One of our greatest Catholic writers, she wrote about evil in a way to direct her readers attention to the fact that our world is immersed in it, but, as her personal life revealed, the Catholic Church was the only true answer.

A great reflection about her from Crisis Magazine.

An excerpt.

Art is the pulse of the soul. It expresses much of what is kept hidden and even what could not be expressed in any other form. Many people talk of a crisis in modern art—its abstractness, banality, and, could we even say, ugliness. If there is such a crisis, to me, it is nothing other than a reflection of the fact that art is the pulse of the soul. The art we produce in our culture reflects who we are, how we feel, and what we believe.

How does the Christian artist respond to this situation? There are a few options. One, the artist can conform to contemporary standards and be limited by these conventions. Two, and this seems to be the choice preferred by many, we could look back to a purer age and attempt to copy its art and extend its influence into our own age. It is true that this art can help form the next generation as it looks for ways to express its soul, but, on the other hand, this looking to the past is clearly limited in its impact on the broader culture. Third, the Christian artist can bring the power of the Christian spirit into contact with all of the problems and limits of the contemporary culture and its art. The Christian artist can forge a powerful dialogue between the two spirits in an attempt to communicate and ultimately to transform the spirit of the age at its very root.

This last response is probably the most difficult of the three, and without a clear path to follow. It is not altogether clear what Christian art would look like that would both be profound in its own right and could speak to the needs of the contemporary world. If this art makes clear the spiritual dilemma of contemporary culture, however, the results may not be pretty. In fact, they would probably be grotesque.

A student once asked me, how can we call Flannery O’Connor’s writing beautiful when it is so focused on the grotesque? First of all, we could point to the elegance of her style and her perfection of the craft of writing. That seems clear to all, even her critics. We could also point to the beauty of her vision of reality, a hidden spiritual reality, which comes forth in her stories precisely through the grotesque. I would argue that her use of the grotesque is needed today, despite criticism, for a few important reasons.

First of all, our culture is marked by a peculiar dichotomy—we are a culture of death that is fixated by violence and its spectacle and yet we refuse to face up to death in any serious way. We keep suffering and death removed from our everyday experience: we cover it over with pharmaceuticals and drugs, remove the sick and dying from the home, and generally distract ourselves from facing up to its reality. This strange dichotomy presents us with the need to communicate the reality of death and suffering to our culture in an arresting way—waking people up to the ultimate spiritual realities of life, which are being ignored, and to have a frank encounter with suffering and death.

Flannery O’Connor herself describes the need for violent means to awaken the reader:

“The novelist with Christian concerns will find in modern life distortions which are repugnant to him, and his problem will be to make these appear as distortions to an audience which is used to seeing them as natural; and he may well be forced to take ever more violent means to get his vision across to this hostile audience.” (“The Fiction Writer and His Country,” Collected Works, 805).

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