Tuesday, June 29, 2004

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.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

I want more...

Quin Finnegan said...

I recognize O'Connor's comments, but where's Greenberg? And is this the same Greenberg from the Arkansas Gazette? A great columnist - one of the best in the country, really.

Keep this blog going, by the way. It's a great one.

WPR said...

2004? and no more comments? If this is the Paul Greenberg of the Gazette, a treasure, it should be kept going. WPR

TS said...

I've updated this post with a link and (very much needed) clarification. Thanks for reading!

onionboy said...

Presently I am reading Hidden Manna by James T. O'Connor and this quote in total is recalled in the Forward written by John Cardinal O'Connor. Greenberg is quite fair in his use of the famous quote but in O'Connor's book it takes on a fuller application.

Owen
http://onionboy.typepad.com/yootikus

Steve Martin said...

I love that quote and quote that quote sometimes, in the presence of symbolists.

Debbie said...

Wow! That is really well stated! The Eucharist is the source and summit of my life, of the church's life!