Wednesday, October 3, 2007

"...that large body of pious trash for which we have long been so famous."

Flannery O'Connor was a Christian, and one of the most respected American writers of the 20th century. She wrote both novels and short stories but her contribution was cut short when she died, age 39, in 1964. Marvin Olasky at World has created an interview with her about Christian writing by juxtaposing questions with material she wrote for a book called Mystery and Manners. A few excerpts:
WORLD: Why do you call lots of religious novels “sorry”?

O’CONNOR: The sorry religious novel comes about when the writer supposes that because of his belief, he is somehow dispensed from the obligation to penetrate concrete reality. He will think that the eyes of the Church or of the Bible or of his particular theology have already done the seeing for him, and that his business is to rearrange this essential vision into satisfying patterns . . . by beginning with Christian principles and finding the life that will illustrate them. . . . The result is another addition to that large body of pious trash for which we have so long been famous. ....

WORLD: Some of our readers who don’t like writing about adultery or murder quote the admonition in Philippians 4 to think about what is good. Should novelists avert their eyes from what is bad?

O’CONNOR: The novelist is required to open his eyes on the world around him and look. If what he sees is not highly edifying, he is still required to look. . . . What he sees at all times is fallen man perverted by false philosophies. Is he to reproduce this? Or is he to change what he sees and make it, instead of what it is, what in the light of faith he thinks it ought to be . . . to ‘tidy up reality’? ....

WORLD: But there are dangers in this.

O’CONNOR: It is very possible that what is vision and truth to the writer is temptation and sin to the reader. There is every danger that in writing what he sees, the novelist will be corrupting some ‘little one,’ and better a millstone were tied around his neck. . . . This is no superficial problem, [but] to force this kind of total responsibility on the novelist is to burden him with the business that belongs only to God.

WORLD: So what do good writers do when they see the need to describe but want to minimize the anger of corruption?

O’CONNOR: [The good writer should] take great pains to control every excess, everything that does not contribute to the central meaning and design. He cannot indulge in sentimentality, in propagandizing, or in pornography and create a work of art, for all these things are excesses. ....

WORLD: Where do beginning writers often go wrong?

O’CONNOR: [They] are apt to be reformers and to want to write because they are possessed not by a story but by the bare bones of some abstract notion. They are conscious of problems, not of people, of questions and issues, not of the texture of existence, of case histories and of everything that has a sociological smack, instead of with all those concrete details of life that make actual the mystery of our position on earth. ....

WORLD: Are you overly hard on some Christian writers? Can’t even poorly written religious novels with pious characters be edifying?

O’CONNOR: Poorly written novels —no matter how pious and edifying the behavior of the characters —are not good in themselves and are therefore not really edifying.

WORLD: But can’t God use them for good?

O’CONNOR: We have plenty of examples in this world of poor things being used for good purposes. God can make any indifferent thing, as well as evil itself, an instrument for good; but I submit that to do this is the business of God and not of any human being. [read more]
World On the Web » World New Media Archive » Interview with Flannery O’Connor

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