Thursday, June 28, 2012

Eat Your Heart Out O.E. Parker

Craig and I don't usually make a practice of profiling Andalusia visitors.  On the other hand, when a car comes up the driveway and it's a Prius or a Volvo we are pretty certain that it is not someone who is here to work on the Hill house or cow barn.  Similarly, when a visitor comes through the front door wearing peacock earrings, I can be pretty sure that she is a Flannery O'Connor fan.  Last Tuesday, a couple pulled up on a Harley, and my guess was that they were here because they happened to see the Andalusia sign along the highway and it looked like it might be something worth checking out. For some reason, I assumed their interest in O'Connor was negligible.  Was I ever mistaken!  After I greeted them, I asked if it was their first visit to the farm. Turns out these folks, Daryl and Kendra Kochel, came all the way from Idaho on motorcycle to see the O'Connor homestead.   Kendra said that ever since college it has been her dream to come to Andalusia, and here she finally was.  To show me just how devoted she is to Flannery O'Connor, she turned around and displayed what had to be the largest peacock feather I have ever seen tattooed on a human body. Kendra, who teaches high school English in Boise, was gracious enough to allow us to photograph her. How cool is that tatt!!
- Mark

Friday, June 22, 2012

A Good Bedtime Story?

A couple weeks ago a visitor told me about the time his wife read their daughter a bedtime story, one that's gotta be right up there with Goldilocks and the Three Bears.  Apparently this woman had no idea who Flannery O'Connor was when she guilelessly picked up "A Good Man Is Hard to Find" and began reading the story to her child.    To say that she was shocked is an understatement.  However, long before she reached the chilling conclusion the child had drifted off to sleep.  The same cannot be said for the story-teller who, I was told, stayed awake half the night. 

Summer is heating up in Milledgeville and so are the discounts in the Andalusia gift shop.  Starting this week, all bumper stickers have been permanently marked down to $3 ea. or 2 for $5.  Talk about one hot deal!
- Mark

Friday, June 15, 2012

Drawn to the Grotesque

Like the photographer Diane Arbus (one of her notable photographs is at the right), Flannery O'Connor was intrigued by the grotesque.  The question needs to be asked why, especially when it is an element in her writing that may repel some readers.  I can speak from experience, for I was one of them. Even though I graduated with a bachelor's degree in English back in 1980, it took me nearly thirty years to read her for the first time.  Though some of my favorite writers like Thomas Merton thought she was fabulous, I was put off by what I had heard about her, namely that she was a southern Gothic writer who dealt in the grotesque.  At the same time, I felt like she was an important author I needed to read, and so I decided take the plunge.  While I was immediately taken by the depth of her spiritual vision and dry, off-beat sense of humor, I still couldn't understand her fascination with the grotesque.  Then I stumbled across a book that was quite illuminating.  Though Belden Lane's The Solace of Fierce Landscapes is not about Flannery O'Connor per se, it explores the theme of grace and the grotesque that runs through her stories.  According to Lane, "the grotesque is born out of a dislocation that people feel in an estranged world.  In periods of personal or cultural crisis, human beings experience a loss of control in a universe that's no longer reliable.  The grotesque mirrors their fear of the incomprehensible; it recalls to mind an ominousness they cannot name."  (Lane, p.31)  At the same time, the grotesque is "a daring exercise in summoning the absurd, making fun of what is feared.  Its goal is to defeat, at least in the space of a brief moment's laughter, the powers of darkness."  (Lane, p. 32)  Thomas Mann once said that "the grotesque is the only guise in which the sublime may appear."(source of quote not provided in Lane, p. 32)  I don't know if the German author ever read Flannery (her first collection of short stories was published the year he died), but never has there been a clearer, more concise statement on why she chose to populate her stories with so many freaks.
- Mark

Friday, June 8, 2012

Tooting our own Horn

Three years ago today I visited Andalusia for the first time.  In a previous post I shared some of my impressions of that day and how I never imagined I would one day be working at the farm.  When I look back over the last three years I am astonished at how much has changed and how many improvements to the property have been made.  Here is how the farm looked back on that June day in 2009.  The Hill house was in shambles, there were neither peacocks nor an aviary to house them, the dairy processing shed was just beginning to be restored, the exterior of the main house needed paint, environmental education and the Bernard Cline Outdoor Learning Center were but a dream, and when needed repairs to stabilize the cow barn were going to be made was anybody's guess.  Today, as I look around the Andalusia complex, it's a much different story.  As I write this blog, work crews are busy finishing the restoration of the Hill house and have started shoring up the cow barn.  This morning there is a group of biology students from Georgia College that is doing research on the pond's ecosystem.  Their arrival at the farm was greeted by a chorus of peafowl.  Remember a visitor back in 2009 would have seen none of this.  Back then attendance averaged 71 visitors a week.  Today we're up to almost 100.  In addition to an increase in visitation, our programming has expanded significantly with many more book signings, author readings, symposiums, and special presentations.  All in all, I'd say we have a lot to be proud of, and so I hope you don't mind if we toot our own horn just a little bit.
- Mark

Friday, June 1, 2012

Ready Reference

Occasionally visitors to Andalusia will ask me if I can suggest resources for someone who wants to learn more about Flannery O'Connor.  Without a moment's hesitation, I unabashedly direct them to our website.  Besides providing a lot of useful information for folks planning a visit to the farm, this site is a veritable repository of all things O'Connor.  Containing everything from a good bibliography to multimedia presentations and FAQs, our site has it all.  Another online resource I heartily recommend is a blog called The Comforts of Home. Though I am reluctant to steer folks away from my blog, this one offers an excellent compendium of O'Connor material.  After checking out these sites, I would encourage the budding Flanneryophile to read a good biography, such as Brad Gooch's, Flannery: A Life of Flannery O'Connor.  Those of you who follow my blog know that I quote from this book extensively and I cannot recommend it highly enough.  Another resource I draw from a lot is The Habit of Being.  This collection of O'Connor's letters reveals much of her personality, spirituality, and dry, off-beat sense of humor.  The body of secondary literature on O'Connor is vast and ever-expanding.  Some of the more important of these books of literary criticism are listed on the Andalusia website.  For anyone wishing to peruse current O'Connor scholarship, I suggest checking out recent issues of the Flannery O'Connor Review.  This journal comes out once a year and presents a nice balance of essays and articles from all points of view.  Copies of the Review are available in the Andalusia gift shop or by subscription.   So there you have it, a substantial stockpile of resources to get you started in the wacky, witty world of Flannery O'Connor. 
- Mark