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.’