Location: Greensboro, NC, United States

Monday, April 06, 2009

Flannery O'Connor

Flannery O'Connor's birthday was March 25th, and it passed me by without my noticing it. This is fairly inexcusable, considering she was possibly the greatest writer America has ever produced. HT to the Avenue Blog for the reminder:

Here are a couple of great quotes from O'Connor:

“Everywhere I go I’m asked if I think the university stifles writers. My opinion is that they don’t stifle enough of them. There’s many a bestseller that could have been prevented by a good teacher.”

On hearing that her friends, Sally and Robert Fitzgerald, were expecting their fifth child:

"I hope this one will be a girl & have a fierce Old Testament name and cut off a lot of heads."

"My mamma and I have interesting literary discussions like the following which took place over some Modern Library books that I had just ordered:

SHE: 'Mobby Dick. I've always heard about that.'
ME: 'Mow-by Dick.'
SHE: 'MOW-by Dick. The Idiot. You would get something called The Idiot. What's it about?'
Me: 'An idiot.'"

"The Manicheans separated spirit and matter. To them all material things were evil. They sought pure spirit and tried to approach the infinite directly without any mediation of matter. This is also pretty much the modern spirit, and for the sensibility infected with it, fiction is hard if not impossible to write because fiction is so very much an incarnational art."

"People have a habit of saying, 'What is the theme of your story?' and they expect you to give them a statement: 'The theme of my story is the economic pressure of the machine on the middle class' - or some such absurdity. And when they've got a statement like that, they go off happy and feel it is no longer necessary to read the story... Some people have the notion that you read the story and then climb out of it into the meaning, but for the fiction writer himself the whole story is the meaning, because it is an experience, not an abstraction."

"I was once, five or six years ago, taken by some friends to have dinner with Mary McCarthy and her husband, Mr. Broadwater... She departed the Church at the age of 15 and is a Big Intellectual. We went at eight and at one, I hadn't opened my mouth once, there being nothing for me in such company to say...Having me there was like having a dog present who had been trained to say a few words but overcome with inadequacy had forgotten them. Well, toward morning the conversation turned on the Eucharist, which I, being the Catholic, was obviously supposed to defend. Mrs. Broadwater said when she was a child and received the host, she thought of it as the Holy Ghost, He being the most portable person of the Trinity; now she thought of it as a symbol and implied that it was a pretty good one. I then said, in a very shaky voice, Well, if it's a symbol, to hell with it. That was all the defense I was capable of but I realize now that this is all I will ever be able to say about it, outside of a story, except that it is the center of existence for me; all the rest of life is expendable."


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