On Understanding Flannery O’Connor

Flannery O'Connor

Illustration by Ande Cook

“Sometimes Flannery O ’Connor turns readers away bewildered by her violence and seemingly hostile attitude toward life. Perhaps in her writing she is like the peacock who does not present its glory when the observer wants it, nor, even when it spreads its tail, immediately displays the “best” side. What the viewer has to accept first is the peacock’s rear:

When the peacock has presented his back, the spectator will usually begin to walk around him to get a front view; but the peacock will continue to turn so that no front view is possible. The thing to do then is to stand still and wait until it pleases him to turn. When it suits him, the peacock will face you. Then you will see in a green-bronze arch around him a galaxy of gazing, haloed suns. (Flannery O’Connor: Mystery and Manners (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1969), pp. 9-10).

To seek out and demand the beautiful directly (or the happy or the edifying) does not bring results from Flannery O ’Connor either. Like the peacock she continues to present her awkward characters in their funda­mental weakness and need of salvation.” (Entire excerpt is from Flannery O’Connor and the Peacock by David R. Mayer)

Explanatory “footnote” from Manifest Propensity: This post aims to merely present a few hints for understanding Flannery O’Connor, for those interested, through the beautiful artwork of Ande Cook and the excerpt from an essay by David R. Mayer. An understanding of her life and mysterious writings are well worth pursuing and these two sources I’ve shared in this post seem to quite ably set one on the right course for that pursuit.

BMC @ Manifest propensity, 2016.

Questions & comments are always welcomed. Thanks for reading. (Now go read Flannery!)

 

Arcade Fire’s Critique of “The Reflective Age” and their Call to a Counter-narrative

Since Arcade Fire has arrived I’ve been intrigued not only by their music but by the fact that they call their hearers to the task of being reflectors (critical thinkers) in relation to our modern culture. I tentatively believe that they present the concept of “reflektor” as the antithesis of being a reflector, wherein a reflektor does not reflect on the real world and reality, but rather only mistakenly finds in those realities reflections of the self. So how do we break free from the mirror/mold of the “reflective age” to the freedom of finding real reality? I believe that their method at least partly includes looking through the lens of biblical revelation.

Their song “Neon Bible” critiques a distortion of authentic biblical revelation as is unfortunately found promulgated by some brands of Christianity. Yet the word “Neon” signals that this is a distortion while also pointing to the fact that the true “Bible” nevertheless remains intact.

All these comments of mine are for the purpose of saying that I believe that Arcade Fire’s songs attempt to present a corpus of reflective narratives on our culture mediated to them (and us) partly through the Biblical revelatory texts. In other words, I think that Arcade Fire’s work at times amounts to a sort of “Bible Study” in which they seek to interpret our culture through the biblical lens and thereby offer counter-narratives to the dominant narratives of our culture.

So to return to where I started, I seriously think that Arcade Fire’s works present a call to us to join them in reflecting on the narratives of our culture in light of the counter-narrative of scripture. To “respond” to this “call” I started a facebook discussion group called “Arcade Fire Neon Bible Study” wherein listeners can compare thoughts and theories about that while also simply appreciating the broad scope of their literary/artistic/musical work.

I don’t view Arcade Fire as something like biblical prophets as though infallible in their cultural critiques, nor that they have fully or accurately presented the biblical counter-narratives. But I believe they are at least to some extent sincerely trying to do so, and if anything their observations, questions, critiques, and answers provide much “food for thought” for those seeking to truly “reflect” on things in “the reflective age.”

So here’s the address, check it out and I hope you’ll join the “Neon Bible Study.” https://www.facebook.com/groups/442967742576071/

BMC @ Manifest Propensity, 2015

The Parable of the Townspeople

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Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Landscape with the Parable of the Sower, 1557.

There was a town in a distant land, far removed from civilization, isolated by deserts, forests, rivers and mountains. The townspeople had legends of others, but being busy and content they didn’t search for them. Their own primal history was lost, but legend also said that the entire world was created by a great and mysterious but generally good Townskeeper.

For their town, near a deep glacial lake surrounded by fertile forests, provided all they needed. They simply received…

“from heaven rains and fruitful seasons, filling their hearts with food and gladness.”

This does not mean their lives were easy. Although nature provided them with all they needed, sometimes it burst forth with more, bringing floods, or blizzards. Disease and infirmity also visited, but all in all the fruitful seasons yielded life against the wildness of nature.

Problems came from their own nature also, by laziness and selfishness. Lying, stealing, the taking of life all became too well known. Even those that kept themselves from such acts were tempted toward evils. Thus they found that all seemed to be cut from the same cloth, and therefore the townspeople tried to balance necessary justice with the need for forgiveness.

So they found that they were thankful to be alive, and enjoyed the fruits of their labors. Most felt so thankful that they wondered if there was some unseen benefactor they should give thanks to. Their early wise ones had said that perhaps someone was good and great enough to have created all things, and so they made an altar devoted to their unknown “Townskeeper” lest they be ungrateful.

One day a mysterious stranger suddenly appeared in their town square. He had been first found by a group of young children. It seemed they thought of him as some favorite uncle, rather than being the first stranger they had ever met. What the adults first saw was the stranger seated and surrounded by the children, several upon his knee, eagerly listening as his kind voice told them stories.

The adults, being more cautionary, began to ask him who he was, where he came from and why he was there. He said that he was sent to them to bring good news and that he was the only son of the Townskeeper who,

“…himself giveth to all life, and breath, and all things; and he made of one every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed seasons, and the bounds of their habitation; that they should seek him, if haply they might feel after him and find him.”

The Townskeeper had always sown their lives with many blessings, and now desired for them to know and trust him fully for all their needs, so that they could enjoy life even more abundantly. So the stranger stayed with them for several months and spoke of many mysterious things. He also did many miraculous signs.

He healed those that were sick or had been born with infirmities. He even welcomed those that had been caught lying or stealing, and visited with one that had taken a life. He seemed to have some special bond with the most needy, and with the children. Thus with many such wonderful words and deeds he blessed all the people, and many found it easy to believe he was the son of their absentee Townskeeper.

Eventually he departed saying he was sent to all the towns in the world. They wondered how, being a man, he could travel the whole and seemingly now larger world.

Once he said he must do something that would overcome all evils and death itself, and that his deed was from the very beginning the necessary foundation of creation. They were all puzzled by this!

Not long after he left someone else arrived. The whole town had been hearing noises such as they never heard before. In a few days what appeared was a parade, led by huge metallic machines that leveled a path through the wilderness like a herd of gigantic wild boars. Following were men marching in formation as trumpets sounded. In the center was a man seated on a throne held aloft by other men. The procession came to rest in the center of the square.

The man solemnly rose as children rushed forward to see the destruction machines. The marching men barricaded them back. He bellowed loudly with a superior tone while announcing himself and speaking.

He said that he embodied the culmination of the scientific aspirations of humankind, which had primarily discovered that there was no evidence for any Townskeeper. They were following the trail of the stranger to undo his delusional lies. He reported that that they had finally rid the world of him, but that some followers believed he rose from the dead and were spreading his lies everywhere they went.

Scientists had concluded that dead strangers do not rise from the dead and the world existed by chance. Feeling thankful is due to biochemical brain reactions because of a full stomach, harem, barn or temple.

Some wondered why many felt thankful even in great hardships, but how could simple folk disagree with the wisdom of “humanity?” He said he must depart to fulfill his chosen mission, but would benevolently appoint marching men as “advisors” to guide their democracy. Besides, they would have many weapons suitable for dealing with superstitions.

The parody pompously departed and the townspeople mainly settled into a “new normal.” Some still felt thankful and remembered the stranger. The more they remembered him the more thankful they felt. Why shouldn’t feeling thankful mean there must be someone to thank? Feeling thirsty means that that water exists. And justice, forgiveness, and love are real yet can’t be proven under the microscope.

Many believed the news of the scientist, who had become their high priest. Life was mostly the same, since nature was still wild and “not yet” overcome by technology. Floods and sicknesses were less often, but when they came they were even worse. Sometimes they still felt thankful, but tried to avoid thinking about it. Eventually many lost their sense of being thankful, because “everyone” knew that there is no reason to thank an accident that eventually produced biochemical reactions in gray matter.

“For there is nothing hid, save that it should be manifested; neither was anything made secret, but that it should come to light. If any man hath ears to hear, let him hear.

And he said unto them, Take heed what ye hear: with what measure ye mete it shall be measured unto you; and more shall be given unto you. For he that hath, to him shall be given: and he that hath not, from him shall be taken away even that which he hath.”

Written by Bryan M. Christman, Copyright 2015. All rights reserved.

Flannery O’Connor – “She would of been a good woman…”

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“She would of been a good woman,” said The Misfit, “if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life.”
― Flannery O’Connor, A Good Man is Hard to Find

“Writing a novel is a terrible experience, during which the hair often falls out and the teeth decay. I’m always irritated by people who imply that writing fiction is an escape from reality. It is a plunge into reality and it’s very shocking to the system.”
― Flannery O’Connor, Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose

Link to the PBS episode on Flannery O’Connor