Friday, February 8, 2013

Whispers of Faith

In her essay "The Fiction Writer and his Country," Flannery O'Connor describes how she approaches writing to an increasingly secular audience: “The novelist with Christian concerns will find in modern life distortions which are repugnant to him, and his problem will be to make these appear as distortions to an audience which is used to seeing them as natural; and he may well be forced to take ever more violent means to get his vision across to this hostile audience. When you can assume that your audience holds the same beliefs you do, you can relax a little and use more normal ways of talking to it; when you have to assume that it does not, then you have to make your vision apparent by shock -- to the hard of hearing you shout, and for the almost blind you draw large and startling figures.” (Mystery and Manners, pp. 33-34)  And shout she did with some of the most startling prose of the mid-twentieth century.  But that was then and this is now.  Is it still necessary for the "novelist with Christian concerns" to shout in order to be heard?  Not at all, according to Gregory Wolfe in an excellent article published last month in the Wall Street Journal.  Wolfe, who is editor of  Image, notes that O'Connor was writing in a different cultural context from the authors of today. Her approach "made sense in the context of her time, when the old Judeo-Christian narrative was locked in a struggle with the new secular narratives of Marx, Freud and Darwin. However, we live in a postmodern world, where any grand narrative is suspect, where institutions are seen as oppressive." Citing the writings of Christopher Behan, Doris Betts, and Alice McDermott, Mr. Wolfe asserts that "the faith found in literature [today] is more whispered than shouted. Perhaps a new Flannery O'Connor will rise, but meanwhile we might try listening more closely to the still, small voice that is all around us."
- Mark

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