[percy-l] Flannery O?Connor?s ?Prayer Journal? (Jim Forest)

joshua emrich joshuaemrich at yahoo.com
Mon Nov 18 12:24:00 EST 2013

Flannery O'Conner made fun of book clubs like this one.

On Monday, November 18, 2013 6:45 AM, John E. Riley <jeriley at uark.edu> wrote:
Thank you for sharing this. The author of this review, Marilynne Robinson, is herself an accomplished author. I was struck by the following statement from her review: 
>it is striking that atheism, in an apparently Southern, vernacular incarnation with nothing intellectual about it, is at the center of “Wise Blood...
>To bring things full circle, I can see that statement, or at least parts of it, applying to Lancelot as well.
>John Riley
>Mullins Library
>University of Arkansas
>Fayetteville, Arkansas, USA
>From: percy-l-bounces at lists.ibiblio.org [percy-l-bounces at lists.ibiblio.org] on behalf of percy-l-request at lists.ibiblio.org [percy-l-request at lists.ibiblio.org]
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>   1. Flannery O?Connor?s ?Prayer Journal? (Jim Forest)
>Message: 1
>Date: Sat, 16 Nov 2013 12:21:43 +0100
>From: Jim Forest <jhforest at gmail.com>
>Subject: [percy-l] Flannery O?Connor?s ?Prayer Journal?
>To: "Percy-L: Literary and Philosophical Discussion"
>        <percy-l at lists.ibiblio.org>
>        <CAKjbwZ5FteDcHyOyo8KtPSph0=OoWZTr02gjaxNWEAd6_b5G3A at mail.gmail.com>
>Content-Type: text/plain; charset="windows-1252"
>On the theory that Walker Percy readers are also, in may cases, Flannery
>O"Connor readers, I share the following.
>Jim Forest
>The BelieverFlannery O?Connor?s ?Prayer Journal? By MARILYNNE ROBINSON NY
>Times / Published: November 15, 2013
>This slender, charming book must be approached with a special tact. To read
>it feels a little like an intrusion on inwardness itself. The volume
>contains, alongside a lightly corrected transcription, a facsimile of the
>Sterling notebook in which Flannery O?Connor, just 20 years old, began a
>journal addressed to God. Written in her neat hand, it is reproduced
>complete with the empty final pages (her concluding words are ?there is
>nothing left to say of me?) and not omitting a bit of musical notation
>floating on the inside of the back cover. The prayers, attempts at prayer
>and meditations on faith and art contained in it were written in 1946 and
>1947, while O?Connor was a student in Iowa. The brilliance that would make
>her fictions literary classics is fully apparent in them.
>  Enlarge This Image
>   Martha Sprieser (Georgia College Library, Milledgeville)
>By Flannery O?Connor
>96 pp. Farrar, Straus & Giroux. $18.
>The complexity of O?Connor?s thinking, together with the largely flawless
>pages in her hand, suggest that these entries may be fair copies of earlier
>drafts. Clearly O?Connor?s virtuosity makes her self-?conscious. Young as
>she was, new to writing, she could only have been pleased, even awed, at
>having produced these beautiful sentences. Perhaps nothing written is
>finally meant to go unread, even if the reader is only a creature of the
>writer?s mind, an attentive and exacting self that compels refinements of
>honesty. After a little joke about the pedestrian uses we would make of a
>knowledge of heaven if we had been given one, she says, remembering her
>intended Hearer, ?But I do not mean to be clever although I do mean to be
>clever on 2nd thought and like to be clever & want to be considered so.?
>Her mind is examined, faith questioned, weakness confessed, powers tried as
>they might not have been under the eye of any human observer. Youth and
>loneliness and the unspent energies of a singular mind are testing the
>possible and must be allowed free play.
>It is the religious sensibility reflected in this journal that makes it as
>eloquent on the subject of creativity as it is on the subject of prayer.
>O?Connor?s awareness of her gifts gives her a special kind of interest in
>them. Having concluded one early entry by asking the Lord to help her ?with
>this life that seems so treacherous, so disappointing,? she begins the next
>entry: ?Dear God, tonight it is not disappointing because you have given me
>a story. Don?t let me ever think, dear God, that I was anything but the
>instrument for Your story ? just like the typewriter was mine.?
>Every writer wonders where fictional ideas come from. The best of them
>often appear very abruptly after a period of imaginative drought. And,
>mysteriously, they really are good ideas, much superior to the contrivances
>of conscious invention. Such experiences are by no means exclusive to
>writers with religious worldviews. But believing them to be literal gifts
>grants them an objective existence they seem actually to deserve. This
>entails problems, of course. Fiction rarely shows a divine imprimatur, as
>its mortal creators are well aware. I would be curious to know what story
>or part of a story by O?Connor should be attributed to the Lord. It can
>seem self-aggrandizing or simply bizarre to ascribe any thought or work to
>a seemingly external source, named or unnamed. Nevertheless, ?Hesiod,
>Pindar and any number of poets and prophets before and after them have
>declared indebtedness of this kind. If they, and O?Connor, were na?ve,
>sophistication has made language poorer. There is no way now to describe an
>experience many a writer can attest to, having been surprised by it, and
>having enjoyed it as a particular pleasure and reward of the art. Religion
>is by its nature more accommodating to the unaccountable than rationalism
>ever can be.
>While O?Connor was a student at the Iowa Writers? Workshop she was also a
>daily communicant at St. Mary?s Catholic Church at the edge of campus. Her
>journal reflects a conflict, in her mind at least, between a skeptical
>intellectual environment and the faith she sometimes anxiously sustains.
>She says: ?I dread, Oh Lord, losing my faith. My mind is not strong. It is
>a prey to all sorts of intellectual quackery. I do not want it to be fear
>which keeps me in the church.? She knows all the arguments against
>religion. They seem to have changed little over the last 70 years, so there
>is no need to rehearse them here. Considering the threat she feels them to
>be, it is striking that atheism, in an apparently Southern, vernacular
>incarnation with nothing intellectual about it, is at the center of ?Wise
>Blood,? the novel she had already begun to write and submit to be read in
>workshop. This is a tale in which pathos tips into pathology and violence,
>answered by a penance of self-mutilation and suffering. Yet the prose is
>absolutely brilliant, sentence by sentence, simile by simile, and so
>relentlessly inventive it feels comic.
>The young writer prays, ?Please let Christian principles permeate my
>writing and please let there be enough of my writing (published) for
>Christian principles to permeate.? At prayer she is scrupulous in her
>candor, and a little wry therefore. She seems already to be making
>important decisions about the means by which she will carry forward her
>intention to write as a Christian, influenced by her reaction to the
>assertive skepticism and the fashionable theism she senses around her. She
>says, ?Give me the grace, dear God, to see the bareness and the misery of
>the places where You are not adored but desecrated.? This might serve as a
>gloss on the fiction she was writing at the time, which conjures such a
>world. She asks: ?Am I trying to shock with God? Am I trying to push Him in
>there violently, feet foremost? Maybe that?s all right. Maybe if I?m doing
>it it?s all right?? Certainly by the standards of the most tentative or
>perfunctory reverence her language can seem transgressive. Her religious
>sincerity is beyond question, but the forms of its expression raise many
>questions. This is no criticism. It is the honorable work of any writer who
>touches on great matters to provoke. And it is a discipline of writing well
>to allow the fiction to discover itself, however it may startle its
>writer?s intentions as it does so. She says of the story for which she has
>thanked God: ?I am not trying to disparage anybody?s religion although when
>it was coming out, I didn?t know exactly what I was trying to do or what it
>was going to mean. . . . Please don?t let me have to scrap the story
>because it turns out to mean more wrong than right ? or any wrong.?
>The particular pleasure of life in Iowa City rests not so much in the fact
>that the girl beside you on the bus or behind you in line might well be
>pondering a great and turbulent tradition of thought and belief, and
>finding new language to explore it. This could be true anywhere. It is that
>here the privilege of hearing or seeing her thoughts as fiction or poetry,
>even seeing them emerge and develop, is widely shared. This little journal
>puts its reader a step closer to one touching and remarkable young mind.
>* * *
>*Marilynne Robinson is the author of three novels, including the Pulitzer
>Prize-winning ?Gilead,? and four books of nonfiction. Her essay collection
>?When I Was a Child I Read Books? was published last year.*
>*Jim & Nancy Forest*
>Kanisstraat 5 / 1811 GJ Alkmaar / The Netherlands
>Jim's books: www.jimandnancyforest.com/books/
>Jim & Nancy web site: www.jimandnancyforest.com
>Photo collections: www.flickr.com/photos/jimforest/collections/
>On Pilgrimage blog: http://jimandnancyonpilgrimage.blogspot.com/
>A Tale of Two Kidneys blog: http://ataleof2kidneys.blogspot.com/
>In Communion site: www.incommunion.org
>* * *
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