[percy-l] Flannery OConnor's 'Prayer Journal' (Jim Forest)

ERNEST HUTTON ehutton at huttonassociates.com
Thu Nov 21 15:59:42 EST 2013

Of course, Flannery O'Connor made fun of everything. See her cartoons (bet few people knew about that!). She always wished she had become a New Yorker cartoonist. Her stuff reminds one of Roz Chast or Lynda Berry. http://www.fantagraphics.com/browse-shop/flannery-o-connor-the-cartoons-dec.-2011-2.html

BTW, re Marilynne Robinson comment, I wouldn't use 'atheism' (Southern vernacular or otherwise) to describe either Wise Blood or Lancelot-- rather a form of Catholic agnostic existentialism: posing questions that have no answer.

Ernie Hutton
Ernest Watson Hutton Jr. FAICP Assoc AIA
Hutton Associates Inc/ Planning Interaction
One Union Square West  Suite 813
New York NY 10003
ehutton at huttonassociates.com


On Nov 18, 2013, at 12:24 PM, joshua emrich wrote:

> 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
> Reference
> Mullins Library
> University of Arkansas
> Fayetteville, Arkansas, USA
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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>
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> 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
> http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/17/books/review/flannery-oconnors-prayer-journal.html?nl=books&emc=edit_bk_20131115
> 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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