On Flannery O’Connor’s ‘The Nature and Aim of Fiction’

This is a plain, free-write response to reading Flannery O’Connor’s ‘The Nature and Aim of Fiction’. It was written in my journal on the 4th of January of 2006, and I do not claim it to be superior writing, but rather personal. Please follow the link if you would like to read O’Connor’s piece for yourself – it’s way worth it!

I absolutely loved this piece. It really spoke to me personally, and she voiced (so well) so many of the things I have either always found myself thinking or have learned through writing during my life. I have always written, and it is interesting to see the maturation process of my writing reflected by others as underdeveloped notions of what writing is. I loved her description of the many ‘mongrel’ things we come up with when our notion of story is lacking or lame somehow. I don’t think that is my perpetual state any longer, however it is easy to slip into – it takes a great deal of energy to pull myself out of it. Hehe… technique as a rigid formula… that ALWAYS amused me, as if there were a little magic answer that would right all your wrongs, a function that would simply press everything into shape! (67)

Her point that the world of the writer is full of matter is one which has been impressing itself upon me for some time. “It’s always necessary to remember that the fiction writer is much less immediately concerned with grand ideas and bristling with emotions than he is with putting list slippers on clerks.” (70)

I loved Madame Bovary – the part of it that I have read, it’s not finished yet 🙂 (part of a survey) but I had a problem with my initial picture of Flaubert… I think he said that he thought the pinnacle of art was to depict the tragic and the horrific, but I don’t think so at all – he says that beautiful things are the easiest to write, but I so DISAGREE!!! The beautiful is just as complex, intricate, deep, tricky, and difficult to convey as the tragic, just slightly more rarely experienced fully (and if one does not fully, consciously experience it, one cannot gift another with and awareness of it!).

I particularly noticed O’Connor’s description of those “reformers” who “want to write because they are possessed not by a story but by the bare bones of some abstract notion”, who are conscious of problems, not of people, of questions and issues, not of the texture of existence, of case histories and everything that has a sociological smack, instead of with all those concrete details of life that make actual the mystery of our position on earth.” (68) The sad spectacle she writes about – the keenly sensitive author who is simply a bore because he is unwilling to get dusty, use humble tools, is great.

I remember when I distained to use dust. When imagery, getting my work to be tangible and real in any but an emotional and moral way to my readers – I wanted my readers to be seduced by a kind of pure beauty (as if I could really portray that), or by the intense misery to be moved to compassion or sympathy. I was so far from my goal (being an effective writer), and I really didn’t know. OK, wait, I did know, but I didn’t know how. I didn’t totally get that I was holding on to what sank me… list slippers. hehehe… 🙂 genius.

c. Mary Kathryn Gough

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