Ron Paul 08
The dragon sits by the side of the road, watching those who pass. Beware lest he devour you. We go to the Father of Souls, but it is necessary to pass by the dragon. -- St. Cyril of Jerusalem
Here is a link to an excellent lecture on Flannery by Dr. Wood, given at the McLaurin Institute. I would recommend browsing the other lectures archived on the McLaurin site (www.mclaurin.org) as well. There are some good ones. After Dr. Wood gives his lecture, a professor from the University of Minnesota (with which the Institute is affiliated) offers a response that I think is not really worth listening to. But don't let that keep you from listening to the first 45 minutes. You ought to be able to download the mp3 file from the site by right-clicking (if you still haven't bought a Mac) or my holding ctrl while you click (if you are enlightened and liberated).
So. I am continuing to read from this book I have been mentioning and will be quoting from periodically, Flannery O'Connor and the Christ-Haunted South, by Ralph C. Wood. In his essay on Flannery's personal favorite story, "The Artificial Nigger," Wood writes, "The staggering paradox is that God imprisons us, said Karl Barth, by flinging wide our cell door: the gospel 'accuses [mankind] by showing that all the charges against him have been dropped. It threatens him by showing him that he is out of danger.' Barth liked to tell of a Swiss horseman who became lost in a snowstorm and crossed frozen Lake Konstanz at full gallop before finally making it safely home. When told of the daring deed he had consciously done, the man broke down in horror and fright. Only after he was saved did he recognize his dire danger (emphasis mine)." That is the essential fact of the gospel, and the essential difference between knowing Christ and merely being a Christian (or the religion of your choice). The one looks back on what was done and lives accordingly: gratefully, graciously, humbly; the other does and looks forward to being repaid accordingly, which is a system doomed to fall flat on its face. In the story at hand, both the characters are a disaster to themselves and each other because each is only concerned with being entirely self-sufficient and with proving himself to be better than his companion. Read the story.
OK. So Flannery O'Connor is having a huge impact on my life right now as I am teaching her work to Katy. I have been reading and enjoying her for years, but I realize now that I have never really scratched the surface of her stories. Anyway, one thing that has been really useful has been Dr. Ralph Wood's recent book, Flannery O'Connor and the Christ Haunted South, which he recently sent me a copy of (long, but very cool, story, and one of the landmarks of my academic life). In one footnote, we have Flannery saying of not-liberal theologian Karl Barth, "I distrust people who have ugly things to say about Karl Barth. I like old Barth. He throws the furniture around the room." I could say much the same for Miss O'Connor right now. She is throwing the furniture all about what I have tried to keep as neat an intellectual space as possible. She is redefining Grace, or at least casting it in its intended light. She has overturned my understanding of what redemption looks like, the use of mercy, and the beauty of the fundamentalist South (she herself was a Christian Catholic). I just realized the other day that it is killing me not to have anyone to share this with (I think I tire Katy out sometimes, so I try to hold back), so y'all might be the (willing or not) recipients of occasional thoughts on Flannery.
I love it when I have a whole lesson planned (or even when I don't) and we wind up spending almost the whole class discussing the first question that I ask. When I taught eighth grade civics a few years back, we called those tangents, and I had a designated tangent-caller whose duty was to get us back on track. Any readers of my blog will believe that I have an affinity for such tangents. Anyway, here is the question we discussed for about an hour today:
The following is the most complete account of my proposal and Melissa's astonishing acceptance minutes in to the new year. There is a picture. I will post it when I determine if my camera is actually dead dead or only mostly dead.