Sunday, March 01, 2009

Flannery O'Connor

I was introduced to the writings of Flannery O'Connor by Will Peebles. (Will, if you're reading this, send me an e-mail!) Will and I and Steve Belkoff and some others were in an exhilarating "faith and fiction" discussion group back in the 1980s at Michigan State University. In today's nytimes book review there's a new biography of O'Connor, and just seeing her picture brought back a flood of memories for me of the rich, deep discussions we had.

"Wise Blood," A Good Man Is Hard to Find," "The Violent Bear It Away," "Everything That Rises Must Converge," "The Artificial Nigger," "A Temple of the Holy Ghost," "The Lame Shall Enter First"... here was a literary feast attesting to the power and superiority of fiction over non-fiction in getting at the heart of truth.

I was completing my doctoral dissertation on metaphor theory at the time, looking at figurative language's ability to express truth. O'Connor's writing showed a genius who had a personal truth-acquaintance with God and people and the Gospel of Jesus and possessed a vast trope-toolkit wielded to express truth in a way that stayed with you. That last thing, for me, is key. Story can stay with you in ways non-fiction cannot, the exception being non-fiction that tells a story. (Such as This Republic of Suffering, of which O'Connor would have been proud, and which comes back to haunt and sober me whever I read or hear the word "war.")
Decided: I need to read more fiction, tell more stories. The Gospel is a story. Hence, it's staying power. Hence (again), its indestructibleness in spite of non-fictive attempts to assault it.