October 7th, 2016
|07:55 pm - Having the courage to look at the world one's own way|
Thought courtesy of Flannery O'Connor's essays on writing: it is the artist's job to look at the world and write what she sees, whether that is a mirror of society or connections between human action and some greater truth. She cannot write what people ask her for, nor what social pressures attempt to impose on her, but what she actually sees. That is her gift, if she will use it. It is remarkable how a couple of sentences could show me how scared I am to actually do that.
The passage from a lecture of hers which sparked this first for me:
"In the greatest fiction, the writer's moral sense coincides with his dramatic sense, and I see no way for it to do this unless his moral judgement is part of the very act of seeing, and he is free to use it. I have heard it said that belief in Christian dogma is a hindrance to the writer, but I myself have found nothing further from the truth. Actually, it frees the storyteller to observe. It is not a set of rules which fixes what he sees in the world. It affects his writing primarily by guaranteeing his respect for mystery."
--from "The Fiction Writer and His Country," in Mystery and Manners
(nod nod nod)
One of the reasons I admire C.S. Lewis is that (darn, I'm struggling to find the right words to describe this) unlike many who came after, his "moral sense" was so thoroughly integrated in his writing, in his worldview, it was impossible to separate them, they came naturally, unconsciously. The complete opposite of those who try to tack Christian dogma onto what they've written, as if it's an afterthought.
I have aspired to be like Lewis in that way for a long time. IMHO, it's one of the secrets of "stealth gospel"; the more natural and unconscious it is, the more stealthy it is.
Yes. Lewis and O'Connor aren't much alike in some ways, but in that particular bold authenticity of art they are.
I'm continuing to read this book of essays, and it is remarkable how frequently she returns to this theme: that a writer/artist must both "mirror" the world around her and at the same time "judge" it (her words); that stories which "work" are usually using clear-sighted reflection of the real world to bring the reader into contact with something much deeper.
I'm really not sure what you are saying here, so I'm not sure how to respond. As the other person who commented wrote about CS Lewis, I grew even more confused. I took a whole course on the theology of CS Lewis in undergraduate school, and he was presented as a "lay theologian", so of course much of his work would reflect that. Even the Narnia books reflect his theology.
I THINK I hear you saying that your faith and beliefs need to inform your writing and somehow be reflected in it. But of course they would need to do this or the would not have an authentic ring to them; no matter how well written.
Could you explain what you mean bit more so that I can get at what you are saying? Thanks. :o)
Actually, I'd recommend that you read Mystery and Manners, which is the collection of Southern gothic author Flannery O'Connor's essays that sparked these reflections. She's one of my heroes, and while I understood some of the reasons why her stories pack such a punch for me, I had no idea that she had learned so much from her own writing. :)
You're not far off in saying that one's faith/beliefs must inform one's writing. O'Connor goes rather further than that; what she sees in good art, art that "works," is a combination of being open to the world around you, able to see it clearly and without blinders, and an ability to keep one's view of that world (that is, of what it means from where you are standing, which is where the most deeply held beliefs come into it) and write what you see from that point of view, even when the critics and audience around you are asking for something else.
O'Connor wrote some very violent and grotesque stories, and yet I have found those to be some of the most potent fictional experiences of grace I've ever encountered. She saw violence and pain and hypocrisy in the world around her, but the deeper meaning that she saw (which she says she didn't know until she wrote her stories) was that grace operates best where the devil (evil) tries the hardest to destroy us.
If I can approach something like her combination of mirroring the world and using that mirror to reveal true meaning, I shall have done something great as a writer, I think.
"You're not far off in saying that one's faith/beliefs must inform one's writing. O'Connor goes rather further than that; what she sees in good art, art that "works," is a combination of being open to the world around you, able to see it clearly and without blinders, and an ability to keep one's view of that world (that is, of what it means from where you are standing, which is where the most deeply held beliefs come into it) and write what you see from that point of view, even when the critics and audience around you are asking for something else."
To see clearly...."without blinders".....well.....now there's the catch. It has taken me a lifetime to even begin getting rid of my own blinders. Maybe I'm just slow.