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Flannery O’Connor: Surveyor of Mystery

March 2, 2010

Ken Myers: Now when [O’ Connor] uses the word mystery, I know the Greek word can mean something that is revealed, not something that is concealed. Is that what she has in mind?

Susan Srigley: I think so. In response to much of the culture in which we live, where mystery seems the least of our concerns, where we think that everything we do, whether technology, or with regards to medicine, or discovering things about the human body or the human mind, that we are really trying to put an end to mystery, to explain everything. I think that what she is trying to suggest is that that movement into mystery is not something that yields some kind of immediate answer. And I think for her the church doesn’t provide an answer to mystery either. In fact, she says that the Catholic faith is not a Theological solution to mystery….

O'Connor c. salon.com

[O’ Connor] says the fiction writer presents “mystery through manners, grace through nature, but when he finishes there always has to be left over that sense of Mystery that cannot be accounted for by any human formula”…If one asks if her Christian beliefs and her view of the church’s authority is in conflict with what she’s doing as a fiction writer, I think that quote says ‘no, there is no conflict.’ What she sees the church being able to do, as church dogma, is finally guaranteeing our respect for that mystery.

M: Would it be fair to say that the modern view of reality…sees the universe as a problem to be solved in some way? And O’Connor’s vision sees the universe as an amazing divine gift to be received, instead of a problem to be solved? And that fiction is an entry point into that reception?

S: She says, [Christians] want the instant answer, theological or otherwise. Fiction doesn’t offer those kinds of instant answers, and if that’s what you’re looking for in her fiction, you’re not going to get it. For her, fiction serves to delve deeper into that mystery. And that’s what the fiction writer is doing. I think this is connected to her idea of being a prophetic novelist. And by calling herself a prophetic novelist, she is saying that what she is trying to do as an artist is look more deeply into that mystery– seeing things hidden in mystery. This is one of the things that she gets from Thomas Aquinas. In the Summa, he talks about The Seers, those prophetic people [who] were surveying things hidden in mystery. I think she understands herself as a fiction writer to be doing that as well.

M: She refers to herself somewhere as a hillbilly Thomist, at least apocryphally.

S: She does, it’s not apocryphal.

-Ken Myers in conversation with Susan Srigley, professor of religions and cultures at Nipissing University, from a Mars Hill Audio Conversation entitled Hillbilly Thomist: Flannery O’Connor and the Truth of Things.

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