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.)

6 comments:

Deep Furrows said...

heh

Dan Brookbank said...

Well said Flannery. Of course in our day it would also be nice to teach history as a subject with a history. What you say? Yes, history as a subject with a history. We talk about 9-11 and other topics like their irrespective of historical connections which reach beyond everything we take for granted into in a religious realm that most westerners don't even comprehend exists anymore. Flannery and other writers of the south reminded those in the north that materialism was a poor edifice to rest a civilization upon. Now those in the east are reminding those in the west of the same thing. Well, we'll see if Christianity - dormant for so long - can actually play a role again in Western Civilization. Well, it's still influential south of the Mason Dixon line. We'll see if it's sustainable.

TS said...

Deep Furrows, I did not properly attribute! Flannery would not do that. It's been corrected. :)

Deep Furrows said...

As Krusty the Clown would say: "if you're not Steve Allen, you're stealing my bit."

I'm just pleased to see Flannery is posting again...

Fred

School Master P said...

Yes! Thanks so much for this site. These little gems are like daily devotionals (something I'm sure Flan would chastise me for saying).

I've got you linked to my blog now.

Todd Sentell, Author of Toonamint of Champions said...

Dear Flannery,

Forty-three years after you died too young, a Georgia historical marker was stuck in the ground across the highway from the end of Andalusia’s driveway.

Friday morning, in the shadow of the Badcock & More furniture store sign, just before the dedication ceremony started, a suntanned fellow in a red pick-up truck drove past and honked his horn. For an instant, I thought Parker was back.

The mayor of Milledgeville spoke about you in his Milledgeville accent. And then, a priest with an Irish name in a huge white robe from your old church, Sacred Heart, got up in front of everybody and moved his hands around and read some things from out of that book that’s not exactly the Bible. He said some things that a few of your fellow Catholics repeated with him and then the priest flicked the historical marker, while it was still covered with an official Georgia historical marker blue cover, with holy water. He flicked his wood water wand six times. I counted. The first time he flicked it at the cover you could see the cover quiver but it never did again. If there was a moment you would have loved the most, other than that redneck in the pick up truck blasting the earnestness out of the hot air, it was that holy water business. I’m not Catholic, but these were some moments I deeply understood anyway, especially since we were across the street from where you made literary history because of those hard, perpendicular intersections you designed in your stories and two novels—the perfectly timed crashing together of personalities and religion in all its strange forms … and its haunting aftermath. We were having some near crashing together of religion and personalities right there—right by a loud highway in a modern time as we quietly stood in the grass that belonged to your marker and a discount furniture store.

After that priest blessed your marker, the fellow who’s in charge of the Georgia Historical Society got up there and said he was pretty sure that was the first time in the history of Georgia historical marker dedication ceremonies that one’s been flicked with holy water. Everybody laughed and nodded at each other. God … did I think of you right then. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who got the literary and personal importance—to you—of that moment. I saw you smiling down at this one, too: after everyone stopped laughing I wanted to shout out, like Hazel Motes would at discovering a blasphemer … that the feller who’s in charge of the Georgia Historical Society is wearin’ a tie covered with the logo … of the state of South Caroliner!

After the roadside ceremony, we were invited to come across Highway 441—very carefully—for a reception in the main house. Your house and yard were populated with people speaking in only Southern accents and they were talking about how they knew you and when. Or how and when they knew your mother. On your front porch an old woman grabbed my arm and asked me if I was in church Sunday … that she saw me. I said I wasn’t ... I live one hundred miles from here ... but if my evil twin was there then good for him. The lady, tottering on feeble pegs, told me her name but I didn’t get it because she spoke in an accent so rich her words came out like syrup. She said she had moved onto the farm when she was fifteen and that you and her were opposites. She said she lived in that building over there. She pointed at it with a crooked finger … at the old shed where Andalusia’s caretakers keep an old donkey named Flossie. I wondered if she was drunk. Who cares. We were all drunk on you. Standing in your bedroom doorway gawking at your crutches, your bed, and your writing table. I’m sure you think that’s repulsive—a bunch of people crowded at your door like that. But I’m a respectful hick. I gawk with misty eyes but I don’t point.

I’m not going to go on about the condition of the house and the buildings around the property. Just to say they’ll be back in better shape soon. There’s a man in charge and a foundation has even been developed and the man in charge works hard to preserve you … your place.

Heading back home up Highway 441 in my truck, I passed a couple of Georgia roadside markers of another kind—those homemade crucifixes people make and stick into the ground near where a family member was killed in a car or truck or motorcycle accident. You never know. When you see one, and you see a lot of them in the South, all you know is that death happened right there and somebody wants you to by-God know it. But it’s never at that intersection you write about. You always see those crosses on some long, straight stretch of highway or country road. I think of you as I travel my long stretch of road and across fields of living fire, sometimes in a straight line and sometimes real crooked … as your voice strikes up in my mind … your voice climbing upward, on key, into a starry field … and those who love you so much come to that moment of your grace on that road sooner rather than later if we’re paying attention and we thank you for it … whole companies of white trash and bands of black niggers and battalions of freaks and lunatics shouting and clapping and leaping like frogs and those who have always had a little of everything and the God-given wit to use it right … and we all honk our truck horns in your honor ... and shout hallelujah.


Todd Sentell is a Georgia native and author of the social satire, Toonamint of Champions