Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Review of Flannery and Return to Good & Evil: Two Books on Flannery O’Connor


The highest recommendations I can give for any book on Flannery O’Connor are reserved for those she wrote. Her novels and stories deal with humanity injured in the nihilistic culture found, ironically, in the Bible belt. The images presented are an answer to the loss of reason and ultimately the loss of our own humanity that arises from this environment. In this short essay I wish to review two recent works that consider the life and scholarship of Flannery O’Connor. Brad Gooch is a literature professor at William Patterson University who authored Flannery: A Life of Flannery O’Connor (isbn 0316000663). Henry Edmonson III is a professor at Georgia College and State University in Milledgeville, Georgia and he wrote Return to Good and Evil: Flannery O’Connor’s Response to Nihilism (isbn 0739111051).

For the most part, Flannery’s reviewers have completely misunderstood her work and the writings on her novels negatively evaluate her stories while failing to see the main point. Brad Gooch is a poet and writer whose other books include City Poet: The Life and Times of Frank O’Hara, Finding the Boyfriend Within, Dating the Greek Gods, and The Golden Age of Promiscuity. Although educated at Columbia, he is a poor candidate for writing a biography on Flannery O’Connor. After reading Flannery, I must conclude that Gooch is unfamiliar with the literature that O’Connor read daily and is intellectually unprepared to approach her life and thought.

His biography examines the childhood and high school years of Flannery’s life and this section is the strongest Gooch presents. It is hard to misrepresent stories of a child and this portrayal is accurate and good. If the book had ended after chapter three, this would have been an entirely different review. Unfortunately, Gooch continues and attempts to examine Flannery’s works and thought.

It is difficult to imagine a poorer account of Flannery O’Connor’s adult life than the one presented by Gooch. Although he has read The Habit of Being, it is clear that Flannery’s own explanation of her work is irrelevant to his understanding. The problem is that he completely misses the deeper aspects of Flannery’s stories and attempts to create his own deontological interpretation, which ultimately is worthless. There is a section where he describes Flannery as an agent that supported the forced social change on the South. The irony is that Flannery specifically contradicts this in a passage in The Habit of Being and again in the short-story “The Enduring Chill” and she considered the forced imposition over-simplistic and ill-conceived. Yet, this does not stop Gooch from reporting the Georgian author as a social reformer. O’Connor wrote metaphysically and used the events in her life as a tool to illustrate the consequences and ends of our nihilistic culture. Gooch reduces her works to mere self-introspection and fails to grasp their meaning. If you want to read a book describing a person that the author knows nothing about, this is the book for you. Little, Brown, and Company brought this book into print because it addressed a gap in the literature concerning Flannery O’Connor. There is an honest need for a good biography. The problem is that Brad Gooch does not present a fair account and the gap this work sought to address still remains. If you have already read all of Flannery’s work, then read this book but do not expect much. Gooch’s work is simply a disappointment.

The second work was written in 2005 by a political theory professor at the college in Milledgeville that houses the archives of Flannery O’Connor. Henry Edmondson III is able to critically assess her writing through the use of her own handwritten commentaries on the books she read on a daily basis. As a political theory professor, he should not be equipped to examine Flannery’s response to nihilism. His works include John Dewey & Decline of American Education: How the Patron Saint of Schools Has Corrupted Teaching & Learning and The Moral of the Story. He has also published extensively on Flannery O’Connor and the Return to Good and Evil is simply a collection of these essays. This book is more difficult to read because it is not a sequential essay but rather a collection of separate pieces. There is also an intellectual affinity between Flannery and Edmonson III if one considers their almost identical interpretation of John Dewey. In the Habit of Being Flannery wrote, “… anything Wm. Heard Kilpatrick & Jhn. Dewey say do, don’t do … [p 29]” Edmonson’s philosophical dispositions correspond nicely with O’Connor’s and this allows him to provide insightful commentary on her work.


Within this book, Edmonson offers two essays that examine Wise Blood and consider Hazel Motes’ rejection of God and how the character’s journey ultimately leads him to embrace what he had rejected. Nihilism is the cultural context for modern man and the story symbolizes the voyage taken by rejecting God. Flannery’s Catholicism is an important element in the novels and Wise Blood is impossible to understand if it is removed from its religious context. Also, Edmonson III presents the ideas of Nietzsche, Dostoevsky, Guardini, Gilson, St. John of the Cross, St. Thomas Aquinas, Copleston, Arendt, and Voegelin in the text to show how they fit within O’Connor’s novel. Return to Good and Evil is a good source for individuals that do not grasp the deeper elements within O’Connor’s work. While it does not compare to the Flannery’s own stories or original works, Edmonson III presents a thoughtful and faithful introduction.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Police Question Man for Inviting People To Church for Easter

Repeat after me: "The West is Democratic and Free." Repeat as often as needed until you believe it.

Father Z, a Great Site

Check out a great site on all things Liturgical, Catholic and Culinary.

Called to Communion

If you have questions about the Catholic Church and would like to check out a site that discusses theological issues related to the Reformation and Catholic thought, then go to Called to Communion.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Tracking Congressional Votes on Life Issues

Since the Life Issues are one of the critical areas where Catholics cannot compromise, it is useful to be able to track how individual members of the House and Senate actually vote on these bills. The National Committee for a Human Life Amendment offers a simple tool to keep track of these votes.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Flannery O'Connor's Wise Blood - Yale Lecture

If you would like to see what they are teaching about Flannery O'Connor at Yale, there are two lectures on Wise Blood available on YouTube. Professor Amy Hungerford integrates Habit of Being and Catholicism into the lecture designed for freshmen and sophomores.

Bishop Gerald Kicanas on Notre Dame

If history tells us anything about our bishop's conference, Bishop Kicanas will be the next president. His stand on the Notre Dame decision to invite President Obama is troubling as it is filled with dualism and an embrace of the cultural assumptions of liberalism that lead to confusion. It is particularly surprising to see his defense of Fr Jenkins' 'intentionality.' According to Tucson's bishop, it is intentionality that determines the ethical goodness of an act and, therefore, pro-life Catholics should not be too hard on Notre Dame. Perhaps this is the reasoning that allows Bishop Kicanas to publicly applaud pro-abortion politicians who may offer other policies that are in compliance with their intentionality. In this regard we should remember Flannery O'Connor who wrote that "tenderness deprived of the source of tenderness leads to the gas chamber." In a nihilistic culture, many horrors are carried out by people who thought they were doing good. For example, the communists killed 150 million innocent people and believed it was just. The new society that would eliminate class distinctions justifies the act and this allowed them to believe that they were doing something good. Intentionality alone is an insufficient guide and a Catholic bishop should know better.

Although it is difficult to exercise authority and no one wishes to punish, it is important to remember that discipline is exercised for the salvation of souls. It is not about politics (this would be a reduction). It is an act of mercy, albeit a difficult mercy. Bishops must safeguard the moral clarity of the faithful and to correct those who make mistakes in matters of faith or morals. Those who violate the teaching of the Church with good intentions are especially in need of correction. Dialogue is necessary but so is discipline.

History is filled with memory of those who suffered unjustly by well-intentioned people.

Did Oswald Chambers Prefigure Giussani?

Consider this meditation, written sometime between 1911 and 1917:

Today we have substituted creedal belief for personal belief, and that is why so many are devoted to causes and so few devoted to Jesus Christ. People do not want to be devoted to Jesus, but only to the cause He started. Jesus Christ is a source of deep offence to the educated mind of today that does not want Him in any other way than as a Comrade. Our Lord's first obedience was to the will of His Father, not to the needs of men; the saving of men was the natural outcome of His obedience to the Father. If I am devoted to the cause of humanity only, I will soon be exhausted and come to the place where my love will falter; but if I love Jesus Christ personally and passionately, I can serve humanity though men treat me as a door-mat. The secret of a disciple's life is devotion to Jesus Christ, and the characteristic of the life is its unobtrusiveness. It is like a corn of wheat, which falls into the ground and dies, but presently it will spring up and alter the whole landscape (John 12:24).

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Truth Always Attracts Rather Than Repulses

On June 7, the Washingon Post published an op-ed piece by Rozalyn Farmer Love, a medical student at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. The piece consisted of Ms. Love's explanation of why she had changed from a pro-life to a pro-choice point of view, and offered further defenses of the pro-choice position.

One of her classmates, Mandy Reimer, wrote a response from the pro-life point of view and submitted it to the Post. Her response was not published. Fortunately for us, Il Sussidiario, an Italian news website that has an English language version, has published the response. You can find it here. I think this is perhaps the most elegant defense of the pro-life position that I have ever encountered. Take the time to read it and see if you do not agree that it is influenced by the caress of the Nazarene.

Friday, June 12, 2009

William Kurelek: a Catholic Artist

William Kurelek was a Catholic painter who gained respect in North America.

A quiet passing: Capitalism

The capitalist era is passing in history as a night. Something new, a state-buttressed market economy, is emerging. It is no coincidence that people are looking to Marx. If we are willing to admit it, our culture is sorrowfully guided by materialism. Yet, we have seen this move in history before and it had dire consequences.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Pray For This

Catholic Answers has filed suit against the IRS for the agency's power to scare religious groups into remaining silent concerning moral issues like abortion, based on the idea that these are political matters.

The great tragedy of the abortion movement is the fact that most people view the matter, wrongly, as a political (prudential) issue and not a moral issue. This is what happens when we close ourselves to reality.

Obama and the new holocaust

Visiting the former concentration camp of Buchenwald, Obama said it is a place “where people were deemed inhuman because of their differences” and that “our grief and our outrage over what happened have not diminished. I will not forget what I have seen here today.” Despite these words, he is clearly continuing to promote a holocaust in his own country through abortion.

http://patricknovecosky.wordpress.com/2009/06/07/obama-and-the-new-holocaust/