It’s the birthday of Flannery O’Connor [Savannah, Georgia (1925)] who wrote two novels and 32 short stories and who said: “I come from a family where the only emotion respectable to show is irritation. In some this tendency produces hives, in others literature, in me both.” When she was six, she and a chicken that she taught to walk backward appeared on the news. She later said: “I was just there to assist the chicken but it was the high point in my life. Everything since has been anticlimax.”
She said, “When we look at a good deal of serious modern fiction, and particularly Southern fiction, we find this quality about it that is generally described, in a pejorative sense, as grotesque. Of course, I have found that anything that comes out of the South is going to be called grotesque by the Northern reader, unless it is grotesque, in which case it is going to be called realistic. … Whenever I’m asked why Southern writers particularly have a penchant for writing about freaks, I say it is because we are still able to recognize one.”
— Stolen from The Writer’s Almanac
Someone once told the Catholic writer Flannery O’Connor that it is more open-minded to think that the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar is a great, wonderful, powerful symbol. Her response was, “If it’s a symbol, to hell with it.”
Flannery O’Connor: “When I know what the laws of the flesh and the physical really are, then I will know what God is. We know them as we see them, not as God sees them. For me, it is the virgin birth, the Incarnation, the resurrection which are the true laws of the flesh and the physical. Death, decay, destruction are the suspension of these laws. I am always astonished at the emphasis the Church puts on the body. It is not the soul she says that will rise but the body, glorified… The resurrection of Christ seems the high point in the law of nature.”
Additional poignancy is added in that this year the Feast of the Annunciation abuts the Sunday of Orthodoxy. I never got the appeal of Miss O’Connor’s writing for serious Protestants. She is not at all sympathetic to them. I hung out with a lot of neo-Calvinist, culture-engaging types who lionized her. When I started reading her, I found her to be very dismissive of Protestantism, whether of the modernist, of the fundamentalist, or of this new-fangled presuppositionalist variety. I think it has something to do with the radical nature of grace in Miss O’Connor’s fiction, which is indeed arresting, but which never comes about through The [classical Protestant] Word Of God Preached, but through [good ol’ dirty Catholic] matter. I am not ashamed to admit that it was Miss O’Connor’s short story Parker’s Back that turned me into an iconodule, rather than St. John of Damascus’ cooly argued Apologia Against Those Who Decry Holy Images. Once I saw the image of my proud, bitter, man-hating soul in Sarah Ruth’s fastidious iconoclasm, there was no recourse but for me to prostrate myself before the holy icon of the blessed flesh of my Lord, and ask His forgiveness for my sin and spiritual elitism. He who did not deign to hold Himself aloof from the messiness of our incarnate lives forgave me.