Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Ralph Wood (Author of Flannery O'Connor and the Christ-Haunted South) Interviewed in Religion and Ethics Newsweekly

[Her work] can be appreciated, it can be read as a kind of document of its times, it can be read as an illustration of what a southern kind of literature of the 1950s would have looked like, but it can’t be really comprehended in the sense of grasped in all of its fullness apart from her Catholic Christianity. She said if I did not see through the lenses of my faith I’d have nothing to see. I’d have nothing to say. So quite literally there would be no Flannery O’Connor without her profound, life-centering faith in the Catholic Church and the Catholic tradition and the Gospel. You don’t have to have Christianity to understand Shakespeare, although it would help you understand a great deal of Shakespeare, but if you don’t understand O’Connor in the light of her faith, you really don’t understand her. You misunderstand her.

There can be a kind of reductionism and too quick reading of her in Christian terms. She, by the way, did not want to be known as a Catholic writer; she wanted to be known as a writer, that is to say as a woman whose work had its own excellence, that could stand on its own legs, that did not have to be propped up with the crutches of her faith as if it would crumble without it, so in that sense she is not a Catholic writer, and those that say there’s more to her than simply finding Christ figures—there really are almost none, or of tracing down Christian themes—is to misread her, I think they have a point, and she would agree to that point insofar as she said this: remember that reading literature is not like algebra, it is not a matter of finding x, that is to say the kind of extractable meaning that you can lift out of the text—that’s an Enlightenment notion by the way. Instead, she said once you find x you can forget it. A literary text is the embodiment of a whole way of experiencing the world, and therefore it’s going to have depth after depth, layer after layer, but for O’Connor there is nothing larger than the Gospel, nothing larger than the faith, so that those who say you must not reduce her to her faith are engaged in a fundamental category mistake. When you’ve got, as the Book of Colossians says, Christ present in the presence of the cosmos, then in a real sense the Gospel is larger than the universe, so there’s nothing outside it, grander than it, larger than it, and therefore she could encompass all that counts against it. There’s nihilism running rife through her stories. If you don’t pick up that nihilism, you’ve missed it. If you make a kind of sweet, easy Christian reading of her, you’ve missed it. But you can’t get to the core of her apart from her Christianity.

Read the whole thing (well worth your time!!)

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