of his novels. I've read almost all of Henry James -- from a sense of High Duty and because when I read James I feel something is happening to me, in slow motion but happening nevertheless. I admire Dr. Johnson's Lives of the Poets. But always the largest thing that looms up is The Humerous Tales of Edgar Allen Poe. I am sure that he wrote them all while drunk too. [August 28 1955; p 98-99] (Excerpt via Deep Furrows.)

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Letter to Elizabeth Hester...

Compared to what you have experienced in the way of radical misery, I have never had anything to bear in my life but minor irritations — but there are times when the worst suffering is not to suffer, and the worst affliction, not to be afflicted. Job’s comforters were worse off than he was, though they did not know it. If in any sense my knowing your burden can make your burden lighter, then I am doubly glad I know it. You were right to tell me, but I’m glad you didn’t tell me until I knew you well. Where you are wrong is in saying that you are the history of horror. The meaning of the redemption is precisely that we do not have to be our history, and nothing is plainer to me than that you are not your history.

(Quote via NPR's All Things Considered; transcribed by Maud Newton.)

Advice on Writing to Elizabeth Hester...

You would probably do just as well to get that plot business out of your head and start simply with a character or anything that you can make come alive...Wouldn't it be better for you to discover a meaning in what you write rather than to impose one? Nothing you write will lack meaning because the meaning is in you.

From "A Memoir of Mary Ann"

The creative action of a Christian's life is to prepare for his death in Christ.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

"The Habit of Being" 139

I once had the feeling I would dig my mother's grave with my writing too, but I later discovered this was vanity on my part. They are hardier than we think.

Friday, November 17, 2006

From "Habit of Being", pg. 572

This book of C.S. Lewis on prayer is a good one but I don't like to pray any better for reading it. I also just read one of his called Miracles, which is very fine. Deceptively simple. You really need to read every sentence twice. Go among the biblical scholars, says he, as a sheep among wolves.

To Betty Hester in 'Habit of Being', pg. 458

You confuse self-abandonment with a refusal to be yourself...As for the success, my tongue was not in my cheek. Success means being heard and don't stand there and tell me you are indifferent to being heard. Everything about you screams to be heard. You may write for the joy of it, but the act of writing is not complete in itself. It has its end in its audience. Writing is a good example of self-abandonment. I never completely forget myself except when I'm writing and I am never more completely myself than when I am writing. It is the same with Christian self-abandonment. The great difference between Christianity and the Eastern religions is the Christian insistence on the fulfilment of the individual person.

From "Habit of Being", pg. 457

[Nathaniel] Hawthorne interests me considerably. I feel more of a kinship with him than any other American, though some of what he wrote I can't make myself read through to the end.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

From "Mystery and Manners"

To be great storytellers, we need something to measure ourselves against, and this is what we conspicuously lack in this age. Men judge themselves now by what they find themselves doing. The Catholic has the natural law and the teachings of the Church to guide him, but for the writing of fiction, something more is necessary...

The Hebrew genius for making the absolute concrete has conditioned the Southerner's way of looking at things. That is one of the reasons why the South is a storytelling section...Nothing will insure the future of Catholic fiction so much as the biblical revival that we see signs of now in Catholic life. The Bible is held sacred in the Church, we hear it read at Mass, bits and pieces of it are exposed to us in the liturgy, but because we are not totally dependent on it, it has not penetrated very far into our consciousness nor conditioned our reactions to experience.

Friday, July 14, 2006

From "Mysteries and Manners"

We Catholics are very much given to the Instant Answer. Fiction doesn't have any. It leaves us, like Job, with a renewed sense of mystery. St. Gregory wrote that every time the sacred text describes a fact, it reveals a mystery. This is what the ficiton writer, on his lesser level, hopes to do. The danger for the writer who is spurred by a religious view of the world is that he will consider this to be two operations instead of one. He will try to enshrine mystery without the fact, and there will follow further separations inimical to art. Judgment will be separated from vision, nature from grace, and reason from imagination.

These are separations we see in our society and exist in our writing. They are separations which faith tends to heal, if by faith we mean "walking in darkness" and not a theological solution to mystery.

It is when the individual's faith is weak, not when it is strong, that he will be afraid of an honest fictional representation of life; and when there is a tendency to compartmentalize the spiritual and make it resident in a certain type of life only, the supernatural is apt to become lost.

--Mysteries and Manners pg 184 & 151 respectively

Via the Crendenda essay

Naw, I don't think life is a tragedy. Tragedy is something that can be explained by the professors. Life is the will of God and this cannot be defined by the professors; for which all thanksgiving...The Devil can always be a subject for my kind of comedy one way or another. I suppose this is because he is always accomplishing ends other than his own.

Who's Afraid of Flannery O'Connor?

"The reader wants his grace warm and binding, not dark and disruptive."
   - The Catholic Novelist in the Protestant South

Via this Douglas Jones essay on FOC's depictions of dark grace.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

From the short story "The Enduring Chill"...

When people think they are smart - even when they are smart - there is nothing anybody else can say to make them see things straight, and with Asbury, the trouble was that in addition to being smart, he had an artistic temperament. She did not know where he had got it from because his father, who was a lawyer and businessman and farmer and politician all rolled into one, had certainly had his feet on the ground; and she had certainly always had hers on it. She had managed after he died to get the two of them through college and beyond; but she had observed that the more education they got, the less they could do. Their father had gone to a one-room schoolhouse through the eighth grade and he could do anything.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

On the title of her novel "The Violent Bear It Away" (from Matthew 11:12)

One thing I observe about the title is that the general reaction is to think that it has an Old Testament flavor. Even when they read the quotation, the fact that these are Christ's words makes no great impression. That this is the violence of love, of giving more than the law demands, of an asceticism like John the Baptist's, but in the face of which even John is less than the least in the kingdom - all this is overlooked. I am speaking of the verse apart from my book; in the book I fail to make the title's significance clear, but the title is the best thing about the book. I had never paid much attention to that verse either until I read that it was one of the Eastern fathers' favorite passages - St. Basil, I think. Those desert fathers interest me very much.

Letter from "Habit of Being"...

I have a much less romantic view of how the Holy Spirit operates than you. The sins of pride and selfishness and reluctance to wrestle with the Spirit are certainly mine but I have been working at them a long time and will be still doing it when I am on my deathbed. I believe that God's love for us is so great that He does not wait until we are purified to such a great extent before He allows us to receive Him.

Grace, to the Catholic way of thinking, can and does use as its medium the imperfect, purely human, and even hypocritical. Cutting yourself off from Grace is a very decided matter, requiring a real choice, act of will, and affecting the very ground of the soul...In the Protestant view, I think Grace and nature don't have much to do with each other. The old lady [the one who would've been a good woman if she'd been shot every moment of her life], because of her hypocrisy and humanness and banality couldn't be a medium for Grace. In the sense I see things the other way, I'm a Catholic writer.

Monday, September 19, 2005

From "Habit of Being"...

You speak of the Eucharist as if it were not important, as if it could wait until you are better able to practice the two great commandments. Christ gave us the sacraments in order to better practice the two great commandments.

-pg. 350 8/19/59

Friday, August 12, 2005

From "The Habit of Being"...

My inability to handle it so far in fiction may be purely personal, as my upbringing has smacked a little of Jansenism even if my convictions do not...

I like Pascal but I don't think the Jansenist impulse is healthy in the Church. The Irish are notably infected with it because all the Jansenist priests were chased out of France at the time of the Revolution and ended up in Ireland. It was a bad day if you ask me. I read a novel by Sean O'Faolain about the demise of the Irish novel. Apparently someone suggested there wasn't enough sin in Ireland to supply the need. O'Faolain said no, the Irish sinned constantly but with no great emotion except fear. Jansenism doesn't seem to breed so much a love of God as a love of asceticism.  

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

On putting your faith in biblical criticism...

Much of the criticism of belief you find today comes from people who are judging it from the standpoint of another and narrower discipline. The Biblical criticism of the 19th century, for instance, was the product of historical disciplines. It has been entirely revamped in the 20th century by applying broader criteria to it, and those people who lost their faith in the 19th century because of it, could better have hung on in blind trust. [The Habit of Being]

Letter to Betty Hester...

Always you renounce a lesser good for a greater; the opposite is what sin is. And along this line, I think the phrase naïve purity is a contradiction in terms. I don't think purity is mere innocence. I don't think babies and idiots possess it. I take it to be something that comes either with experience or with Grace so that it can never be naïve.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

From "The Habit of Being" - pg. 134...

This is a peculiar thing - I have the one fold, one Shepherd instinct as strong as any, to see someone I know out of the [Catholic] Church is grief to me, it's to want him in with great urgency. At the same time, the Church can't be put forward by anybody but God and one is apt to do great damage by trying; consequently Catholics may seem very remiss, almost lethargic, about coming forward with the Faith. (Maybe you ain't observed this reticence in me.)

From "The Habit of Being", pg. 10...

Leaving the Incarnation aside, the very notion of God's existence is not emotionally satisfactory anymore for great numbers of people, which does not mean God ceases to exist. M. Sartre finds God emotionally unsatisfactory in the extreme, as do most of my friends of lesser stature than he. The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it emotionally. A higher paradox confounds the emotion as well as reason and there are long periods in the lives of all of us, when the truth as revealed by faith is hideous, emotionally disturbing, downright repulsive. Witness the dark night of the soul in individual saints. Right now the whole world appears to be going through a dark night of the soul.

From "The Habit of Being"...

I don't think as you seem to suppose that to be a true Christian you believe that mutual interdependence is a conceit. This is far from Catholic doctrine; in fact it strikes me as highly Protestant, a sort of justification by faith. God became not only man, but Man. This is the mystery of the Redemption and our salvation is worked out on earth according as we love one another, see Christ in one another, etc., by works. This is one reason I am chary of using the word, love, loosely. I prefer to use it in its practical forms, such as prayer, almsgiving, visiting the sick and burying the dead and so forth.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

From "The Habit of Being"

...I am a Catholic peculiarly possessed of the modern consciousness, that thing Jung describes as unhistorical, solitary, and guilty. To possess this within the Church is to bear a burden, the necessary burden for the conscious Catholic. It's to feel the contemporary situation at the ultimate level.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

From "The Habit of Being", pg. 370

The dissecting language [speaking of a Karl Adam book] repels me too; this is what is known as The Pious Style...In some pious writers there is a lot about the Church being the bride of Christ. This kind of metaphor may have helped that age to get a picture of a certain reality; it fails to help most of us...The only places you can really avoid the Pious Style are in the liturgy and the Bible; and these are the places where the Church herself speaks.

from The Habit of Being, pg. 145

The virtue of novenas is that they keep you at it for nine consecutive days and the human attention being what it is, this is a long time. I hate to say most of these prayers written by saints-in-an-emotional-state. You feel you are wearing somebody else's finery and I can never describe my heart as "burning" to the Lord (who knows better) without snickering.

Monday, June 20, 2005

On the Christian writer...

The Christian writer does not decide what would be good for the world and proceed to deliver it. Like a very doubtful Jacob, he confronts what stands in his path and wonders if he will come out of the struggle at all.

Friday, May 13, 2005

On the Importance of Stories...

Our response to life is different if we have been taught only a definition of faith than if we have trembled with Abraham as he held a knife over Isaac.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

"The Habit of Being" 92

For me a dogma is only a gateway to contemplation and is an instrument of freedom and not of restriction.It preserves mystery for the human mind. Henry James said the young woman of the future would know nothing of mystery or manners. He had no business to limit it to one sex.

from "The Habit of Being"

What one has as a born Catholic is something given and accepted before it is experienced. I am only slowly coming to experience things that I have all along accepted. I suppose the fullest writing comes from what has been accepted and experienced both and that I have just not got that far yet...Conviction without experience makes for harshness.

The Habit of 97

Both St. Thomas [Aquinas] and St. John of the Cross, dissimilar as they were, were entirely united by the same belief. The more I read St. Thomas the more flexible he appears to me. Incidentally, St. John would have been able to sit down with the prostitute and said, "Daughter, let us consider this," but St. Thomas doubtless knew his own nature and knew that he had to get rid of her with a poker or she would overcome him. I am not only for St. Thomas here but am in accord with his use of the poker. I call this being tolerantly realistic, not being a fascist.

from The Habit of Being, pg. 570.. could tell them that anybody who wants to be introduced to Catholic fiction will have to start with the French - Mauriac and Bernanos. You can't dispose of a writer with a paragraph about his significance. I couldn't even compose such. You'd just better read them if you aim to say anything about them. The English are Waugh & Greene and Spark (Muriel) & the Americans: Powers, Percy, Wilfrid Sheed...and some would include Edwin O'Connor. I don't know as I've never read him.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

From "The Habit of Being", pg. 503

The hardest thing for the writer to indicate is the presence of the anagogical which to my mind is the only thing that can cause the personality to change. Perhaps even here it changes within what it has been made. But I doubt if anyone ever touches the limits at either end of his personality. We are not our own light.

Against Determinism...

An absence of free will in these characters [in the novel The Violent Bear It Away] would mean an absence of conflict in them, whereas they spend all their time fighting within themselves, drive against drive. Tarwater wrestles with the Lord and Rayber wins. Both examples of free will in action.

Free will has to be understood within its limits; possibly we have some hinderances to free action but not enough to be able to call the world determined. In some people (psychotics) hinderances to free action may be so strong as to preclude free will in them, but the Church teaches that God does not judge those acts that are not free, and that he does not predestine any soul to hell...

I don't think literature would be possible in a determined world. We might go through the motions but the heart would be out of it. Nobody then could "smile darkly and ignore the howls." Even if there were no Church to teach me this, writing two novels would do it. I think the more you write, the less inclined you will be to rely on theories like determinism. Mystery isn't something that is gradually evaporating. It grows along with knowledge.

Friday, December 31, 2004

A Congenial Spirit...

I am considerably at a loss as to how I can thank you enough for these books (a life of Baron von Hugel and the Essays and Addresses of von Hugel)...Have you read the essays? They are better than the letters to Gwendolyn. The old man I think is the most congenial spirit I have found in English Catholic letters, with more to say, to me anyway, than Newman. -- "Habit of Being", pg 165

On Faith...

About the only way we know whether we believe or not is by what we do...Bridges once wrote Gerard Manley Hopkins and asked him to tell him how he, Bridges, could believe. He must have expected from Hopkins a long philosophical answer. Hopkins wrote back, "Give alms." He was trying to say to Bridges that God is to be experienced in Charity (in the sense of love for divine image in human beings).

If you want your faith, you have to work for it. It is a gift, but for very few is it a gift given without any demand for equal time devoted to its cultivation. For every book you read that is anti-Christian, make it your bsiness to read one that presents the other side of the picture. --"Habit of Being" pg. 476

Sunday, November 28, 2004

From "The Habit of Being", pg. 530...

[Now Bless Thyself, by Elizabeth Sewell] is a poet's book sure enough. I very much like the notion she gets across that the poet deals exactly with the things that don't work out, that he's sort of a shock absorber, that he takes the first blows and mutes them through the imagination and makes things bearable.

Friday, November 26, 2004

Unpublished letter...

A fellow Flannery fan sent along this unpublished letter:
1 March ‘60

Dear Caroline,

Your letter meant a lot to me and I am terribly grateful to you for writing it. I think of people, strangers, all over the country with this evil image of the book—an unhealthy book from an unhealthy source. They must have gone and looked the disease up because I didn’t tell them it was a tuberculous disease of the skin and mucous membranes. Imagine that in a book review! I don’t know how low taste can get, but not much lower than that I should think.

The book seems to be a trip in a glass-bottomed boat to most of the reviewers. Anyway I can be thankful for Granville Hicks.

When you get through with yours in April, why don’t you come down and spend the weekend with us and take yourself a rest? I am not trying to steal Rosa Lee’s company but we have a lot of room out here. We have just put on the extra rooms and a bath—stuck on the side. Think about this. We are going to be here all during May except May 1 & 2. I have to talk in Savannah on May 1. After that I ain’t opening my mouth in public again, but am going back to my dabbling in the variants of sin and salvation. Good ol sin and salvation.


Monday, November 15, 2004

On Misinterpretations

The meaning of a story should go on expanding for the reader the more he thinks about it, but meaning cannot be captured in an interpretation. If teachers are in the habit of approaching a story as if it were a research problem for which any answer is believable so long as it is not obvious, then I think students will never learn to enjoy fiction.Too much interpretation is certainly worse than too little, and where feeling for a story is absent, theory will not supply it.

On Proust's Novel

Jan 15, 1961:
Somebody gave me the complete Remembrance of Things Past for Christmas and I am eating my way through it like a mole. I think it would make good Iceland reading...

Jan 21, 1961:
I am on page 513 in [the Proust novel]. I cain't get over it.

Monday, August 23, 2004

On Fellow Writers Updike & Greene ('Habit of Being')...

Whoever was responsible for that editorial on John Updike's novel, Rabbit Run, should be confined for a while... If you get a chance you might like to look at that book. It is true that the sex in it is laid on too heavy. It is so burdensome that you want to skip those parts from sheer boredom; but the fact is, that the book is the product of a real religious consciousness. It is the best book illustrating damnation that has come along in a great while.

As between me and [Graham] Greene there is a difference of fictions certainly and probably a difference of theological emphasis as well. If Greene created an old lady, she would be sour through and through and if you dropped her, she would break, but if you dropped my old lady, she'd bounce back at you, screaming "Jesus loves me!" I think the basis of the way I see is comic regardless of what I do with it; Greene's is something else...

From "The Habit of Being"...

When we get our spiritual house in order, we’ll be dead. This goes on. You arrive at enough certainty to be able to make your way, but it is making it in darkness. Don’t expect faith to clear things up for you. It is trust, not certainty.

I feel that you are distracted, particularly when you say, for instance, that it is B.'s writing that interests you considerably more than he does. This is certainly not so, no matter how good a writer he gets to be, or how silly he gets to be himself. The human comes before the art. You do not write the best you can for the sake of art but for the sake of returning your talent increased to the invisible God to use or not use as he sees fit.

When the Protestant hears what he supposes to be the voice of the Lord, he follows it regardless of whether it runs counter to his church's teachings. The Catholic believes any voice he may hear comes from the Devil unless it is in accordance with the teachings of the Church.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

"Apart from emulative envy, the only aspect of envy that does not seem to me pejorative is a form of envy I have myself felt, as I suspect have others who are reading this book: the envy that I think of as faith envy. This is the envy one feels for those who have the true and deep and intelligent religious faith that sees them through the darkest of crises, death among them. If one is oneself without faith and wishes to feel this emotion, I cannot recommend a better place to find it than in the letters of Flannery O'Connor. There one will discover a woman still in her thirties, who, after coming into her radiant talent, knows she is going to die well before her time and, owing to her Catholicism, faces her end without voicing complaint or fear. I not long ago heard, in Vienna, what seemed to me a perfect rendering of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, and was hugely moved by it, but how much more would I have been moved, I could not help wonder, if I were in a state of full religious belief, since the Ninth Symphony seems to me in many ways a religious work. Faith envy is envy, alas, about which one can do nothing but quietly harbor it."
-Joseph Epstein, Envy

Tuesday, August 03, 2004


I think that the Church is the only thing that is going to make the terrible world we are coming to endurable; the only thing that makes the Church endurable is that it is somehow the body of Christ and that on this we are fed. It seems to be a fact that you suffer as much from the Church as for it but if you believe in the divinity of Christ, you have to cherish the world at the same time that you struggle to endure it.

40 Years Ago...

...Flannery O'Connor died of lupus at the age of 39. Amy Welborn offers suggestions on where to begin with O'Connor's works. Also, a Washington Times column, and J. Bottom link.

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

On Travel...

I have never been anywhere but sick. In a sense sickeness is a place, more instructive than a long trip to Europe, and it's always a place where there's no company, where nobody can follow. . .The surface hereabouts has always been very flat. I come from a family where the only emotion respectable to show is irritation. In some this tendency produces hives, in others literature, in me both.

from "The Habit of Being" via the Reading Experience

On Graham Greene...

The best thing I ever read on [Graham] Greene was written by an English girl named Elizabeth Sewell and was published in Thought. She allowed that his sensibility was different from his convictions, the former being Manichean and the latter Catholic, and of course, you write with the sensibility. Her word for him was Neo-Romantic Decadent. What he does, I think, is try to make religion respectable to the modern unbeliever by making it seedy. He succeeds so well in making it seedy that then he has to save it by the miracle.

Letter to Maryat Lee, January 31, 1957, The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O'Connor --via just a reader aka Bookish Gardener

Thursday, July 15, 2004

On the beat poets...

Certainly some revolt against our exaggerated materialism is long overdue. They seem to know a good many of the right things to run away from, but to lack any necessary discipline. They call themselves holy but holiness costs and so far as I can see they pay nothing. It's true that grace is the free gift of God but in order to put yourself in the way of being receptive to it you have to practice self-denial. As long as the beat people abandon themselves to all sensation satisfactions, on principle, you can't take them for anything but false mystics. A good look at St. John of the Cross makes them all look sick. -(from "The Habit of Being")

On Education...

Total non-retention has kept my education from being a burden to me.

Amy Welborn article...

O’Connor’s characters are all afflicted by pride: Intellectual sons and daughters who live to set the world, primarily their ignorant parents, aright; social workers who neglect their own children, self-satisfied unthinking “good people” who rest easily in their own arrogance; the fiercely independent who will not submit their wills to God or anyone else if it kills them. And sometimes, it does.

The pride is so fierce, the blindness so dark, it takes an extreme event to shatter it, and here is the purpose of the violence. The violence that O’Connor’s characters experience, either as victims or as participants, shocks them into seeing that they are no better than the rest of the world, that they are poor, that they are in need of redemption, of the purifying purgatorial fire that is the breathtaking vision at the end of the story, “Revelation.”

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

Letter to Louise Abbot...

Whatever you do anyway, remember that these things are mysteries and that if they were such that we could understand them, they wouldn’t be worth understanding. A God you understood would be less than yourself.

This letter is full of non-sequiturs [sp?]. I don’t set myself up to give spiritual advice but all I would like you to know is that I sympathise and I suffer this way myself. When we get our spiritual house in order, we’ll be dead. This goes on. You arrive at enough certainty to be able to make your way, but it is making it in darkness. Don’t expect faith to clear things up for you. It is trust, not certainty... Come to see us whenever you can. We are building two extra rooms and a bath into the house – a back parlor. We will let you set in it. Cheers.

Letter to Cecil Dawkins..

I know what you mean about being repulsed by the Church when you have only the Jansenist-Mechanical Catholic to judge it by. I think that the reason such Catholics are so repulsive is that they don’t really have faith but a kind of false certainty. They operate by the slide rule and the Church for them is not the body of Christ but the poor man’s insurance system. It’s never hard for them to believe because actually they never think about it. Faith has to take in all the other possibilities it can.

Friday, July 02, 2004

Flannery O'Connor & Abu Ghraib

Godspy essay on Abu Ghraib (thanks to reader David):
Catholic writer Flannery O'Connor would have considered the images of the prison scandal grotesque, but not in what she called "the pejorative sense"—of just plain images of ugliness and ignorance. For O'Connor—whose characters are some of the most memorable grotesqueries in American literature—the grotesque makes visible hidden "discrepancies" between character and belief. Such images "connect or combine or embody two points; one is a point in the concrete and the other is a point not visible to the naked eye."

Pride sets us against each other, and, most important, against God. To cure us of it, God allows us to sin. Again, St. Thomas: "the gravity of sins of pride is shown by the fact that God allows man to fall into other sins in order to heal him from pride."...

For O'Connor, God's providence was realized not despite our sins, but through them. Removing sin from life—or fiction—meant essentially cutting yourself off from the possibility of grace. Life—or literature, becomes either sentimental or obscene, and while "preferring the former, and being more of an authority on the latter," the Catholic reader fails to see their similarity.

Thursday, July 01, 2004


This thing of demanding honesty of people is in the upper reaches of extreme Innocence. The only people of whom you can demand honesty are those you pay to get it from…..[A person’s] honesty is only honesty, not truth….To love people you have to ignore a good deal of what they say while they are being honest, because you are not living in the Garden of Eden any longer.

From Letter to Maryat Lee. 20 May 1958

Spiritual Advice...

Penance rightly considered is not acts performed in order to attract God’s attention or get credit for oneself. It is something natural that follows sorrow. If I were you, I’d forget about penance until I felt called upon to perform it. Don’t anticipate too much. I have the feeling that you irritate your soul with a lot of things that it isn’t time to irritate it with.

What people don’t realise is how much religion costs. They think faith is a big electric blanket, when of course it is the cross. It is much harder to believe than not to believe. If you feel you can’t believe, you must at least do this: keep an open mind. Keep it open toward faith, keep wanting it, keep asking for it, and leave the rest to God.

From letter to Louise Abbot [undated] Sat. 1959

Dear Mr Corn,
I certainly don't think that the death required that " ye be born again," is the death of reason. If what the Church teaches is not true, then the security and emotional release and sense of purpose it gives you are of no value and you are right to reject it. One of the effects of modern Liberal Protestantism has been gradually to turn religion into poetry and therapy, to make truth vaguer and vaguer and more and more relative, to banish intellectual distinctions, to depend on feelings instead of thought, and gradually to come to believe that God has no power, that he cannot communicate with us, cannot reveal himself to us, indeed has not done so, and that religion is our own sweet invention. This seems to be about where you find yourself now.

From letter to Alfred Corn and 16 June 1962

One Liners...

Free will does not mean one will, but many wills conflicting in one man.

Ignorance is excusable when it is borne like a cross, but when it is wielded like an axe, and with moral indignation, then it becomes something else indeed.

You will have found Christ when you are concerned with other people’s sufferings and not your own.

God rescues us from ourselves if we want Him to.

I suppose I divide people into two classes: the Irksome and the Non-Irksome.

We are not judged by what we are basically. We are judged by how hard we use what we have been given. Success means nothing to the Lord, nor gracefulness…….. It is better to be young in your failures than old in your successes.

Art & Lit

(Thanks to Steve who provided these and all the quotes posted today.)

At its best our age is an age of searchers and discoverers, and at its worst, an age that has domesticated despair and learned to live with it happily. The fiction which celebrates this last state will be the least likely to transcend its limitations, for when the religious need is banished successfully, it usually atrophies, even in the novelist. The sense of mystery vanishes. A kind of reverse evolution takes place, and the whole range of feeling is dulled.

From Mystery & Manners: ‘Novelist and Believer.’

We (Catholics) are beginning to realise that an impoverishment of the imagination means an impoverishment of the religious life as well...Good and evil appear to be joined in every culture at the spine, and as far as the creation of a body of fiction is concerned, the social is superior to the purely personal. Somewhere is better than anywhere. And traditional manners, however unbalanced are better than no manners at all.

From Mystery & Manners: ‘The Catholic Novelist in The Protestant South.’

I mortally and strongly defend the right of the artist to select a negative aspect of the world to portray and as the world gets more materialistic there will be more to select from. Of course you are only enabled to see what is black by having light to see it by……Furthermore the light you see by may be altogether outside of the work itself.

From Letter to Betty Hester. 8 September 1956

To know oneself is to know one’s region. It is also to know the world, and it is also, paradoxically, a form of exile from that world. The writer’s value is lost, both to himself and to his country, as soon as he ceases to see that country as a part of himself, and to know oneself is, above all, to know what one lacks. It is to measure oneself against Truth, and not the other way around. The first product of self-knowledge is humility, and this is not a virtue conspicuous in any national character.

From Mystery & Manners: ‘The Fiction Writer and His Country.’

Wednesday, June 30, 2004

On respecting mystery...

Dogma is an instrument for penetrating reality...It is about the only thing left in the world that surely guards and respects mystery.

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Christianity Today article...

A hillbilly Thomist pushes back against modernity:
In an age of unbelief, O'Connor was convinced that her faith was a help, not a hindrance, to writing fiction. "It is popular to believe that in order to see clearly one must believe nothing. This may work well enough if you are observing cells under a microscope. It will not work if you are writing fiction. For the fiction writer, to believe nothing is to see nothing." Nietzsche was therefore the enemy or anti-Christ, not just because he disbelieved in God but because he sought to destroy belief in God.

Edmondson's interpretation of O'Connor's fiction as a deliberate confrontation with nihilism is confirmed by her published correspondence. Entitled The Habit of Being (1979), O'Connor's letters to friend and stranger alike contain many reflections on the spiritual poverty of modernity. For example, in 1955 she wrote, "If you live today you breathe in nihilism. In or out of the Church, it's the gas you breathe. If I hadn't had the Church to fight it with or to tell me the necessity of fighting it, I would be the stinkingest logical positivist you ever saw right now."


Looking for her grave from Literary Traveler.
from Touchstone
from Touchstone
From First Things on her Collected Works
From First Things
From First Things
From First Things on Walker Percy & Flannery O'Connor.


When someone asked her, back in 1959, why she, a Catholic writer, wrote so much about Protestant zealots, she replied:
To a lot of Protestants I know, monks and nuns are fanatics, none greater. And to a lot of the monks and nuns I know, my Protestant prophets are fanatics. For my part, I think the only difference between them is that if you are a Catholic and have this intensity of belief you join a convent and are heard from no more; whereas if you are a Protestant and have it, there is no convent for you to join and you go about in the world, getting into all sorts of trouble and drawing the wrath of people who don’t believe anything much at all down on your head.

St. Cyril & the Dragon

Flannery O’Connor, reflecting on her writing, recalled a remark St. Cyril of Jerusalem made to catechumens:
"The dragon sits by the side of the road, watching those who pass. Beware lest he devour you. We go to the Father of Souls, but it is necessary to pass by the dragon." It was Flannery O’Connor who, in a perhaps unconscious echoing of Dante, said that all literature is anagogic. Here is her comment on St. Cyril: "No matter what form the dragon may take, it is of this mysterious passage past him, or into his jaws, that stories of any depth will always be concerned to tell, and this being the case, it requires considerable courage at any time, in any country, not to turn away from the storyteller."

Paul Greenberg on the famous "To Hell With It" quote...

Paul Greenberg writes: "When does a symbol become a Symbol, a Presence? Flannery O'Connor came closest to answering that question in one of her splendid letters" [from a 1955 letter to "A"]:
I was once, five or six years ago, taken by some friends to have dinner with Mary McCarthy and her husband, Mr. Broadwater. (She just wrote that book, "A Charmed Life.") She departed the Church at the age of 15 and is a Big Intellectual. We went at eight and at one, I hadn't opened my mouth once, there being nothing for me in such company to say. . . . Having me there was like having a dog present who had been trained to say a few words but overcome with inadequacy had forgotten them.

Well, toward morning the conversation turned on the Eucharist, which I, being the Catholic, was obviously supposed to defend. Mrs. Broadwater said when she was a child and received the host, she thought of it as the Holy Ghost, He being the most portable person of the Trinity; now she thought of it as a symbol and implied that it was a pretty good one. I then said, in a very shaky voice, Well, if it's a symbol, to hell with it.

That was all the defense I was capable of but I realize now that this is all I will ever be able to say about it, outside of a story, except that it is the center of existence for me; all the rest of life is expendable.

From "The Habit of Being"...

I am one of the laymen who resist the congregation yapping out the Mass in English & my reason besides neurotic fear of change, anxiety, and laziness is that I do not like the raw sound of the human voice in unison unless it is under the discipline of music...
...You are probably right about the dialogue Mass but I still think either chanting it or singing it would add the discipline necessary to make it endurable. There are always at least one or two loud voices, that make their business with the Lord loudly intimate, beseeching, aggressive, that destroy the feeling of the whole. This would be impossible if it were sung or chanted.
I think there is no suffering greater than what is caused by the doubts of those who want to believe. I know what torment this is, but I can only see it, in myself anyway, as the process by which faith is deepened. A faith that just accepts is a child's faith and all right for children, but eventually you have to grow religiously as every other way, though some never do....It is much harder to believe than not to believe. If you feel you can't believe, you must at least do this: keep an open mind. Keep it open toward faith, keep wanting it, keep asking for it, and leave the rest to God.
God made us to love him. It takes two to love. It takes liberty. It takes the right to reject. If there were no hell, we would be like animals. No hell, no dignity.
I believe there are as many types of saints as there are souls to be saved. I am quite interested in saving my soul but I see this as a long developmental evolutionary process, extending into Purgatory, and the only moment of it that concerns me in the least is the instant I am living in.

from "The Violent Bear It Away"...

Go Warn the Children of God of the Terrible Speed of Mercy.
Walker Percy, in a letter to Shelby Foote on his latest novel: "What is it about? Screwing and God (which all Catholic novels since Augustine have been about) - to use 'Catholic' somewhat loosely since you were right the other day about me not being a Catholic writer as Flannery [O'Connnor] was..."

From "The Habit of Being"...

I have a biography of St. John of the Cross and one of Rabelais. I read a little of one and then a little of the other; edifying contrast.
I am much more interested in the nobility of unnaturalness than in the nobility of naturalness. As Robert [Fitzgerald] says, it is the business of the artist to uncover the strangeness of truth. The violent are not natural. St. Thomas's gloss on this verse [i.e. the 'violent bear it away'] is that the violent Christ is here talking about represent those ascetics who strain against mere nature. St. Augustine concurs.
The Church's stand on birth control is the most absolutely spiritual of all her stands and with all of us being materialists at heart, there is little wonder that it causes unease. I wish various fathers would quit trying to defend it by saying that the world can support 40 billion. I will rejoice in the day when they say: This is right, whether we all rot on top of each other or not, dear children, as we certainly may. Either practice restraint or be prepared for crowding...
The Catholic finds it easier to understand the atheist than the Protestant, but easier to love the Protestant than the atheist. The fact is though now that the fundamentalist Protestants, as far as doctrine goes, are closer to their traditional enemy, the Church of Rome, than they are to the advanced elements in Protestantism.

From "The Habit of Being"

On Spritual Direction

I don't doubt she needs a good spiritual director but this takes a kind of genius and much grace and they are as hard to find as any other rarity. As to a confessor - one is as good as another. The confessional is not a place to discuss problems.

On Priests

It takes a strong person to meet the responsibilities of the priesthood. They take vows for life of poverty, chastity and obedience, and there are very few defections. Most of the priests I know... are unimaginative and overworked. Also the education they get at the seminary leaves much to be desired.

from "Habit of Being"

"God never promised [the Church] political infallibility or wisdom and sometimes she doesn't appear to have even elementary good sense. She seems always to be either on the wrong side politically or simply a couple hundred years behind the world in her political thinking. She tries to get along with any form of gov't that does not set itself up as a religion. Communism is a religion of the state, committed to the extinction of the Church...She condemns Communism because it is a false religion, not because of the form of gvt it is."


"The things that we are obliged to do, such as hear Mass on Sunday, fast and abstain on the days appointed, etc. can become mechanical and merely habit. But it is better to be held to the Church by habit than not to be held at all. The Church is mighty realistic about human nature. Further it is not at all possible to tell what's going on inside the person who appears to be going about his obligations mechnically. We don't believe that grace is something you have to feel. The Catholic always distrusts his emotional reaction to the sacraments."


"If [Cardinal John Henry] Newman is a saint, his saintliness didn't destroy his scrupulous intellect or his finickiness and you'll have to accept a finicky saint. Anyway, here he is dealing with [Charles] Kingsley, enough to bring out the finickiness in anybody. I didn't read the stuff in the back from Kingsley, couldn't stand it..."
The merit of the Church doesn't lie in what she does but what she is. The day is going to come when the Church is so hemmed in & nailed down that she won't be doing anything but being, which will be enough.

from "Habit of Being"...

My cousin's husband who also teaches at Auburn came into the Church last week. He had been going to Mass with them but never showed any interest. We asked how he got interested and his answer was that the sermons were so horrible, he knew there must be something else there to make the people come...
Responding to the claim that the Eucharist is a symbol] Well, if it’s a symbol, to hell with it. [She then explains:] That was all the defense I was capable of but I realize now that this is all I will ever be able to say about it, outside of a story, except that it is the center of existence for me; all the rest of life is expendable.
All voluntary baptisms are a miracle to me and stop my mouth as much as if I had just seen Lazarus walk out of the tomb. I suppose it's because I know that it had to be given to me before the age of reason, or I wouldn't have used any reason to find it.

From "Habit of Being"...

On Bad Bishops & Other Catholics:
"As for bad Catholics, this is simply one of the facts of life. I am reviewing some sermons of St. Augustine on the psalms and ran across this:

'Still I want to warn you about this, brothers; the Church in this world is a threshing floor, and as I have often said before and still say now, it is piled high with chaff and grain together. It is no use trying to be rid of all the chaff before the time comes for winnowing. Don't leave the threshing-floor before that, just because you are not going to put up with sinners. Otherwise you will be gobbled up by the birds before you can be brought into the barn.'

She probably sees more stupidity and vulgarity than she does sin and these are harder to put up with than sin, harder on the nerves."

Of Faith & Novels:
"I don't think you should write something as long as a novel around anything that is not of the gravest concern to you and everybody else and for me this is always the conflict between an attraction for the Holy and the disbelief in it that we breathe in with the air of the times. It's hard to believe always but more so in the world we live in now. There are some of us who have to pay for our faith every step of the way and who have to work out dramatically what it would be like without it and if being without it would be ultimately possible or not. I can't allow any of my characters, in a novel anyway, to stop in some halfway position. This doubtless comes from a Catholic education and a Catholic sense of history - everything works towards its true end or away from it, everything is ultimately saved or lost..."

Billy F.:
"Yesterday I sold a pair of [peacocks]...These people showed up in a long white car...The man was a structural engineer. He said he had a friend who was a writer in Mississippi and I said who was that. He said, 'His name is Bill Faulkner. I don't know if he's any good or not but he's a mighty nice fellow.' I told him he was right good..."


Carl Olsen on the Art of Flannery O'Connor
To have the church be what you want it to be would require the continuous miraculous meddling of God in human affairs, whereas it is our dignity that we are allowed more or less to get on with those graces that come through faith and the sacraments and which work through our human nature. We can't understand this but we can't reject it without rejecting life. Human nature is so faulty that it can resist any amount of grace and most of the time it does.
One of the tendencies of our age is to use the suffering of children to discredit the goodness of God, and once you have discredited His goodness, you are done with Him. The Aylmers whom Hawthorne saw as a menace have multiplied. Busy cutting down human imperfection, they are making headway also on the raw material of the good. Ivan Karamozov cannot believe, as long as one child is in torment; Camus' hero cannot accept the divinity of Christ, because of the massacre of the innocents. In this popular pity, we mark our gain in sensibility and our loss in vision. If other ages felt less, they saw more, even though they saw with the blind, prophetical, unsentimental eye of acceptance, which is to say faith. In the absence of this faith now, we govern by tenderness. It is a tenderness which, long since cut off from the person of Christ, is wrapped in theory. When tenderness is detached from the source of tenderness, its logical outcome is terror. It ends in forced-labor camps and in the fumes of the gas chamber.

Mystery and Manners...

Poorly written novels - no matter how pious and edifying the behavior of the characters - are not good in themselves and are therefore not really edifying. Now a statement like that causes problems. An individual may be highly edified by a sorry novel because he doesn't know any better. We have plenty of examples in this world of poor things being used for good purposes. God can make any indifferent thing, as well as evil itself, an instrument for good; but I submit that to do this is the business of God and not of any human being.

I have found that people outside the Church like to suppose that the Church acts as a restraint on the creativity of the Catholic writer and that she keeps him from reaching his full development. These people point to the fact that there are not many Catholic artists and writers, at least in this country, and that those who do achieve anything in a creative way are usually converts. This is a criticism that we can't shy away from. I feel that it is a valid criticism of the way Catholicismis often applied by our Catholic educational system, or from the pulpit, or ignorantly practiced by ourselves; but that is, of course, no valid criticism of the religion itself.

Christian dogma is about the only thing left in the world that surely guards and respects mystery...The Catholic fiction writer is entirely free to observe. He feels no call to take on the duties of God or to create a new universe. He feels no need to apologize for the ways of God to man or to avoid looking at the ways of man to God. For him, to 'tidy up reality' is certainly to succumb to the sin of pride. Open and free observation is founded on our ultimate faith that the universe is meaningful, as the Church teaches.

And when we look at the serious fiction written by Catholics in these times, we do find a striking preoccupation with what is seedy and evil and violent. The pious argument against such novels goes something like this: if you believe in the Redemption, your ultimate vision is one of hope, so in what you see you must be true to this ultimate vision...The beginning of an answer to this is that though the good is the ultimate reality, the ultimate reality has been weakened in human beings as a result of the Fall, and it is this weakened life we see. And it is wrong, moreover, to assume that the writer chooses what he will see and what he will not see.

from "Mysteries and Manners"...

The fiction writer should be characterized by his kind of vision. His kind of vision is prophetic vision. For the Catholic novelist, the prophetic vision is not simply a matter of his personal imaginative gift; it is also a matter of the Church's gift, which, unlike his own, is safeguarded and deals with greater matters. It is one of the functions of the Church to transmit the prophetic vision that is good for all time, and when the novelist has this as a part of his own vision, he has a powerful extension of sight.

It is, unfortunately, a means of extension which we constantly abuse by thinking that we can close our own eyes and that the eyes of the Church will do the seeing. They will not. We forget that what is to us an extension of sight is to the rest of the world a peculiar and arrogant blindness, and no one today is prepared to recognize the truth of what we show unless our purely individual vision is in full operation. When the Catholic novelist closes his own eyes and tries to see with the eye of the Church, the result is another addition to that large body of pious trash for which we have so long been famous.

It would be foolish to say there is no conflict between these two sets of eyes. There is a conflict, and it is a conflict which we escape at our peril, one which cannot be settled beforehand by theory or fiat or faith. We think that faith entitles us to avoid it, when in fact, faith prompts us to begin it, and to continue it until, like Jacob, we are marked.

The writer may feel that in order to use his own eyes freely, he must disconnect them from the eyes of the Church and see as nearly as possible in the fashion of a camera. Unfortunately, to try to disconnect faith from vision is to do violence to the whole personality...The tensions of being a Catholic novelist are probably never balanced for the writer until the Church becomes so much a part of his personality that he can forget about her - in the same sense that when he writes, he forgets about himself. This is the condition we aim for, but one which is seldom achieved in this life....


"To Rayber, the picture of the modern, rational man, such love is madness. It's inconceivable. It's absurd. It's just not USEFUL. And as I read those passages over and over and over I realized: THAT'S what the saints have that I don't have. That violent, inconceivable, absurd, non-utilitarian love of God. They have given themselves over to it, let themselves be swept up in it. Just for the love of Him. Just because. They aren't worried about appearing foolish. They just love."

-Blogger "Mama T" concerning Flannery O'Connor's The Violent Bear it Away.

Welcome... a blog of quotes about and by the great Catholic author Flannery O'Connor.
Flannery O’Connor (1925-1964) was an award winning novelist and short story writer who for the substance of her fiction, drew on the pot-pourri of the American South and twentieth century Nihilism. O’Connor was a devout Catholic. She was raised in Georgia and lived most of her adult life there. At the age of 26 she was diagnosed with Lupus and died from the disease thirteen years later in 1964. She published two novels; ‘Wise Blood’ and ‘The Violent Bear It Away’ as well as two highly acclaimed short story collections; ‘A Good Man Is Hard To Find’ and ‘Everything That Rises Must Converge.’ O’Connor’s collected letters were edited by her close friend Sally Fitzgerald and published under the title of ‘The Habit of Being.’ A selection of her essays and lectures was published under the title of ‘Mystery and Manners.’