Reading as an Imitatio Christi : Flannery O’Connor and the hermeneutics of cruci-form beauty.
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Train, Daniel Mark.
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At its simplest, this dissertation proposes two, possibly counterintuitive but mutually dependent, claims: 1) that O’Connor’s fiction can be, even must be, considered “beautiful,” and 2) that O’Connor writes the way she does to make her audience better readers. Given the dark, shocking, grotesque, even carnivalesque character that pervades all her fiction, this first claim is likely to give the greatest offense or at least engender the most skepticism. But, as I argue throughout this work, it is essential that we be able to first conceive of her work as beautiful in order to also preempt one of the main objections to my second claim, a claim that O’Connor herself would be wary of endorsing in so far that it suggests and then elevates the didactic or pedagogical function of her art. To say she hopes to make better readers out of us would seem to suggest that her real contribution is as a schoolmarm rather than as an artist. Even worse, it would seem to place O’Connor squarely in that category of writing that she so abhorred: sentimental, pietistic moralizing in the guise of “fiction.” And yet, if we can entertain the possibility of O’Connor's work as exemplifying beauty, I argue that we can also: 1) avoid suggesting as so many have that O’Connor's work perpetrates a fundamental violence on her characters and/or readers (thereby further ratifying modern assumptions regarding the essential inevitability of violence); and 2) entertain the possibility that a non-violent, non-manipulative apprehension of the beautiful is in fact the ability to see or more clearly, or as in this case, to read more clearly. Indeed, as David Hart shows, only by restoring “the beautiful” as a proper dimension of not just aesthetic, but philosophical, theological, ecclesiological and ethical reflection, can we even conceive of a speech-act that is not ultimately just another expression of one violence over another in an interminable, self-extinguishing cycle.