Wednesday, June 17, 2020

O'Connor

File:Robie with Flannery 1947.jpg
photo: Charles Cameron Macauley
Paul Elie has an essay on Flannery O'Connor in The New Yorker that asks the pertinent question as to how racist the late writer happened to be. It's a matter worth investigating and doing quality speculation about, since O'Connor, a certified icon of 20th Century American literature, died young, at ate 39, and had published only three books in her lifetime, Wise Blood ,A Good Man is Hard to Find, and Everything That Rises Must Converge.  An interesting and illuminating read on a brilliant writer who died much, much too young.  As it turns out, scholars have uncovered , is that Flannery O'Connor is a problematic writer for her fans due to racist attitudes that appeared in her juvenilia , and for detectable traces of bigotry through out her life as novelist, short story writer and essayist. There's a limit to the amount of shock one ought to have because of these unpleasant facts about her, and anyone recoiling with disgust because O'Connor proves to be very human despite very great talent , with very human prejudices are, I think, not lovers of literature at all. 

I resist and oppose on principle the idea of regarding poets, novelists, playwrights or any artist at all as saints, philosophers or messengers of moral instruction; beyond the work itself, I regard their lives as subject to the same slings and arrows we all face and have to surmount, and regard their creation of art as having the sole duty of expressing their experience in the world with metaphors, symbols, whatever means and style it requires to make that expression memorable. It's a good idea to judge artists on what they share with the rest of the world, that they are part of the vaguely defined mass of "suffering humanity", but it's unwise, stupid even, to use what offends one's sense of moral order , the sins of the bohemian , as grounds to condemn and dismiss. Doing just that makes me ponder why many would bother reading literature at all.

What is the writer, the poet, the painter, the musician has to express is always imperfect and contains things and issues that reveal the creator's skull contains ideas, whims and notions that are , in fact , ugly. O'Connor, a Southerner, a spiritually restless fallen Catholic who doubted the perfected the redemption of humanity through any measure of grace, and more than likely politically conservative, is , as the saying goes, a product of her time and the surrounding cultural and regional connections around her as she developed as a person and as a writer. 

To refer back to Flaubert, we need to trust the tale, not the teller, more or less because the facts of a writer's life prevents too many readers, struggling with their own issues, from reading the work and getting the benefit literature provides. I bear in mind is that O'Connor died when she was 39, had published only three books before her death; we were robbed of the chance to read a longer lifetime of books that would have revealed, more than likely, an increasingly broadened and nuanced way of investigating fictional territories. By all means examine the life and investigate the real energies in a person's life that a scribe brings to their narratives, but we ought to examine to understand the problems of genius, not to condemn it.


Saturday, June 13, 2020

A PRETTY FINE BASKET BALL MOVIE

The Way Back review: Ben Affleck finds redemption in sobering ...A pleasant surprise, I watched THE WAY BACK starring Ben Affleck last night. Turned out to be solid film, a story of a grieving father with a drinking problem presented with a chance to redeem himself by becoming head coach for his old high school basket ball team. All the expected moves are here given that alcoholism is the basis for the fiction-- scenes of the gloom and despair and ruinous drinking, the lies, the family squabbles, the bitter meetings with the former wife, the chance for a new leaf, the encouraging progress on all the characters' issues, the Fall,the climb back up. The director does not glorify the gloom, wallow in the despair, preach about the cure as one might expect given the creaky cliches that threaten to capsize this film, but rather maintains a sturdy hand in developing characters, filming some excellent game sequences (that brought a smile to my face when the fictional team started winning), and allowing a certain amount of space between lines of dialogue or interactions to have scenes have a naturally laconic, realistic edge. The cast is universally strong, though one should look for any deep diving into character analysis; matters of the heart and soul are sufficiently laid out on the surface , more than adequately diving us pretext and context for this well handled drama. It's not giving anything major away to mention that the wayfaring coach and problem drinker is shown here getting a handle on his sobriety and commences to live a life with guarded optimism and realistic expectations--remember, genre movies behave in predictable ways--but I do find it a relief that the film makers side step the whole support group element--AA sharing, the God talk stuff--and stay with the narrative at hand. Though the story isn't as efficient as it could be, it is wisely lean in the telling, which is not to say it's skimpy. Especially for a film with a Catholic School and priests figuring largely through out, all the spiritual awakening issues, if there are any , are off screen. There is a quibble with some inconsistency with the narrative pace and flow, though, as the film gets distracted with scenes that are not needed, or followed up upon, but Ben Affleck's performance, sullen, gloomy, melancholic with convincing bits of better moods and motivations , is rather masterful and cumulatively powerful, one of his career best.  Worth a watch.

THE LOCUSTS HAVE NO KING by Dawn Powell

  THE LOCUSTS HAVE NO KING  a novel by Dawn Powell A New York comedy of manners set in the Forties, it concerns a married couple comprised o...