Friday, January 20, 2017

Flannery in the Time of Politics

Last December, I was heartened by an article in the Paris Review concerning "The Displaced Person" and David Griffith's ability to find therein some personal help on a hot-button issue.  I found myself encouraged not necessarily because I agreed with his policy thoughts or even his interpretation of the story itself, but for the essayist's ability to look into the views of someone whom he believes to have been a bit too recalcitrant for her own good on social issues.  Flannery's biography or theology might not provide a ready list of virtues for him, but her art does. Griffith finds in literature a possible solution to a big, troublesome, societal-level problem, and surely that's a step in the right direction.  In much the same way, when Flannery looks to rural Protestants for her characters, I am encouraged that someone so different than they can use them so deftly and, oddly enough, believably. 

Reading Flannery should remind us that history is a long time in its making, and philosophy even longer.  David Griffith found out as much when he struggles with the immigration issue nearly six decades after Flannery's own foray into the topic.  I look over the fields here and can but imagine what they looked like when they were being plowed by the real Displaced People. Teaching Wise Blood this week, I found myself wondering what Hazel Motes would think about whether or not his "Church Without Christ" might still be with us today, hiding out under a more palatable label. I cannot be discouraged that these big issues haven't been solved yet, even though minds far greater than my own have fought round after round over them. In trying to avoid the rancor of modern politics, we can find an example not very far away.

In hosting the various members of the Milledgeville intelligentsia here at the farm, I can find in Flannery's own life an example of how those with opposing views enrich and sharpen me. From professors to businesspeople to poets to holy men of all stripes, they were welcomed here by a warm hostess and their ideas found clear, reasoned voice and, more importantly, gracious reception. May we all be so joyously inviting. More importantly, may we evaluate these ideas soberly and righteously and continue to welcome those who espouse those ideas.

It's a unique privilege as an English educator that I'm free to participate in this Great Debate and to train up new participants for it.  I wish for my students an intellectual life in which they can readily seek out the whole range of events, philosophies, and policies. Though here at the farm we can focus on Flannery the person and the life that Andalusia's workers lived, our ultimate aim is to spread the message of a lifelong passion for learning, for new ideas, and I'm thankful that I can work in the home of such an exemplary learner. 

Katherine Anne Porter, herself not exactly a Roman Catholic writer, welcomed by a familiar lady of, shall we say, different sensibilities.

Daniel Wilkinson is an Instructor of English at Georgia College and the Bon Vivant of Andalusia Farm. 

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