Celebrate the wit and wisdom of Flannery O’Connor on her birthday

Because sometimes a good book is hard to find

The following quotes are predominantly from The Habit Of Being: Letters of Flannery O’Connor, and the essays and lectures compiled in Mystery And Manners. These are quotes from O’Connor herself, and not her characters, therefore there will be no wisdom dispensed from Hazel Motes.

On writing and art

“I have found, in short, from reading my own writing, that my subject in fiction is the action of grace in territory largely held by the devil.”

“Writing a novel is a terrible experience, during which the hair often falls out and the teeth decay. I’m always irritated by people who imply that writing fiction is an escape from reality. It is a plunge into reality and it’s very shocking to the system.”

“Fiction is about everything human and we are made out of dust, and if you scorn getting yourself dusty, then you shouldn’t try to write fiction. It’s not a grand enough job for you.”

“Art never responds to the wish to make it democratic; it is not for everybody; it is only for those who are willing to undergo the effort needed to understand it.”

“The writer operates at a peculiar crossroads where time and place and eternity somehow meet. His problem is to find that location.”

“The writer should never be ashamed of staring. There is nothing that does not require his attention.”

“I suppose half of writing is overcoming the revulsion you feel when you sit down to it.”

“Try arranging [your novel] backwards and see what you see. I thought this stunt up from my art classes, where we always turn the picture upside down, on its two sides, to see what lines need to be added. A lot of excess stuff will drop off this way.”

“It might be dangerous for you to have too much time to write. I mean if you took off a year and had nothing else to do but write and weren’t used to doing it all the time then you might get discouraged.” I heartily agree with this. I sometimes speak to people who imagine that they need to quit their jobs before they can start writing. I started writing while I had a full-time job (twice).”

On religion and spirituality

“When there is a tendency to compartmentalize the spiritual and make it resident in a certain type of life only, the spiritual is apt gradually to be lost.”

“What people don’t realize is how much religion costs. They think faith is a big electric blanket, when of course it is the cross.”

“…the only thing that makes the Church endurable is that it is somehow the body of Christ and that on this we are fed. It seems to be a fact that you have to suffer as much from the Church as for it but if you believe in the divinity of Christ, you have to cherish the world at the same time that you struggle to endure it.”

“One of the awful things about writing when you are a Christian is that for you the ultimate reality is the Incarnation, the present reality is the Incarnation, and nobody believes in the Incarnation; that is, nobody in your audience. My audience are the people who think God is dead. At least these are the people I am conscious of writing for.”

On Education

“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 best-seller that could have been prevented by a good teacher.”

“Total non-retention has kept my education from being a burden to me.”

“I have what passes for an education in this day and time, but I am not deceived by it.”

“The meaning of a story should go on expanding for the reader the more he thinks about it, but meaning cannot be captured in an interpretation. If teachers are in the habit of approaching a story as if it were a research problem for which any answer is believable so long as it is not obvious, then I think students will never learn to enjoy fiction. Too much interpretation is certainly worse than too little, and where feeling for a story is absent, theory will not supply it.”

On the south
“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.”

“I think it is safe to say that while the South is hardly Christ-centered, it is most certainly Christ-haunted.”

Misc

“The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it.”

“There won’t be any biographies of me, for only one reason, lives spent between the house and the chicken farm do not make for exciting copy.”

It’s Carson McCullers Birthday

“The Heart is a lonely hunter with only one desire! To find some lasting comfort in the arms of another’s fire…driven by a desperate hunger to the arms of a neon light, the heart is a lonely hunter when there’s no sign of love in sight!”

Her collection of shorts The Ballad of the Sad Cafe and Other Stories, in pdf form

http://www.kameli.net/~raimu/rnd/carson_mccullers_-_the_ballad_of_the_sad_cafe_and_other_stories.pdf

I’ve never seen this 1968 adaptation of her most famous novel, but the critical response is overwhelmingly positive, and the cast, quality, so I’m looking forward to it.

Her social commentary is just as pertinent today, as ever, and her musings on love, loneliness and the human condition are forever relevant.

“For fear is a primary source of evil. And when the question “Who am I?” recurs and is unanswered, then fear and frustration project a negative attitude. The bewildered soul can answer only: “Since I do not understand ‘Who I am,’ I only know what I am not.” The corollary of this emotional incertitude is snobbism, intolerance and racial hate. The xenophobic individual can only reject and destroy, as the xenophobic nation inevitably makes war. ”
― Carson McCullers, The Mortgaged Heart: Selected Writings

“We live in the richest country in the world. There’s plenty and to spare for no man, woman, or child to be in want. And in addition to this our country was founded on what should have been a great, true principle – the freedom, equality, and rights of each individual. Huh! And what has come of that start? There are corporations worth billions of dollars – and hundreds of thousands of people who don’t get to eat.”
― Carson McCullers, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter

“ But look what the Church has done to Jesus during the last two thousand years. What they have made of Him. How they have turned every word He spoke for their own vile ends. Jesus would be framed and in jail if he was living today.”
― Carson McCullers, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter

“Day and night she had drudged and struggled and thrown her soul into her work, and there was not much of her left over for anything else. Being human, she suffered from this lack and did what she could to make up for it. If she passed the evening bent over a table in the library and later declared that she had spent that time playing cards, it was as though she had managed to do both those things. Through the lies, she lived vicariously. The lies doubled the little of her existence that was left over from work and augmented the little rag end of her personal life.”
― Carson McCullers, The Ballad of the Sad Café and Other Stories

“He could not understand the wild quiver of his heart, nor the following sense of recklessness and grace that lingered after she was gone.”

“Any form of art can only develop by means of single mutations by individual creators. If only traditional conventions are used an art will die, and the widening of an art form is bound to seem strange at first, and awkward. Any growing thing must go through awkward stages. The creator who is misunderstood because of his breach of convention may say to himself, ‘I seem strange to you, but anyway I am alive.”

“If you would not be forgotten as soon as you are gone, either write things worth reading or do things worth writing.”

Bukowski’s lonely tribute